ExGay Ideology – Costly to the heart, the soul, relationships and the pocketbook!
The ExGay movement began in the middle 1970’s. Believing in faith that God could do anything, people who came through the Jesus movement believed that God could deliver gay people from their struggles setting them free from homosexuality. While searching for a method throughout its years, practitioners of ExGay therapy used various techniques to find something that would achieve their goals. Using prayer, addiction models of recovery, blind obedience and deliverance thousands of people were subjected to ExGay conversion therapy based on a religious belief that God calls it sin and in order to be a good Christian gay people needed to repent of their homosexual sin. There are many stories of painful attempts, discouragement, and in some cases suicides. Throughout the years of ExGay ministry there has been an unwillingness to admit its failure to produce any real change in sexual orientation. That is until 2013 when Alan Chambers, then the president of Exodus International, proclaimed that 99% of those seeing change didn’t find the changes that were proclaimed through it’s years and Exodus was closed.
Love In Action was one of the founding ministries. Formed in 1973 they were also the first to utilize a residential program believing there’d be more success if they developed a supportive community environment. I was a staff member for 22 years. For 18 of those years I was the Executive Director. I was also a board member with Exodus International for eleven years.
Yes, I was a significant leader within the movement, but I was also a victim of it’s false claims. Here is some of my personal story about my own experience with ExGay ministry.
“John, how much does it cost to come to Love In Action’s program?” “Well, it’s $550.00 per month for our residential program.“
In 1987 that was the monthly fee. But what I didn’t see coming were the hidden costs there would be ahead for me. Costly to my heart, soul, relationships and my pocketbook!
It was 1984 and I was in pain. I was discouraged and living in emotional turmoil. I was divorced from my first wife and living as an out gay man. I was trying to navigate through this transition and attempting to figure out how to live life as a dad to two little toddler girls. After several failed gay relationships, I was now in a relationship that I tried to make into something long term, but it just didn’t have that potential and I didn’t want to be alone. I felt lost and didn’t know what to do next.
Some friends introduced me to evangelical Christian faith based on a personal relationship with Jesus. It was different than my background in Catholicism in that it seemed to include more connection to a personal community and a lot more communication about its beliefs. The relationships and the communication were attractive to me. I attended a local church a few times and discovered they were starting new singles ministry. I had gone to one of the meetings where their new singles pastor was introduced and I liked what he had to say.
So, when I broke up with my partner I quickly filled the void with a commitment to the meetings and began an entirely new social circle not having anything to do with me being gay. I decided to no longer contact any of my gay friends. Interestingly, they never contacted me again either. It seemed I was shutting the door to that part of my life.
I didn’t hide being gay but I was careful whom I told. No one rejected me and some were even willing to talk with me about my recent past. Most of those I told encouraged me to consider the belief that being gay was sinful and that I needed to seek God for wisdom and direction regarding my relationship choices. I didn’t feel shamed by their encouragement, but internally I began to absorb the belief that I needed to change something about myself that was deeply woven into the fabric of my being.
At one point about a year after I left my partner, a close friend suggested that I go with her to a meeting at a local hotel. It was hosted by a traveling preacher that she said was known for delivering homosexuals from their struggles with prayer. I was naïve to this newer religious practice and figured, “who wouldn’t want to be delivered from homosexuality?” I went with her to a meeting and came away more depressed than I had been in a long time. His message was very strange, there was no real reference to any deliverance and in so many ways my hopes were dashed. But I kept some desire for freedom stored away with the belief that maybe God was powerful enough to take the plight of homosexuality away from me.
Two years later, I heard a speaker on James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. She talked about her son being gay and that she was part of a coalition of ministries that helped men and women leave homosexuality behind. I wrote a letter to Focus seeking information on these ministries and got an informational sheet back. On it was information on Love In Action, then in California.
I wrote them a letter consisting of only a couple of paragraphs. I mentioned my history of having been married and having two children and that I was looking for help. I didn’t get a letter back; instead I got a phone call from Anita Worthen, the director’s wife. She said they were looking for someone to be a house leader’s assistant in one of their new residential houses. Needless to say, I was surprised to have that conversation. For some reason, I became very excited about the potential of this prospect and set my mind on the goal of going there.
I was dating a girl at the time with hope that I could somehow make a heterosexual relationship work out. I didn’t want to be alone and I heard from all sides of my new religious world that I could not have a gay relationship and continue on with God. But this relationship wasn’t working so well. I was really shut down emotionally. Due to my fears of failure and the deep shame that I lived in, I wanted out of the relationship. But I was afraid of another relationship breakup. I didn’t want to tell her I wanted out and lived in the conflict of emotions.
