The Closet and the Cross

Three decades ago, Michael Bussee helped found the mammoth ex-gay ministry Exodus International. Now, he’s one of the movement's biggest critics

This year's Freedom Conference is better than others in the sense that those in charge aren't making a big deal about participants' postures and way of dress, says Burroway. The MC is pretty flamboyant, which seems to put the crowd at ease. Other ministries stick their dykes in dresses and force the limp-wristed into football. And Burroway finds Chambers' honesty and humanity refreshing—things the movement hasn't seen in a while.

Burroway's lecture runs from history to money matters: Exodus pulled in $925,315 in 2004—a pebble compared to Focus on the Family, he notes, which made $138 million in 2005.

The infiltration of the Exodus conference got under Chambers' skin, says Bussee, who received angry e-mails from the Exodus president on the subject.

Chambers claims the infiltrators from the survivors' conference were boisterous and disruptive. Bussee responded saying no one he knew from the conference had behaved in such a way, and that the nature of the protest had been generally peaceful. Still, the delicate fibers of the Chambers-Bussee correspondence appear strained, Bussee says.

"He says he's my friend," he says of Chambers. "But he sure doesn't act like it."

*   *   *

The survivors' poster paper of pain is on the floor now, but Christine Bakke can't bring herself to throw it away.

It felt too sacred for the Dumpster, she says to a group of Sunday conference attendees.

"We want to use some of this pain to create something new, something that's going to give life. . . . so pick out something you wrote, or something that struck you, and cut it into fine little bits," she instructs. The shaved words will be mixed with potting soil and placed at the base of a sapling.

The survivors take scissors and hack into the paper wall, making mincemeat of the testimonies.

Snip through "shame." Snipthrough "thoughts of depression and suicide."

Then one survivor pauses to hold up a piece of the poster bearing a message in red ink—in the neat print of Michael Bussee.

"I helped create Exodus in 1976," it reads. "Please, forgive me."

Beneath it, in different scripts and colors, his plea is answered with "Yes" and "Of course."

A slide show of images from both conferences can be found here .

jpkahn@ocweekly.com

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