On February 11, 2017 Frank Worthen passed from this life into the next. A very controversial figure for most of his life, I met him in 1986 and entered into the controversy myself.
Frank was the founder of Love In Action in 1973. Frank also co-founded Exodus International in 1976. ExGay ministry, which it was called, taught that God could never affirm a gay relationship and that men and women must repent of homosexuality and submit their sexuality to God. It was believed that homosexuality was a broken part of one’s life and that there was potential of healing from that brokenness in their lives.
I applied for a staff position at Love In Action in the summer of 1986. I believed I was called to do this and that it might be possible for God to touch me and resolve my struggle with homosexuality.
I was accepted and I lived with Frank and his wife Anita in one of the residential ministry houses as an Assistant House Leader at Love In Action in 1987 and 1988. I also worked in their ministry office every day of the week. I was with them virtually 24-7 for those two years.
I’m not sure I’ve ever known a man that was so convicted and committed to his convictions as Frank. He was unwavering, and for the most part he was unchanging. Several times my questions and my own search for truth came up against Frank’s beliefs. For the most part, Frank allowed me to follow my own path and allowed me great latitude in my leadership roles in the ministry that he’d birthed in 1973.
Within this ministry context, my questions and pursuit led me in different ways from Frank in ministry practice and theories. Those differences were something that never brought an unkind word, or for the most part no words at all from Frank.
I can respect Frank’s integrity. He remained faithful to what he believed throughout his being until the very end of his life.
Frank never really drew close to me as he had many others. He led me with a very loose hand. He allowed me great latitude in my own development of leadership skills, for which I’m very grateful. At one time I felt jealous of those he did draw close to but quickly realized that closeness to Frank, as in a personal friend, was not something that would have really benefited either of us. It became quite acceptable to me to have Frank be who he was and I’d forge my own path.
Frank missed the mark with me in some ways. He offered very little counsel when I moved towards my marriage to Vileen. I was quite alone in my process. I had very little information to go on that may have helped me discern my own feelings about marriage and was left with not much more than a blind trust of fate that in the end did not work out well. Frank’s marriage worked for him and I’m so thankful he had such closeness with his own wife, Anita.
Moving on, in 1990, Frank moved to Manila to develop a ministry there. I was given the position of director for Love in Action when he left. This left Frank and I to ongoing communication but instead of a daily reference to a common ministry, we had become comrades. He was respectful of my decisions while many times I knew he didn’t like them. But, I knew that I no longer had to conform to Frank’s ways of doing things. It allowed each of us freedom to be who we were.
Most recently, around 2008 Frank invited me to co-lead a weeklong retreat for men seeking answers about their struggle with homosexuality. When I arrived in Inverness California to the retreat center I discovered that Frank’s eyesight was failing and he therefore asked me to lead the entire retreat. It was a very fond memory of my relationship with Frank. It was as though he now saw me as an adult who was competent do it. It was very affirming. One night I went to the chapel and saw Frank sitting alone. I sat beside him and he began to weep, almost uncontrollably. He began to share with me some very intimate things on his heart. I saw Frank more vulnerably than ever before. It was a moment of connection that will last in my memories of Frank Worthen.
Later, in 2012, I struggled with deep anger towards Frank for what I learned through his teachings. But in processing that anger I realized that I actually formed my own prison regarding homosexuality and could blame no one but myself. My path led me to a very different belief about my own homosexuality. But at the same time, Frank’s journey led him to a marriage with Anita that was without a doubt one of the most endearing parts of his entire life, with the exception of his relationship with God. Mine was very different and therefore, I made decisions that were different.
As my life changed and my own path led me to come out as a gay man I knew Frank would vehemently disagree with my conclusions. So I chose to just remain distant. I had no need to please him, or to seek advice, as I knew it would differ from my convictions. So, Frank and Anita became part of my past journey but not a current connection.
This past year I received a surprise private message from Anita.
Frank n I are well…..just the stuff that happens with age.
I was remembering you and me and our friendship. I’m not looking to be part of your life but was remembering that I love you and wanted you to know that. All the other stuff is there also, don’t need to go there, you know.
Anyway, wanted you to know
I responded with affirmation and thankfulness for her writing.
I realize there is tremendous latitude for choice in our personal lives. I’ve grown to trust deeply in grace and unconditional love. I want nothing more than for Frank to find peace in eternity and for Anita to find peace for her years to come.
I realize there are many people who are struggling to work through their experience with ExGay ministry. I’ve worked through many things personally and therefore I have no reason for bitterness towards them, or the ministry they invited me to. For two decades Love In Action was a place of healing from my childhood wounds for me. It was also a place for many, many fond memories of connecting with endearing people and friends. I can say for those reasons I’m eternally grateful for Frank Worthen.