Follow up on the James Stabile story

On December 15, I posted a lengthy account of a young man, James Stabile, who was featured in a CBN segment extolling the healing power of a ministry in Dallas. According to the story, he met Dallas area minister Joe Oden, while cruising the gay bars in the Oak Lawn neighborhood. Rev. Oden, at the time believed the young man was converted and renounced his homosexuality. However, after awhile, James went off to Pure Life Ministries in Kentucky because the homosexuality had not gone away. Not long after getting there, Mr. Stabile was sent back home to Dallas. 

Since then I have spoken with Rev. Joe Oden, Paul Strand at CBN and by email to Michael Johnston at Pure Life Ministries. I hope to talk to Mr. Stabile today as well. I will be adding to this post throughout the day but, between other things, want to get some of this recorded.

Joe Oden encountered James Stabile during the first “purity siege” on September 4th. The event was referred to in the Dallas Voice. On that occasion, Joe asked James if he had ever felt the power of God. James said no, and Joe said would you like to. James said yes, and Joe touched him, led him a sinner’s prayer and said Fire, referring to the Holy Spirit. Again, Joe touched him and said Fire. At that point, James seemed visibly impacted, and Joe took his reaction as a sign that he had been “radically touched by the power of God.” Rev. Oden believed this was quite possible since his conversion experience was of a similar nature. While his issues were not sexuality related, he said he was delivered from his past life in a similar dramatic fashion. A video of this event is available on Google Videos and still embedded on the Lightthehighway website.

However, Rev. Oden said, he now believes James began lying to them immediately about his life and past. He said they did not know it at the time but he was untruthful about his parents, specifically mentioning his father. For instance, according to Rev. Oden, Mr. Stabile said that his father was on drugs. Also, according to Oden, James said his father would be very angry if James went to a deliverance ministry, even that his father might retaliate against the church in some way. At the time, Oden did not know that James father was Joseph Stabile, pastor of the oldest United Methodist church in Dallas.

The Heartland church found James a place to live with Bible School students where he stayed for about 6 weeks. Here is how the Lightthehighway website describes what happened after the purity siege.

One of the most astounding encounters of the evening was that of James, a 19 year-old homosexual atheist, who called the police in an effort to stop the Siege. One of the men from the Siege struck up a conversation with him, and James stated that he had never accepted Christ nor felt the power of God. The young man told James he was about to experience something that would change his life, and that is exactly what happened. James was one of many who fell under the power of the Holy Spirit that night.

He then accepted Christ as his Savior, and was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. We serve a miraculous God!

Immediately, James packed his Jeep and moved in with five students who attend Heartland School of Ministry, a Bible college in Irving, TX. He left his family, his partner, everything he knew, and everything that identified him with his past. His plan is to attend Heartland School of Ministry. In an interview, James said, “I am willing to talk to any homosexual, drug addict or sex addict because I know what hell feels like, but now I know what heaven feels like and it is so much better.”

In addition, the church helped him get a couple of jobs. However, looking back, Rev. Oden now believes that the lying continued. At first, Rev. Oden overlooked some of James’ untruths because he believed he really wanted help. “On the flip side,” Rev. Oden said, “he said he wanted to be free of homosexuality and live for God.” After awhile, however, Rev. Oden and College pastor Steve Baldwin, confronted James about various lies. For instance, according to Rev. Oden, James told one of his employers that the church wanted James to make more money on his job so he could give it to the church. However, according to Rev. Oden, this was not true. Concerns over truthfulness led to the Heartland School Ministry asking James to leave the shared arrangement with the students in mid-October.

Then, James moved in with another couple who did not attend Heartland. While with this couple, he continued to attend church, albeit sporadically. At about this time, Rev. Oden contacted Joseph Stabile who told Rev. Oden that James had bipolar disorder and was probably not taking his medication. According to Rev. Oden, Rev. Stabile was upset with him for not contacting him sooner. Rev. Oden explained that he did not do so because of the things James had said about him. Also, at that point, once he was aware of the need for medication, Rev. Oden said he told James to take his medication. “I told him, ‘James, you need your medication.’” Rev. Oden explained, “We believe in healings but God had not revealed to us that he was healed of that so we told him to take his medicine.” Rev. Oden believes James was off his medication the entire time he was in contact with the Heartland ministry, but flatly denies that the church recommended that course.

All this time James was saving money to get into Pure Life Ministries. Apparently, he was still struggling with sexuality issues. On October 31, about a week or two before he went to PLM, the Christian Broadcasting Network came to town to shoot a segment on the I-35 revival. CBN wanted to interview someone who was changed as an aspect of the purity siege and ongoing revival activities. Paul Strand of CBN told me he had seen the video of James’ conversion and read his story on the Lightthehighway website and wondered if James would be available for an interview.

