In March of 2010 I compiled and published a public apology in response to some soul searching I had been going through. I have since done a more in depth evaluation of things that I feel regretful about concerning my 23 years as a leader within the “ex-gay” movement.
I have decided to attempt to put into words a more detailed communication of those things that are most significant for me to acknowledge. I have been wrong and have made mistakes that I feel I must take responsibility for. It is my goal to write out a separate document for each item that will explain my heart, and personal evaluation on these things.
Through my overt and covert alignment with the presumed message of change through the “ex-gay” movement, I want to acknowledge that I have communicated through teaching, private conversation and public venues that someone who is gay is less than someone created in God’s image. I acknowledge that I was a covert messenger of the false hope for a change in sexual orientation from gay to straight. I perpetuated a message that gave the perception that if someone tried hard enough they would experience a new heterosexual desire that would replace their same sex desires.
Please allow me to explain further why I have come to this conclusion.
If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. 1 john 1:8-10 (The Message)
The Foundation of the Ex-gay Movement
I want to set the stage in a way that I think will frame this for you. I believe the ex-gay movement began as a connecting point for individuals who desired to reach people within the gay community with the love of Christ. Fairly quickly, individuals within the founding members began to hope that God had the desire, and the power to “deliver” them from homosexuality which for many included the hope they might be able to become straight.
As they vocalized their desires some grabbed on to this message in such a way that it became the central message of the ex-gay movement. The ex-gay movement in association with the “faith” doctrine that became prominent in the 1970’s (meaning if we claim it in Jesus Name, He will bring it to pass if we have the faith to believe it will occur) began to proclaim “change” through Jesus Christ. This concept of change also became extremely ambiguous and was defined differently by each individual but maintained a very generic statement.
Through Prayer, Faith, Obedience – Is Change is Possible?
Now for almost 40 years, men and women throughout the world have sought God for change that they hoped would include a change in orientation from homosexual to straight. They believed this could occur through faith in Jesus, prayer, counseling, changes in sexual behavior, and obedience to God.
This intimate desperation was often fueled by an inner belief that as gay men and women , they were intrinsically flawed, broken, damaged goods, and certainly less than God’s best. The desire to change came with the hope that somehow a transformation from gay to straight might allow for an upgrade on God’s list of approved people. If straight people were better, more loved and closer to God then people who are gay would do anything they could to achieve this change.
Built on a False Hope
So, ex-gay ministries began to sail on the faith filled hope of those that came to them with the desire for intrinsic changes in their sexual desires. In some ministries, unorthodox counseling and prayer practices were used to manipulate more hope for change. Most often these strange actions were quick to go away. But the faith in change from gay to straight continued. Though it was not always spoken boldly, many remained hopeful they would see it happen for themselves.
Christian communities and churches also loved the message of change for people who were gay. Certainly many of them were motivated to help their friends. But for some who didn’t really cherish the thought of embracing gay people into their church, they hoped if they could become straight it would take away the difficulty of “dealing” with homosexuality.
Families and Loved Ones
Parents became a strong thread through the ex-gay movement. Their prayers were fervent; deeply seated in pain, confusion and for many, embarrassment. There were even some parents who believed as long as their children were gay, they could never make it into God’s eternal resting place. I heard a mom tell me in a group meeting, “You mean I can pray for my son’s salvation? I thought all gays were an abomination and had no hope for eternal life with Jesus.”
Based on love from Christian parents and their heartfelt desire to see their gay loved ones relieved of the burden of homosexuality, they became a backbone of many ministries around the country. Parents became invested in the message of change through God’s amazing power to do anything if they prayed and believed. They hoped that God would change their loved ones homosexual orientation.
With All of My Heart, I Wanted It!
When I was a new Christian a friend of mine invited me to an event where the minister promised deliverance to those involved in homosexuality. I girded up my heart and attended the event, but I didn’t get my miracle. I saw no change in my sexual desires and my hope quickly turned to disappointment and depression.
A year or so later, I discovered ex-gay ministries. I got the opportunity to become a staff member for a nationally known ministry, Love In Action. Upon my arrival, I found leaders, churches, and individuals who held tightly to the message of change. The leader, Frank Worthen, was in fact himself married to a woman. That was certainly appeared to be a model of change to strive for.
We spoke of change often. We prayed for deliverance, and worked through teaching material that was described as “Steps Out Of Homosexuality.” All of the terminology, the structures, and the conversations centered around the hope that at some point, somehow, God would set us free from what was described as the “bondage of homosexuality.”
