Two antigay groups have come to the defense of George A. Rekers, more than a week after he was caught employing a young gay escort on a European trip.
Officials with the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which purports to conduct research on treatment for those who “struggle with unwanted homosexuality,” told The Advocate that NARTH stands behind Rekers’s research, even though he resigned his membership in the group Tuesday in order to “fight the false media reports” against him.
“Good, peer-reviewed science speaks for itself,” NARTH spokesman David C. Pruden said in an e-mail response.
Pruden also said that NARTH never pressured Rekers to resign from the organization, where he served on the board and the scientific advisory committee. “We didn’t need to,” he said. “[Rekers] very graciously suggested it from almost the first press report.”
On Wednesday, Mathew D. Staver, founder of the conservative Christian legal group Liberty Counsel, said his organization would back Rekers in potential lawsuits and that the University of South Carolina professor emeritus “would have a great case to file a defamation action.”
Rekers has vigorously defended himself against allegations that he received sexual massages from Jo-vanni Roman, a 20-year-old escort who advertised his services on RentBoy.com, during a 10-day trip to London and Madrid. Rekers claims that he is not gay and did not know Roman was an escort until midway through his travels.
"I think that it's the classic [tactic]: If you can't destroy the message, you destroy the messenger,” Staver told The Washington Times. “I think this is a personal attack designed to cast aspersions on his character and reputation.”
The two groups’ support for Rekers is an about-face after antigay organizations, including the lobbying group Family Research Council, distanced themselves following May 4, when the Miami New Times broke the story.
Pruden denied news reports alleging that NARTH was also quietly purging Rekers from its ranks by systematically deleting his work from the organization’s website. The research in question includes a 2004 statement in defense of an Arkansas law that bars gays and individuals living with gay family members from adopting children that is no longer found on the NARTH site.
“Without judging anyone else, let me say that I do know that if being stupid or even a hypocrite eliminated someone from public involvement, almost all of us who were honest would have to live alone in a cave somewhere,” Pruden added. “I know I would.”
Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, a national group critical of so-called reparative therapy, was skeptical of NARTH’s assertion that Rekers resigned his membership voluntarily, however. “I suspect NARTH was waiting to see if Rekers could wiggle and weasel his way out of [the scandal],” Besen said. “He failed, so this week we may see more groups running away.”
A Southern Baptist Convention spokesman said he could find no record indicating Rekers is a pastor with the church, though Rekers cites in his curriculum vitae that he was ordained as a minister in the church in 1994 and that he provides ongoing “evangelistic outreach, substitute Bible teaching, and consultation on counseling ministry” to a Southern Baptist church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A fellow purported expert on gay marriage and parenting also denied that Rekers’s decades of research had influenced his own work, despite apparent evidence to the contrary. David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, who testified as an expert witness in the federal Proposition 8 trial in January, said that he did not draw on Rekers’s research in expressing his views to the court. “If you review my expert testimony submitted to the court, you will see that I do not cite anyone named ‘Dr. Rekers.’ I am not familiar with him or his work,” Blankenhorn wrote in an e-mail.
A list of materials referenced in Blankenhorn’s signed expert report submitted to the court, however, includes a declaration of support written by Rekers for California’s Proposition 22, a ballot measure prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriage that passed in 2000. Blankenhorn said he was unaware of any court document provided by him that references Rekers’s work and said it was possible that he “or the lawyers or someone else made a mistake somewhere” in the report.
Ted Haggard, a former president of the National Association of Evangelicals who resigned from his position as founding pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs following a highly publicized gay sex scandal in 2006, said he expected more groups would abandon Rekers as the story continues to unfold. “I know exactly what it feels like to have both sides hating you bitterly,” Haggard said. “Some Christians will throw him away. Some gays will crusade against him.”
Following revelations in 2006 that Haggard had hired gay escort Mike Jones and had purchased crystal methamphetamine from him, Haggard has struggled to revive his pastoral career. He said this week that he and his wife, Gayle, had incorporated a new church for the primary purpose of managing income from their paid speaking engagements, though they have not ruled out the possibility of creating a new ministry.
“If there is any truth to the accusations, this may be his opportunity to find a safe environment where [Rekers] can process the embarrassing, internal battle that conflicts with his Christian ideals,” Haggard said. “He may need to work through that with someone who won’t judge or tear him apart.”
Rekers may be doing just that: In a Wednesday e-mail to Christianity Today, Rekers said he made an “unwise decision” to hire a “travel assistant after knowing him only one month before the trip,” adding that he was participating in “ongoing meetings with an experienced pastor and counselor from my church, so I can more fully understand my weaknesses and prevent this kind of unwise decision-making in the future.”