Tuesday, January 19th, 2016
Throughout the years I was involved in leadership with ExGay ministries those in the LBGT community often said that we were causing suicides. I often dismissed their accusations, as I perceived them to be attempts only to discredit our work. Sadly last week, January 15, 2016, Jim, a man that was in the Love in Action program back in 1994 committed suicide.
In 1994, Love In Action was considering a move away from San Rafael, CA. As we discussed our plans, during Jim’s program time with us, he came to me saying that his church back in Memphis, TN would gladly welcome our ministry there. He introduced us to his church leaders, and as a result, we chose to move the entire ministry to Memphis in December of 1994. At that time, Jim was excited about being involved with an ExGay ministry. He was hopeful that he might find freedom from what he believed was a besetting sin. Jim finished the program, moved with us to Memphis and stayed in the program for a follow up year. He seemed to do well and to be thankful for his involvement.
But, along with so many who were part of the Love in Action program, after they moved on, they evaluated their participation and had mixed reactions. When I reconnected with Jim a couple of years ago I discovered he was really struggling with his life and had lost a great job because he was so discouraged. After twenty years of trying, he found his life was under severe depression. He had not had any change in his sexuality as he had heard could be his experience, and yet he was really trying to maintain his relationship with God. After so many years of hearing messages of shame and guilt about being a gay man, he just couldn’t seem to get over his internal discouragement.
A long time friend of his wrote this upon Jim’s death:
Jim left this life today. I knew him 32 years. We were in school together and moved to Gatlinburg for summer jobs from college. Jim was a survivor of the Exodus program. I blame them directly for this. Christ died for Jim, and Jim loved the Lord. No one can separate us from Christ’s love. Thankful, so very thankful we had just spoke on the phone. All my love, Jim.
I’ve reconnected with close to 200 men and women who were involved with Love In Action during the time I was there (1996-2008) I cannot tell you how many struggled intensely with depression afterwards. As I think back to the overt and covert messages that were communicated through Exodus International and through Love In Action, clearly we are accountable for laying out a message that conveyed that people were broken, deceived and wounded because they were gay. We encouraged them through messages of hope that they would experience change if they believed, followed biblical instruction, obeyed and repented of their homosexual temptations and behaviors.
LGBT people have heard messages like:
- “If you’re gay, you are an abomination!”
- “Until you repent, you’ll never find a good relationship with God, or others!
- “If you’re gay, you must submit yourself to God and God will heal your brokenness.”
- “You’re gay because you had a negative relationship with your dad, and you were overly enmeshed with your mom, or you were sexually abused.”
- “You were emotionally dependent on that man that you were so close to. That’s sinful and you have to break that off and can never talk to him again!”
- “Don’t believe the lies the devil tells you! You are not gay!”
- “Maybe you could get married to a woman and that will help you to not act upon your homosexual inclinations.”
- “Stay away from anything gay, or connected with your homosexual lifestyle.”
Hearing those messages over and over laid out a negative foundation of belief that some people never overcame. These messages were especially destructive since they were connected to one’s spirituality and relationship with God.
But it wasn’t just Exodus leaders that hold accountability for the discouragement that so many within the LGBT community face. I was part of the communities in several churches throughout my years at Love In Action. Exodus messages were not unique, but they are the messages I heard from the pulpits of many of those churches, through the fellowship discussions, and from radio and television venues. Much of the doctrine and theology I had in those days came directly from those who were teaching me how to live the Christian life and how to overcome my sinful temptations towards homosexuality. I heard the messages loud and clear.
I’m so very sorry for all of the ways I was involved in communicating these shaming and erroneous messages. Jim’s life was clearly wounded by them. He never found his freedom in this life. For this, I am deeply grieved.
Jim’s struggle in this life is over, but the horrific and negative effects on Jim’s life while he was here, will be remembered for a very long time through those who knew him and most closely heard his pain. Jim’s sweet temperament, his kind soul, his beautiful voice will also stand out as unforgettable.
We must continue to evaluate how we have dealt with LGBT people wrongly. We must continue to look deeply into ways we have been complicit in shameful, degrading, and accusatory ways we have spoken towards the LGBT community. We must be willing to admit where we have judged LGBT people as being worse, more depraved, and in need of deeper repentance than others.
An excellent article by a friend, Stephen Long, on this very struggle.