I became deeply invested in the hope that God would set people free and began to answer phone calls, counsel men and women, and later became the director for the ministry that proclaimed freedom for the homosexual. I did find freedom from unhealthy relationships and patterns of manipulation and sexual promiscuity. I praise God for what He has done, but I found no change in orientation.
Along the way, I attended conferences, went through some of my own private counseling, prayed, studied and read books that all promised that I would eventually find the freedom I was looking for. In faith, I believed it would come true and therefore offered others the same message for their own lives.
We stood together as “brothers” along the road. We believed it was absolutely necessary to have a good support team who agreed with us, and walked the path alongside us. It was clear that we could not allow any messages from the outside to infiltrate our minds so as to thwart our hope for what we believed God was going to do. I clung to the belief and hope that over time, I would eventually see more internal changes.
The Life of Denial Began
Along the way I struggled with my own internal thoughts, attractions and desires. I believed it would be wrong to talk about them and fearful that if I did, I would somehow ruin the testimony that God was creating within me. I didn’t hear of anyone else that was talking about their own remaining attractions. Well, at least not amongst the leadership. I thought surely they had found what I was hoping for so it was important to continue pressing on.
There were group members and people who would call us that talked about their attractions, but our job was to build up their faith that God could, and would change all of that if they believed He could, and would. It was important that they also did the right things to obey God along the way.
The Cathartic Dream
One night I dreamed that I was in a large Gothic cathedral. A very strange female preacher was pointing her finger at the congregation saying loudly, “You’re Gay! Admit it, Your’re Gay!” I was sitting with some friends and immediately I stood in defiance and said, “I will not sit here and listen to this.” My friends said, “John, sit down, you need to hear everything she is saying.”
When I awoke the next morning, life was different. I seemed to gain the conviction through this dream that I had to be honest about what I was feeling inside regardless of what others would say about my honesty. The preacher was right, I remained attracted to men as I always had been. Prior to that dream, I was adamant not to be honest. From that time forward I continued to talk freely and honestly about what change was for me, and what it wasn’t. But the overarching message of the ministry and ex-gay movement continued to covertly say, “you can change.” In my mind I was no longer dishonest but didn’t realized the many ways I was still a representative of a faulty message that was giving a false hope for a change in sexual orientation.
That year, 1995, I gave a plenary session talk at the national Exodus conference titled “Honesty, is it the best policy?” It was in this talk that I revealed to the entire audience that I was still experiencing homosexual attractions and challenged the listeners to a deeper level of honesty. My talk angered some but thankfully, it gave hope to many others. One young lady from Australia stepped up to me afterwards. She said, “John, thank you so much for your authenticity. Last night I had almost given up hope on God and myself. But today, I have a renewed belief that God loves me and I can continue.” Well, I guess being honest was a good thing! I was also motivated to continue to be honest.
As I look back over all of those years, I regret the years of my own dishonesty. I acknowledge that through my own weakness I was fearful of stepping out and becoming more honest that change of sexual orientation, barring a miracle of God, was not a reality for most people. I failed to recognize the duplicitous message within our communication. “You can change, but I haven’t” was something, I am sorry, but I didn’t see coming out of our ministry.
At Love In Action, we leased a billboard with a giant picture of me on it. We had it for one year in central Memphis near the gay community. With great pride I had my picture on top of a huge building with the words which read:
“I Used To Be A Homosexual” (1 Cor. 6:9-11)
There was literally no response from the display. No one came to our ministry running to find freedom because they saw my giant picture and those verses referenced. I’ve thought about that many times since and realized it was deceptive! I didn’t used to be a homosexual. I was still homosexual and to proclaim something that was untrue was something that I don’t believe God could bless. It was dishonest! If you’d like to read my understanding of those verses, (click here) for the article.
I also must be clear that sexual desires fall on a continuum. For some who experience same gender attractions, they may also experience satisfying sexual attractions to those of the opposite sex. I do not consider this “change.” Rather it is a result of the uniqueness in human sexuality. It is commonly called “bi-sexuality.” It is very hard to place people into a box of one versus another.
The teachings, and the message of the ex-gay movement often opened the door for some to believe that someone who is gay is less valuable to God and less loved by Him as they are, therefore change was seen as desirable, and for some, necessary. It is easy to understand that if there is so much emphasis on change, then it is easy for someone to believe that God would be happier with them if they were straight.