Rev. Oden told me that he did not think James was ready to be interviewed. After all, he had moved out of the Bible School housing because of continual lying and apparently was not free of homosexual desires because he wanted to go to PLM to address this issue. Shortly after the CBN segment was filmed, James went off to PLM, spending about 2 or 3 weeks there (I am not completely clear on the timeline as yet). Rev. Oden does not know much about what PLM knew about Mr. Stabile. Those arrangements were made between PLM and Mr. Stabile. However, he believes PLM probably did know that Mr. Stabile was bipolar.

Back to the CBN interview, Paul Strand told me that he asked some Heartland staffers if James Stabile was a committed Christian and if they felt safe enough with James to put him on national television. Paul said he received no cautions from anyone. However, Paul did not talk to Joe Oden until the interview. On that interview, Mr. Oden said, “We laid hands on him…He was hit by the power of God and filled with the Holy Ghost … got plugged into our church, and is just living for God.” I asked Rev. Oden if he would restate that if he had the chance to do it over and he agreed that he would. It is still not clear to me who gave Paul Strand the thumbs up on Stabile.

As an aside, Rev. Oden wanted to correct an impression left by the CBN segment that the Heartland church believed Isaiah 35:8 refers specifically to Interstate 35. “We do not believe that, that was something CBN came up with,” Rev. Oden explained. “We see Isaiah 35:8 as a theme or a symbol for the revival we believe God wants to bring to this area,” he said. Thus, Isaiah 35:8 is a kind of metaphor for the revival campaign. Oden says the church has events planned for another Interstate highway soon and does not believe this was prophesied in the Bible.

Apparently the publicity is having some effect as CNN’s Anderson Cooper Show is slated to have a crew in Dallas today to interview Oden and others about the I-35 revival.

Regarding Mr. Stabile’s short stay at PLM, I can add this. Michael Johnston, Director of Media and Donor Relations, said in response to an email asking about Mr. Stabile, “As a matter of policy, we do not confirm or deny the enrollment of any individual in our counseling programs.” Well, this is sensible but it did make me wonder if the confidentiality policy was due to the residential program was licensed. I then asked if the counselors or program was licensed and Mr. Johnston replied that 

Our counselors are “biblical counselors” not “professional clinical counselors” and are clearly identified as such in descriptions of our programs. Our counseling follows a pastoral model based on our closely held religious beliefs and is, therefore, expressly excluded from regulation and licensing requirements of The Kentucky Board of Licensed Professional Counselors.

I also asked Mr. Johnston how PLM handles people who come in with diagnosed conditions and their medical needs and he replied as follows:

1. If an individual comes into the program and is taking a psychotropic medication, he must inform us and he must have a valid prescription.

2. For his protection, and the protection of others in the program, the counselor will dispense those medications.

3. If an individual desires to stop taking those medications while in the program or has decided to prior to entering the program, he must provide a written recommendation from the prescribing doctor. If that action results in behavior that either adversely affects the individual’s progress in the program or adversely affects others, they will be allowed to continue with the medication.

4. We do not routinely require screening of those coming into our programs by a “local psychiatrist or licensed counselor.

I have a call in to Rev. Stabile and hope to talk to him as well.

More to come…

UPDATE: Rev. Stabile has issued a statement here.

I-35 revival: A new straight and narrow way?

Sometimes stories come along that leave me speechless for awhile and then with so many things to say, I can’t get the words all out at once. There are so many directions I could go with this story. There is the no-wonder-people-outside-the-church-think-Christians-are-looney angle and there is the sexuality angle. But, for now, I think it best to just get it on here and see what develops.

In case you are not keeping up with prophecies, signs and wonders, there is a group of people who believe a revival is springing up along Interstate 35 which runs from Texas to Minnesota. A CBN article explains it this way:

A number of Christians have come to believe that because of recent prophecies, dreams, and visions I-35 is the highway spoken of in Isaiah 35, verse 8 — “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness.”

The first of these prophetic dreams came to a prominent German prophet in 1984. Prophetic intercessor Cindy Jacobs of Generals International told CBN News, “And in this dream he saw a highway that went from the bottom of someplace to the top that had a ’35’ sign on it. And God showed him that revival was going to begin at the bottom of this highway and go to the top.

Many other prophecies followed. Jeff Baldwin, college and career pastor at Dallas’ Heartland World Ministries Church, said, “There’ve been very specific cities given in these prophetic words, and they say, ‘Go to these cities and cry out for holiness and purity, and I’ll come down and I’ll invade.’ And all those cities were along the I-35 corridor.”

Before you look at the CBN video clip about this prophecy, take a few moments and watch a clip of “Prophet” Sam Brassfield give the details. This description of the video from the Godtube page describes the main points:

Prophet Sam Brassfield delivers a powerful prophecy at Ten Nights of Miracles, October 27, 2005, hosted by Generals International at Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, TX. He declares that Interstate 35 in the United States is, like Isaiah 35:8, the “Highway of Holiness”. He details that I-35 splits east and west as it encircles the Dallas metroplex and decrees that Dallas is the epicenter for an incessant revival that is breaking forth in the nation. He stresses that this movement will not be exclusive to the Dallas area, but this revival will affect all 50 states as the fire of God consumes and lights this Highway – the heartbeat of America.

I admit I was skeptical from the beginning but I was pretty convinced this was not legit when he made all of the bad wordplays about mo’ of this and mo’ of that in MO (Missouri). However, two things make me take this seriously. One this movement is being likened to the Brownsville revival which sharply divided Charismatics and non-Charismatics through the late 90s. In fact, one of the principles in that movement, Steve Hill, is involved in this one. The second aspect of this story that made me want to record it here is the following story about James Stabile.

First, watch this clip from CBN describing the I-35 revival and pay attention to the words of James Stabile at about 2:04 into the segment.

Now if you read that CBN article all the way through you knew what was coming.

Then up came James Stabile, a 19-year-old homosexual who’d come by to drink and party.

“I was getting drunk in one bar and I was on my way to go continue getting drunk, and actually I was on my way to meet my fiance,” he said.

But he ran smack-dab into the Purity Siege and Joe Oden, who asked him, “‘Have you ever felt the Presence of God?” Stabile said he answered, “No,” and Oden asked him if he’d like to.

Stabile recounted, “He just barely touched me and he said, ‘Fire!’ and I remember staggering back and I thought I was tripping on acid. It was the weirdest thing ever. And he said, ‘Fire!’ again and I fell in the Holy Ghost.” Stabile said right then he felt God “…just came in and transformed me and radically saved me.”

One thing disappeared immediately: his homosexuality.

“I didn’t feel the desires to be with men like I had felt before,” he said.

Oden recounted the same story from his side of the event.

“We laid hands on him,” he said. “He was hit by the power of God and filled with the Holy Ghost … got plugged into our church, and is just living for God.”

Well, not exactly. There is more to this story that has only recently come to light. According to columnist John Wright of the Dallas Voice, Mr. Stabile’s homosexuality did not go away. But Mr. Stabile went away – all the way to Kentucky’s Pure Life Ministries.

[Pastor Joe] Oden told me Stabile had been shipped off to Pure Life Ministries, which operates a residential treatment program in Northern Kentucky.

“It’s a program for people who’ve lived alternative lifestyles just to get totally clean,” Oden told me.

Pure Life Ministries is the live in program where Michael Johnston now works. Wright continues:

A few weeks later, Oden told me Stabile had been kicked out of Pure Life for being a “compulsive liar,” which rekindled my interest.

Finally, I was able to get in touch with Stabile’s father, Joseph, who gave me the real scoop.

Coincidentally, Joseph Stabile is pastor of Cochran Chapel United Methodist Church, the oldest church in Dallas.

Joseph Stabile said he’s fully accepting of his son’s sexual orientation and believes being gay is neither a choice nor a sin.

Joseph Stabile said James left home to go out that Friday night and never returned. Joseph said James, or “B.J.” as his parents affectionately refer to him, is bipolar and had stopped taking his medication.

James called a few days later and told his parents he was moving out, and that he’d be back to get his stuff. James apparently had moved in with some folks from Heartland.

After that, it would be some time before James’ parents heard from him, as his church friends reportedly advised him not to contact them.

Joseph Stabile said the Heartland folks also may have advised James to throw away his medication, telling him that God would cure his bipolar disorder, too.

Bottom line: Young Mr. Stabile had other issues that he was dealing with that were interpreted within a spiritual framework by the evangelists. Ideas have consequences; what are in my view incorrect information about homosexuality and emotional conditions led to very questionable and harmful practices. Stabile is home now and according to his parents not ready to talk fully about his experiences. I suspect at some point he will be.

