Ask-It Basket: How do you respond to those caught in the ex-gay whirlwind of what’s right and wrong?

In my last post, Being Gay Is A Core Strength, Not A Religious Curse, a commenter left a heartfelt set of questions as a comment. Because there are quite a few, I will quote in part and then answer each of the questions as we progress. “Confused by ‘leaders'” writes:

How do you respond to individuals who were led by exgay group leaders and it became an deeper battle for them and now the tide has turned, while those taught are caught in this whirlwind of is it right or wrong and will leaders keep flopping between exgay to pro-gay?

Regardless of the momentum of the whirlwind, please don’t let it rob you of your time and energy. My encouragement is to avoid all that manufactured pressure and take whatever time and resources you need to come to the conclusions that are life-giving to you. And, if you don’t know, it’s ok to not know. Our culture is insta-everything and expects instant opinions and conclusions. Even though I have definite and strong opinions :), I think it is really healthy to be ok with not knowing and needing time to think through issues.

I don’t know many people/leaders flopping between ex-gay and pro-gay. I know two (literally, two) who seemed to “switch teams” every other week. On the other hand, I have met people who reject who they are as LGBTQ+ people or much more who have found congruence with who they are and their faith (if they are people of faith.) A vast majority of individuals who leave the ex-gay/conversion ministry world never go back and, in my opinion, with good reason.

How should they deal with the PTSD?

As an individual who has been professionally diagnosed with PTSD, I take it personally and seriously. First, if it is legit PTSD, the guidance of a licensed professional counselor is the first priority. PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress *Disorder*. Emphasis on the disorder because it takes professional help to work through, manage and receive healing from PTSD. I say legitimate PTSD because that acronym gets thrown around a LOT by non-professionals and they need to slow their personal opinion (not an official diagnosis) roll. You can be incredibly hurt, wounded, negatively impacted and not have PTSD.

That said, if all the hullabaloo between former ex-gay leaders and current ex-gay/conversion ministry leaders is triggering you with inordinate negative feelings and/or PTSD leading to hurtful coping mechanisms…do what you need to do to remove that stimulus and talk to a professional counselor as soon as possible.

Will you rejoin the exgay movement and change sides again?

No. Never.

I had a exgay ‘therapist’ attempt to lead me, while having sex with men at the same time.

I am very sorry to hear that but am not surprised. In my position at Exodus, I would hear of that type of situation, and similar, happening often. If appropriate and you feel safe doing so, please notify the people that person reports to of what you have learned.

I know gay drag queens who have ‘found the light ‘ and turned away from their affections of same sex.

There is tremendous pressure from our communities and culture (at large) to conform to the religious stigma against the LGBTQ+ people. These ingrained cultural messages tell us we only have two options: “embrace God’s creative intent for your heterosexual potential” or “celibacy” options. It can often feel like a religious experience to give into religious indoctrination or even bullying in the name of Christ. However, that temporary relief and “bias affirming” feedback is an inauthentic type of “affirmation,” and very damaging. That is my opinion based on my 21 years of experience in the movement.

So, what do you say to those hurting by the confusion that exgay ‘ministries’ promote?

Walk away. Just walk away from them, take the time you need to find your way, and move toward truly life-giving messages and resources. Exodus International, and really the ex-gay “movement” as a whole, began in earnest in 1976. And in the way we do our calendar, that date is based on AD (after the death of Christ.) So for at least 1,976 years… Jesus never needed an “ex-gay” ministry to organize as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Exodus folded in 2013 and even though ex-gay conversion ministries still operate, I would offer that God never needed Exodus and doesn’t need “ex-gay” anything to help His LGBTQ+ children thrive and flourish. In other words, while respecting a person’s journey and timing, I would encourage them to not give ex-gay ministries room in their heads and hearts to sow dissension, strife, contention, and confusion.

It is possible to be a “saved”, healthy, whole, mature and responsible person who also happens to be LGBTQ+. There are all kinds of resources to help you. Furthermore, the faith I still hold onto teaches that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God. Be at peace.

And, in whatever way I can be of help, I will.

Being Gay Is A Core Strength, Not A Religious Curse

It’s a bizarre feeling when hearing former friends and current ex-gay ministry leaders say that being gay is “wounded” “hurt” “deceived” and in need of “…Jesus’ true redemptive power!” It’s bizarre in that I used to say the same type of things in my ex-gay days. Today, I see how incredibly condescending and arrogant it is to think you know the condition of someone else’s hurts, heart, and soul better than they do.

