The Student Movement


Coming Out Ministries in Berrien Springs

Erin Beers

Photo by Google Maps (Logos by Andrews University and Coming Out Ministries)

We are excited about having a facility near the campus from which we can work closely with the university faculty, staff, administration, and students who are interested in what we have to offer. For some time now there has been a support group on campus working from one point of view. It should not be a problem to have another point of view close by, especially in this day and age of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” And I’m curious as to how a difference of opinion "causes fear for safety of students mental, physical and spiritual health.” What ever happened to “agree to disagree?” The gospel should not be blamed for causing fear for safety. That paints the gospel in a negative light.

 Pastor Ron Woolsey, in response to an inquiry from the author.

There is a Seventh-day Adventist “ministry” group known as Coming Out Ministries (COM) who are under contract to purchase a building across from Andrews University. This ministry is not supported by Andrews University or the official Seventh-day Adventist Church. It believes that anyone can be converted out of a life of homosexuality and into a closer relationship with God. Their many website videos and stories of “redemption” from gay temptation are reminiscent of those found in conversion therapy groups like the denounced “Homosexuals Anonymous” (supported by the Seventh-day Adventist Church until 1986) and “Exodus International,” an ex-Gay Christian organization that was dissolved in 2012 after its own president renounced conversion therapy. Now, as conversion therapy in the classic sense has been debunked and disparaged by religious, medical, and healthcare professionals–along with survivors of conversion therapy–it is being replaced with a new form that instead focuses on a change in behavior. H. Meyer from the Williams Institute describes conversion therapy in the context of religions as, “Rather than being therapy, so-called ‘conversion therapy’ is a minority stressor that reinforces stigma and conveys that being LGB is abnormal, sinful, and should be rejected.” This viewpoint is what aligns with Coming Out Ministries’ goals. They insinuate that those in the LGBTQ+ community are placing their identity before God. Beyond this in their mission statement, they condemn those who “do not understand gay/homosexual deceptions” and “provide affirmation and sympathy rather than the hope and healing that God would have us share with this natural, yet sinful inclination.” 

Now, before moving forward, I want to share with you what Pastor Ron Woolsey - Senior Speaker and Co-Founder of Coming Out Ministries - had to say when I reached out to him:

We are excited about having a facility near the campus from which we can work closely with the university faculty, staff, administration, and students [underlines added by Student Movement] who are interested in what we have to offer. For some time now there has been a support group on campus working from one point of view. It should not be a problem to have another point of view close by, especially in this day and age of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”[underlines added by Student Movement]. And I’m curious as to how a difference of opinion "causes fear for safety of students mental, physical and spiritual health.” What ever happened to “agree to disagree?” The gospel should not be blamed for causing fear for safety. That paints the gospel in a negative light.

According to their website, “No greater joy has been experienced in our lives than that which has freed us from the chains of homosexuality.” The two co-founders of this ministry are Ron Woolsey and Michael Carducci, who both claim to have been saved from their gay lifestyle. They say they can do the same for others by “sharing their personal journeys, compassion, and the truth of God,'' as is promised in their mission statement. This ministry says they do not, in any way, participate in change therapy or reparative therapy, despite the many rumors saying that they do. Examples of these rumors can be found in this article by Adventist Today, this video by former SDA pastor Alicia Johnston, and this article by Kinship International. The Coming Out Ministries website contains numerous news articles, testimonies and blogs which discuss various issues they see in the church and with the LGBTQ+ community. But are they really refraining from using the tactics found in reparative or conversion therapy? 

Reparative therapy is used to try and convert someone out of homosexuality and into heterosexuality through various unethical techniques. In fact, “every major medical and mental health organization in the United States has issued a statement condemning the use of conversion therapy,” according to the Human Rights Campaign. Not a single mental health organization has found validity in the practice of conversion therapy. In fact, multiple organizations found that significant harm is inflicted on those who go through it. Youth rely on the guidance of therapists, mentors and spiritual leaders for various issues they go through, including their sexuality. If the guidance is not from an unbiased and educated perspective, then there is an act of persuasion involved in every conversation. A study reported by the Stonewall Staff in the UK found that 51% of those who had gone through reparative therapy were there because their religious affiliations were conducting it. One mother wrote, in response to the lack of educational qualifications in leaders of Coming Out Ministries in an article for Spectrum Magazine, “even if they are well-meaning, these untrained individuals have the potential to inflict massive damage. These young people are highly vulnerable and, in my opinion, should be connected with people who are not only experts in these topics but also subject to a code of ethics.”

 A study by an orthopsychiatrist (someone who specializes in preventing mental health or behavioral disorders) which looked into how religion affects the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth found that, “In all likelihood, the causal relationship between religious affiliation and internalized homophobia begins early in life and is reiterated through continued participation in non-affirming religious settings throughout life.” In other words, because the members of COM are not “affirming,” – with “affirming” referring to believing that existing as LGBTQ+ is not wrong or sinful – they are using forms of conversion therapy to get people to reject the queer part of who they are. As a result, mental, physical, and emotional health declines, and a sense of isolation can take over that person's life. 

