In the late 1970s, Mike Haley was out--and outspoken. He attended the rainbow-flag-waving Metropolitan Community Church and bristled at the notion that homosexuality isn't genetic. "When I was gay," he remembers, "I hated people that said that."
Today, Haley says his days as a gay man are over.
With his Rotarian grin, blue blazer and stylish haircut, Haley--who is 40 years old but swears he looks 26--could pass for a Log Cabin Republican. In fact, he is married, the father of two sons, and makes a living spreading the very belief that used to raise his hackles.
Haley is the public face of "Love Won Out" (www.lovewonout.com), the controversial Focus on the Family conference that rolls into Portland next week proclaiming that Christians can "love homosexuals out" of their sexual orientation.
But when Haley's crew comes to town Saturday, June 21, at Portland's New Hope Community Church, rival factions will be waiting. Local gay-friendly churches will stage a counter-conference titled "Love Welcomes All" (www.lovewelcomesall.org), Friday and Saturday, June 20-21, at Zion United Church of Christ in Gresham.
What's love got to do with it?
Both groups say they love gays. They disagree on how to show it. Haley says gays can and should "overcome" their homosexuality but adds that Christians should love them regardless. In other words, hate the game, not the player.
That's not love, says Dave Dornack, senior pastor at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church and a volunteer for Love Welcomes All.
Dornack says Love Welcomes All represents a more tolerant alternative for Christians. In other--Billy Joel's--words, "Don't go changing, to try and please me.... I love you just the way you are."
Dornack says Haley's message is homophobia disguised by a slick, compassionate-sounding package. "It will come across as being very caring," Dornack says, "but in the end it says, 'God hates you, God didn't create you this way.'"
In the two Loves' quarrel, Love Won Out has the cash advantage. Launched in 1998 in Columbus, Ohio, the project is sponsored by the Colorado-based Focus on the Family Foundation, an evangelical Christian nonprofit that operates in 40 countries and reported more than $121 million in revenue in 2001.
Last year, Christians in Kansas City responded with the first Love Welcomes All. Since then, centrist Christian leaders around the country have seized on the model as a way to offer a grassroots alternative to the fundamentalist approach to homosexuality.
Haley says critics misunderstand his message. He says the conference, which is aimed in part at parents of homosexuals, urges them to love, not shun, their gay children while at the same time praying that they will change. Homosexuality is not genetic, he says, but a flaw in a child's development that can be prevented and "realigned" through therapy.
"It's not that we're fixing people," he says. "It's the idea of meeting those unmet emotional needs." Once that is done, Haley says gay people won't be gay anymore. He offers himself as living proof.
In 1997, the American Psychological Association adopted a resolution denouncing "reparative therapy" as false and potentially harmful. But Haley says the APA resolution was the work of a powerful gay and lesbian caucus within the association.
Though he disagrees with such beliefs, Love Welcomes All's Dornack showed up at a recent Love Won Out meeting to hear Haley speak. He says he can understand how some Christians may be persuaded by Haley's polished testimony.
"Mike's presentation was well-rehearsed. They're going to come in with wonderful color pictures that are going to promise the American dream," Dornack says. "You could get trapped up in saying they're really not that bad."