I know I do not have this whole sexual identity and religion thing worked out yet. Mark Yarhouse and I are making our best efforts and will revise the Sexual Identity Therapy Framework in 2008. But I am pretty sure what I am described is not the way it is supposed to go. I am not saying that I doubt all claims of miracles presented by Christians, but this story should give serious caution to those who are quick to accept such reports uncritically.

Michael Brown responds to the Southern Poverty Law Center article on ex-gays

I posted yesterday about a Southern Poverty Law Center article, titled Straight Like Me, by Casey Sanchez, which blasted the ex-gay movement. In my post, I note several inaccurate reports. In this post, I provide a brief email interview with Michael Brown, president of the FIRE School of Ministry, who was named in a companion piece, Former Ex-gay Minister Speaks Out. I emailed Dr. Brown with some questions about these statements and he was very kind to respond quickly.  

Throckmorton: In a recent SPLC article, you are referred to as giving a keynote at the latest Exodus Conference. This subject of this article asserts that you believe the Old Testament law should be followed regarding homosexuals. Is this your belief?

Brown: Absolutely not! I am not and have never been a reconstructionist or theonomist, and if we were to put practicing homosexuals to death, we would also have to put Sabbath breakers to death, among many others. 

Throckmorton: Furthermore, in that same article, you were paraphrased as saying in that same Exodus speech that  you encouraged the audience to “give up their lives” in the fight against homosexuality. 

Brown: Out of context. What I did say was that JESUS was worth living for and dying for, and I often quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to illustrate what Jesus meant when he said that if we try to save our lives we lose them but if we lose our lives for him and the gospel, we find them. King said, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right; a man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice; a man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” I was encouraging those fighting unwanted SSA in their own lives to be strong in the Lord and to give themselves unconditionally to His service, then talking about the threat to our freedoms coming through an activist gay agenda as a wake up call.

Throckmorton: Could you react to the following excerpt from the SPLC article: “When you have a keynote speaker like Michael Brown, to me that’s unacceptable. It’s preaching a message of Christians not just simply opposing gay civil rights and believing a spiritual revival is necessary for this country, but actually calling on Christians to lay down their lives in a spiritual revolution to set up civil laws based on one extreme interpretation of biblical laws from the Old Testament [that calls for the death penalty for homosexuals]. It’s Christian Reconstructionism [a doctrine that calls for imposing harsh Old Testament laws on civil society], Christian dominionism. It’s abhorrent, and it’s dangerous, not just for LGBT people but for our entire society. Because if civil laws are based on [Brown]’s interpretation of the Bible, it’s not going to be a democratic society.”

Brown: Well, as a Jewish believer in Jesus and a frontline apologist, I have been accused of many things, but I don’t think I’ve been accused of calling on people to sacrifice our lives to set up OT law!  I can actually send you my power point notes from the message or get Exodus to send you the message itself. I have no clue how such a claim could be made based on my message, which completely contradicts the tone and content of my preaching. Interestingly, since the Exodus conference, I have been invited to become a regular conference speaker with Love Won Out, which is hardly known for calling for the death penalty for homosexual practice.

I was also provided with this link [Straight Like Me] in which the following was written about me: “Brown is “a millennial Jew who once described the red T-shirts worn by his ministry students at a gay rights march counter-demonstration as ‘the shed blood of Christ flowing toward the gates of hell.'” I have no idea if anyone ever said that, but it certainly was not me. Also, our red-shirted students were not part of a counter-demonstration but rather of a compassionate, one-on-one outreach during the city’s gay pride event in 2005.

I intend to send the links to the this and the other post about the SPLC article for their reaction which, if I get one, I will post.

UPDATE: Michael Brown sent a link which provides proper attribution for the quote about the red shirts and the gay pride parade. Flip Benham, head of Operation Save America wrote that in this website newsletter.

Journey into Manhood and New Warriors Training Adventure

Regular readers will know I have made several posts regarding the New Warriors Training Adventure. In discussions of NWTA, other groups come up in conversation. Specifically, Journey into Manhood, the weekend adventure sponsored by People Can Change. The founding of PCC is reported on their website:

People Can Change was founded in September 2000 by Richard Wyler, a man who had personally experienced enormous transformation from unwanted homosexual attractions. Originally, People Can Change was essentially a Web site containing personal success stories of men who had experienced change, plus online support groups for those who were struggling and seeking information and support.

Today, there are more than a half dozen online support groups of, collectively, hundreds of men from all over the world. There is also an online group for wives.

People Can Change grew further in 2002 when David Matheson, a therapist specializing in “gender affirming therapy,” joined Rich to co-create the first Journey Into Manhood experiential healing weekends.

