There are moments in life when we look in the mirror and don’t like what we see. In a blush of painful self-honesty, we realize we’ve been making choices that are not in the best interest of ourselves or those around us. We may have hurt others with our actions; we have almost certainly hurt ourselves.
A friend of mine once said, “Some people just travel the road to hell. Me, I bought property.” I, for one, have certainly bought property on this road. I’ve made foolish and cowardly choices. I’ve taken shortcuts, moral and practical. I’ve lied. I’ve been an enabler for bad behavior of friends and family, feeding (and funding) folly in the hope they would love me more.
I am flawed.
We are flawed.
So what we do when we have these mirror moments? Do we sit with the discomfort then take steps to improve our behavior? Or do we look away, distract ourselves with a drink or a toke or chocolate cake, go on a shopping spree, gamble, or jump out of an airplane? Most often, it seems, we jump to self-soothing, distraction and denial. But every once in a while we find courage to face our own shortcomings and poor choices, and make material changes in our lives as a result of this self-reflection.
It was about a year ago when I was approached by Randy Thomas. I was unaware he’d been having a series of mirror moments that left him unable to continue with life as usual. He was starting work on a book on spirituality and relationships and—quite surprisingly, considering his history with Exodus International—Randy wanted same-sex relationships represented in the book and told me he planned to give gays equal treatment. Based on this, I agreed to a series of written interviews, during which Randy asked me questions about faith and life choices, relationships and integrity. Over months of correspondence, a gentle friendship developed between Randy and me. He saw my humanity and I saw his. Neither of us judged or condemned the other for our histories or life choices.
Then, a few days ago, Randy came out as gay.
Did I know it was coming? Yes. I had been waiting patiently for him to share this with friends and family and then announce it to the world.
I imagined he’d get pushback from some within the Christian right who had supported his and Exodus International’s agenda. I also figured he’d see resistance from within in the LGBT community, where there remains fiery animosity toward Exodus International and anyone involved with the group.
What I didn’t anticipate was how loud and, frankly, nasty people on both sides would be after Randy’s announcement. On social media, I watched self-proclaimed Christians, both straight and gay, behave in remarkably un-Christian ways toward him. Two of Jesus’ most fundamental instructions to us are to treat others with compassion and to leave judgment to God. This week I saw much of that teaching go out the window. Painfully for me, some of the most vociferous indictment of Randy has come from people I know and consider friends.
It makes me question just how kind we really are, just how forgiving, just how willing to turn the other cheek.
I’m talking about forgiveness and non-judgment here, but as a gay activist I have my sentiments about Exodus International. I believe that for years they actively harmed young gay people. Lives that should have been celebrated were belittled. After going through Exodus’ twisted “therapy,” some kids killed themselves. Others turned to a range of self-destructive behavior. Exodus promoted a culture of self-loathing I’m convinced would have saddened (at minimum) and enraged (more likely) Christ. I view the organization as a dark stain on history. It was similar in its intolerance, and misrepresentation of the intentions of Christ, to the anti-black groups of the 1950s and the fear-mongering, onerous anti-Muslim organizations getting bandwidth today.
After all that, do I believe Randy has amends to make for the damage he’s done. Yes, I do. Do I also believe it’s our place to judge him, to condemn him, to threaten him with bodily harm for his past? No, absolutely not.
If we are really Christian, whether we’re on the left or the right, we would do well to take this an opportunity to grow our own selves, just as Randy is visibly growing.
Instead of condemning Randy, we should honor his coming-to-terms, just as Exodus International should have honored all those kids and young adults facing challenges of identity and sexual orientation.
The opportunity for Exodus as an organization to make amends for their misdeeds has passed. But Randy is still here, and is standing humbly before us. Can we welcome him to put down new roots, to grow, and to make amends by going out and doing good in the world? I hope we can. Because today—in present tense, not past tense—I see Randy following what I view as the most fundamental instructions of Christ.
Forgiveness has profound benefits, both for the giver and the recipient. May we not forget this. And may we, like Randy, strive each day to be just a bit larger as people than we were the day before.