Discover more from Thrive
Karl Rove Was Never My Bestie
He had a great handshake though...
Facebook can be a real jerk sometimes. I opened it up last week and BLAM! It reminded me this photo was taken 18 years ago, and I used to be skinny and young… ugh. OH, and I was in a tux standing next to Sith Lord Karl Rove, Darth Vader’s wishes he could be Rove’s mean-girl best friend.
My political beliefs have changed, and I am no longer proud of this photo. But, in context, it reveals the actual “political influence” of Exodus International when I worked there.
While Karl Rove did shake my hand and took a photo, if you were to ask him if he knows Randy Thomas (my maiden name :)), I guarantee he would say, “Who?” The truth is, that photo was bought. It cost a pretty penny to get us all in that ballroom. Then it costs even more money for the privilege of standing in a lonnnnng boring line of egos, walking up to the man, shaking his hand for a photo, and then on to the next huge ego in line with their hand extended.
It was a typical grip-and-grin meet-and-greet moment. I also stood in the same line as Jan Crouch from TBN.
While Rachel Maddow would later correctly highlight Exodus’ influence in that realm from 2003 to 2008, she flashed the photo of Rove and me on the screen as evidence of conversion therapy’s influence. This was a bit off-skew. Rove and I didn’t have each other on speed dial from our office phones or invite each other over for cookouts. We weren’t concocting any political strategy with him.
Were we being evil (regular meetings and events) with people who had his ear? Definitely.
Maddow is correct in all the connections she made in her show that day. However, the whole context is Exodus paid to be in those rooms and meetings. So yes, those politicians are known supporters of the anti-lgbtq+ policy, and we were allowed into the same rooms because of the underlying stigmatizing theology that empowers ex-gay groups. And that is where the real alarm bell exists—more on that in a second.
We were under the misguided impression we would be treated as peers within that world. But that naivete would be shattered during the 2008 election cycle (for me, at least). Obama brought out the absolute worst in that crowd, and I didn’t want to go back to meet with them. As best I remember, Alan Chambers (my boss then and chosen family now) agreed. We weren’t players in the game but pawns in their schemes.
… Just like all our critics said. I am getting tired of eating crow.
Speaking of which, this photo has been used to accuse me of all manner of evil. I wouldn’t say I like the criticism, but I understand it; not mad at it at all. However, if you see this photo and only get upset with me, you may miss the much larger and more critical alarm bell. Yes, sure, be angry at the self-loathing version of me if you like, but don’t forget that this photo represents a much larger, very concerning issue.
Because, at heart, systemic homophobia is systemic. Cultural stigma and toxic religious ideologies regarding LGBTQ+ concerns come from the same place. Since the beginning, culturally driven conservative Christianity has been at the base of the United States and has always errantly taught hatred against LGBTQ+ people. Every conservative church believes the same stigmatizing theology concerning gender identity and sexuality that has been taught for generations and is still being taught by tens of millions of conservatives every time the topic comes up.
We weren’t getting pictures with high-profile politicians because we somehow hooked them into our schemes to do our bidding. However, at the core of why we were in the same photo is because we believe the same things we both learned in our respective churches. This destructive belief system pervades every conservative church across all communities racially and culturally, at every level of government, and in all denominations.
Thrive is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I think the focus should be on changing hearts and minds. Education through legislation isn’t working. Legislation is critical and must be attended to, but it is clear that opposing policy views do not change just because the policy does. To change hearts and minds, we must keep in mind the more extensive system at work while having empathy, or at least sympathy (never pity) for the person in front of us, even amidst strong disagreement.
As I said at the premiere Q&A for Pray Away at the Tribeca Film festival, “Regardless of what you think about me, conversion therapy and its pastoral form of ex-gay ministry must end.”
I cannot let the flashpoints of highlighted media controversies blind me from the truth that the issue is much more significant and systemic. Changing hearts and minds will take more effort to reach the individual with understanding instead of leaving it to blanket policy responses. Both need to happen, but individual hearts and minds will make the difference for a more accessible and equal society.
Have a good day!