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ExGay Leaders Come Out and The Critics Say!

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019


JohnSmidPensiveB&W#1This last week two men came out saying they were going to live publically as gay men. One was a friend I’ve known for over fifteen years. The other I hadn’t met until recently.


Their stories were posted on their FaceBook profiles. They spoke of having been involved in leadership of faith-based organizations that attempted to help men live a life of freedom from homosexuality. They spent most of their adult life striving to live their own lives in self-control and according to the beliefs that said they couldn’t be gay. Both had been married to women for many years while trying to remain faithful to their marriages, they suffered their own internal battles with attractions to men.


As I read through the comments on their messages they revealed the wide spectrum of reactions. From deep expressions of love and appreciation to hatred and damnation and everything in-between it revealed the tremendous battle of sexuality and religion.


I’ve been through it! Ten years ago I began my own journey to authenticity. As I waddled through the difficult path I had my own haters, and those who loved me without conditions. I was dis-fellowshipped from a small house church because I began to speak of loving gay people without conditions.


I had former clients from my own ministry who began to share with me their personal feelings about my new liberal approach. My very best friend in the world at the time and his wife wrote me to say they were no longer going to be in contact with me and that I was not a safe person for them to be around. Others shared with me they loved me and didn’t want me to be too hard on myself.


I began the process of writing an apology to those who expressed their pain. As I developed the best way to share my heart, one man wrote me back saying he absolutely could not accept my writings as written. But he said he would rewrite them to his satisfaction and if I agreed with what he wrote then he could accept my words and apology. His response was wise and I did agree! That exercise was very helpful for me and it made way for further understanding of how to communicate with wounded people.


Nine years ago I began listening to other viewpoints on homosexuality and the Bible. I attended conferences for gay Christians. I read books that sorted through stories of LGBT people and their own journeys. I found that my ears had been previously closed and I was not able to hear the hearts of those who had lived in different places than my own experiences.


As the years have gone by I’ve grown. I’ve softened. My heart has been tenderized more than ever before. The critics have not gone away. Just today I got a message from someone I’ve never met:


“Too many psyches mangled. Too many lives destroyed. Smid, you’re not forgiven.”


There is more pain to listen to. People have been deeply wounded by messages that while well intended; they were harmful at the core. Yes, I have had to come to see how my words, my philosophies for decades were deeply wrong.


Yesterday I listened to a podcast interview of a man who was taken to a therapist when he was 16. His parents meant well, and were motivated by shame and guilt. They wanted desperately to eradicate the stigma of having a gay son from their family album! He was young, he was immature, and he was gay. So, on they went spending hours and hours with this therapist who was really trying to swindle them into the potential of separation from their son he deemed rebellious. The therapist was wrong! Clearly wrong, he’d used manipulation and coercion to heap shame and guilt on this young man and fear into the hearts of his parents. The therapy was stopped. But it took years for his parents to admit their shame and how wrong they were. It’s taken years for this young man to reconcile his life. Thankfully, this young man now feels validated and has had some reconciliation with his parents.


What do we do when we did something with good intentions but holding on to bad information? Is there love in the middle of the process? There are well-meaning efforts that have produced some good things but also brought pain that can be hard to sort out. This is a very personal struggle and reality that has been going on for a long time in my own life.


thumbs up downI’ve learned to hear the good things and store them in my heart. I’ve also learned to take deep breaths and listen to the hard things, the attacks and the jabs at my character and to continue to release my temptation to be defensive. Sometimes I want to scream, “Let me off the hook! I meant well!” But as soon as those thoughts come up, I realize that I have to continue to work on myself. My defensiveness is selfish and a distraction from their pain, which is hard to hear.


I have had to accept my own humanity both the good parts and the bad. Listening to others has been invaluable in my own evaluation of life. Within many critics is some wisdom that I need to pay attention to.


I’ve been through two mixed orientation marriages. I was a pronounced leader in an ExGay ministry for twenty two years. Many were helped to find a healthier life and reconciled relationships. I experienced much healing from my childhood wounds through those years.


And yet, many others were deeply wounded from my words and practice. I’ve listened to their heart cries for acknowledgement of the harm done, which I’ve attempted to validate and own.


There were wonderful experiences within my mixed marriages. I was sincere, meant well, and truly tried to make them work. It was not all bad and certainly there was love between us. I have two beautiful daughters and four amazing grandchildren. And I have regrets that will not ever change no matter how painful they are to acknowledge.


It is an extremely hard thing to find the balance of harm and help, good and bad. It’s very subjective. Yes some came seeking help of their own free will. Most came out of shame and fear of what God and others would think or do if they truly owned their authenticity.


These men who are just coming out will walk their own journey. Some who hear them will listen, some will validate while others will hold them against a spiked wall of their own making wanting them to suffer for eternity. Some will empathetically understand while others will hold their bibles up to their faces in condemnation through their own, planked eyes.


I’ve reached out to them from no agenda, but merely to let them know that I understand and am available to listen. We are not alone and being a part of a growing number of former ExGay leaders who are accepting their full and authentic lives has been very helpful for me.


Finding the balance? Well there may not be a balance. There may not be any middle ground. I’m learning to respond case by case, story by story as each one is unique. I have to take my own story apart piece by piece sorting it out a little at a time. Five years ago I said to myself, “You have to learn to love yourself with the same grace and patience you have for others. And I am learning to love my self in the same way I am learning to love others, a little at a time.


It’s been ten years for me to get to where I am now and I’m still discovering areas of my life that need to be taken out of the closet. Two weeks ago I discovered two letters from someone in my past. In them were words of love, and there were criticisms. But I didn’t remember the love parts. I sat and felt tears streaming down my face as I received the love I hadn’t seen that was expressed 40 years ago.


Life can be full of paradoxes; love and grace, pain and healing, intimacy and rejection. And yet, somewhere in the middle is reality.


Peace to all along life’s journey.