Freedom Continues: Life Beyond Exodus, Professionally

Just completed the fourth (of five) week of training at the new job. It’s been fun and a little nerve-wracking learning to do internet/phone technical support for a *very* large cable company. I have never, ever, worked for a company this large. The salary, benefits, and perks are simply amazing for an entry-level position. Plus, the opportunities for advancement radiate in a myriad of different directions. I am very blessed.

Since closing down Exodus it has been difficult to find and develop a long-term career. I have been doing freelance work with regard to building basic websites and social media management/content creation. However, it has been a constant struggle. It’s great for needed supplemental income but as hard as it is to admit, I am not great at trying to make the self-employment thing a truly viable single source of income.

Not only have I had to come to terms with who I am as a gay man (my second “coming out” was three years ago yesterday), I have had to discover my true professional self. It has become abundantly clear this past year that the false reality Exodus created also completely permeated my sense of self in the workplace. A small example, applying and interviewing for a job in the current age was a completely foreign concept. I hadn’t had to do it in 25 years! Some of the peripheral character strengths were drawn out during my time at Exodus (management, people, communication skills…etc). But, Exodus facilitated a very distorted view of what that actually means in the real world. Let’s just say it did not, does not, translate at all.

Facts and reality can be hard and humbling task-masters sometimes. It hurts to have all that false construct/armor pulled off.

When I realized that I was about to turn 50 and the career I built and had invested in during my time in the church closet meant absolutely nothing to the world, I felt humiliated and embarrassed. It is what it is but the consequences really … suck. For over two decades I thought I was “called” to ministry, that I am a Pastor and that I would be providing pastoral counseling, speaking and teaching for the rest of my life. That whole frame of reference is gone but in a much different and honest way, maybe the true underlying motivation and skills will live on.

I have always been a tech geek and actually started in IT in the early ’90’s. Technology and especially the Internet has always fascinated me. I pick it up quick. I genuinely do love helping people. I am the tech guy on the other line that actually, genuinely, wants to fix your issues as soon as possible. I love interacting with people, learning, and teaching. ALL of that comes into play at the new job.

It was obvious that I was in the right place the other day when an elderly woman called needing help. I could tell she was sad and very frustrated. She gave me an earful when I first picked up the call but something in our exchange let her know I was sincere and would take care of her issue. She started weeping and said that her husband had just passed and that he had always taken care of these types of things. She confessed to feeling very overwhelmed. My “calling” manifested and while I remained professional and within my scope of support, I gave her my condolences and told her that my heart and good thoughts were going out to her. That I would resolve the issue by the end of the call and that we will help, in our small way, to lift the feeling of being overwhelmed. I also spent as much time necessary giving her the information needed to make the process as easy as possible going forward. We worked as a team to fix her problems and it did my heart very good to know that a grieving widow went from being overwhelmed to laughing and relieved within the span of our phone call.

I am not sharing that as what the kids call a “Humblebrag.” I am thinking of all my friends in mid-life who have had to completely reassess who they are in the workplace as well. I wonder how many ex-gay leaders stay trapped in that world because they literally don’t know who they would be in any other context (personally, relationally and professionally)?

My critics say I gave up and chose the easy way; that I have rejected my faith and chosen to coast through life indulging in selfishness. If anything my faith is stronger than ever and nothing about the past five or so years has been “easy.” The truth in my “calling” is still manifesting in a number of ways and the destruction of the false prison of an ex-gay worldview opened the door to a present and future that is life-giving and genuinely fulfilling.

Will it work out at the new gig? I certainly hope so. It not only makes sense and I am “getting it.” It *feels* right and fulfilling. I just want to encourage anyone else leaving a similar background I did, or simply having to reassess their career to not give up! Do what you have to do to make it but keep trusting in our Creator and the genuine gifts within you to manifest in surprising and remarkable day-to-day kind of ways.

I obviously don’t have it all figured out and it has been incredibly difficult. But the thing that comes to mind is to encourage you to allow yourself to imagine yourself outside of what you have always believed. It’s in that place you might awaken, or reawaken, stirrings within that will lead to the next right step to take.

Be Free,

About The New Job(s) & Non-Profit Development (Update)

Good morning! Working at the grocery store has been havoc on my schedule the past few weeks (Thanks, Thanksgiving :)). However, with a new full-time job coming up on the 15th I will have a fixed schedule (mostly) and can get back to regular blogging and continue to develop the new Non-Profit. I got the go-ahead this morning that the last detail needed before launching the non-profit is in place. Now I just have to build the website and work on the public presentation :).

It’s been a challenge finding my way through all the work situations, working on the non-profit, living in Mount Dora, and getting used to being a 10-year-old girl’s Fairy Godmother while in my first honest/healthy “long-term” dating relationship …lots and lots of change. Sometimes I feel like a bull in a China shop tromping around. Even though I feel that way (again, just sometimes) I look around and I’m just me, being fully honest, living the life I was created for and in the environment I am supposed to be in.

I’m not looking for others to open doors, approve of, or give permission any longer. I don’t live in fear or idealism; simple reality.

And, the reality is, life is beautiful. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Have a great day!

 

Embracing My Inner Grocery Store Stock Clerk

Kristine and crew filming Dan and I leaving the house for our 1 Year Date-Anniversary Sunday night.

A little over a month ago I started working part-time at a very well known grocery store stocking shelves. Last week and this week I have been crosstraining in cashiering, lottery and working their liquor store. I have mentioned that I got a new part-time gig on social media but haven’t mentioned the specifics until now because, quite simply, I was embarrassed.

I now realize that’s just …stupid. I have no reason to be embarrassed!

This week, when I am not working at the store I have been working on my non-profit and social media consulting (as usual.) Kristine Stolakis has been filming Dan and my one-year date-anniversary and my efforts to form this new non-profit. Of course, being a documentarian, she wanted to include my working at a grocery store. When the subject first came up I was very “NO” about it.

Why “No!”? Aside from my own vanity, there is no doubt in my mind that my former friends and now enemies in the ex-gay world will guffaw and laugh at my stocking shelves. Especially after so many years as an Executive Director of a local ministry and the EVP of Exodus. Or they will say that I have been demoted because of God’s judgment or something equally ridiculous. Indeed, even current offline and LGBT+ affirming friends have had hard to take reactions. One literally had to stifle laughter when I told them through my own derisive description. Another friend actually looked like she got angry and outright shamed me for “settling;” on a slighly different note, another told me I shouldn’t say anything publicly until “it was over” because they were afraid people would attack or judge me negatively.

Remember those last three examples are people I love and still love. But the one that was stifling laughter woke me up. I walked away ashamed of how vain I was being and how really self-loathing it was to denigrate myself for having to wear an apron and name tag. That it is an honor to have a job (I actually have three now). I have no reason to have anything but gratitude in my heart.

I am creating the non-profit simply because it is an organization that needs to exist in the world to help others… period. Whether I am ever actually paid staff or not isn’t the point… this org MUST exist. So, I need a part-time job now (along with my consulting) to free up the space needed to concentrate on getting the non-profit going in a thoroughly solid “well-built” way.

During this time in our (Dan and my) lives, we are struggling financially, big time. And, interestingly, potential employers aren’t super impressed with former “ex-gay” spokespeople and leaders. I have literally sent out hundreds of resumes to “dream jobs” or even parallel (skillset-wise) jobs and have gotten mostly crickets chirping. However, many of the interviews that did happen were just … awful. Trying to explain my management experience to dazed and confused “What the hell is Exodus?” looks is not fun.

So, to the grocery store, I go. And honestly, I actually love working at the grocery store. It’s hard work! Plus, you really do have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the shift. I get to interact with people the entire time and holy cow… something incredibly funny or weird happens every shift. If you are local and happen to walk into a grocery store and hear some really bad under my breath Mariah Carey Karaoke going on over on aisle 8…that’s probably me :).

“Randy, could you please put your apron on again so we can film it from a different angle?” was Kristine’s question as I was getting ready for my shift yesterday. I did as asked and when we were talking about it I told her something to the effect that working at the grocery store is something I simply have to do during this time in my life. It’s part of what it means for me to live an authentic life right now. I also shared that I would rather stock shelves living an honest life than flying around the country living and promoting a lie. I’d rather laugh with the “Oh, my, Gahhh…” cashier in the break-room over some silly joke her best friend told her than sit in some private conference green room stroking another hypocrite’s ego.

Since coming out, I’ve never hidden any part of my life. Not going to start now.

How long will I be a grocery clerk? As long as it is needed to help keep the lights on and my family fed; as long as I believe God wants to use it to continue to teach and guide me through this season of life. As I walked across the big parking lot and into the store yesterday, with the camera crew filming from the car in the parking lot, I honestly thought I felt the Spirit say, “There’s no shame in this walk. It’s an honor to work here. Proud of you.”

Oh and if you need help finding *anything* in our store… I got you,

When Finding a Church Home, What’s A Conservative Christian Gay Guy To Do?

With permission, here is a very thoughtful message I got from Mr. M. It’s a bit long but I want to include all of it for context. I will parse it out and respond to each section.

Hey Randy, I’d appreciate your perspective as someone who has walked the same path as I have. After many years of involvement in “ex-gay” ministries I have come to realize how negatively that experience has impacted me, my faith, my ability to find a community where I feel like I belong, and most importantly my relationship with Jesus. I recently ended a four year relationship. While there were other issues in our relationship, I know my experience in ex-gay ministries negatively impacted my commitment to make things work. In the back of my mind I always, in a way, viewed the relationship as temporary. I subconsciously told myself: My relationship with Jesus has to be my priority, and in order for Jesus to accept me, I’ll have to end things at some point and “return” to the Lord. In the breakup’s aftermath, I have determined to do two things: Find healing to ensure that I am fully committed in future relationships, and return to my faith, which I felt I would have to abandon if I were to accept who I am as a gay man. I believe I need a Christian community to help me achieve both goals.

Your message already reveals a great deal of wisdom, insight, and humility. I am sorry you had this hanging over your relationship. Four years is a long time and if it is possible, I hope things will work themselves out to bring you back together. If not, I hope you will be blessed with ongoing insights as to how the relationship has helped you become a better person. I don’t know you or the relationship but if for some reason your prayers/meditations reveal the need to make amends to your former partner, don’t hesitate to do so.

One thing that pops out immediately to me is that mankind was not created to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Things went a little off the rails once we did in Genesis 3. We were created to eat of the Tree of Life. It is the fruit of the Spirit that brings life. Where the Spirit’s fruit exists (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.), we clearly see life in Christ whether it is being done in His name or not. Relationally, I have experienced the fruit of the Spirit in even more profound ways since accepting who I am as a gay man, being in a relationship with Dan, and at “home” in the LGBT+ community.

That said, I totally get that “feeling” that somehow this may be too good to be true.  The dark cloud of old curses come up looming from behind. I call them the muffled voices of the stained glass closet trying to convince us that somehow we “fell away” and have “rejected God.” The truth is, we didn’t fall away because Christ is our Good Shepherd. He promised to never leave or forsake us; we can’t fall out of His hand even if we jumped! To think we can is to assume we have more power than a loving and omnipotent God. That said, it’s obvious we still love Him and have zero desire to leave Him. Being our true self, our core relational sense of being is our way of honoring Him. By living out how He created us to bring relational and creative beauty into the world we are fulfilling part of His intent for our lives. Reject the culturally conditioned lies. The truth is He is leading us forward into life; we have not and are not “going back” to anything. We are not broken. This is the next stage of our spiritual maturity and we can walk forward with confidence.

That need brings me to my dilemma, for which I would appreciate your advice: I know I can’t go back to evangelical churches. It would be a shame factory for me, and I know I would need to live in a closet to avoid conflict and judgement.

Agreed. The evangelical churches have been culturally conditioned to believe they are the only churches with the “right” set of answers and beliefs. As weird as it sounds, even while being booted out the door, many of us carry that belief with us even though we can’t in good conscience attend there anymore. They are not the only churches and in truth, we (and so many more) are as much the church as they believe they are. Our communication right here and now is accomplishing a function of the Body of Christ. Expanding our view of what God intended in establishing the Body of Christ will free us from the idea that evangelical churches (or any denominational churches) are our only true “home” or the template to evaluate other churches by.

I have equal hesitations about going to gay-affirming churches. While I accept that I am a gay man who is loved by God, I am still conservative in a lot of my beliefs and ways of thinking. There is just so much of liberal theology that I cannot accept. For example, a local gay-affirming church affiliated with the UCC won’t preach on the Cross because of the violence it represents. The type of philosophy behind such positions is something I’m not sure I could ever support. So my question to you is, how can I find my place in a community of faith? Is there a place for me? Did/do you have those kind of difficulties? If you did/do, how do you overcome these obstacles to live your life authentically from both sides of the equation?

Yay! Accepting Gay man loved by God… yay! Love hearing that! 🙂

And, is there really any church that will ever fully align with our beliefs? Some might come very close but there is always *something*…right? The example you give is a highly consequential belief so …sure… keep looking. Again, I don’t know you, but I would caution to not judge them harshly or close your heart to what they are offering. Because what I have also learned is that while there is always that *something* to disagree with, there is always another thing to be blessed by and/or invest in. Maybe their theology on the Cross prevents you from attending on Sundays, but what about their heart of service to feed the poor on Tuesdays? Maybe you don’t go there but their Pastor passionately advocates for justice for the LGBT+ community or some other issue you do agree with. What, if anything, do you see the fruit of the Spirit in?

One thing that helps is to realize that I can still believe what I want to believe and not worry about being rejected by others. Other people only have the power I give them. It’s not up to other believers to provide me a spiritual home. I am home; Christ abides in me. I think it is very much like Christ to try to find the life-giving good in any situation and invest in it. Unlike authoritarian churches and religious leaders, I reclaim the power Christ has given me back from them to decide where I invest my heart, time and resources. I don’t have to fulfill a formulaic approach to “kingdom” participation. