I continually hear many, many, MANY gay identified people say how groups like Exodus ‘harm and brainwash’ teens. They give little support behind this claim. Finally, I decided to give my view as someone who DID go through Exodus as a teenager. Most of those speaking on the issue never did themselves so let me give it to you from the view point of a teenager. I will give attempt my hardest to give it equally including the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful, but ultimately, I can only share my experiences. For those of you who hate Exodus and will not let anything change that, well this probably isn’t going to do anything for you. I hope it does though.
When I was 14 (or around there), I attended counseling with a female counselor down in Palm Beach. I went because I wanted not because my parents forced me. She was the first one to tell me about Exodus International. I went on their site and found information about the Annual Conference they held, and I was dead set on going. Being a minor a could not go by myself, so my brother-in-law, who was also my youth pastor at the time, came with me. I cannot even begin to explain all the emotions that ran through me. I was nervous, excited, relieved, and stressed as we were on the plane to Indiana. I mean, look at it in perspective. I had never before met anyone else who dealt with homosexuality. For the first time in my life, I was not going to be the odd ball in the room. We got there a few hours before the conference started and I was the happiest I had ever been. I actually call that one of the happiest moments of my life. You had people of all ages and races. It ranged from couples to singles to widows. There were not many minors that year but I did meet a few who I still talk to at times. I remember the badge they gave me which said ‘MINOR’ completely across it. I hated it at the time but I understand and support their reasons for it now. They also said that my brother-in-law had to be with me at ALL times. NO EXCEPTIONS. All teens would hate this. Even though my brother-in-law was awesome and got along with the youth (actually it should probably be called the young adults group) very well, I still hated have to be next to someone at all times.
My brother-in-law and I shared a room, and right next to our room was another minor and his dad. He was a year older than me and we become good friends at the conference since we were both minors and came on our own accord. You see many of the stories about Exodus ‘brainwashing and harming’ kids are from people who were forced to go by their parents. Of course, they are going to hate it. I would as well in that scenario. As a fifth grader I was forced to go to a therapist, but thankfully because of my parents’ understanding, they stopped taking me because they saw it was not what I wanted. Finally though when I decided I wanted to pursue it, they helped me along and were willing to go at my pace.
I am not necessarily discounting the experiences of those who say Exodus harmed them. My point is that when reading their testimonies (and mine), take into account how they were feeling when they attended Exodus. In all of my experience with Exodus, not ONCE were they anything but loving, merciful, gracious, and caring towards people. Many of the staff were never fans of parents forcing their kids because it meant the kids did not want to be there. I do have to say though that many (not all) of those teenagers who came to the conference hating it actually ended up changing their mind by the end. They did not change their mind because Exodus beat or tortured them. They saw the love the people there had for others and it changed their view. I have to say I have found very few places that show God’s love, mercy, and kindness like Exodus International. This is not from someone who just went once. I have been there around five times.
Now let me address the issue of teens dealing with depression and low self-esteem ‘because’ of Exodus or the Conference. I will admit one thing. I did deal with depression and low self-esteem as a kid, but that began long before attending Exodus. I began dealing with low self-esteem and depression when I was being bullied in elementary school. It progressed from there into anorexia and suicidal thoughts. Now going to Exodus did not stop those issues necessarily. It helped build up my self-esteem and such, but it took a lot of work on my part and those around me to get me out of that pit. If I had to point to a cause of my later depression, it would probably be because so many people said I had to be gay whether I liked it or not. In my mind, it was like telling me I had to stay in prison whether I liked it or not. Now some may say “O you just got connection and enjoyment from Exodus because you had never experienced community among other gay teens. You should have gone to a gay teen support group or something.” That could be true expect that I did try going to a gay teen support group after Exodus. I wanted to see if I could find community somewhere like that. I do have to say, the people were really nice there. They pulled me in and talked to me, but I still could not find that community there that I found at Exodus. I do not think it was anything those people were not doing nor do I think it was anything Exodus was doing. It was God. I needed God’s presence and the community of his believer not only at Exodus. I needed to community of his believers in general.
The one thing I have always wondered was what do people mean when they say “Exodus brainwashes teens”? Well I decided to look up the definition of brainwash and it means “to effect a radical change in the ideas and beliefs of (a person), esp by methods based on isolation, sleeplessness, hunger, extreme discomfort, pain, and the alternation of kindness and cruelty” So let me go through all of these methods and see if Exodus used any of them ‘harm.’
Isolation – I promise you one thing for sure. It was hard to find isolation at Exodus. You always had people around you because they were so community oriented.
Sleeplessness – The Conference (as a young adult) really makes you exhausted because the young adults will stay up all hours of the night just talking and hanging out. So I will say you lose sleep, but not by means of Exodus. They actually prefer you go to bed on time but that does not usually work for teenagers and college students.
Hunger – There is a cafeteria on campus. You cannot go to it at any time but if you are hungry between meals and have a car or something, you can drive to get food. It is not like they hold you there against your will.
Extreme Discomfort – I am not even sure what exactly they mean by this. Do they mean emotional or physical discomfort? In both cases, no. Most people feel awkward when they first arrive at the conference because they haven’t been there before but that isn’t extreme discomfort.
Pain – In all the years I have been there, I have never once seen members of Exodus put someone through any pain in order to ‘change them.’
Alternation of Kindness and Cruelty – There is no cruelty from Exodus. It is more like alterations of kindness and mercy. They simply love people like God commands Christians to do. They want people to follow Him.
In the end, I know there are people who are just going to read this and blow it off. They may say I was being biased. I am actually speaking the truth because all I can do is share my experiences. These are my experiences at Exodus and what I have seen of the Annual Conference they hold. I do not claim to speak for other people. If you truly want to know what it is like, the only way to find out is to go yourself. If I was brainwashed, it wasn’t by Exodus or about leaving homosexuality. If I was, then it must have been God who brainwashed me into becoming a Christian. He definitely changed me radically.