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February 25th, 2019

Uniquely Made – I Am

 

IMG_1367I attended a church service last night at a new church plant near where we live. I sat in the front row, because that is where the only seats were available. I haven’t been to a church other than the one we attend weekly in a very long time. They were setting up the sound and musicians were practicing. Our church has traditional style music so seeing and hearing a more contemporary style was drawing me back to years ago and past church experiences.


As I sat there and the music began to play, the ensemble sang, they encouraged us to clap. They were really good! But, I felt something I used to feel almost every Sunday in my former church experiences. I felt as though I had to perform. I felt challenged to somehow experience something spiritual as the music played loudly. I felt conspicuous as my expressions and performance to me seemed less than others experiences. I just didn’t feel as though I measured up to.


As I processed my experience something new came to me. I often speak of the unique design each of us humans have. We are created with different personalities, different tastes, likes and dislikes. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. We relate to the world around us in our own way.


I had this thought; what if we also have different ways we experience the spiritual influences in our lives? What if we were not all wired to appreciate, receive, or even enjoy a group church worship setting? What if my response to the church service last night had nothing to do with my lack of spiritual response and more to do with the reality that I’ll really never feel the same things that some others may in a corporate church setting? I struggled with these things all through my former church experiences. For nearly 30 years I never seemed to get out of a church service what others seemed to receive and always felt somehow, well, guilty or challenged.


I went home from that church service thinking about all the wonderful people I met. Before and after, there were words shared, intimate life experiences related, hugs, smiles, connection was in abundance! I thought about who or what God might be.


I want so much to connect more with my new friends! But I don’t want to do that through a corporate worship service. I want to hang out, to talk, to experience their lives and have them experience mine. I want to know more about them. They seemed to be really wonderful people. I want more of that and less of the sitting in chairs in rows listening to loud music that I feel I need to somehow get spiritual about.


Am I that only one who thinks this way? Am I the only one who really doesn’t enjoy a traditional church service? Am I the only one who wants something different?


I’m still wondering how I can spend more time with my new friends. I really liked them. Maybe I can go hang out before and after their service and occupy myself somewhere different for the time of the service! I am uniquely made.


 

February 20th, 2019

Unhealthy Church Counseling

 


pastoral

Religious counseling through pastors/church counselors seems to always find a way to hide from legal ethics. There is an entitlement to freedom that lives within it. I’ve heard many pastoral counselors say things like, “We submit to a higher authority and we don’t want to be licensed. We can’t do what we do if we were licensed. The restrictions of professional licensure could prevent us from holding to our biblical standards.”


That is very scary to me!


With church counselors, there is also often a mandate to uphold biblical standards. In some of their counseling cases they could find what they deem sin in the life of their client. So, the counseling office becomes a place of discipline rather than neutral support and counsel. Professional counselors would be obliged to maintain a neutral and supportive relationship with the client. This would be a far different atmosphere for counseling for sure.


One really should never be in a counseling relationship with someone that is their pastor, church leader, or fellow parishioner for more than three sessions. When an individual goes to someone they have a current relationship with for counsel it quickly becomes conflictive for either the helper, or the helpee. These types of dual relationships (a professional term for when the client has a relationship with the counselor outside of the counseling office) are a set up for terrible harm! It creates a conflict of interest at the least and the potential for poor judgment.


This has nothing to do with free speech!


It has a lot to do with the religious system protecting the abuser and not protecting the abused! Far too many times someone goes to the religious counselor from their church to ask about help for having been abused. The abuse may be from a fellow parishioner! For the counselor to truly help their client it would require them to uncover something that may upset the entire milieu of the church community. So, there is a great temptation to attempt to help their church member in ways to avoid uncovering the abuser. Since they are not licensed, there is a perception that they are not subject to the same laws that a licensed counselor would be.


It can really be a struggle for the client in this situation. They may feel fearful of their story being told out of the office, or fearful of being judged or scolded by someone that has been an authority in their life. Or what about the young person going in for counseling from someone that is in a social relationship with their parents? How can a teen fully trust a counselor that plays golf with their dad? Or what about a young woman going to a counseling session with her mom’s bridge club friend? This is likely one of the most significant reasons for someone to seek out a neutral and non-related counselor instead of a pastoral counselor from their church.


Even more potentially threatening is when a young man is having struggles with a sexual matter and his parents arrange for him to go to his youth minister. In this situation, he’s been to summer camps, shared social events with them and knows his parents well. There are all sorts of pitfalls here. Or what about the young lady who has become sexually active and her parents discover her circumstances. The typical church goer might be tempted to take their daughter to the youth minister or women’s counselor at their church. This can be horribly embarrassing, and threatening to this young girl. These types of situations can set a young person up to a life full of shame and unhealthy and shaming attitudes regarding their sexuality and development as a young adult!


Then there is a young couple who are seeking help with their marriage due to one of them having had an affair. I know of someone who was in this very situation. The young woman discovered her husband had had an affair with another church member. When the story came out there was no possible way there could be neutral and helpful counsel for this couple. The man was judged, his wife was pitied and the entire situation involved several members of the church. This should have never been handled through their church counseling office.


I have experienced this myself.


I wanted to sort out some childhood memories that had been troublesome for me. So, I went to a church sponsored counseling center at a church where I knew most of the church members and I’d had a working relationship with the counseling director I had chosen to go to. I didn’t think about the previous relationship or that I knew not only people in the church, but had a relationship with most of the office staff and pastors.