I am healthier than I ever have been. I am not hurt except when I run without my ankle brace, and my eyes are wide open (not denying anything.) I haven’t developed amnesia or discarded any of my experience. Plus, my relationship with Christ is stronger today than it ever was while living in the ex-gay world.

I agreed with, defended, and promoted many many resources, speakers, and ministries the ex-gay movement has to offer. I even helped create quite a few of the resources myself. Several prominent ex-gay leaders/ministries still have strong online followings built from the foundations I laid for them in the ’90’s and 2000’s. I know all their talking points, beliefs, messaging, and most importantly, I know their God. I have journeyed with Him through many dark nights of the soul, and bright mornings of epiphanies, forgiveness, and real transformation.

Where they abandoned and cursed me, He did not.

I know Him. I have personally rejected the Gospel According to Ex-Gay/Conversion Ministry.

That said, there are real issues I overcame during the 21 years I was in the ex-gay world. Those are things like, emotional and co-dependency, illegitimate coping mechanisms (substance abuse), deep hatred toward my abusers, finding my place and calling as an equal among Christians (still have that), horrid self-image, PTSD, and quite a number of hurts and fears.

The false issue I tried to overcome that never happened because it isn’t meant to be overcome and yet somehow became the ultimate goal everything else was allegedly pointing to; trying to not be gay.

The ex-gay world teaches that dealing with all our hurts and dysfunctions will help us discover and embrace our “heterosexual potential.” Well, after 21 years dealing with issue after issue, I can say that’s a lie. How about we just overcome hurts and dysfunctions to …you know … overcome legitimate hurts and dysfunctions. Being gay is not being damaged and/or a dysfunction. It’s a core relational sense of being that God created to bring our kind, LGBTQ+ kind, of beauty into the world. Gay people can suffer hurts and be wounded but it’s not because we are gay, it’s because we are humans in relationship, just like everyone else.

One of the reasons people get “stuck” in the ex-gay world and thinking they are “changing” is that they do find relief or transformation in relational issues in and around what it means to be in healthy relationships. However, that healthiness is short-circuited from its full expression when we are asked to kill our core relational sense of being as an LGBTQ+ person. In the end the net result is much more harm than good unless you find your way out of the false contexts of a stigmatized ex-gay worldview.

Furthermore, it’s incredibly depressing to think this hard work in overcoming a myriad of true dysfunction and wounding is only successful if you find “true freedom from homosexuality”; an unattainable, unrealistic goal. In ex-gay ideology, if you continually struggle with “same sex attraction” you must still be dealing with issues that keep you needing “spiritual discipline/maturity.” That manufactured and highly consequential burden keeps many anchored right there in their chair and donating to ex-gay ministries.  That belief robs true growth of its full manifestation in the name of a false idealized hope based on a legalistic religious view of what it means to be gay.

It may be difficult, and I realize how much courage what I am about to say would take, but I highly recommend leaving the ex-gay groups/world. If you are struggling with legitimate wounds/dysfunction please go find the myriads of faith-based or secular resources that are actually effective in helping your legitimate issues without placing unnecessary burdens on what success looks like.

Gay people, like all people, struggle with all the human frailties any other human does. Just like the rest of the world, we can find relief and healing outside of the ex-gay ministry snare.

Our core relational sense of being as LGBTQ+ people should be used as a gift of freedom and strength to utilize and enjoy. We can walk out our journey from a core sense of strength, not from a religiously stigmatized curse.

Finding peace and congruence with my faith and who I am as a gay man is a sign of health and a further progression of spiritual/emotional maturity. I hope others find their way out of the ex-gay world and into true healing communities and resources.

Let’s walk out this journey together, unencumbered by religious stigma.

If You Think I am Damned, I Have A Few Questions For You…

While it may come off this way, this short post might step on some toes but is in no way meant to be flippant. Truly, I have no interest in being disrespectful.  This post is written because it boggles my mind how seemingly hypocritical some religious legalists are. I have no interest in condemning fellow Christians, so the below is not an attempt to create a sense of being better than or worse than they are; I am not either as you will read in the last paragraph.

That said, sometimes I want to ask a few questions of those who curse me as being damned for simply, finally, embracing who I am as a gay man. Like:

  • “How many trips to the buffet line, or mountainous meal portions and decadent desserts, did it take for you to lose your salvation?” #Gluttony
  • Or “How many angry words, snarky thoughts/responses, and haughty ‘shady’ looks did it take for Jesus to revoke your gate access to heaven?” #Gossip #Malice
  • Or, especially for Christian leaders, “Personal pronoun check: Have you ever counted the number of times you promoted yourself/your ministry/your passions instead of Jesus in a day?” #Vanity #Greed and sometimes #Idolatry.

Some religious people say I excuse sin (which I don’t agree with. My being gay is not sin), and yet they give a wink, a nod to or outright ignore their own “sins” of the flesh. They need to pay attention to their own soul, mine belongs to our Creator and is no one else’s concern.

Also, if by chance I pass before they do… I am going to ask Jesus to let me stand at the Pearly gates and jump out yelling, “Surprise!” when they walk through. Knowing Him, and where we will be, we will all laugh at how silly worrying about each other’s spiritual condition is. Christ is all; He is everything. Nothing to fear.

To be clear, I don’t care if you eat too much (pass the queso please), quote yourself (“Good point!”- Randy Thomas), annoyingly promote your stuff (ok ….that can stop) or have a temper tantrum (who doesn’t do that on the daily in Trumplandia?). I do the same, and more, all the time. I have no need to worry about what others do. The above are rhetorical questions hoping to point out issues with how some want to impose a standard of “righteousness” they seemingly don’t apply to themselves.

As a Christian, I believe Jesus did what He said He would do. He reconciled/saved the world. If we had no hope of gaining salvation on our own, we have no hope of maintaining it ourselves. It’s time to stop with the comparison of behavior and unnecessarily negative consequential nature of our own standards. We can trust God, and each other, to steward our own hearts.

Ex-Gay Movement’s Founding Fathers Die

Last month on February 11, 2017, Frank Worthen, often referred to as the “Father” of Exodus and the Ex-gay movement passed away. He started his first ex-gay ministry, Love In Action, in 1973. In 1976 he helped organize and incorporate Exodus International as a non-profit organization. Exodus would eventually go on to become the largest ex-gay ministry network in the world. It remained that way until we (my boss, the board, myself and other staff) shut it down in 2013. However, there is a good chance it would have stayed an obscure movement if it hadn’t been for the infusion of Reparative Therapy (RT). RT is known today as “conversion therapy” and was founded by Joseph Nicolosi (who also recently passed on March 9th, 2017). He is also considered the “father” of that approach and the creation of his organization “NARTH.”

The two organizations grew to be very large and always tried to make sure they were publicly perceived as NOT the same as the other while supporting each other. That symbiotic relationship remained strong until around 2009 or 2010 when Alan Chambers officially distanced Exodus from Reparative Therapy. Both organizations tremendously benefitted from each other for a long time. Exodus absorbed all it could from RT’s formulaic and branded approach, language, and goals. Exodus benefitted from having the appearance of professionally credentialed counselors affirming our mission to  “overcome” or “find freedom” from homosexuality. Exodus donors/supporters loved the alliance…mostly.

Now, some personal memories/thoughts about both men. This post concludes with some other thoughts regarding their legacy.

Frank Worthen

Frank was always kind to me. Actually Frank never said much more than, “Hi Randy” but I knew he liked me. We may have been in literally dozens and dozens (hundred?) meetings together over the 21 years I was in movement. He seemed to be very gentle. That said, I would hear from people, maybe three, that when he got mad or disagreed with you… nice Frank was not very nice at all. I still find that hard to believe in the context of my experience with him, but I also know that my experience is limited. Plus, I idealized him and many others for almost the whole time I was with Exodus.  My last memory of him was having our picture taken with Joe Dallas at a Love Won Out conference in Fresno. He genuinely seemed happy. I have no idea where that photo is.

That said, I heard, that Frank was very upset that we closed down Exodus and he was very supportive of the RHN network that sought to take over Exodus’ spiritual “mantle” (calling, authority) once it closed.

Joseph Nicolosi

Nicolosi and I were acquaintances up until I started traveling to all the Love Won Out conferences as a staff person for Exodus. He was a regular speaker at all of them. It was there we became friends. We hit it off at first. He was straightforward and one of the crassest people I ever met. He was hilarious, and I loved his humor. We had a falling out around 2006 when he was diagnosing my girlfriend at the time (from afar, without permission, without me even asking). I was very offended and still believe he was completely wrong and insulting. I distanced myself from him but still tried to be professional. He also started after me to go to counseling and some warrior weekend type of retreats (to discover my “true” masculinity and “heterosexual potential”). He even offered to pay for me to go, under the condition I told no one so I could deal with my “lingering issues.”