COM repeatedly states that they do not approve of conversion therapy or its practices and that they do not wish to change someone from being homosexual to heterosexual. They state in their first newsletter from 2016 that, “‘Coming Out’ Ministries has never promised to change a person from gay to straight; into a gender confident heterosexual.” They claim to only want to spread the word of God in a “holistic manner.” But if their goal was to just minister about God to people, then why are all its leaders claiming to have been freed from homosexuality? Why would an organization title itself “Coming Out Ministries” if not to minister to specifically queer people? If the target audience is queer people and all the leaders of the organization are ex-gay, then it only makes sense that they want people to change who they are based on their ministry. This is what makes them part of the harmful conversion therapy practice. 

In their most recent newsletter, titled A Time For Thanksgiving, COM mentions a new development in their ministry. They are under contract to buy the law office that is just across the street from the Andrews University entrance. They make note of this location saying, “It is located right at the main entrance to Andrews University and with very prominent signage, as it is right on the main road through Berrien Springs.” They describe it as a much-needed location that has been a long time coming. In the same paragraph they say,

“It would afford space for small conferences, private visitations, a library of resources and room for storage. The building would be highly visible and easily accessible to faculty, staff, students, and visitors coming to and going from Andrews University on a daily basis. It would offer us the opportunity to work closely with the University in addressing the many issues surrounding the LGBT+ ideology and agenda, from a redemptive perspective.”

This does not sound like a ministry with no agenda attached to the spreading of the gospel. They clearly state that they wish to be visible to anyone in Berrien Springs, especially anyone affiliated with the University, on a daily basis. Studies conducted by the Family Acceptance Project in collaboration with SAMHSA show that students who identify as LGBTQ have “disproportionally high levels of bullying, harassment and discrimination,” putting those students “at a higher risk of depression anxiety, suicidal ideation and attempt, substance abuse, and other mental health problems, in addition to negative educational outcomes.” COM wishes to target queer students who are potentially already unsafe on an Adventist campus so that they can minister to them. They want the best signage so as to promote their own ideologies. They wish to involve the University and they want to approach the issue from a “redemptive perspective.” The term “redemptive perspective” implies an inherent evil is present and causing harm. This concept is closely intertwined with the term reparative therapy, a form of conversion therapy. To “repair” is to fix something that has been broken, whether physically or spiritually. According to the Movement Advancement Project, conversion therapy is illegal for minors in 22 states when being conducted by a psychologist. This past July, Governor Whitmer signed a bill that protects LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy, adding Michigan to the list mentioned above. This does not include any religious leaders like pastors, or the leaders of COM, which means that religious leaders can get away with things like “redemptive” ministry and fly under the radar of the law. COM denies their association with conversion therapy and instead states in their article outlining what the ministry’s goals are: “We simply share the stories of our own personal journeys, and what we have learned along the way.” They seem to think that sharing their stories will not actively harm numerous people in the process, or that it is justified because it is in the name of God. This is not the kind of turmoil that needs to be forced upon students and faculty members every day when they come to campus. 

This ministry may want to interact with students, but they are not allowed to pose unwelcome statements about gender or sexual identity on campus, according to the university’s policy on Hostile Environment Harassment. The COM statement on their goals for this new office clearly portray an intent to minister to students on Andrews University campus. It is concerning that they want such prominent signage and easy access to the campus, especially given the rumors that surround this ministry. It is also important to note that the University's handbook under Access and Privacy of Student Educational Records states, “Andrews University has the right to disclose “directory information” without the written consent of the student unless the student has informed the University Registrar in writing of his/her refusal to permit the dissemination of directory information.” In other words, unless students have specifically requested to not have their information shared, the University holds the right to do so. They list various characteristics which fall under the “directory information,” but for the sake of brevity, these are the ones which cause particular concern: participation in officially recognized activities, gender, age, email, local address and local phone number. Andrews can also withhold this information from third parties should they choose to do so, but this still leaves students vulnerable should COM request this information and the university grant it. For example, if COM got access to the list of students in the Haven organization on campus, they would also have all the information listed above, which is concerning. Though COM claims they will not be reaching out to just queer students, as is mentioned on their main webpage linked above, they have the opportunity to specifically target these students and attempt to evangelize to them, putting them at risk of being “outed.” When someone is “outed,” their sexual or gender identity is disclosed without consent. Even if it is not the intention of COM to “out” a student, this could easily disrupt family dynamics, friendships and the students’ ability to perform well academically, as is described in this article by the National LGBTQ Task Force. 

For this last section I would like to speak as a concerned student of Andrews University to Coming Out Ministries directly. I urge you to reconsider your decision to buy this office and instead think of the people that you will harm regularly with just your presence. Right outside of campus is not the place to start a new branch of ministry. If you must obtain an office in Berrien Springs, then let it be somewhere else where students can still access the office if they choose to. Don’t force this ministry on people, especially those who are vulnerable. Ultimately, this does not come down to agreeing or disagreeing with the ministry itself. It comes down to the harm that this purchase will cause, the lives of students who will, on a daily basis, be impacted, and the lengths that your group will go to spread your own ideologies.

The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.