Our America With Lisa Ling: God and Gays
Thursday, 10 p.m., OWN network
OWN’s Lisa Ling continues her noble and frequently illuminating trips across the country to root out stories about citizens who find themselves on the usual margins of lifestyle or happenstance, but I sometimes worry that her series, “Our America,” is itself an exercise in obscurity.
It’s one of those rare docu-series that has a genuine ability to be quiet and open-minded, even at the risk of boring some viewers.
On Thursday night’s episode, “God and Gays,” Ling returns to the threadbare debate over the so-called ex-gay movement, a Christian ministry that for decades claimed to fix homosexuality with conversion (or “reparative“) therapy. It’s an old story with a new twist: Ling has been summoned by one of her former profile subjects, Exodus International leader Alan Chambers, who would like her to facilitate a meeting with gays and lesbians who endured reparative therapy, mostly with disastrous results.
Chambers wants to apologize and tell them that Exodus is getting out of the cure-all business.
So here they sit, in a depressing, drop-panel-ceiling basement of the Hollywood Lutheran Church. The men and women share their stories of encounters with the “pray-the-gay-away” crowd and the psychological burdens that came with it. Exodus’ original founder, Michael Bussee, who left the organization (and the closet) ages ago to live somewhat happily ever after, is also here, mostly to give Chambers the what-for.
Reading nervously from a rambling, prepared text, Chambers tells the group that Exodus will go on, minus its core mission of reparative therapy. One woman says she must have missed something in what he said. “What is Exodus now?” she asks.
“We’re a Christian ministry …” Chambers begins. (“That does what, now?” a man in the group asks.)
“Don’t tweak it, don’t try to ‘improve’ it,” Bussee tells Chambers, his anger rising. “Shut it down.”
Chambers, who spent half his life preaching about how he overcame homosexuality, talks about grace and forgiveness. Ling asks about how he now defines his own sexuality.
“Am I straight?” Chambers asks rhetorically. “I’m Alan. I’m a Christian. I love Jesus. I’m crazy about my wife. I’m a dad. I’m a neighbor. I’m a gardner – I decorate so well.”
In terms of catharsis, the meeting is mostly a letdown for all involved. Ling correctly notes that the goodwill in the room emanates from a willingness to forgive, but also from a sense of fatigue.
That’s what I felt, watching it: utter fatigue. Old arguments are falling apart; momentum toward equal rights has taken over. And yet pretty much anything you see on television – still – about gays and lesbians has the feel of that dark church basement and the circle of folding chairs.
TV still mostly focuses on gay oppression, struggles, anger, sadness, teen suicide and sad memories; the only counterbalances to that are drag queen showdowns, real-estate agent catfights and Michael Douglas vamping about as a tragic Liberace.
You’ll know things have really changed when someone besides Logo TV gets around to making a reality series about gay people just having some unencumbered fun.
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