For many years I have contemplated the times I have heard that some people have said they were harmed or wounded from their experience with Love In Action or Exodus International. More often than not my reactions have not been favorable. In my own mind I didn’t feel there was any merit to the accusations. After all, “I have given 22 years of my life sacrificially just to hear how we harmed you!”
Well I certainly know the sound of a defensive reaction when I hear one! I was it! I didn’t want to hear anything that was critical or negative. But, I believe in listening to the heart of others no matter how critical it may sound. I needed to check in on my own heart to see if there was any validation to their comments. Of course, there was.
Since I was in leadership with both organizations I have certainly have been at the center of many of the criticisms. The scripture challenges us to be careful with what we say and do as leaders because of the higher standard that is expected and deserved from those whom we care for.
In the last two years I have had a lot of time to ponder, pray, and sort through many facets of my vocational ministry history. Since I have had a lot of alone time my searching has been easier to handle.
I was recently contacted by David Roberts from the “Ex-gay Watch” and online blog for those following the ex-gay movement. David had seen a recent announcement of the new Grace Group that is being started by Grace Rivers and wanted me to write something. In our discussion we both felt it would be good for me to address some of the criticisms out there concerning my leadership in “ex-gay” ministry. I have taken the last week to write a letter and to that end, here it is.
It’s Time for Honesty!
From John J. Smid to the readers of Ex-gay Watch,
Just a little bit of history here. I became a Christian in 1982. My new faith created conflicts in my homosexual relationship and eventually we broke up. It was at that point and I decided to pursue my relationship with Jesus instead of looking for a new relationship right away.
When I had been celibate for several years I felt that I wanted be married to a woman. I had been married previously and in my heart wanted to give that a try again.
I met my wife Vileen in 1985 and we married in 1988. We have had a good, faithful marriage just as I had hoped. I told her about my homosexuality right after we had met. She has walked alongside me knowing that I have chosen her rather than to pursue a homosexual relationship. She is aware that my attractions haven’t changed in general towards men but that I love her deeply and make choices daily to remain faithful to our marriage and have not regretted that decision.
In 1986 I moved to San Rafael California to work as a volunteer for Love In Action. I am passionate about people and spent 22 years with Love In Action. Since Exodus International was in our same office most of those years I also became involved with them right away.
By 1995 I had been involved in Love In Action and Exodus for nine years and was asked to give a talk in a general session at the Exodus national conference. God had brought me to a point where I was willing to admit to myself that I still had homosexual attractions. As a result of my own internal process of disclosure I decided to give my talk on the topic of honesty. I spoke of my current homosexual attractions and challenged the audience to be honest with themselves. I have always been as intentional as I could to share freely about those things whenever I speak or meet with someone who can relate to homosexuality.
The Famous Protest
On June 6th of 2005, when the protestors showed up on the sidewalks in front of Love In Action to speak against the Refuge Program, my world was rocked. But within just a couple of days my heart was humbled by the gracious words coming from those who were outside such as “God Loves You”. The truth spoken from them caused me to think and began to soften my heart.
A lot has changed since then. God does love me and He loved me enough to continue to shave off some things in my life that have been wrong, offensive, calloused and judgmental. Through the humility of Morgan Fox, one of the leaders of the protest, I was humbled once again. His pursuit of a relationship with me, though I did not deserve it, has been another tool that God has used to break through parts of my heart that needed to be touched.
Morgan asked me to interview for a documentary he is producing about the protests. I resisted for a long time. After many meetings with Morgan I began to see his godly character and agreed to an interview because I trusted him. During our camera time the discussions involved things from the past that have been said about Love In Action or about me as the former leader. I had spent many hours and in some cases years, pondering these things and wondered how I could make amends for the things that had hurt or wounded others during my 22 years of leadership with Love In Action. Certainly there were many.
Please Forgive Me
In 1994 an article was written that said that I told a young man it would be better for him to commit suicide than for him to go into the gay lifestyle. I have been haunted by that article all through the years. I have felt defensive, reactionary and frustrated every time I have read it not knowing how I could in any way, clear it away. Maybe this will help.
I want to publically say to the young man, “I am very sorry for the conversation that I had with you that fateful day. I loved you very much as a brother and feel deeply grieved for the way that my words hurt you.” If I could, I would erase the conversation and start all over with ” I love you, and as you move on I will pray for God’s very best for you in your life. No matter what you do, Jesus deeply loves you.” “Please forgive me.”
Some people have spoken out about being wounded through their experience with Love In Action. ” I want to say I am very sorry for the things that have wounded you or hurt you by my hands of leadership at Love In Action or anything I have done personally that has harmed you.” “Please forgive me.”
I was a member of the board of directors of Exodus International for eleven years. I spoke on many occasions in general sessions and in workshops at the national conferences for most of the 22 years I was involved in Love In Action and Exodus. Thousands of men and women came to Exodus ministries and conferences looking for a hand, seeking hope, or for someone to hear their heart and understand.
I am a very verbal person and can speak at times without thoroughly thinking through what I might say before it comes out of my mouth. Without question I know I have said things that may have hurt someone or caused confusion or discouragement. Please forgive me for the things I have said that were not helpful or were further damaging of your tender heart.
As a board member of Exodus International I felt a strong sense of stewardship for the lives we hoped we would impact with the love of Jesus. I have learned a lot more over the last couple of years about how unconditional His love really is. I believe I could have done a better job of letting people know that Jesus loves them purely because He does, unconditionally. I am sorry for not being a better vessel of the Love of Christ to those who deeply need to know of His love. I realize I was often more concerned with telling people how to live than I was with imparting God’s grace so that they would want to live!
Now, regarding the most highly publicized” Refuge Program” for teens that was held through Love In Action. If I could go back and do anything differently based on what I know today – it would be the Refuge Program. I have a hard time admitting it but the protests did bring about a season for me to reevaluate my life, my heart, and the Refuge Program. God did an amazing work in me through the challenges that resulted from the people who came to the streets in front of our ministry, morning and night, for two weeks.
I really wanted to help the young men in our program but in some cases the design of our program caused more harm for some of these kids that it did good. I am very sorry for the ways that Refuge further wounded teens that were already in a very delicate place in life. I am grateful for the way that God lovingly called us to revamp the methods for dealing with families with teens so that more teens weren’t hurt.
I have been a Christian for almost 30 years. There are myriads of things that I do or that go through my mind that aren’t biblically appropriate. There are many things that God wants me to change in my own life so that I can be a better person, love Him more and love others better. I do not want a judgmental heart to separate me from people that I love dearly.
Leaving Love In Action
It has been almost two years since I left the ministry of Love In Action in May of 2008. I have had many days and hours alone to think and ponder the last 22 years. God has dug deep into my heart and caused me to see something very important that he wanted me to know. He loves me unconditionally. His grace is sufficient for me. I cannot do anything that He hasn’t forgiven, isn’t forgiving, and won’t forgive and it is up to Him to restore my soul, I can’t do that myself.
I am not the judge and jury of other people. I can’t see another person’s heart like He can. I cannot redeem anyone, only He can. I don’t know what someone might need today but he does.
If you have been wounded by me or harmed through the hands of my leadership; please come to me and allow an opportunity for me to personally apologize with the hope that we can both be released from the bondage of unforgiveness.
I am leading a new ministry called Grace Rivers. It’s primary focus isn’t to be an ex-gay ministry but within the context of offering grace and the Love of Jesus to our world we are starting grace groups for people impacted by homosexuality.
As a brand new start, Grace Rivers is an outpouring of the many of the changes in my own heart. I have based this work on nine core values starting with honesty, moving on to listening to others effectively, and in the end giving respect because God does. I have attempted to pursue these values in my own life to the best of my ability. God is still working on restoring me so I know He is doing the same with others. We are all on a road of life that is hopefully improving day by day. He says He will complete the work He has started so I trust Him fully with my life and with the lives of others who know Him.
John J. Smid