Thursday, February 11th, 2016
A man recently wrote to me about the suicide of a common friend. He and our friend once went through the ministry Love In Action when I was the director there. I’m thankful for the opportunity to continue our dialogue even though we have gone many directions since our common place in life. Here’s his question:
John, as I’ve processed the suicide of our common friend, I’ve struggled to answer some questions that I’ve been going over in my mind. I believe he repented, but did his involvement in ExGay treatment play a role in his suicide? From what I’ve read it seems some of his closer friends believe that it did. What would you say?
Dear Concerned Friend,
As I look at the circumstances surrounding his passing these thoughts have come to me.
On his FaceBook feed, a friend of his mentioned Exodus (Exodus International, nationwide coalition of ExGay ministries, now closed.) and the negative affects that had on his life. I hadn’t known him personally through the recent years so I frankly cannot say what his process has been. But during this last couple of years it was very obvious that his emotional stability and health has been extremely questionable. He exhibited huge mood swings and apologies often on his posts.
Regarding the ExGay theology and practice, it’s face-palm obvious to me now that there have been a tremendously high number of people who participated in ExGay groups suffered deeply from their pleading with God for change to find none. They have been left with serious fears of condemnation and failure if no success was found in finding freedom from their homosexuality.
I also find that some people have worked through their discouragement and disappointments to a place of resolve, while others have not. I cannot say why some have, and others haven’t but without placing any judgment call on it, the facts are the facts. Many have struggled deeply, even some with PTSD, and continue to do so.
If I attach all of that to our mutual friend’s seeming emotional and mental struggles I can only ponder which came first, his mental instability, or his ExGay therapy. But regardless, it is apparent to me that Jim’s spiritual battle with his homosexuality exacerbated his mental instability.
I also wonder if our friend would be alive today if he hadn’t endured a culture, a faith construct, and a community that along the way brought a message of change, and therefore condemnation, for his homosexuality. No one can answer that question, but if I take into consideration what I’ve seen I think it’s likely he may be alive today if that weren’t the case.
So very few people have found peace while living within a theology that says homosexuality a result of sin and condemned if acted upon. And yet, I’ve seen, known, and personally experienced, a tremendously high number of people who have found freedom from addictions, anxiety, mental instability etc. when they’ve reconciled their homosexuality as an acceptable thing along with their faith.
Five years ago, I heard my first life story of a man who tried the ExGay life to find deep discouragement and became disheartened. Afterwards he went through a season of extreme sexual immorality finding himself back at the throne of the grace of God. In his process he reconciled his faith with his homosexuality to find the extremely addictive patterns amazingly gone. Following hearing his story I began to hear others, myriads of others, who had the same experience as this man did. Their true freedom came as a result of the freedom from condemnation for their homosexuality.
I finally had to open my ears and my mind to hear a different message than the one I believed in for so many years. Spending 22 years of my life trying to help men and women find peace and a life of integrity (with horrible success) I finally came to believe that the message I’d been giving was flawed and harmful. While I once believed that peace could only come as a result of eradicating homosexuality from their lives, I’ve changed my view and my message.
So, in answer to your question, I wholeheartedly believe that the ExGay experience for this beloved man did play a role in his eventual suicide. Even if it was indirectly through the loss of his job, his stint in a mental hospital, and his financial demise. I believe those things were also brought on by his inability to settle his homosexuality and his faith.
And, I also wholeheartedly believe that the grace of God is large enough, and deep enough to see through a person’s struggle, understand it, and accept them into eternal rest and peace. I don’t believe for a minute that God rejects those who, through their own discouragement, denounce God. I believe more than ever that God also understands our struggle to understand the deeper spiritual things in life. We are just too finite in our human understanding, God is able to bridge that gap, and I believe God does.
I remember my season as a conservative evangelical (or whatever one might call it) as a time when I spent more time trying to figure out who had lost, than seeing how we’d won. I spent more time living in fear of what I’d do that might be wrong, than seeing God’s never ending love permeating all of creation, redeeming eternally. I was more focused on sin than I was on living an abundant life.
And, in the name of our friend who passed on, and so many others, I have the conviction that I must communicate the message of grace to all LGBT people with the hope that someone’s life might be restored rather than ended prematurely.
I also must communicate the truth that the message of forced celibacy for LGBT people, and the ExGay line of thinking that God will remove homosexuality, and we’re the failure if it doesn’t go away, is wrong and terribly harmful.
And you said, you believe our friend repented. I believe the practice of repentance is more for your own soul. I think that repentance, the change of mind regarding negative behaviors and thoughts, is something the sets us in position for better things and can in effect, bring us more inner peace. These changes can set our entire life onto a new path.
However, I don’t think it changes one wit our position with God. I believe in an all encompassing fully covering grace and that nothing I can do, or not do, will separate me from God. I think that the line of thinking that my decisions, or my actions can separate me from God is part of the larger problem of shame and discouragement.
I hope this helps, my dear friend.