In the spring of 2012, a group of ministries previously affiliated with Exodus International, one of the most prominent “ex-gay” organizations in the United States which has since closed its doors, broke away to launch the Restored Hope Network. This schism came in response to Exodus International director Alan Chambers announcing that there is no “cure” for homosexuality, and denouncing “conversion” therapy. The break was led by Exodus founder Frank Worthen of New Hope Ministries; Andrew and Annette Comiskey of Desert Stream Ministries; Anne Paulk, former manager of the Homosexuality and Gender Department at Focus on the Family, the founder of that organization’s Love Won Out conference; Stephen Black of First Stones Ministries; and others.
PRA attended Restored Hope’s founding conference in Sacramento from September 21-23, 2012, which attracted supposed ex-gays, advocates, and ministry representatives from across the U.S., as well as Latin American allies such as the Aguas Vivas network. The new board treasurer of Restored Hope, Jason Thompson, is executive director of the Portland Fellowship, another former Exodus member.
For the attendees, the original cause of Exodus is still righteous. Dr. Robert Gagnon, a member of the founding committee who teaches at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, claimed that sexual sin is set apart from other sins because of its powerful, all-consuming capture of the body, and the pleasure that ensues from it. According to Gagnon, the Bible states explicitly that homosexuality is a sin, but that one’s (heterosexual) spouse is the “person God uses to shape Jesus in you.” Thus, heterosexual marriage is essential as the vehicle through which people become like Jesus.
Exodus Founder Frank Worthen repeated the old Exodus teaching that one needs “a total cutoff” from the gay lifestyle in order to become heterosexual. He promoted a right-wing Christian version of a 12-step program where you find fellowship in conquering your “addiction,” and gay friends are “destructive friends” you need to stay away from.
All those interviewed expressed a sense of betrayal at Chambers’ comments. In a statement echoed by many, Kristin Tremba of Exchange Ministries in Orlando, Florida, said that Exodus International was a “top-heavy organization” that had become “centralized and controlled by one personality.”
Those attending showed great concern about California’s ban on reparative therapy for minors, Senate Bill 1172, signed into law soon after the conference. This was an egregious restriction on free speech, from one speaker’s point of view, and offensive in rejecting their belief that change is possible.
Rev. Stephen Black of First Stone Ministries, vice president of Restored Hope Ministries, spoke in colorful rhetoric of an “army of ex-homosexuals” rising up during the End Times. We are in these End Times now, he told those assembled, whether that means the last 50 or 100 years. Comiskey, the network’s new president, echoed the sentiments about the “army that God wants.”
More recently, the organization has turned their focus to “gender confusion” and “transgenderism.” Their Facebook page is filled with links to articles from organizations such as Focus On the Family and Family Policy Alliance, discussing the “terrible fraud of transgender medicine” and how “transgender ideology hurts kids.” Restored Hope’s Executive Director, Anne Paulk, “change[d] from gay to straight” after “a gradual submission to the will of God.” Despite the fact that Paulk’s ex-husband, who used to call himself an “ex-gay”, eventually accepted his sexuality and declared that “we are created in the image of God—just like everyone else”, Paulk herself continues to identify as an ex-lesbian and advocate for Restored Hope.
The organization continues to hold annual conferences. Their next “Hope2018” Conference is in June 2018 in Upper Marlboro, Maryland and will be “filled with powerful biblical teaching, worship, and inspiring life stories of those who have dealt with same sex attraction and have been transformed by the living God.” Restored Hope states that the conference is for “strugglers, family members, loved ones, counselors, pastors, lay people, and more.”
This profile has been adapted from PRA’s 2013 The “Ex-Gay” Movement in Latin America: Therapy and Ministry in the Exodus Network report.