John, I saw that there is a documentary on Face Book that is about the story of the protests that occurred many years ago against the youth program at Love In Action when you were the director there. I saw your picture on the FaceBook page of the documentary and wondered what you think about this film? – Joshua P.
Yes, there is a new documentary coming out called; “This Is What Love In Action Looks Like”. I am interviewed on this documentary. I will be attending the premier on June 18, 2011. I’d like to talk about my involvement in this film so that you will see what my role is and how I have been involved. – John
“Hello, Morgan? Yes, I know you are producing a documentary about the protests at Love In Action this year. What? Your asking if I will do an interview with you for the documentary? I’ll think about it and my Communications Director will get back with you.”
I had no intention of being any part of this documentary. The Love In Action staff discussed Morgan’s proposal and decided it would be best to remain silent and allow it to be what it would be without any words from me. I was frustrated about the fact that there was a protest and even more that it was being chronicled by someone I believed to be a fringe film artist in the gay community. I wanted no part of any of it.
Six years later here I am, interviewed on the film. What changed?
After an initial meeting with Morgan in 2005, while I was still the Director of Love In Action, we decided to meet again for casual talks over coffee. I began to hear his heart. I grew to have a different perspective of him, and learned new things about myself. I had begun to see him as a person with talent and a tremendous heart for people. After several lengthy talks, I grew to respect and admire his honesty and authenticity.
At one point, a few months after I left Love In Action in 2008, I began to further process the effects of the protests. I began to feel responsible for some of the negative effects on some of the youth that were highlighted in the protest. I talked with Morgan about being interviewed for his film. “Morgan, when I was still at Love In Action, our decision to remove ourselves from the film took into consideration my position and the ministry. But now, I am no longer with Love In Action. I feel an obligation to address some of the questions that linger. I will not speak “for” Love In Action, but am willing to share my own thoughts.”
The Filming Began
So, we began to schedule the interviews. I spent many hours with Morgan in front of a camera sharing my life story, answering questions about my 22 year work with Love In Action. We also drove around town to different spots for “B” roll footage for the documentary.
During one film session we were in my office for several hours. Towards the end of a tiring day, the person interviewing me began to ask me for my perspective about the day of the first protest. I looked over at Morgan and a bolt of nervous laughter came from both of our hearts. It was one of those “you had to have been there” moments where we just couldn’t gain control.
Morgan got up and left the room so that the interview could continue. But afterwards we talked about our reaction to the protest. We had stayed away from talking about the protest so it was somehow tucked into our memories and hadn’t come up. Our talks were about each other, about our hearts, our families and our passions. We realized that we both had uncomfortable feelings about June 6th, 2005, the day the protests began. We decided to have a meeting just to talk about those days and got honest about our feelings and how they had changed through the years.
A Unique Kind of Partnership
As the film was worked into a DVD, Morgan and I talked a lot about it. We discussed the different directions it could take. I shared my thoughts, Morgan shared his, and it became a kind of project that we both flushed out together. Of course, there were many advisers that I hadn’t even met that helped him with the project. But, I felt valued that he would allow me into the discussion.
A Preview Copy of the Poject
A couple of months ago this year (2011), almost five years later, Morgan gave me a copy of the DVD that was close to being finished. I sat down and watched it. I didn’t like it! I didn’t like it at all. I was surprised that I had the feelings that I was experiencing as I moved through it. It seemed to be hours long. I just wanted it to be over.
“Wow, now what am I going to do? I am sure Morgan will ask me what I think of it.”
I sat down and tried to write down all of my thoughts on what I had seen. I critiqued it with what I thought was an honest heart. I wrote a long detailed list of things I wanted to say to him about the film. Then I set a date to meet with Morgan to share what was on my mind. I wasn’t looking forward to our discussion. I believed that our friendship had developed an honest foundation and I knew I had to level with him about my review of the film.
As I looked over the list, I realized that I had one primary emotional reaction; embarrassment! I felt embarrassed to be on the film. I felt embarrassed about the negative light that was presented about Love In Action. I realized that in a way, the entire documentary was focused on “John Smid” and his actions. The interviews with those that had spoken negatively about their experience with Love In Action were glaring in my face. There were a couple of people who were positive, but vast majority of the film is challenging the very nature of the ministry that I worked with for 22 years.
Initially, I didn’t want anything to do with this film or its release. I just wanted to go hide in a corner and not be seen by anyone. As I reviewed my list, I wondered how Morgan would take my reaction? I wondered what this do to our growing relationship? Would this be the end of our friendship? Would all of our time together getting to know each other get washed down the drain? I had grown to care about Morgan as a person and looked forward to what may occur in the future.
Our appointment to discuss the film was postponed and it gave me more time to think about my reaction to the film. I realized now that it wasn’t that I necessarily disagreed with the content, or many of the challenges within it. I saw that there were changes in my own heart since leaving Love In Action. I was gaining awareness of where I had made mistakes that had hurt people and had produced some challenging outcomes. I wanted to be able to accept responsibility.
