Friday, December 14, 2007
Dallas gay man adversely affected by Christian “purity siege”
James Stabile now at home after detour through Kentucky ex-gay clinic.
Next time you see that group of fundamentalist Christians proselytizing outside the gay bars on the Cedar Springs strip, be sure to ask them about James Stabile.
In late November, right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson’s “The 700 Club” aired a segment on how some have come to believe — through prophecies, dreams and visions — that Interstate 35 is the “highway to holiness” referenced in the Old Testament.
As the story goes, a reformation is springing up in cities along I-35, which runs from Laredo to Duluth, Minn., that eventually will spread to the coasts and cleanse the entire nation of sin.
Or something like that.
Anyhow, the segment focused on a group affiliated with Heartland World Ministries Church in Las Colinas that’s been staging so-called “purity sieges” outside the bars on the strip — not far from where I-35 passes through Dallas — on Friday nights for the last few months.
I had covered one of these “sieges” back in early September, but as usual my timing was a little off.
Turns out, had I been there just a week before, I could have witnessed firsthand the dramatic and miraculous alleged conversion of Stabile.
Stabile, “a 19-year-old homosexual atheist from Dallas,” was out having a few drinks when he ran into Joe Oden, the Heartland evangelist who’s been helping to organize the sieges.
“He just barely touched me, and he said, ‘Fire!’ And I remember staggering backward, and I thought I was, like, tripping on acid,” Stabile said in “The 700 Club” segment. “It was the weirdest thing ever. … I didn’t feel the desire to be with men like I had felt before.”
Naturally, thanks to YouTube, it didn’t take long before the segment was plastered all over the gay blogosphere.
But the question remained: For the love of God, who is James Stabile?
I mean, surely someone in Dallas’ gay community had met this guy, right? Or was he just a member of the church who was planted on the strip so the incident could be staged?
I later asked Oden (who turns out to be a pretty nice guy, though clearly not my type), whether he could put me in touch with Stabile.
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.
Upon further investigation, I discovered Pure Life Ministries is also the place where Mike Johnston — remember him?! — is director of donor and media relations.
Johnston’s the guy who contracted HIV before swearing off homosexuality and becoming a poster child for the ex-gay movement in the late 1980s.
Then, in 2003, it was revealed that Johnston was living a double life — cruising men online and organizing unsafe sex parties while failing to disclose his HIV status to partners. Johnston eventually checked into Pure Life and later re-emerged in his current position.
“With good reason, people would question what I’m saying now,” Johnston told me recently during what he said was the only interview he’s given on the subject in four years.
But I digress.
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.
Joseph’s parents said James has a tendency to be less than truthful, especially when he’s off his medication, and that he loves attention. They said they don’t believe he’s ever questioned his sexuality, but that the folks from Heartland manipulated and exploited him for publicity.
It wasn’t until James got to Pure Life that he was able to reconnect with his parents. Not surprisingly, James wasn’t fitting in to the program, his father said.
“James did not fit into the program because their whole aim was to have him not be gay,” his father said.
Thankfully, the story has a happy ending. After nearly four months, James returned home last weekend.
His parents said they feel it’s too soon for James to talk about what happened, and that they want him to see his therapist first.
They said James has revealed little about his time at Pure Life, which he now refers to as “straight camp.” James just told them it was “horrible” and that there are some things he will never be able to share.
James’ mother, Suzanne, said he told her the people at Pure Life constantly threatened that he was going to hell.
Men in the program had to be fully clothed from the neck down at all times, including when they went to sleep, James told his parents. And they were prohibited from any physical contact, including shaking hands.
When James got kicked out, his father asked someone at Pure Life whether they would buy him a bus ticket.
After all, James had paid $2,100 to get in to the program, plus $150 a week. But the representative from Pure Life refused.
Joseph Stabile has contacted “The 700 Club” and asked them to retract the information about James in the segment.
For now, though, James parents are just glad to have him back.
“None of that experience was Christian, helpful, loving or supportive,” Suzanne Stabile said.