He never said it this way, but I knew he thought I was too effeminate and passive. I politely declined his offer each time. Then things were getting weird, and rumors started floating around of some terrible suggestions that he was allegedly making to his clients. I honestly hate that our last conversation was a very loud one over the phone with us hanging up in anger (2010’ish).

Legacy

In the ex-gay movement, there was always a fascination with “signs.”  That God was speaking through things that were happening within the movement as a sign. I still haven’t gotten my invitation to the next RHN conference (that would be… crazy) but I have no doubt that their board meeting will have a very specific agenda item: Prayer Time: What is God saying through the passing of Frank and Joe?

I can’t ever presume to know what God might or might not be saying to someone else but my earthly totally biased mind thinks that maybe their passing, a few years after the death of Exodus, is another “sign” that the few remaining remnants of the ex-gay/conversion movement should fold. That unfortunate season, right at 40 years, is over.

Maybe it is a sign that we as LGBT+ people of faith are leaving the wilderness of withering judgment and ridicule to enter into the “promise land” of affirmation and acceptance for who God created us to be.

Finally.

And, please join us. You don’t have to wither in the ex-gay/conversion therapy desert of false expectations and unnecessary burdens.

I believed, and still do to a degree, that both the Exodus birth in 1976 and the advent of Reparative Therapy happened because the church at the time was so incredibly closed off to LGBT+ people; even those who agreed with the church. At first, I think these groups were honestly seeking answers. For many, it was in those environments they first felt free to disclose their core relational sense of being. However, what both organizations also did, was to go on to create and affirm an inauthentic reality that reinforced culturally stigmatized beliefs, expectations and consequences.

In the course of my relationship with both of these men, I honestly told them that I loved and deeply respected them. My heart still feels for them and I find no joy in their passing. I miss their smiles and laughter. That said, it is my hope that their beliefs about God’s LGBT+ children will be forever discarded and no longer used as weapons of personal, familial and social destruction.

LGBT+ people deserve true equality in the church and culture. We should not be sidelined by the bitter fruit of systemic cultural stigma. We are God’s children, too. No better, no worse … and no longer in the church closet.

Is Ex-gay Ministry “Forced” or “Coercive?”

Recently, former colleague Anne Paulk didn’t appreciate a Psychologist’s inference that RHN (Restored Hope Network, Anne is its leader) is “coercive” or “forcing” people to seek change. On the RHN Facebook page she writes (linkage Anne’s, emphasis mine):

Response to the CBS8.com Article
Anne Paulk

I want to briefly address a view that was recently expressed on local CBS TV, with which we declined the interview. In this report, a local celebrity psychologist who appears often on the news said this,

“To try to force somebody or really coerce somebody to change something about themselves that cannot be changed really can put these people at greater risk for suicide or other mental health issues.” said Dr. Robinson.”

We are also against the concept of forcing and coercion. Her comment is not relevant to our ministry whatsoever nor our summer conference in San Diego.

In fact, we know that unless a person wants to leave homosexuality and is leaning into the Lord’s will for their life along with good counseling or pastoral care, their lives will likely not change much. …

The direct link to the article she was referencing is not included in Anne’s response. Also, it would have been appropriate for her to put ellipses in front of the part of the article she did quote. That would have let her readers know that there was more to the quote than what she referenced.

Why Anne edited the way she did is something only she would know (of course.) But, it was a reminder of back in my ex-gay days, that type of selective editing was done a lot when responding to what we considered adversarial media reports. We did not include direct links, or any links and would often fragment quotes in an attempt to squelch competing ideas and not promote “worldly” messages to our audience; we paternalistically justified this as needing to protect our audience in the name of pastoral care. However, for my post, here is a direct link to the article. Nowadays it’s pretty clear to me that people can think for and protect themselves ;). Also, here is the full quote from CBS 8 by Dr. Robinson (emphasis mine):

The medical community has come out saying that being gay is not a disease. It’s a normal variant of the human condition. To try to force somebody or really coerce somebody to change something about themselves that cannot be changed really can put these people at greater risk for suicide or other mental health issues.” said Dr. Robinson.

