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Was Love In Action Double Minded?

Monday, February 18th, 2019


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.


 

Boy Erased Will Release Nov. 2

Thursday, November 1st, 2018


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.


 

To the Parents – I’m so sorry!

Monday, September 24th, 2018



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.