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“This Is What Love In Action Looks Like”

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

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.

JohnSmidReflectiveShotB&WFantasyBackgroundDear Joshua,

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

LIA ProtestA phone call from Morgan Fox came into my office:

“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

John Interview-foxSo, 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

Morgan and John - colorAs 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

Morgan Jon FoxSo, 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.

framelineFriday, June 17th 2011, I will be flying to San Francisco.

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.

new product shot front  cover whiteI’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:

This — Is What Love, In Action, Looks Like.


Connected Articles

by John J. Smid from Grace Rivers Ministry

Changes in My Own Heart

A New Life – a testimony by John Smid

A Letter of Apology by John Smid

Love Your Enemy

Articles on Homosexuality

Links of Interest:

This is What Love In Action Looks Like – Blog

Information for Frameline Festival Premier

Premier Announcement from “Live From Memphis”.


A Letter of Apology

Thursday, March 4th, 2010


For many years I have contemplated the times I have heard that some people have said they were harmed or wounded from their experience with Love In Action or Exodus International. More often than not my reactions have not been favorable. In my own mind I didn’t feel there was any merit to the accusations. After all, “I have given 22 years of my life sacrificially just to hear how we harmed you!”

Well I certainly know the sound of a defensive reaction when I hear one! I was it! I didn’t want to hear anything that was critical or negative. But, I believe in listening to the heart of others no matter how critical it may sound. I needed to check in on my own heart to see if there was any validation to their comments. Of course, there was.

Since I was in leadership with both organizations I have certainly have been at the center of many of the criticisms. The scripture challenges us to be careful with what we say and do as leaders because of the higher standard that is expected and deserved from those whom we care for.

In the last two years I have had a lot of time to ponder, pray, and sort through many facets of my vocational ministry history. Since I have had a lot of alone time my searching has been easier to handle.

I was recently contacted by David Roberts from the “Ex-gay Watch” and online blog for those following the ex-gay movement. David had seen a recent announcement of the new Grace Group that is being started by Grace Rivers and wanted me to write something. In our discussion we both felt it would be good for me to address some of the criticisms out there concerning my leadership in “ex-gay” ministry. I have taken the last week to write a letter and to that end, here it is.

It’s Time for Honesty!

From John J. Smid to the readers of Ex-gay Watch,

Just a little bit of history here. I became a Christian in 1982. My new faith created conflicts in my homosexual relationship and eventually we broke up. It was at that point and I decided to pursue my relationship with Jesus instead of looking for a new relationship right away.

When I had been celibate for several years I felt that I wanted be married to a woman. I had been married previously and in my heart wanted to give that a try again.

I met my wife Vileen in 1985 and we married in 1988. We have had a good, faithful marriage just as I had hoped. I told her about my homosexuality right after we had met. She has walked alongside me knowing that I have chosen her rather than to pursue a homosexual relationship. She is aware that my attractions haven’t changed in general towards men but that I love her deeply and make choices daily to remain faithful to our marriage and have not regretted that decision.

In 1986 I moved to San Rafael California to work as a volunteer for Love In Action. I am passionate about people and spent 22 years with Love In Action. Since Exodus International was in our same office most of those years I also became involved with them right away.

By 1995 I had been involved in Love In Action and Exodus for nine years and was asked to give a talk in a general session at the Exodus national conference. God had brought me to a point where I was willing to admit to myself that I still had homosexual attractions. As a result of my own internal process of disclosure I decided to give my talk on the topic of honesty. I spoke of my current homosexual attractions and challenged the audience to be honest with themselves. I have always been as intentional as I could to share freely about those things whenever I speak or meet with someone who can relate to homosexuality.

The Famous Protest

On June 6th of 2005, when the protestors showed up on the sidewalks in front of Love In Action to speak against the Refuge Program, my world was rocked. But within just a couple of days my heart was humbled by the gracious words coming from those who were outside such as “God Loves You”. The truth spoken from them caused me to think and began to soften my heart.

A lot has changed since then. God does love me and He loved me enough to continue to shave off some things in my life that have been wrong, offensive, calloused and judgmental. Through the humility of Morgan Fox, one of the leaders of the protest, I was humbled once again. His pursuit of a relationship with me, though I did not deserve it, has been another tool that God has used to break through parts of my heart that needed to be touched.

