During the first season of the OWN series Our America with Lisa Ling, the journalist took us into the world of Exodus, an organization that believed it could help ‘de-gay’ men and women who did not want to be homosexual. Showing alternate sides of the controversial issue, Ling also interviewed other people and groups who were approaching their homosexuality and their religion differently.
Tonight, Ling checks back in with Exodus leader, Alan Chambers, who has made surprising changes that he openly attributes to Ling’s story. She also talks again with Christian, a teenager bent on chasing away his homosexuality with prayer.
AfterElton caught up with Ling to talk about tonight’s episode, which is part of the 2-hour season finale of Our America.
Jim Halterman: The “Pray The Gay Away” episode was such a great episode of your series to begin with, but what prompted you to go back?
Lisa Ling: I was really quite impressed that Alan [Chambers, head of Exodus] has been so forthcoming about this. I really feel proud of the fact that now they aren’t doing reparative therapy. They still have a long way to go, but at least it’s a step.
JH: And Alan says in the show that it’s due to you. You put the story out there and it’s changed minds.
LL: It didn’t sit well that they were telling people that something happened in their lives that made them gay. That just didn’t sit well.
Thanks to Lisa Ling’s “Pray The Gay Away” story Alan Chambers made changes to Exodus.
JH: What was the timing of what we see tonight? When did you find out some changes had happened at Exodus?
LL: I found out first in the press, probably about a few months before we sat down to do the interview. It was a pretty big and bold statement when they decided not to do the therapy anymore. [Chambers] was being interviewed by different outlets and it was interesting because they were using a lot of our footage in the video I was seeing, so I thought ‘Let’s get an update on why he did this.’
I didn’t know that the answer was our show. I didn’t really know that until he met with us. For them, it’s a very risky decision, they had 12 ministries leave Exodus, but Alan just didn’t, in good conscience, say ‘I can’t promise people that they’re going to become straight.’ Even he, though he’s married to a woman and has children, he says he has to work on trying to control same sex attraction.
JH: Seeing the older interview and then the new, I respected the fact that he was very forthcoming about his feelings and how he fights his urges.
LL: To be frank, if this is the way he chooses to live his life, then everyone else should not condemn him for wanting to do that, as well. There is so much condemnation on both sides. It’s such a sensitive issue and people have committed suicide over their fear of being gay and their fear of condemnation from the church. I think both sides take it so personally, and by Alan acknowledging that gay and straight people can go to heaven if they devote themselves to God, I think that’s really bold. There are a lot of people still in the Evangelical community that believe being gay is an instant door in the face in terms of heaven.
When Ling catches up with Christian, she finds “he’d lost a little bit of light in his eyes.”
JH: You also touch base with Christian. In watching then and now, it seems like in the present day a lot of the spark is gone from him. He was so alive and vivacious before. Did you see that?
LL: I agree. I personally felt a little sad, because he was one of the most creative people I’d ever met. His artwork was extraordinary, and he had this beautiful energy. When I watched [the present footage] I could see he’d lost a little bit of light in his eyes. If this is the way he wants to live, that’s his choice. Alan Chambers would say to him that they couldn’t promise to make him straight, but if he did want to try and live in a non-homosexual way, we could help you try to avoid temptation as much as we can…if they can’t possibly envision themselves or find themselves attracted to a woman, Alan would tell them to be celibate. I guess if you can do that, more power to you, but I don’t know. I think that love and our bodies are things that we should be able to explore and be able to love and love another person whether it’s the same or opposite sex.
JH: Having gotten married this summer to my partner, it definitely made me think about the fact that it’s not legal in the state where we live. We weren’t doing anything wrong, but some people would think that we are.
LL: Here is my personal feeling. Having read the Gospel, Jesus himself never said anything about homosexuality. He does say a lot about divorce. He does say a lot about wealthy people. Yet, for some reason, because of the Old Testament and a couple of passages in Paul’s Gospel, the Corinthians I think it is, homosexuals have been damned. I just think it’s interesting that people have chosen to harp on that one issue at the expense of all the other issues. I don’t know why we’re not giving up all our wealth. If you really want to live God’s way, all of you who drive BMWs and Mercedes…isn’t that being hypocritical?
I’m proud of the episode, and I’m proud of somehow contributing to the change that the biggest “ex-gay” organization has made.
“Pray the Gay Away? – Breaking News” is part of a two-hour season finale of “Our America with Lisa Ling.” Tonight’s second episode is titled “Swingers Next Door” and looks at Americans who are part of the swinger lifestyle. Our America With Lisa Ling airs at 9pm tonight on OWN.
An extended interview between Ling and Alan Chambers can be seen following tonight’s episode @ http://www.oprah.com/own-our-america-lisa-ling/our-america-blog.html.