Fundamental questions about good governance
COLUMBIA, Mo 03/26/15 (Beat Byte) -- A controversy about First Ward Columbia City Council candidate Clyde Ruffin's ties to a nationwide ministry that advocates "curing" homosexuality through prayer has been playing out in social media, emails to local reporters, the Keep Columbia Free politics watch, and other forums since the campaign began.
The controversy turns on these questions: Can policy makers with personal or religious biases fairly decide issues, such as partner employment benefits and non-discrimination ordinances, that affect the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community?
Does Ruffin have any such biases?
Prominent mention of Desert Stream Ministries on a 2nd Baptist Church profile page featuring Ruffin and wife Sheila sparked the questions. The church's "First Lady," Sheila Ruffin "is a certified coordinator for the national ministry, Desert Stream, which provides Christ-centered help for those struggling with sexual and relational problems," the website explains. "She was instrumental in bringing this ministry to the city of Columbia."
Desert Stream and its founder, Andrew Comiskey, are considered among the so-called "gay reparative" movement's most strident practitioners. The movement is roughly divided into two camps: psychologically-based "gay conversion therapy," and prayer-based religious counterparts such as Desert Stream.
Comiskey's Twitter feed sheds light on Desert Stream's philosophy. "Join us Saturday for How ‘healing the homosexual' transforms us all'" it announces. "Nothing speaks more clearly into the questions surrounding homosexuality than persons who have been humbled by it. Jesus is raising them up."
"November 22, 2014: The Lie of ‘Gay’ Love," the Twitter feed continues, sending readers to Comiskey's blog, where he denounces homosexuals as "a common enemy that has devised one of the most divisive strategies of our century: the ‘gay’ way or the highway."
Comiskey often addresses political issues too, most notably denouncing gay marriage at both the Federal and state Supreme Court levels.
Sheila Ruffin tells the story of her introduction to Comiskey in a 2008 Desert Stream Ministries newsletter. Seeking to help a friend who was "struggling with homosexuality," Ruffin writes that she "picked up a copy of Andrew Comiskey’s book, Pursuing Sexual Wholeness: How Jesus Heals the Homosexual....I began to read about the nature of sexual brokenness...."
Comiskey's teachings profoundly influenced Sheila Ruffin, culminating 15 years later in a Columbia-based offshoot of Desert Stream called "Cross Current" that shared contact information with her husband's church.
Cross Current offered an 8-week course designed to "heal sexual brokenness, sexual sin, and unhealthy relationships from the past." A page of testimonials suggests the courses were well-received by attendees.
Though candidate Ruffin has not responded to questions from this publication or otherwise addressed the controversy, he has been aware of it, supporters say, at one point planning an interview or press conference to "clear the air."
His wife's high-ranking position in his church and the so-called "First Lady Effect" in which both candidate and spouse share outspoken public lives (think Hillary Clinton) prompted the concerns -- and with one Ruffin supporter, a defense.
"Clyde and Sheila Ruffin have different spheres of influence," Maja Hill -- who said she has known the couple for 25 years -- emailed the Heart Beat. "I see no basis for tying Clyde Ruffin to political positions that seem to be troubling part of our Columbia community."
The Ruffins are "strong, unique individuals" whom "I have never known to impose their values on each other, their children or anyone in their separate spheres of influence," Hill explained. Despite written materials that link the two organizations, Hill said she sees "no formal connection between Second Missionary Baptist Church and Desert Stream Ministries."
"It is also worth noting that Desert Stream uses no coercive or manipulative approaches toward those who seek them out for help with deeply personal issues."
With trust in the city's most powerful policy-making body at all-time lows, voters are scrutinizing City Council candidates as never before, New groups such as CoMo Council Watch have even created forums devoted exclusively to the First Ward, which saw Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick resign after a successful recall petition earlier this year.