Love In Action offered to accept my application for the position there. I felt hopeful! They were known to be the experts on ExGay ministry and one of the premier ministries nation wide. They said Jesus would set me free from homosexuality and that the director was married and had found success.
I had been deep in prayer about finding full time ministry. I was sincerely seeking a way I could be more involved in my faith. This opportunity seemed to come at just the right time since my employer, the Union Pacific Railroad, was offering buyouts of $35,000 for employees who would willingly give up their jobs.
The position at Love In Action was a volunteer position. I figured that the buyout would help me take care of my financial responsibilities and I could afford to do this for a couple of years. But underneath it all, they gave me hope for deeper changes in my life. I wanted desperately to be a man of integrity and of good reputation. Even more significantly, I wanted to be a good dad for my daughters. I believed that being gay would cause me to lose that hope.
I believed Love In Action had it all for me; big changes, a deeper foundation in my faith, help with my homosexual struggles, and potentially hope for a future marriage and overall success in life. I wouldn’t have believed anything to the contrary even if someone would have challenged my decision. What I didn’t figure into the equation were the hidden costs of my decisions.
I sold my house and all of my household things. I stored my keepsakes and packed my car with my daily essentials to move 1500 miles across the country. I had an emotional evening with my daughters telling them I was leaving for California. They cried and I stuffed my deeper feelings because I believed my decision to leave them was for the greater long term good.
I got to Love In Action and began to hear they dealt with homosexuality through prayer, obedience and having a deeper faith in God. I learned to separate myself from any homosexual trappings and associations. Much like an alcoholic, I had to make a decision that I’d never go near gay bars, gay people or gay paraphernalia. I had to keep my life pure or I’d never receive the answer to my prayers.
I believed that there were other gay men who had successful marriages to women. Their marriages appeared to be honest and open. Their wives knew all about their homosexuality. That was hopeful for me because I never wanted to hide things. I continued communication with my girlfriend back home. I was excited about what I was learning and talked with her a lot about everything. I’m sure this gave her hope about our relationship. The distance between us allowed me to relax and open myself up emotionally again which also gave us both hope for a future together.
Through the first year I was excited about all of this and made a commitment to stay another year. It seemed people were being helped and I thought I was providing hope to those who felt hopeless like I had felt. It seemed the many questions I had in my life were being answered through the Bible and the Christian community. They showed me support and helped to confirm what I was doing was right. I was still left with many questions and insecurities about what I was learning. But I kept mostly quiet about them.
After the second year I made the decision in faith to ask my girlfriend to marry me. In so doing I received little counsel about what this was going to be like. Men who had gotten married to women didn’t really talk much about the things closer to their hearts. One word of advice I remember was, “John, don’t worry about the plumbing, it’ll work when it’s time,” referring to the wedding night. I thought, they must be right. They’ve gone through this.
So, the wedding came, and the honeymoon night arrived. It was really difficult for me. Actually, the entire honeymoon was challenging and I shut down my emotions just to make it through. But I believed it was because the ugly demon of homosexuality was barking at me attempting to steal the victory. The first six months of our marriage was horrific for me and full of emotional turmoil. But through some discussions and revelations, I felt I needed to just relax and so I stuffed my fears for the next 24 years. Yes, for 24 years. I thought I was having success because I was faithful and was not acting out in homosexuality.
The ExGay teachings just continued to heap messages on me that I was broken, sinful, unhealthy and that I needed healing. The lessons of obedience, sacrifice, and faith only became more ingrained in my soul with seemingly no way to find success. They produced no changes in my sexuality. But the seeming requirement of separation from anything gay caused me to separate from myself and from others who didn’t believe as I did.
ExGay ministry, community and teachings cost me dearly. From a practical and financial standpoint, it cost me $35,000. I didn’t receive any salary for two years, and only partial salary for two more years. I considered that was paying for the ministry training I was gaining. I used this to rationalize that great expenditure. That was a lot of money in 1986!
Not realizing it at the time, it cost me a lifetime relationship with my daughters. Moving 1500 miles away from them, their childhood experiences, and a regular development of trust created a gap in our lives that will never be rebuilt. There is no natural foundation between us, which would create a history to work with in our lives today. I missed school events, birthdays and holidays with my kids. I missed dances and regular days together. I never saw their friends or heard their pain. I missed putting them to bed at night and celebrating life with them. They missed knowing my heart, my values and me. They missed having a dad throughout their childhood who loves them dearly.