Morgan asked me to interview for a documentary he is producing about the protests. I resisted for a long time. After many meetings with Morgan I began to see his godly character and agreed to an interview because I trusted him. During our camera time the discussions involved things from the past that have been said about Love In Action or about me as the former leader. I had spent many hours and in some cases years, pondering these things and wondered how I could make amends for the things that had hurt or wounded others during my 22 years of leadership with Love In Action. Certainly there were many.

Please Forgive Me

In 1994 an article was written that said that I told a young man it would be better for him to commit suicide than for him to go into the gay lifestyle. I have been haunted by that article all through the years. I have felt defensive, reactionary and frustrated every time I have read it not knowing how I could in any way, clear it away. Maybe this will help.

I want to publically say to the young man, “I am very sorry for the conversation that I had with you that fateful day. I loved you very much as a brother and feel deeply grieved for the way that my words hurt you.” If I could, I would erase the conversation and start all over with ” I love you, and as you move on I will pray for God’s very best for you in your life. No matter what you do, Jesus deeply loves you.” “Please forgive me.”

Some people have spoken out about being wounded through their experience with Love In Action. ” I want to say I am very sorry for the things that have wounded you or hurt you by my hands of leadership at Love In Action or anything I have done personally that has harmed you.” “Please forgive me.”

Exodus International

I was a member of the board of directors of Exodus International for eleven years. I spoke on many occasions in general sessions and in workshops at the national conferences for most of the 22 years I was involved in Love In Action and Exodus. Thousands of men and women came to Exodus ministries and conferences looking for a hand, seeking hope, or for someone to hear their heart and understand.

I am a very verbal person and can speak at times without thoroughly thinking through what I might say before it comes out of my mouth. Without question I know I have said things that may have hurt someone or caused confusion or discouragement. Please forgive me for the things I have said that were not helpful or were further damaging of your tender heart.

As a board member of Exodus International I felt a strong sense of stewardship for the lives we hoped we would impact with the love of Jesus. I have learned a lot more over the last couple of years about how unconditional His love really is. I believe I could have done a better job of letting people know that Jesus loves them purely because He does, unconditionally. I am sorry for not being a better vessel of the Love of Christ to those who deeply need to know of His love. I realize I was often more concerned with telling people how to live than I was with imparting God’s grace so that they would want to live!

Refuge Program

Now, regarding the most highly publicized” Refuge Program” for teens that was held through Love In Action. If I could go back and do anything differently based on what I know today – it would be the Refuge Program. I have a hard time admitting it but the protests did bring about a season for me to reevaluate my life, my heart, and the Refuge Program. God did an amazing work in me through the challenges that resulted from the people who came to the streets in front of our ministry, morning and night, for two weeks.

I really wanted to help the young men in our program but in some cases the design of our program caused more harm for some of these kids that it did good. I am very sorry for the ways that Refuge further wounded teens that were already in a very delicate place in life. I am grateful for the way that God lovingly called us to revamp the methods for dealing with families with teens so that more teens weren’t hurt.

I have been a Christian for almost 30 years. There are myriads of things that I do or that go through my mind that aren’t biblically appropriate. There are many things that God wants me to change in my own life so that I can be a better person, love Him more and love others better.  I do not want a judgmental heart to separate me from people that I love dearly.

Leaving Love In Action

It has been almost two years since I left the ministry of Love In Action in May of 2008. I have had many days and hours alone to think and ponder the last 22 years. God has dug deep into my heart and caused me to see something very important that he wanted me to know. He loves me unconditionally. His grace is sufficient for me. I cannot do anything that He hasn’t forgiven, isn’t forgiving, and won’t forgive and it is up to Him to restore my soul, I can’t do that myself.

I am not the judge and jury of other people. I can’t see another person’s heart like He can. I cannot redeem anyone, only He can. I don’t know what someone might need today but he does.

If you have been wounded by me or harmed through the hands of my leadership; please come to me and allow an opportunity for me to personally apologize with the hope that we can both be released from the bondage of unforgiveness.

Grace Rivers

I am leading a new ministry called Grace Rivers. It’s primary focus isn’t to be an ex-gay ministry but within the context of offering grace and the Love of Jesus to our world we are starting grace groups for people impacted by homosexuality.

As a brand new start, Grace Rivers is an outpouring of the many of the changes in my own heart. I have based this work on nine core values starting with honesty, moving on to listening to others effectively, and in the end giving respect because God does. I have attempted to pursue these values in my own life to the best of my ability. God is still working on restoring me so I know He is doing the same with others. We are all on a road of life that is hopefully improving day by day. He says He will complete the work He has started so I trust Him fully with my life and with the lives of others who know Him.


John J. Smid