So, as we began to dig into the painful memories I felt some deep emotion beginning to surface. I said to the counselor, “I don’t feel safe enough here to allow these emotions to come up!” I really didn’t understand why I was feeling so distrustful. But the counselor’s response was, “Well, if you can’t trust this process enough then I can’t help you!” I was surprised and felt judged by his response but it wasn’t until years later I figured out what the struggle was based on.


We were meeting in an office next to a hallway where I’d hear people walking by and sometimes even talking with each other. I knew these people! I felt fearful that I’d fall apart and others would be aware of my emotional expressions. And I also never realized that I should have never chosen to go to a church friend, in a church counseling office that was in a church building where I knew everyone!


But something even more significant came up as I thought about the situation. This well educated counselor who had a high level of credentials, should have NEVER allowed himself to be my counselor! He should have known better than to have crossed that line with a church member and friend. I also realized that this counseling center focused primarily on the church members in this church of 4000 people! Almost all of their clients were people they knew and who attended their church.


Sure, they thought they were doing a great thing in providing biblical counseling and care for their church members. But how many of these people were also uncertain as I was and felt fearful and distrustful about their sessions only to feel judged and scolded when their natural inclinations to safety came up?


I was involved in counseling as the director for a recovery ministry. We talked about dual relationships. We were careful to maintain best practices with our counseling relationships such as the requirement to report sexual abuse or broken laws. But what we never took into consideration was that often a client of our program or a one on one counseling client was someone we already knew from our local community or our church.


I can remember times when I was a personal friend of someone that I believed could be helped through our ministry. I’d talk with them and recommend to them that they take advantage of our services. And with some, we experienced some struggles that were an extension of our previous relationship. This was clearly a result of the dual relationship and just plain unethical from the beginning!


I also experienced the entitlement myself of resisting authorities when I was challenged. The mental health authorities questioned us after a very public protest of our ministry. I believed I knew better than professional associations, and I believed I held to a higher authority, meaning God. I didn’t believe that the professionals would agree with our biblical viewpoint and that they didn’t have the same viewpoint due to their secular positions.


In my evaluation of the 20 years I was in leadership of this organization I can now look back and see so clearly how unethical we were in many dual relationships. We were unethical in not allowing the client to self determine their course of action. We certainly were not neutral in the ways we led the client through their journey with us.


Since that time, I had the experience of a three month counseling program with someone that was truly neutral, allowed me to self determine my goals and decisions. I have to say that was one of the most productive things I’ve ever done to help myself find a healthier life.


It’s no wonder that people have so many unresolved feelings as they look back at their counseling situations that were connected to a religious pastoral counselor.


Sure, there is a place for a church led mentoring, Bible teaching, and spiritual development. A church leader can help in exploring the development of a person’s gifts and talent. These are all things that a church mentor can do wonderfully, and should do! But a church pastor or counselor must learn to determine when a life struggle has gone outside of their scope of responsibility or into unethical relationship practices. When it comes to a deep wound, a sexual or intimacy issue, or certainly  something like mental illness must all quickly be referred out to those who are trained, equipped, and neutral.


 

February 18th, 2019

Was Love In Action Double Minded?

 

double


Since the film “Boy Erased” has been released I have had many conversations with people who were involved with Love In Action, the ExGay ministry that is the focus of the film. I’ve read quite a few comments that have questioned whether or not the film was an accurate portrayal of the ministry that I led for over 20 years. There are those who are critics, saying that the film maligned the ministry and others who felt the film wasn’t strong enough against the organization.


The film shows a strong, loud leader and many forms of abuse of clients. It’s easy to be angry about the negative portrayal of Love In Action based on the overt extremes of the film. But honestly, this was not Love In Action’s personality, or reality.


I can say, though, that the harm done through Love In action is far more difficult to pin down because it’s much more covert. Love In Action portrayed outcomes and theories that were filled with mixed messages.


Why is there such a disparity? Why are there such a variety of reactions? I’d say because at the core, Love In Action sent mixed messages through its public image, the teaching materials and lectures, and the literature we produced.


I read a comment from someone who has a close loved one who went through the men’s residential program. She had attended some weekend conferences in support of her friend. She said, “Love In Action never portrayed that they were intending on changing someone’s sexual orientation but rather, they offered tools for people who were making the decision to not act upon their homosexual desires.”


Throughout the years I read headlines in newspapers, magazines, and video media saying “Love In Action, Praying away the Gay!” Churches supported Love In Action having the expectation that men and women were finding “freedom from homosexuality.” Financial supporters often asked us what our success rate was. Program clients came to the program with mixed expectations, hopes and dreams that their struggle with homosexuality would be gone through their application of the materials and principles they’d find in their program.


JohnSmidPensiveB&W#1I’ve taken a look at the teachings and messages that may have been conveyed in conferences and lectures. My findings reveal that honestly, Love In Action did convey a double message with little clarity for what the outcomes really were to be.


First of all, it was common to see in our materials the statement, “Finding Freedom From Homosexuality through Jesus Christ.” The word, freedom, itself is nebulous. What does freedom mean? What do people hear when they see it? What did we mean when we made it a mantra? There is room for a wide reaction, everything from total deliverance from homosexual desires to a freedom to make choices on how someone responds to their desires.