My biological family was from other religious beliefs. My faith system was very narrow and it just wasn’t comfortable to connect with others who believed differently. People who seemingly supported my goals surrounded me. I was taught that leaving homosexuality was difficult and required great sacrifice to make it, even if it meant not being around my family.
There were aunts, uncles and cousins that I grew up with that lived back in Iowa. When I finally saw through the deception of my former involvement in ExGay ministry I realized that I had lost over two decades of knowing them. I discovered their love for me had spanned the years. But I didn’t experience it because of the lack of contact with them. While searching to know love and feel connected I discovered I’d missed the love of family for all of those years. I missed family celebrations, holidays and reunions. I missed funerals and weddings.
While I was taught that with faith, God could make my marriage work. I was taught that if I were faithful to the marriage, God would honor my commitment. I believed that if I held on that some day I’d finally find the combination that would release me to love my wife, as I believed she deserved. After years of learning, years of counsel, years of faithfulness, and years of believing God beyond hope; I discovered there had been no change, no lifting of the anxiety that I had felt from the very beginning. We both lost severely through this.
I lost the hope of intimate connection that drove me into ExGay ministry to begin with. I paid dearly year after year with a sense that I was deceiving others due to living an image of a successful marriage while underneath it was anything but that. I felt separated, alone and disconnected most of the time.
There were many followers of ExGay ministry and church members who looked to our marriage as an example of the testimony of God’s change in my life. I believed I was living in integrity because I was faithful to the marriage and hadn’t had any sex with men since that last relationship in 1984. I believed that was success! I believed that was all I could hope for. After all, I was living a sexually pure life regardless of how I felt inside. Denying our feelings was part of the commitment.
I was internally critical of my wife. I was sharp at times, discouraging at others. I went through emotional mountains and valleys. My life and vocation were filled with lots of drama that distracted us from the dysfunction within our marriage. Keeping us both in denial we went on and on, year after year believing we were doing okay.
I had some gay friends from my past that I’ve reconnected with. In our recent conversations I’ve discovered some amazing things. Each one spoke of their faith in God and how that’s helped them through the years. I wonder why I didn’t hear that back then? I also heard something surprising. Each one talked about how they loved and respected me those many years ago and how they could see that I was determined to go my newer direction into ExGay thinking so they didn’t follow up with me.
Wow, these men loved me and saw good things in me I didn’t see myself. They hurt for me, as they knew I was moving into something that they didn’t believe was a good thing, but allowed me the freedom to make my own choices. I missed out on friendships like that! I missed a history of years of knowing them as long-term friends. This makes me sad.
I’m a very creative person. Most of my hobbies and creative aspirations involve the perception of being gay. So, ExGay ministry taught me to separate myself from those kinds of things. Out of my blind obedience, I gave up artistic hobbies, theater and other creative outlets. I missed the fun of dreaming up something and bringing it to fruition. Year after year of wanting to be involved again in Community Theater or building something in a shop just hung out in the recesses of my mind. Ministry was my calling and I didn’t believe I had time for hobbies. And, needless to say I might meet a gay person that would tempt me away from my goals of being a successful ExGay. I needed to keep my face like flint towards the Lord and away from the world.
That is, until I left Love In Action. In 2005 we had a huge protest by a group of young people who were opposed to us working with youth. This began a huge internal struggle with staff and legal matters. After no seeming way to resolve the conflicts and a split board of directors, I chose to resign. When I stopped the huge merry-go-round of Love In Action and ExGay ministry, I discovered something deeper. I realized there were myths within my belief system. I found deception within my conservative faith and the church community I’d been involved with.
Some called Love In Action “cultish” but at the time, I wound’t admit to that. But I can now see that as in many cults, there is collateral damage in the lives of those who become subjected to them. At Love In Action much like many cults, we held to teachings of self-sacrifice and separation. Within cult practice, some people give their life savings to support it. Some program participants sold everything they had to go through our program. I sold many things I wish I could have back. I drank the Koolaid.
Oh, my gosh! I see it now! I see the broken philosophies. I see the false beliefs. I see the carnage as exhibited by others who finally escaped its grasp. And, after a time, I finally saw the cost to me personally and I was one of its leaders.
