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Straight to Jesus

Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement

Tanya Erzen (Author)

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Every year, hundreds of gay men and lesbians join ex-gay ministries in an attempt to convert to non-homosexual Christian lives. In this fascinating study of the transnational ex-gay movement, Tanya Erzen focuses on the everyday lives of men and women at New Hope Ministry, a residential ex-gay program, over the course of several years. Straight to Jesus traces the stories of people who have renounced long-term relationships and moved from other countries out of a conviction that the conservative Christian beliefs of their upbringing and their own same-sex desires are irreconcilable. Rather than definitively changing from homosexual to heterosexual, the participants experience a conversion that is both sexual and religious as born-again evangelical Christians. At New Hope, they maintain a personal relationship with Jesus and build new forms of kinship and belonging. By becoming what they call "new creations," these men and women testify to religious transformation rather than changes in sexual desire or behavior. Straight to Jesus exposes how the Christian Right attempts to repudiate gay identity and political rights by using the ex-gay movement as evidence that “change is possible.” Instead, Erzen reveals, the realities of the lives she examines actually undermine this anti-gay strategy.
List of Abbreviations

1. Steps Out of Homosexuality
2. New Creations
3. A Refuge from the World
4. Arrested Development
5. Testifying to Sexual Healing
6. Love Won Out?

Conclusion: Walking in a Dark Room
Tanya Erzen is Assistant Professor of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University. She is the coeditor of Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City (2001).
“Books like Erzens. . . are increasingly important as Christians struggle with the questions of sexual identity. They should be widely read by people who want to understand the political positions not only in the light of theological pronouncements, but also through the textures of individual lives and experiences.”—Christian Century
“Covers the clash of Christian conservatism and gay identity with compassion and grace. Informative, well written and accessible, this book will be a compelling read even if you have no previous knowledge of the subject.”—Curve
“This is ethnography at its best: an outsider’s careful, respectful translation of a subculture that is often poorly understood and easily dismissed in academic and political discourse.”—Publishers Weekly
“Thoughtful . . . Erzen wasn't interested in collecting fodder for political battles . . . and that's what makes "Straight to Jesus" so enlightening. As an ethnographer, she made every effort to listen to and understand everyone at New Hope Ministry, whether or not she agreed with their beliefs. . . . A far more nuanced and moving picture of the "ex-gay" movement than most readers will expect.”—Laura Miller Salon
"Erzen is sensitive, savvy, and provocative. Her mastery of historical sources, ethnographic technique, and accessible writing style are evident throughout. She illuminates aspects of conservative Christianity central to the 'culture wars,' deepening our understanding of the movement's internal struggles over sexuality, gender, and family issues. Erzen has written a wonderful book."—Diane Winston, author of Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army

"Tanya Erzen's wonderful and timely book provides us with a compelling cultural history of the Christian right in the post-war period—from the cold war to family and sexual politics—as well as remarkable ethnographic insight into the dynamics of Exodus International. With compassion, humor, and insight, Erzen takes the reader through the ideological, organizational, and daily practices used in efforts to change people's theological and sexual orientations, from self-help to conversion testimony."—Faye Ginsburg, Professor of Anthropology, New York University, author of Contested Lives

Gustave O. Arlt Award in the Humanities, Council of Graduate Schools

Ruth Benedict Prize, Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists