Man In The Mirror Moments & The Question Of Forgiveness

Friends, today Ben Patrick Johnson graciously accepted my invitation to write a guest blog post. I extended the invite with full confidence that he would be honest, clear, and civil. I asked him if he would be willing to write about my coming out and what he felt were the issues that this might represent. I didn’t suggest what those issues would be, and trusted him to write from his heart. His post below is the result and completely unedited. Thank you so much for writing this Ben. – Randy

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.

Ben Patrick Johnson is a voice-over actor, novelist, LGBT rights activist, and Human Rights Foundation director in Los Angeles, CA.  In addition to being Director of The BPJ Foundation, Ben sits on the boards of NOH8 Campaign, GMCLA, and is a member of the Counsel on American-Islamic Relations. Johnson is also a supporter of The Task Force’s interfaith initiative.

Follow Ben on Facebook and Twitter.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

19 thoughts on “Man In The Mirror Moments & The Question Of Forgiveness

  1. Ben I appreciate your sentiments here. My history with Randy is interesting. I was one of his critics on Twitter as well as Alan Chambers. I thought it was weird when both decided to follow me but I followed them back. I started to see a change and I found my hard feelings softening for both of them. If either of them made it here to Baltimore I am sure we would try to grab dinner.
    Having said that there are 2 things we can’t overlook. I was never a victim of the ex-gay movement but many of my friends are. For many of them the scars are very very deep. I can understand their anger and why they are not ready to forgive. Many of these friends are also former leaders in the ex-gay movement. They understand the anger they still face and even though they are now affirming of GLBT relationships they know some will never be able to forgive.
    Second many of these who are angry are no longer Christian so appealing to that is hollow. Many of them were driven away from religion because of the way they have been treated. So to lecture to me more Christian like might open even deeper wounds.

  2. Oh please Ben Patrick Johnson is no different then Randy Thomas another gay CHRISTIAN who has the audacity too speak too us of FORGIVENESS for people like this who caused tons of innocent human beings too KILL THEMSELVES.

    Yeah delete this you coward you have no balls nor guts nor integrity so this comes as no shock too me.

    Ben Patrick Johnson is another self absorbed narcissist who thinks just because he thinks people should do this or that that we automatically should.

    Sorry thankfully I have my own mind and I dont allow some archaic and primitive concept such as religion too lead me.

    I have the intelligence and integrity and strength too lead MYSELF without any religious delusions or hypocritical attitudes that make me think im SPECIAL simply because I BELIEVE.

    Ben is yet another gay man who intentionally ignores all the lives lost.

    Sure he MENTIONS something about it but then goes on too speak of FORGIVENESS etc…

    Dont approve this coward plenty and I do mean PLENTY of people are speaking the same as I am about you right now what a narcissistic wimpy coward you truly are.

    Please do keep PROVING THIS POINT about YOURSELF dude.

  3. There is an important distinction here: “Welcoming someone to grow and make amends” may not be the same thing as asking people who have been harmed to “forgive”. The first is a reasonable request, the second may not be.

    “Now that you have seen the error of your ways, go and do good” doesn’t mean that the person who has been harmed is going to feel good about it, stop hurting, or stop feeling justifiably angry about the hurt.

    This is something all former leaders have had to come to terms with — that the harsh indictments and nasty comments were deserved. As Tim W. points out, former leaders in the ex-gay movement “understand the anger they still face and even though they are now affirming of GLBT relationships they know some will never be able to forgive.”

    You don’t expect (and never demand) forgiveness. You may never be able to undo the hurt you caused, no matter what your intent was at the time you caused it. You do what you can to make things right anyway. And most importantly, you speak out against the harm of ex-gay/reparative programs to prevent even more harm. You don’t fault those who may not ever be able to forgive. Some will. Some won’t. You do your best to “grow and make amends” anyway.

  4. I choose to welcome him to the fold now that he appears to have seen the error of his ways. I may be quite near to forgiving him, though I don’t believe I have done so just yet. I refuse to forget what he hath wrought, not to seek his condemnation, but to continually maintain an expectation that he strive to do better from here on out.

    And I understand and support those who are unable to come that far, as well as those who never will.

  5. Apparently, Ben Patrick Johnson does not fully appreciate the devastation caused by Exodus and its leaders. This is apparent to me by how *glossed over* that phenomenon is in the post. It comes across like “Yep yep, lives were destroyed, MmHmm families broke apart, uh-huh children killed themselves, yadda yadda yadda…” And all this combined with the general tone of the post: “Gosh, people… friends of traumatized souls… suicide survivors/witnesses… abuse victims… you really need to work on not judging and condemning. You know, cuz’ Jesus.”

    Hey BEN- Pause for a second and let it sink in: People were… destroyed. Children… strung themselves up by the neck in their closet… put handguns in their mouths… etc. Lives were… ruined. And… it continues. Today. And every day. No matter how forthcoming, or genuinely positive, or authentic the blog posts and admissions of today and the future are… don’t you dare “yadda yadda” past the destruction of the last 3+ decades. And furthermore, you might put an indefinite moratorium on delivering lectures about forgiveness to trauma victims, those that bore witness to remarkably devastating things, and those that channel their profound grief for justice’s sake. I don’t care how much of your boo-cakes Randy is… this is LEGIT grief.

    As a rational person, I get the point of your post. Moving forward from the past is important, and I feel it is important to discuss. I am not an abuse victim or survivor, so I do not claim personal experience with the evil caused by Exodus. I do, however, consider myself a strong voice to represent those who cannot represent themselves. You probably do too. So you should understand that they, of all people, don’t need to be burdened by one more thing… the least of which is a little treatise on forgiveness. And those of us who have allied ourselves with these victims are in different places about receiving the message that **surprise** Randy’s now gay…. ALL of which should be respected and not condescended to.

    Randy: The courage to account for consequences of one’s actions works along a continuum. You’ve looked at them, acknowledged them, and apologized for them… so great strides have been made, and I respect that. Here’s what should happen to continue the journey forward: Describe what you are going to do to begin making it right. Think about that… what are you doing to DO? Not another apology… or a reflective blog post… or a “food for thought” video. DO something… DO many things. To repair the damage. To fight against the continued harm the ex-gay lie does daily. To show that you are TRULY facing up to the past and reversing course… show the world what you’re going to DO. That’s when you truly start growing.

    • I thank you sincerely for sharing your thoughts here. One thing I feel is key in this is your entreatment to “DO something.” I’m all for it. So, what should/will Randy do to make amends and leave the world a better place? Maybe we can help further the conversation by using ourselves as examples.

      For my part, I’ve been active as an advocate and activist for challenged LGBT youth for 25 years. I’ve done direct service, in dozens of instances housing, feeding and helping find mental health and HIV/AIDS resources for teens and young adults. I’ve volunteered time for orgs like Trevor Project and, in 2008 launched my own small foundation to help extend the reach of my efforts. I brought It Gets Better Live, dealing with LGBT bullying and suicide, to LA audiences by Executive Producing the show here. At present, I’m working with a small group to build a shelter for women and kids facing domestic abuse. We’re buying and rehabilitating a ranch and coordinating with existing facilities in the area to best serve those in need. I invite Randy to plug in with Trevor, It Gets Better, or any of the other great orgs I work with.

      Please help me help Randy in this regard by sharing some of the advocacy or work you yourself have done, and/or practical suggestions for where Randy may best apply his well-intentioned efforts.

      I thank you in advance.

      • Hi there. Thanks for your reply.

        Most of my puny work has all been at the local level, through my LGBT-affirming church. I have counseled and supported youth, but more importantly their friends who attended and were questioning and/or very scared to come out. Any chance I can get between my full-time and part-time jobs, I attend fund raising events to raise money for our local Richmond VA gay organizations (i.e. Diversity Thrift, ROSMY, Gay RVA Community Center, etc.)… I know, *yawn*. I also serve as a staff mentor to at-risk youth for the school division I work for… we counsel small groups of 7-8 students about life choices for success. #Insignificant. One thing I’m pretty excited about is meeting next week with a rep. from Equality Virginia about how I can do my part to combat “religious liberty” bills in VA and other legislatures that are popping up, as political advocacy is a niche I’m interested in… that’s Tuesday evening. Yes, I know… my nuts haven’t descended quite yet. I can only hope to make the kinds of contacts I’m sure you have made over the years… but I do hope to make a difference, however suuuuper small, to fight Christian-based homophobia through this route.

        I am absolutely thrilled that this productive conversation was 100% about suggestions to help Randy advocate, and NOT AT ALL about a baiting a pissing contest. My contributions surely cannot match the things you’ve done for the LGBT community… arrrrgh, wait, this WASN’T about a pissing contest (I keep having to tell myself that!), it was solely about helpful suggestions! Lulz!! Anyway, I’m so happy to have (hopefully) helped you help Randy help himself. It’s the most genuine thing I’ve done all day.

        • Honey, Mother Teresa will always win this pissing contest. She probably cured cancer, built a hospital for inner city homeless people, and composed an opera based on Randy’s life that will eventually be made into a motion picture starring Adele Dazeem and Lindsey Graham.

          You don’t have to have dedicated your life to social work for your opinion to be valid and based on reason and evidence, and you don’t have to renounce your faith to have legitimate anger toward someone whose coming out story was published conveniently after his decades-long career as a professional homophobe dried up.

      • Thank you very much Ben. So grateful for your friendship, input, and feedback. I do want to “do” a lot of “somethings” and have certainly received quite a few suggestions along those lines. Needing to figure out what is the most honest and beneficial way to do that.

  6. Oh, to leave it to God through the Holy Spirit to judge what is “not of faith,” therefore, sin. Only He can reveal that to each one. Biblical principles and sin are adequate indicators of where HE needs to transform in our lives. I’m still happily married and a bit more hesitant to change much theologically or politically. But, when I see injustice I do what I can to speak Truth. Randy has been treated unjustly by many this week who were “casting the first stone.” It’s sickening, really-I choose to pray for Randy, knowing that as needed the Holy Spirit will transform Randy’s life only the way HE can! Thanks so much for your post, Ben. And Randy, so glad you are my brother and friend, I love you.

    • Get a life already stop acting as if some of you Christians havent perpetuated this hate and intolerance YOURSELVES in this world.

      I guess the STONES Randy Thomas and people like him throw at gay kids was just not as important or valid.

      Thats blatantly obvious .

      Randy is no VICTIM he is however a perpetuator whilst I may have sympathy for him struggling too accept himself which he STILL hasn’t I have no sympathy for his past actions.

      What he said and did hurt a lot of people but of course people like you will point your fingers at us for simply being sick and damn tired of how hypocritical the GAY community can be in this regard.

      Their are still closeted politicians in this country actively hurting our community and ultimately damaging our value as human beings telling people who DAMAGED and WRONG we are as human beings.

      One I know of is Lindsey Graham someone who is definitely gay and another self loathing hypocrite who intends too make OUR lives a living hell simply because they are incapable of loving themselves and accepting themselves for what they are.

      Stop acting as if half of you Christians commented here havent thrown stones in OUR general direction referring too us as SINNERS and how WRONG it is too be gay.

      I swear the self righteousness of some of you Christians really disgusts me.

      It doesnt just sicken ME either many of us in this community are sick and tired of you people actively trying too infringe upon our right too marry the one we love in this country.

      Their are still so many of us who cant even be in the same hospital room as our dying partner simply because in some states people believe a civil union is the same thing as a legalized marriage by the state.

      No its not not even close.

      Oh and Im quite positive the INJUSTICES that many of you speak of is when someone gay speaks their mind about some of you use your religion as a weapon AGAINST US and our value and humanity as human beings.

      Yes I agree that is most certainly an INJUSTICE not when some of you get up in arms and act as if only YOUR beliefs and YOUR rights matter in this country.

      Such selfish entitled people I swear not all of you but most of you.

      I cant for the life of me even begin too fathom how anyone especially gay could believe in a religion that actively persecutes condemns and discriminates them on a daily basis in this country.

      It truly boggles the mind.

  7. This sounds like what may have been happening when Saul converted and became Paul. He probably received backlash from so many on both sides, and while it breaks my heart that Randy has to shoulder so much hate and criticism, he has an opportunity to shine and show Jesus’ strength. There are those of us who love and support Randy because he is making the difficult decision to do right. I wish I could tell Randy in person.

  8. Just because someone offers an apology doesn’t mean people have to accept it. In my opinion, apologizing is the first step in Randy’s penance for all the harm he caused. He will have to accept too that there will be many who will never accept his apology or trust him ever again. That is his burden to bear – actions have consequences whether we like them or not.

    • Calvin2004, I agree. I don’t expect anyone to react/respond in any particular way. I know there will be a very wide variety of responses and accept that some will not accept my apology(ies) and coming out. I get it.

  9. The only people who have the right to forgive this man and those like him are the vulnerable men and women they drove to despair and suicide. As for those of us whose approval he seeks (otherwise why publish a coming out story at all, why not just shut up and move forward with your life), actual tangible efforts over the NEXT decades will show whether this broken person has a shred of humanity left. Right now it just looks like self centered attention seeking and an attempt to figure our how to leverage his notoriety into a paycheck…just like before.

  10. Though I support friends coming to the rescue, there are some very important things that Randy is purposefully leaving out. There were many questions asked in his “I’m Gay” post that he did not answer. Does he still believe gay sex is a sin and preaches it to others? If so, the conversation is pretty much over. He is anti gay sex and marriage, and that isn’t going to fly anymore no matter how much he apologizes. It’s that very belief that he may still be preaching that was the basis for all the soul deaths and body deaths via Exodus. That verbage makes people shameful and want to change, and that is where Exodus made their money. So until we hear that he is preaching a gay positive gay sex and gay marriage positive message, he is still culpable. Until then, he is pretty much still under the gun. If he still preaches death threats by God for gay sex, he might as well go start a second chapter of Exodus. That goes for all that have worked and left that industry.
    So Randy, speak up. You’re not being transparent in your new found revelation that you are “gay”. We always knew you were gay, it’s no revelation to us. Bring us something truly enlightening, about changed beliefs that “we can take to the bank”. Because if you are still preaching the same message, another kid just hung himself.

  11. PS I know biblical beliefs are hard to rectify, especially if you believe Jesus backs all of Yahweh’s malicious meanderings. Jesus is totally separate from the Jewish God, If one looks at the surroundings of his trial and why he was really killed. This means I have compassion if you can’t separate the two but just know that Jesus has no interest in discrimination and killing for things that Yahweh does. To separate the two can take lifetimes. But separate they must eventually, or we remain in confusion. They represent two very different messages.

    Either way, you do need to tell the public where you stand now on the clobber passages, as it is pivotal to your decisions as to who you will trek with. You cannot satisfy everyone, nevertheless, that does not mean you can’t be honest and forthcoming. Either your truth of these matters separates or unites. It is only your conscience and inner knowing beyond anything written in a controversial text, that can offer you the truth.

  12. I really get tired of hearting “as Christians ou should…”. I’m not Christian, and I don’t believe int the fictional bible. But everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes horrible, disgusting mistakes. But that doesnt mean that you get a pass on consequences just by asking for forgiveness. Would you forgive Hitler if he said “sorry” because it was the Christian thing to do? People can ask for forgiveness but that does not require others to forgive. You pay the piper, and must deal with the consequences of your actions.

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