I grieve. I grieve the losses. I grieve what I could have had. I grieve what I’ve done to others. I grieve thinking about my former wife and what she could have had if she hadn’t married me. I grieve that my kids lost out on having a dad. I even grieve that they didn’t have me for a dad because I think I could have been a really good dad.
I feel responsible and accountable for those things I taught though the program and those things I said publically. I was a nationwide spokesperson. My words spread a wide and long path based on what I thought I had to believe. When I found myself questioning the validity of my beliefs my mind went quickly to words I’d heard, “God’s ways are not our ways” or “you can’t trust your own thoughts, you can be deceived.” This was similar to another cultish tenant I saw, don’t trust your own thoughts. I was a model of obedience. I believed I could stand up with confidence because I hadn’t failed the system. I was sexually pure. But my heart was sick.
I’m thankful for a few years left to experience life beyond ExGay ministry. I’m trying to connect as much as I can with my daughters and grandchildren. But it’s hard due to the lack of history we’ve shared. I’m trying to reconnect with my family even though some have already died and I don’t have that chance.
The money, well the money is gone and that isn’t as big a deal. But it frustrates me to think I bought into the deception out of hopelessness and despair. My vocation did provide an income for my family for many years, but even that brings some guilt as it came from the pockets of others that hoped for so much more.
I’m tremendously thankful that my gay friends from years ago have allowed me back into their lives. I’m a richer person for knowing them today. Their unconditional love, affirmation and support are very important to me.
I’m trying to make amends whenever possible and when doing so isn’t harming to others. I have an open policy to anyone who wants to contact me. I have diligently searched for opportunities to contact others who may need to hear my heart today. It’s my greatest desire to see others find freedom from the bondage of ExGay ministry, its teaching and philosophies.
I’m beginning to enjoy my life for the first time. I’m rediscovering creative hobbies. I’m allowing myself to be playful, even childish at times. I sing out loud. I laugh at stupid things. I’m silly. I found success in cooking wonderful things and love to serve them to others.
I have a large workshop that is my dreamland. I build, paint and create amazing things out of pieces I gather along the way. I receive compliments on my projects! I’m good at it and I enjoy the process of dreaming it up and making it come through to reality.
I realized I also became free to enjoy true love, natural to my gay self. I found an amazing husband. I can see now that the anxiety I felt for so many years was due to living in conflict with my sexuality and trying to live in an unequally yoked marriage. My husband and I feel comfortable, connected, and naturally fit to one another. I’m finding that I can have a successful intimate relationship. I believed for so long that I was so broken, as taught by my former religious community, that I could never find intimacy that was fulfilling.
We serve one another. We affirm each other liberally and with sincerity. We laugh, we cry, we don’t ever want to be separated. We complete one another. We compliment each other’s personalities, gifts and talents. We’re faithful in our hearts and in our lives, naturally. Isn’t that what marriage is? I’ve finally experienced it.
Living free from bondage is something that I was taught was the goal. It’s just that along the way I lived in it while seeking freedom from it. Living in a community that teaches separation from the world creates a legalistic sacrifice that brought me a load of denial. I wanted to be a good person. I wanted to have a solid faith. I wanted to have God close to me. While I believed I was working towards those goals I was actually losing them. My daughters were distrusting me, my faith was shallow as it was based on many forms of denial, and I always felt distant from God because of the deep shame stemming from the messages of brokenness. But, no more!
As I sought freedom, I lived in bondage. As I searched for truth, I lived in deception. As I tried to lay a foundation for being a good dad, a good husband, and a good family man I was a distant and uninvolved dad, a deceived husband and I lost years of family life.
ExGay ministry is a tool to deceive, to lead to bondage, and to harm innocent and needy people who have already lived a life of rejection and separation. I do not believe it is the hand of a loving God that would lead anyone to it. But rather, I see it as a tool of evil to separate people from themselves.
There are people who choose ExGay ministry to help them live a celibate life in conjunction with their faith. I don’t judge them and believe that we must all live with integrity. But sadly, I believe the underneath messages can actually make living a celibate life more difficult. There are also those who continue in leadership within ExGay ministry. Having been a former leader, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I stayed all those years because I believed I was helping people, but I also stayed out my own fear of failure and not knowing what else I could do with my life.
I jumped off a cliff, trusting God more than I ever have. This led me to a more authentic faith and a life of more integrity than I’ve ever had. I do not regret that decision at all.
Through professional counseling, healing retreats and an intensive 90 day life coaching program I’ve gone through a lot of healing from my experiences. There is more to come, more healing and more life.