Frank Worthen, the ministry’s founder began the ministry with a recorded testimony titled “The Brother Frank Testimony, Let Jesus break the chains of homosexuality.” This would convey that there could be a dramatic change from compulsive homosexuality to something different. But what would that look like? What would ones’ life be like if Jesus broke the chains of homosexuality?


Some of our lecture topics were; The Essence of Change: Obedience; Tools for Overcoming Homosexuality; and Tracking the Change Process. These topics can definitely convey that people will find significant changes in their homosexual orientation.


We had a class topic of “Masculinity and Femininity” where we’d flesh out the differences in traditional roles, manifestations and stereotypes. I remember teaching that there was a spectrum that people would see and experience. I tried hard to negate the potential of shame from a man being more feminine or a woman being more masculine along those lines. And yet, there were clients that would come away with the understanding that we taught people to live within a physical stereotype! Maybe this is because our rules didn’t allow women to wear plaid shirts, or men to wear pink pants! Once again we conveyed a double mind, and a mixed message about these stereotypes.


Many others have said, “I never heard anyone say at Love In Action that our sexual orientation would change. As a matter of fact, I often heard that we would experience homosexual temptations for the rest of our lives.” I remember saying many times that I still had homosexual attractions. I shared my own personal story of how my sexual orientation had not changed. It was my desire to be as authentic as I could be. But I also said that someone could experience an attraction to someone of the opposite sex and that a fulfilling heterosexual marriage was possible. This could easily say that someone could in fact experience a change in his or her sexual orientation. Even though in my own marriage I had no heterosexual attraction for my wife at all!


In the 1990’s, there was an increased emphasis in the network of ExGay ministries on how the child development process impacted sexual development and potentially caused homosexuality. Frank Worthen often taught on how a man’s overt curiosity of his own gender during adolescence could create a same sex attraction. There were leaders within the Exodus ministry network that believed if it was caused by a broken development that God could heal that brokenness and initiate the development process to completion where a heterosexual desire would be the result. If wounds or pain caused it or a disjointed family relationship then the belief was that healing could bring a complete orientation change through prayer, counsel, and obedience to God’s will.


I taught child development theories in almost every program and conference. I believed in those theories. I believed that homosexuality was often caused by a broken development cycle. In this teaching it could easily be accepted that parents could in fact cause their kids to end up being gay if they didn’t raise them in a healthy and balanced family life. And yet, when addressing parents, I’d say emphatically, “Don’t pride yourself too much, you do not have enough power to create a gay child. It’s not your fault that your child is gay.” Talk about mixed messages! This is clearly a double mind. What in fact did I really believe? It’s no surprise that many parents were grief stricken, and wrapped up in shame.


Some ExGay ministries focused much of their energy on “Inner Healing Prayer.” This was a practice based on the belief that God could do a great work inside a person’s soul that would free them from the bondages of homosexuality. Sometimes it included a thorough evaluation of a person’s genogram, a study of their family history. Breaking family curses or patterns of behavior was believed to bring freedom from the negative patterns in a person’s life today. Again, it was believed that through inner healing prayer, God could do the deeper work of changing a person’s sexual orientation.


Most ExGay ministries, Love In Action included, believed that if it was caused by sin, brokenness, or painful experiences then God could heal those experiences and forgiveness would follow. This would then open up the door for a natural growth progression bringing a person to a new healthier sexuality. And yet, throughout the decades of experience with gay men and women, I’ve never heard of one who made that transition from gay to straight! If our theories were correct, I’d think we see not just one, but many who found this kind of transformation. “You can change!!!” but none we know of ever have.


Throughout my experience with Love In Action I avoided the questions on success. I’d say things like, “Well, when people leave our program they are most often closer to God than when they came. I’d say that’s success!” I knew that we had not seen any change in anyone’s sexual orientation. I knew that our success did not lie in eradicating homosexuality from the lives of our program clients. But in my denial, it was very hard for me to truly admit that, or even think it. I continued to hold out hope that we’d see the miracle! We couldn’t lose that hope. Along with our board and staff, we’d most often attribute a lack of personal success in a client’s life to a lack of application of the tools, or a lack of obedience to God. We certainly didn’t accept the limitations of our programs. We did not take responsibility for our double-mindedness or our mixed messages. We did not do a thorough evaluation of the program’s effectiveness. We did not consider that a VERY high number of men and women ended up right back where they started before the program and often times even more wounded.


We made the assumption that personal bitterness and rebellion created a negative reaction to the program in those who spoke negatively about their experience. And yet, we also taught Family Systems theories in our programs and conferences. I remember very often saying, “Listen to the Scape Goat in the family system. They are most often the ones that point out the underlying truth and they draw attention to the Pink Elephant in the middle of the living room.” And yet, we didn’t listen to the program critics for a valid message about the lack of effectiveness of the program’s outcome.


It’s often heard that God cannot love LGBT people and that they may end up in hell if they don’t repent. I’ve personally never believed that anyone would go to hell for his or her actions and during my time at Love In Action, I’d often share my thoughts on that topic. But, there are doctrines and religious denominations that preach that someone could go to hell for being gay. There are many LiA clients who came into the program motivated by their fear of hell if they didn’t change. It was not rare that parents believed their kids would go to hell if they didn’t fully repent of their homosexuality. The disparity that lay within these conflictive doctrines was hard to navigate and no matter what we said in our program lectures about this, there were always some who would be more impacted by their church pastor’s opinion, or their parents fears. It’s a fairly common conservative Christian doctrine that people lose God’s favor if they live an active homosexual life. This is something that we taught.


It was my belief during those years that homosexuality had the power to cause spiritual or even physical death! We truly thought we were fighting for the lives of those who came to us. We took this very seriously and these fears impacted the things we taught. They affected our ability to rationally think through what people heard from our messages.


Personally, I was afraid to hear the truth about the outcomes of our program. I invested most of my adult life into the program. I heard many good things from some participants and put my focus on them. Yes, there were things that people learned that really helped them to discover a healthier life. Personal honestly about their behaviors was very helpful for them. Family Systems theories taught at Family Weekend conferences helped many to find reconciliation and forgiveness for each other. Yes, parents discovered ways for them to love their children who were gay. In the midst of the double messages, there were nuggets of truth and help.


There are men and women who chose to marry the opposite sex. Many of them have children today and say they are living a fulfilled life! I admit that there is also an element of bi-sexuality that can be true for some. This would allow for some to experience satisfying opposite sex marriage. But from my experience this is not a manifestation of change from gay to straight, but rather evidence of a sexual continuum in humanity. I also know those who married with the hope that God would bring about the healing they desired, only to discover that to never occur ending up in a tremendously painful reality to navigate. Many of those who chose to marry the opposite sex ended up in terribly personal conflicts and the marriages ended up on divorce. Frankly, only a very few have appeared to be successful.


Was Love In Action double minded? I’d have to say absolutely, yes. Our double mindedness caused many personal conflicts and a lot of painful outcomes. I’m not sure what would have happened if we’d been able to be completely honest and present a consistent message. No doubt, the program would have been smaller, and we’d not have been nearly as successful in our fund raising efforts! But maybe less harm wound have been done.


 

February 5th, 2019

Wedding Venue Says NO!

 

JohnSmidPensiveB&W#1A Dallas wedding venue, “The Venue at Waterstone” said “no” to a gay couple. Their website says they serve any bride and a groom “whether or not they share our beliefs.”


Any man and woman desiring to join together and make public this most sacred covenant,

whether or not they share in our beliefs,

are welcome to join together and celebrate at The Venue at Waterstone.


Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 9.00.09 AM(Pic from their website)


What bothers me is that they clearly say they’ll allow people whether or not they share their convictions…..unless…. they’re gay. So they could be way across the map from them spiritually, but no deal if they’re gay. There are many gay couples who are very conservative spiritually and they might be totally in alignment with this organization spiritually!


It’s just sad. A wedding venue that could represent itself well by loving all people equally, showing service to all.



the+venue+at+waterstoneTheir beautiful facade has a stench I can’t get out of my mind.


Regardless of differing beliefs, to show a universal loving care for their community in my opinion, would be the best witness of Jesus. Sharing their beautiful venue with others without any conditions on circumstances would be amazing. To love others without conditional judgment is, in my opinion, the way of Jesus.


Hmm. It seems the was the witness of Jesus!


Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 9.02.17 AM





I’m sorry, i don’t think I’d want to work with them.

 

January 22nd, 2019

ExGay Leaders Come Out and The Critics Say!

 

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.


 

December 29th, 2018

ExGay App Refused by Apple, Microsoft and Amazon

 

DSC00949

Ex-Gay Programs Are Harmful and Don’t Work


After much thought and encouragement, I’ve written one of the strongest commentaries I’ve ever written against sexual orientation change efforts!


By John Smid


John Smid is the former Executive Director of Love in Action, recently portrayed in the movie Boy Erased


The new film, Boy Erased, has sparked heightened interest in sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). The movie tells the story of a young gay man whose religiously conservative family, desperate to turn him from gay-to-straight, enrolls him in Love In Action, an intensive “ex-gay” ministry. While the experience portrayed in the movie was shocking to many people, it was largely an accurate depiction of such programs. I should know, because I’m the former Love in Action Executive Director played in the movie by Joel Edgerton.


The film was difficult to watch because it vividly illustrated the horrific reality of my own journey over a 25-year period. In 1987, I was taught that my homosexual desires were rooted in sinful places in my dark heart. I was told to submit to God so that he would forgive me of my sinful nature. I was also taught that God was a miracle and through obedience and a faithful life, my sexual orientation could be transformed and I would discover my latent heterosexuality.


When one comes from a conservative Christian background where homosexuality is discouraged, it is easy to get caught in this cycle of shame. I was desperate. I was led to believe I could never be a man of integrity if I didn’t change. So, when I discovered Love In Action, it seemed to be an answer to my prayers. That ministry was part of a now defunct umbrella group of “ex-gay” programs, Exodus International. At the time, I truly believed that they were experts and a “worldwide recognized authority on helping men and women find freedom from homosexuality.”


After 24 years of heart wrenching attempts to live as a married heterosexual man, I became honest and began my journey to authenticity. I realized that through my own desperate attempts to alter my sexuality I also led thousands of others down that fraught path. I’ve spent the last 10 years making amends for the harm that was caused through my faulty messages of change.


While leading Love in Action, I attended numerous conferences through Exodus International where all I saw were desperate, wounded people crying at the altars of prayer in hope that God would give them the miracle they were seeking. Leaders shared stories of their own transformation while covering up that they actually remained unchanged. Year after year, the same stories surfaced about distressed people falling away to their own shame caused by the conditional messages that if they didn’t become “straight” it was their fault. Many succumbed to suicide due to their own despair.


Although Exodus and Love in Action shut down due to a lack of efficacy, there are still ministries across the globe today who peddle fraudulent sexual orientation change efforts. Unsuspecting, vulnerable people still enter these programs because they are terrified of the stigma and rejection they may face, by family, church, and friends, if they accept their genuine sexual orientation or gender identity.


What haunts me today is that the remaining organizations know nothing but failure. Yet, they blithely disregard the mountain of evidence: Thousands of people in their care are not becoming straight as advertised, yet these programs cruelly condition God’s love on transitioning to heterosexuality. This causes painful cognitive dissonance and leads to emotional, mental and spiritual scars. For many clients, paying for residential programs and therapy sessions can also be a drain on finances.


As a former leader in the “ex-gay” movement, I wholeheartedly agree with the leading medical and mental health organizations that condemn sexual orientation change efforts. The American Psychiatric Association says that such efforts can lead to “anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior”, including suicide. The American Psychological Association says, “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.” Such “therapy” is considered so detrimental that fourteen states and the District of Colombia ban practicing it on minors.”


I also agree with Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon’s recent decision to stop selling, in their online stores, a “pray away the gay” app created by Living Hope Ministries. Google should rapidly follow their lead before the app ruins more lives. Such apps are easy to access and compound shame and stigma, while often dispensing psychological advice by people who aren’t qualified and have little or no medical training.


I am particularly concerned by the effects such programs have on young people when their families reject them. Dr. Caitlin Ryan, a researcher at San Francisco State University, found in her 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “LGBT teens who experienced negative feedback from their family were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times as vulnerable to severe depression, and 3 times more likely to use drugs.”


A Nov. 2018 study by Dr. Ryan, who also directs the Family Acceptance Project, reports in the Journal of Homosexuality, “Parent-initiated attempts to change participant’s sexual orientation during adolescence were associated with more negative mental health problems for young adults.”


As I look back to my own 22-year history as an “ex-gay” leader featured on programs such as ABC’s 20/20, I can now say that I was swindled into believing I could change. In so doing, I subsequently deceived many because of my own inability to be honest with myself. I continued to solicit clients and donations for our ministry with a watered down message that somehow God was providing the miracle of change.


Thankfully, I finally became free enough that I could honestly evaluate my life vocation. I’ve spent a tremendous amount of energy attempting to make amends and clearly speak the truth. It is imperative that sexual orientation change efforts stop before more young people, as well as adults, are harmed. Conversion therapy in any form is dangerous and potentially lethal. The answer is not self-denial and lies. It is self-acceptance and living one’s truth.


Ex'd OutI’ve written my story of transition in my book, “Ex’d Out, How I Fired the Shame Committee.” I participated in the documentary film, “This Is What Love In Action Looks Like.” I was a special consultant in the recent film, “Boy Erased.” I’ve told my story on a podcast, “Unerased.” I’ve participated in numerous interviews and news stories. My goal in all of these projects is to be very clear that I was wrong and the message needs to be told, ExGay ministry, conversion therapy or whatever anyone wants to call it, must STOP.


If one person, hopefully many, could be spared a life of conflict, guilt, unending confusion and pain through my story, it’s worth sharing it!

Also published in the Advocate!


 

December 7th, 2018

Reflection on Conversion Therapy – Former Leaders

 

At the request of Wendy VanderWall Gritter for submission to a church denomination, these former ExGay ministry leaders wrote a statement about how they view conversation therapy after having participated in ExGay ministry for many years.


Statements from Former Ex-Gay Leaders Regarding Conversion Therapy:


Darlene Bogle; Former Founder, Paraklete Ministry

I spent 10 years teaching conversion therapy in the 70’s and 80’s as an ExGay leader. These efforts never made any significant difference in changing the direction of sexual attraction in those whom I counseled, or in my own life. The despair and constant failure added shame and isolation to their journey. I found freedom from false expectations when I found a UCC church who accepted me and my wife into fellowship within the congregation! It was an amazing thing to loudly declare that the teaching of conversion therapy does more harm than good.


Alan Chambers; Former President, Exodus International

During my 22-year involvement in Exodus International I never met one person who changed their sexual orientation, including me. While our stated mission wasn’t to convert from gay to straight, for many of those years our motto was “change is possible” and “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ”. I closed Exodus International in 2013 because it failed to represent Jesus Christ and the Church well. It represented shame, marginalization, and the belief that LGBT people were less than, not equal to. Exodus, for most of its years, caused undue shame and grief for parents who were told they played a part in the development of their child’s homosexuality. While I believe in an adult’s right to self-determine their own path, I believe any and all sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) should be banned. No lay person or professional should be allowed to use any methods to try to change someone’s sexual orientation. I believe it is the role of the Church to love and serve all people and not to inflict unnecessary trauma, which is precisely what happens when LGBT people are told they are less acceptable or unacceptable because of their orientation and/or actions.


Jeremy Marks; Former Director, Courage UK

After spending 30 years in Christian ministry to LGBT people, I am not happy with the term conversion therapy – because it implies that something professional is being offered. The truth is that most organisations that purport to offer some sort of “help” to “change” sexual orientation – masquerading under the heading of CT – are religious organisations seeking a way to sublimate their unrecognised and internalised homophobia by offering something that hasn’t the least scientific, anthropological or spiritual foundation. The real and deeply toxic issue that is extremely hard to legislate against is the underlying erroneous belief, so succinctly summarised by the RC church, that declares that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered”. In truth, the term CT somehow needs to cover any kind of anti-gay rhetoric in whatever form it appears. Antigay attitudes would be better recognised as a form of racism – that is equally abhorrent, utterly offensive, deeply damaging to those undergoing CT, and totally anachronistic in any civilised society today.


John Smid; Former Executive Director, Love in Action; Former Board Member, Exodus International

As I take an honest look back over the two decades I led a conversion therapy ministry, I realize how many individuals and families whose lives were shredded. Many lost hope for their lives, some to the point of suicide.


Teaching the insidious theories that a person’s homosexuality was caused by life events, unhealthy family relationships, or developed from sexual wounds, caused horrible destruction. Most were left in despair and debilitating confusion.
I know; I have spent tremendous energy and time following up with the hundreds of people I worked with over the years. Their stories are the proof.


As my own daughter told me several years ago, “Dad, I’m sorry you spent so much time trying to fix something that never needed to be fixed in the first place. Think about how much you lost along the way. I hope you stop hurting people.”


Wendy VanderWal Gritter; Former Executive Director, New Direction Ministries

Regardless of the terms used: ex-gay, conversion therapy, reorientation, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE); or the method: talk therapy, electro-shock, Bible study, prayer, or exorcism; the practice of attempting to alter someone’s sexual orientation has proven ineffective and profoundly harmful. Most conversion therapy efforts are motivated by religious expectation. It is therefore crucial that the church speak with a strong and united voice in the effort to ban the practice. LGBTQ+ individuals are beloved of God as they are. The way they love and the families they form are gifts to the church. This unequivocal message must be declared consistently and clearly to protect the vulnerable.




 

November 1st, 2018

Boy Erased Will Release Nov. 2

 

BOY ERASEDAs the new film Boy Erased is released to to the public on November 2, 2018, I’m being questioned about my role in the story of the film Some have asked if under the auspices of Love In Action people were actually treated the way that the film reflects. I’ve spent the last six months working through my reaction to the content of the book and the film. As in any Hollywood film, there is a factor at play where some scenes are enhanced to get the full message of the film out there. We have all seen films that are produced based on true stories and we know that all the scenes are not factual.



As I think about Boy Erased I have something I’d like to share. In a short conversation with film director and screen writer, Joel Edgerton minutes after attending the premier viewing, I said:


“Joel, this is something I’d like to say about Boy Erased. In this film, the names have been changed, but the stories are real.”


In response to those critics, this is what I have to say.


Boy Erased is a movie, a theatrical production of a book written by Garrard Conley. The messages in the movie reflect the tragic situations that LGBTQ people have suffered in the name of religion. They convey the trauma and confusion that families go through when they discover they have a gay son and bring in their church authority for help. The movie tells the painful story that many people relate to, which is reflected by the many, many tears that are shed by people in the audiences as they see the film


I will let my reputation and my character answer your questions or those of anyone else who want to know. If you don’t know me or have judged me already, then I suppose you will make your own conclusions and I have no control over that.


It is very well known today where I stand, and that I’m totally against any message, therapy, or religious organization or church that condemns LGBTQ people based on some interpretation of the Bible. I believe that all people are accepted by God in their given sexual orientation and that all people equally have the right to explore a healthy and loving relationship and marriage. I believe that any attempt to change anyone’s given sexual orientation is tragic and deeply harmful to one’s soul.


There is a line in the film by Nancy Eamons, Jared’s mother. Her statement really touched me and I can so totally relate to it.


“Jared, I fell in line, and I was wrong. Things are going to be different from now on.”


I fell in line.

As I reflect on her words I can say this, for 22 years I fell in line with the expectations, theories, philosophies, and religious dogma that lay underneath conversion therapy. I bought the rhetoric, I believed it. I attempted to apply it to my own life and lead others into it because it appeared to be the only hope any of us had. We considered the options of losing our very soul and feared if we didn’t completely obey,  all those devastating results may come to reality. So, yes, I fell in line!


I was wrong!

I was terribly wrong. I struggled that entire time with duplicity. One part of my heart longed for change to be true and available. The other part of my heart wanted so much to be free just to be who I am. I was wrong in the way I led others in teachings and applications that somewhere deep inside me I knew would not bring the hoped changes. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I must admit it.


Things are going to be different from now on.

As I came to my new reality six years ago, I realized that things are going to be different! I didn’t fully realize just how different they would become. But at this time in my life, I’m more committed to truth and authenticity than ever before in my life. Yes, I’m certain that things will continually become different day by day in my life.


 

September 24th, 2018

To the Parents – I’m so sorry!

 


September 20, 2018

Written by John J. Smid

Former Executive Director, Love In Action, Int’l. (20 years + 2 years leadership prior)

Former Board Member, Exodus International (11 years)

Nationwide spokesperson with the ExGay movement.


The film, Boy Erased is coming out soon. This is a movie that is made from a book by Garrard Conley, a former Love In Action client. As Garrard began to process his own painful memories and trauma from having been raised in a shame based world and through his experience with Love In Action he wrote his memoir, Boy Erased.  It’s about the son of a Baptist preacher who is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program (Love In Action)  after being forcibly outed to his parents.


As I’ve watched the process of the production of Boy Erased, I’m made painfully more aware than ever before of the negative impact that ExGay ministry has had on the parents of LGBTQ people. That awareness is what has led me to write this letter of acknowledgement and apology to the parents of LBGTQ kids.


Background

I had been in several gay relationships after my first marriage and divorce. The uncertainty within these relationships and the painful break ups caused me to talk with a good friend. Her recommendation was to find a life in Jesus and that he could free me from homosexuality. So, in 1984 I embraced a conservative evangelical Christian belief with the hope that my life could be a better one. Very early on, respected, educated and highly influential leaders within my religious community impacted me with teachings that spoke of the vile and sinful nature of homosexuality. They taught that an unrepentant homosexual would never be able to have a good relationship with God and that their sin may even lead them to the eternal punishment of hell. I was taught that homosexuality was a broken condition of humanity that needed healing and restoration. This was also in the time when extremely fearful reactions to the AIDS crisis were in the media frequently.


Those teachings brought me to my own fear of loss and punishment if I didn’t find the freedom I was hoping for. They led me to over 30 years of desperation for my own healing and subsequently into full time ministry leadership that was focused on attempting to help other homosexuals and their families find the freedom that I was promised if I followed a Christian life.


I was also led to believe in an insidious theory that some how a person’s homosexuality was caused by life events, unhealthy family relationships, and personal debauchery. It was believed that through child development theories and family systems teachings, that a person’s sexual development was stifled, broken or damaged from harmful parental relationships and separation from same gender associations. Those theories led to a belief that if God could deeply heal the brokenness then a person’s sexuality would realign itself with God’s design for humanity, heterosexuality. I can’t tell you how many times it was reveberated that I was sexually and relationally broken. The promises for healing and freedom resounded throughout my years of conservative Christian communities.


Through over two decades of full time ministry within the ExGay culture, a worldwide exposure, I never saw anyone experience a change from homosexuality to heterosexuality. But, since these beliefs were attached to a theology of a retributive God and a belief that an all powerful God could do anything, the fear of not accepting those beliefs prevented me from allowing a truthful evaluation of the outcomes of all that we did. It also led me to my own continual grieving while saying, “Why not me God?” But being who I am, I pressed on day after day, year after year, being as obedient as I could possibly be holding on to the hope that some day God would do the impossible and heal me! I could not teach something that I didn’t practice personally, so I was bound to an ever-increasing treadmill while living in the fear that I’d fail and lose everything.


As I primarily ministered to individuals who were wrestling with their own homosexuality, I also had connections with thousands of parents. I watched, parent’s grieving hearts agonized with God for their loved ones with the hope that they might experience the miracle of healing from their broken sexuality. I was an exhibitor at over 30 Love One Out conferences, produced by Focus on the Family. Each conference had an average of 800 – 1000 attendees, most of whom were parents. Our ministry handed out 1000’s of pieces of literature all promising that an omnipotent God would do the impossible for their kids. In all of my years in ExGay ministry, I saw more sadness and grief in one place at these conferences than many could bear. All of this grief was attached to a theology that condemned homosexuality as a broken, sinful and vile situation as well as a tremendous fear of death through the HIV virus.


Through Love in Action we facilitated many parents support groups and weekend seminars that were focused on families with loved ones who were gay. We held to a belief that homosexuality was an addiction that needed intervention to arrest. We facilitated therapeutic tools that often caused even more shame. We hoped to bring an individual into the reality of the harm in their addiction to themselves and others. Many parents and loved ones were thrown into situations that were uncomfortable at the least and completely unbearable for many. Many parents left each meeting with the hope that somehow all of this would have purpose if their loved one would be healed from their homosexuality. Many of them trusted our passionate communication that we could help. Far too many left these experiences feeling as though they’d failed miserably as parents.


Each time I spoke publicly, I did so attempting to hold on to the hope I had for my own future.  It felt like my head was just above the water and unless I continued to believe, I’d sink. I conveyed that same desperation to each person I connected with through those years.  I’d often relay, “If you just hold on to God, it’ll all work out. If you let go of God, you’ll sink into the hell of homosexuality.” I had such deeply seated fears of the destruction of homosexuality in a person’s life and in my own, that I told one man, “It may be better if you were dead than to live in the throes of homosexuality!” Those words haunt me virtually every day.


When I left Love In Action in 2008, I was deeply in despair emotionally and spiritually. I’d gone through three major church splits within as many years with damage and carnage spread throughout our city. Love In Action was horribly damaged through staff splitting and destruction following the infamous viral protest in 2005. I left because I could find no hope, or help, in correcting the circumstances. I believed leaving was the very best thing for me, and for the ministry.


As I left, I went through a lengthy evaluation of 22 years of ministry. I met with a life coach weekly for months to help me sort out what I was going through. As my mind began to clear I came to the realization that what I’d taught, what I believed for so long, was horribly damaging. The damage to my own life was insurmountable. The destruction and abusive theology had wounded hundreds that I knew personally, not to mention the thousands that I impacted vicariously through my influence.


Deep down in my heart, all through the years, my greatest desire was to help people find the best life they could. My desire was to see families reconcile, love each other, and live through the years in unity. As I reflect on those years the very core of everything I taught was leading in the opposite direction. As I followed my mentors and led within ministry with Bible teachings against homosexuality and promoted the wrath of God against it, the outcome produced trauma, discouragement, and nothing but more fear.


I am so very sorry!

As I take an honest look back, I sincerely apologize for how many families had been shredded and how many individuals had lost hope for their lives, some to the point of suicide, through the ministry I led. Needless to say, virtually all of the men and women that went through our program got to the point of spiritual bankruptcy afterwards. I saw the painful separation that had occurred between many parents and their kids based on the fears of displeasing God if they loved their kids naturally and with acceptance of their homosexuality. I remember hearing about how many men and women did not continue in their pursuits of God due to their own shame and discouragement that they did not receive the healing, the freedom they had hoped so desperately for. We were a horrible failure.


I deeply regret those teachings, conversations, and the ways I influenced parents against homosexuality and their own children. Today, I rally behind parents who choose to accept and love their kids who are gay. I can celebrate with families who discover there is nothing broken, or vile about their amazing LGBTQ family members. I make myself available for listening to the pain, and offering encouragement to those I’m able to connect with. I go over and over the lists of the names of people who went through Love In Action’s residential program. I remember their hearts, their courage, and their own desperation. I look back upon the ways that our philosophies could have deeply wounded them, and have listened to the pain from those whom it did.


In the last 10 years I have had the privilege of listening to 100’s of stories, personal pain, and reconnecting with men and women who went through Love In Action. I’ve had parents contact me with questions like, “What now? What do I do now that I’m rethinking my position?” I’ve been in touch with a mom’s support group called Serendipitydodah for Moms that spans the nation, actually the world, that is connecting moms to provide the source of encouragement and support that they do not find in their communities. This powerful collection of Mama Bears is practicing a love for LGBTQ kids that is transformative! It’s a wonderful and amazing thing.


I’m so incredibly thankful for my own family who accepts me for who I am today. I’m saddened to the core for those relationships I have had with those who cannot and I’m so sorry for how my role as an ExGay leader played a huge part in this. But one thing I’ve truly discovered is that when people cannot embrace their authentic selves, they will suffer daily and their souls fall numb over time. When parents cannot accept and embrace their loved ones sexual orientation or gender identity, they will likely live in continual grief and shame. This is not from the hand of God, but rather from the hands of a distorted view of life and cultural shame.


It is my hope that as our world unfolds, shame and degradation for LBGTQ people will stop. It is my dream that families will totally embrace and support their LGBTQ loved ones. May it be so.


 

September 26th, 2017

Is Trump Giving Evangelicals Permission to be Carnal?

 

JohnSmidReflectiveShotB&WFantasyBackground


For many years I’ve heard people saying that “Evangelicals are false, they hide their feelings behind religion. They don’t tell the truth about their lives.” Yep, that was my story for 35 years!


I’ve been reading posts from Evangelicals that say things like “Trump is saying what we’ve been thinking.” Or “He’s just like us.” They’re also saying, “Our country has tried to remain non-committal and middle of the road for too long.”


Bush was a hard-line Evangelical conservative. He agreed with the vast majority of the Evangelical mind-set. Obama broke through that mold and generally agreed with the liberal mind-set. However both were always careful about their public presence. They followed political protocol, carefully drafting their public words. They always followed teleprompters and certainly never let loose with a word that was considered crass. Even their casual front seemed to be scripted. That’s what we expected from our nation’s leader. We didn’t want someone who might be like us, clumsy, natural, opinionated, and full of loose wires.


Trump, however is rude, rough around all the edges, doesn’t follow protocol, and basically sets his own rules for life and for the Presidency.


Son’s a bitches!

Grab her pussie!

A sugar daddy with a young attractive wife

Kill them all!

We’re the greatest country in the world and I’m the leader of it!

If you do that, I’ll make sure you’ll never do it again, because I can!

Fire them all if they don’t do what we expect them to do!


Hmm. is he really like us? Is Trump freeing Evangelicals who’ve been afraid to be honest, publically? Is the leader of our country giving permission to draw outside the sexually conservative box? Is he giving permission to reveal racism, anti-Semiticism, or selfishness and pride about our country’s privilege? Is he supporting the pride of white privilege so that those who live in it won’t feel guilty? It seems so.


Leaders set the tone. They produce a front that establishes the lines of permission. Trump has lowered the bar, he’s carnal, sexually and verbally abusive, and definitely allows for horrible verbal mistakes and breaking the protocols. He seems to feel it’s okay to build his fortune on the backs of the smaller humans. Isn’t that the American way to the top? And taxes? He seems that it’s okay to round all corners there and he uses the system to the fullest dishonest extent. He doesn’t draw a straight line at all and is as fluid as the closest stream that goes wherever it will. Human? Oh yeah! If its okay with the President, then it must be okay for me.


Are Evangelicals breaking out? They appear to be finding freedom — freedom to applaud bigotry, racism. and unhealthy sexual behavior. Well from what I’m seeing, Evangelicals whom I’ve known for years are sure showing a side of themselves that is shocking to me. I find myself saying, “Boy, you’ve sure lowered the bar in your life.” But truthfully, they haven’t lowered the bar, they’ve just exposed where their bar really is and likely has been for some time. Jesus said he came to set captives free, but I’m not sure this is the kind of freedom he was speaking of.


Maybe there is something good about Trump’s Presidency. If it breaks through the veil of dishonesty and hiding behind a religion then that may be a good thing. If there is a public revelation that Evangelicals are really human beings, carnal behind closed doors, and are seeking a freedom they don’t even know they’re asking for, than it’s wonderful when the captives are set free.


We’ve known all along that a large portion of our country is uncomfortable with LGBT people. We’ve felt the ongoing racism. We know how many people are hiding unhealthy sexual behavior behind closed doors. I think there are still a lot of captives around us. My hope is that they find true freedom. But honestly, most of us are uncomfortable with this kind of truth.


Well, Jesus did say that the truth will set us free.