Again, I have no idea why Anne would leave out a critical part of the quote (even if she disagrees) but the truth is every credible medical, and counseling professional associations have all unequivocally condemned conversion therapy and the idea that you can change your sexual orientation. “Celebrity” or not, I would also think Dr. Robinson has more professional training than Anne on the issue of someone seeking professional or pastoral counseling being forced/coerced into making that decision.

Even so, from my not-a-psychologist vantage point of having once been a leader at the highest levels in Exodus, I now believe Dr. Robinson’s comments are entirely relevant to RHN and other ex-gay organizations. To say that it is “…not relevant to our ministry whatsoever.” appears, at best, defensive and at worst, an exercise in willful ignorance. The harmful effects of religious stigmatization of any sort, including trying to fix something that isn’t broken in the name of God with highly pressurized consequences is incredibly damaging. The consequences are easily seen in RHN’s consistent overall messaging on what “wholeness” and “brokenness” look like and the “Lord’s will” or “creative intent” for identity and sexuality. Plus, the dangerous aspects of ex-gay ministry Dr. Robinson refers to are relevant or they wouldn’t be brought up over and over and over again since the advent of ex-gay theology 40+ years ago.

Also, I lost a beautiful friend of 23 years to suicide in part due to his struggle with being gay and Christian. Additionally, I also taught on ex-gay beliefs on various topics on the national and international level for two decades. From direct experience and observation, I now believe the ex-gay/conversion therapy worldview is perpetuated by extremely consequential mental and spiritual coercion. Back then, we couldn’t acknowledge that because our denial was incredibly powerful. We couldn’t allow ourselves to see the immense harm our beliefs were empowering and inflicting on ourselves and others. It’s with endless grief that I acknowledge my contributions to a system of belief that would lead to people to question their existence.

That is a burden I am not sure I will ever be free of.

Back then, It was inconceivable that what we were doing might not actually be God’s will; it wasn’t even on the radar that we were following cultural stigma against LGBT+ people reinforced through legalistic religion and not the Spirit.

Let’s go back to the quote of Anne listed above, and the last sentence in it (emphasis mine):

In fact, we know that unless a person wants to leave homosexuality and is leaning into the Lord’s will for their life along with good counseling or pastoral care, their lives will likely not change much.

To me, that last statement undermines Anne’s assertion that RHN and their version of ex-gay theology are not “coercive.” It is obvious they are trying to convince the struggling and disbelieving that it’s God will for you to “change.” It’s also clear that RHN believes if you are a true believer who worships (“leans into”) the way they think you should, with “good” (according to RHN) counseling, you will change.

It is a coercive act to tell hurting and/or skeptical LGBT+ person of faith that they only have one “… Lord’s will…” (as defined by RHN) option.

Here’s a fact, I had access to all the best resources, counseling and ministries for 23 years. I gave it my all, helped create quite a bit of it, too. I “leaned into” the Lord and He transformed every single thing about my life…except for being gay with a dash of bisexuality. In fact, it is my close relationship with Him that led me to eventually find peace with who I am. As I leaned on Him as my sole source of strength and wisdom… I came out of the church closet and into a more full and free life.

Part of my health, growth, and “change” came in finally casting off my ex-gay worldview and embracing who I truly am as a gay man. I am as “saved” and “sanctified” today as I was on May 31st, 1992 when I became a Spirit-filled believer.

Hopefully, now, I am no longer an asshole about it. It’s true. It’s good to not be a jerk.

Here’s another fact. Anne is not a horrible person. In fact, I loved and idolized her most of the time I was in the ex-gay movement. We are definitely not friends today, but I don’t believe for a moment she would chase anyone down and go all pointy-finger-condemning-Christian on them. I don’t think she would ever wish ill on, or seek to hurt, someone. In fact, most ex-gay leaders (the few that are left) are the same. Just like I used to be, they are true believers in ex-gay being the only way to the heart of God for someone “struggling” with their sexuality. The truly believe they have the answers to relational/sexual intimacy and fulfillment.

To be a bit cliche for a moment, while they are sincere about their beliefs, they are sincerely wrong.

It is my hope that LGBT+ people (especially in this context, those of us who are Christians) know that whatever decision you make for your life and how to live it, it’s none of my business to evaluate or judge. That said, I do believe that the doorway to the ex-gay/conversion therapy world is facilitated by the coercive stigma underlying any religious thought that somehow LGBT+ people need to be fixed or “changed.”