Since that time, hundreds of men from more than a dozen countries have found tremendous healing and growth through the Journey Into Manhood weekend program. Dozens of these men have returned to serve as volunteer weekend staff. Many of them also contribute substantial time and talent to support the mission of People Can Change and support those who currently struggle.

In many ways, JIM and PCC appears to be modeled after Mankind Project and New Warriors which is understandable given that Wyler and Matheson have been involved in New Warriors as initiates and staffers. With the attention to New Warriors and the mention of JIM in the recent Southern Poverty Law Center article, I wanted to get some clarifications from PCC about JIM. I asked Rich Wyler several questions and followed up with a phone conversation. Here are his answers: 

1. What is the relationship, if any between New Warriors and JIM?

1) There is no relationship between Journey Into Manhood and the New Warrior Training Adventure or its parent, MKP. People Can Change (the organization that runs the Journey Into Manhood experiential weekend program) is an independent organization completely separate from and unaffiliated with MKP.

2. Are you or your partners still staffing NWTAs?

2) I have not staffed NWTA for several years, nor has David Matheson, my co-creator of the Journey Into Manhood program. I don’t know whether other senior staff volunteers have or not. We do not monitor the volunteer efforts of our staff.

3. Does JIM endorse MKP and NWTA?

3) We do not endorse MKP or NWTA, although we do make information about NWTA available, along with information on Christian- and Jewish-variations of New Warriors (Dare to Soar, Marked Men for Christ, Call of the Shofar, etc.) along with other programs, such as various 12-step programs. It’s an information list of resources, not an endorsement list.

4. Do you have a policy that does not allow staff to refer JIM participants to NWTA? Or instead are JIM encouraged to refer men to NWTA? Or is it up to individual JIM leaders?

4) PCC as an organization makes men aware of a variety of resources that have proven helpful to others in their process of growth. NWTA is one such resource. PCC does not have a policy governing what individual leaders and volunteers can and cannot suggest to participants.  Our volunteer staff are free to share with others what they have personally found helpful in their own experience.

5. If you do refer to NWTA, do you indicate to men that the experience might help reduce SSA?

5) Many past participants of NWTA have reported that as they grew in their sense of personal power and their own sense of masculinity, and as they felt more connected to the world of heterosexual men at large — factors that the NWTA experience can facilitate — they have experienced a diminished sense of SSA. Additionally, many men consider NWTA to be a significant part of their overall growth process. However, PCC does not have an official position on NWTA’s helpfulness in overcoming SSA specifically.

6. Are initiates into JIM allowed to talk about what occurs at a JIM weekend?

6) The Journey Into Manhood confidentiality agreement states:- I agree to forever keep confidential all names and identifying information of those participating in the “Journey Into Manhood” weekend. 

–        I agree to forever keep confidential any and all aspects of what others experience this weekend and anything they may choose to disclose about themselves, their lives and their feelings.

–        I also agree to keep confidential specifics about the actual processes and activities used in the course of the training.  This is to preserve the confidentiality of the training for others who may participate in the future, so that it may have the greatest possible impact on their lives.  

–        I am, however, free to share with others my own feelings about the training and what I experienced in the course of the weekend, if I choose, as long as I do so without violating my commitments to confidentiality as noted above.

I appreciate Rich’s candid reply which is more than I can say for the New Warriors leadership. I still await MKP Executive Director, Carl Greisser’s responses to my contacts weeks ago.

In my post about the Southern Poverty Law Center article, Rich said the JIM processes do not include memory recovery work. However, JIM does activities similar to NWTA which evokes strong feelings about past memories. On inquiry, Rich does not believe JIM processes elicit false memories of past events. We may disagree here that one can be sure. 

I also asked Rich why processes are kept confidential. He said he believed the methods work better if the man has his emotions engaged rather than intellectually going through a process. It is my contention that for something to be offered as a means of change, there should be something inherent in the process that is potent which cannot be eroded significantly by knowing it is coming. Otherwise, we are really talking about an attempt to attach strong emotion to a set of new perspectives which, if adopted, might explain life in a way that provides increased certainty or understanding. These processes offered by NWTA and JIM seem more like efforts at persuasion – persuading a person to adopt a different view of self or others. Strong emotion is the lubricant for such persuasion. One can argue that such means are good if the change is desired. This may be so.

Speaking of outcomes, Rich indicated that he has some new survey data coming out soon that looks favorable for PCC. When it comes out, I will be happy to post it for evaluation. I want to thank Rich for his openness to discuss this matter of great importance to him. 

Read my other posts on New Warriors and the Mankind Project here.