Purporting to report the news

Anybody got a crazy uncle who really drives you nuts? You try, for about half a second, to put on a fake smile and tolerate him. But through your sarcasm and mannerisms, you make it clear how you feel about him.

My poor analogy aside, that's my impression of a recent front-page story in the Asheville Citizen-Times about an Exodus International conference in that North Carolina mountain town:

ASHEVILLE — Can homosexuality be “cured”?

Those attending one conference here this week say yes. Those attending a conference being held to refute the first gathering say no.

Nor, the latter group says, should gay people be portrayed as needing to be cured, even if they could be.

Exodus International, which purports to help people transform from homosexual to heterosexual, kicks off its four-day International Freedom Conference today at the Ridgecrest Christian conference center in Black Mountain with the theme “The Reality of Grace.”

In response, members of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and their allies will hold a simultaneous conference with panel discussions, guest speakers and exhibits at Tressa's on Broadway Street and at First Congregational United Church of Christ on Oak Street.

The countertheme of that conference is “The Reality of Will and Grace: A Refutation of the Ex-gay Movement.”

Which purports to. That choice of language tells  you pretty much all you need to know about the tenor and direction of this report.

Keep reading, and as the reader who submitted the link to GetReligion noted, six paragraphs are clearly focused on explaining Exodus' position. Contrast that with 12 paragraphs devoted to the other side. The same reader pointed out:

The refuting conference levels many charges at EI: they attack the vulnerable, don't listen to science, misuse scripture, are a front for political activity - how does EI respond to that, and to other charges laid at their door? They are only given space to respond to the political charges.

The story notes that 800 people were expected at the Exodus event. No attendance estimate is given for the other conference.

From the piece:

Dye asserted that Exodus International works from a position that homosexuality is more like an addiction than a sexual orientation, often using a “cure” model based on 12-step programs such as those used in Alcoholics Anonymous.

“The problem there is that the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association and all of the other leading professional organizations do not view homosexuality as a mental illness or an addiction, but rather a natural expression of the person,” Dye said. “Once again, you're attacking vulnerable people.”

As the reader pointed out, Exodus' response to such claims would have been interesting — and, well, responsible journalism.

I'm not overly familiar with Exodus, but I did include it in a 2009 piece I wrote for Christianity Today on the clash of reparative therapy vs. sexual identity therapy in evangelical circles. In that piece, the ministry's founder defended his belief that homosexuals can change:

Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, said it is wrong to assert that sexual orientation cannot change as a result of therapy.

"That flies in the face of the testimonies of tens of thousands of people just like me," said Chambers, a married father of two who credits God and counseling for helping him leave a homosexual lifestyle. "That's not to say that you can flip a switch and go from gay to straight."

Quality journalism demands a healthy dose of skepticism. The problem with the Asheville coverage is that it's not really a news report. Rather, it's an editorial disguised as front-page news.

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