I Have To Get Real
The “Refuge Program” for youth was the highlight of the film. It had been laid out with some flaws in its design. As a two week “day” program it allowed parents to register their kids without their overall desire to be there. We just rationalized that it was a good thing for the kids and even if they didn’t like it. We believed it would be in their best interest to come if their parents wanted them there. I paid little attention to the things that some parents did to coerce, or to manipulate their teens to come.
There was no requirement for the parents to participate in anything for themselves other than a support group meeting once a week. This left gaping holes in the structure that was for some, destructive to the parent/child relationship. The kids did pretty well while they were with us during the day. But going home each evening, for some of the kids, became a probing nightmare of questions and expectations. Upon completion, some of the kids went home to a family dynamic that hadn’t changed at all. This left them with further wounding places in their heart and some didn’t survive this very well.
After the program had run for a couple of months, I was engaged in a staff meeting. We reviewed some things about the program and our staff discussed revamping the Refuge Program. We realized that it was all based on the wrong people. We designed a new program that was an intensive program for the parents. If their kids wanted to come we would do a thorough interview with them to make sure it was their idea and desire. This became our new program and the Refuge Program had ceased. I felt fearful of the protesters finding out that we had changed the program. I didn’t want them to think they had won this battle. I just rationalized that it was our observation and our idea to rework the program.
In review of the DVD I also felt conflicted about it’s content. Some of the information and interviews stemmed from the adult program. The programs were quite different from each other. The adult program was a residential program for man and women who were there because they had applied and been accepted through their own efforts. Though some of the same material was taught and some of the groups were together, the application process and mindset were distinctly different. I was concerned that the viewers of the film may think the reviews of the information would not separate the different programs.
I now completely agree that an underage teenager should not be manipulated or coerced into this kind of program against their own convictions and willingness to participate. To do so would be counter productive.
I Feel Embarrassed
So, after I had looked back over this situation, I realized that even though I felt embarrassed and conflicted, I couldn’t disagree with the documentary’s focus. Morgan and I got together and I began to share honestly the things that I had written down that were challenging me about the film. I started with, “Morgan, I feel embarrassed about being seen in the film.
“His face dropped into disappointment. He said, “I’m sorry, John. I didn’t mean……” I said, “No, Morgan, this is about me and my reaction. It isn’t about you or what you produced. His honest response to my comment allowed a very vulnerable conversation to come out. He was humble and yet honest himself. I went on to explain more of my agreement that I had been wrong and that we had done some things that needed correction.
My comments went on to more about things based on fact rather than the concept of the film. Our discussion was one more experience of two men who can disagree, grapple through things, and walk away with a respect towards each other. It was a good discussion with Morgan. I had feared this for nothing.
An Invitation to the Premier
Morgan went even further. He invited me to attend the premier of the film. It was to take place in San Francisco at the FrameLine Film Festival. FrameLine is a Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender community focused event. I had to go away and think about his invitation for sure. He also asked me to be a part of the panel for questions after the film is shown.
My first response was to not even consider going. I still wasn’t feeling so positive about the film and didn’t want to be further exposed by standing right there in front of the crowd who just saw the film.
But as the weeks have gone by, I realize that now I want to stand up in front, beside Morgan and say to the crowd, “this is my friend Morgan Fox.” I also wanted to be honest and take the heat of the film and be responsible for the mistakes I had made. I want the teens in the film, or in the audience, to know my heart. I want them to know that I hear them and to make amends for the things that lay at my feet of responsibility.
I’ll be meeting with Morgan and his friends prior to the presentation of “This Is What Love In Action Looks Like.” We’ll see the film together with the audience. I’ll stand beside Morgan at the end to listen to comments and take questions. I am trusting that God, my Lord, Jesus, will be with each of us and that He will make a way through this difficult challenge.
I may still feel very embarrassed to be in that spot. I will probably feel anxious and curious to walk this through.
But, I do not regret for one minute the outcome of the protests of 2005. Those protests helped to set the stage for many changes that came into my life over the next several years. In 2008, I left Love In Action. I found a new sense of God, His grace, and His love for all people. I have met some wonderful new friends and they have taught me more about grace, God’s forgiveness, and how prejudiced I had been. So, in some ways, this film is a mark in my own life that I don’t want to forget. Morgan has helped me to discover more of who I am because of who he is as a person, and as a friend.
I’ll also be promoting my new book “A Journey of Grace”. The book is based on how to build and maintain healthy relationships through using nine core values. It contains a storyline that shows the history of how Morgan and I developed a friendship through the years. I also includes an editorial of the book by Morgan.
So, here we go! The premier will set the mark!
During one of our film interviews Morgan and I talked about how we had developed a friendship. One of the technical assistants said, “Hum. Morgan, isn’t this title interesting?”
Morgan and I looked at each other and realized that it has a great title. The behind the scenes victory is how we once were enemies, and now we are friends. Through my involvement with Morgan as this film has been developed it has shown me: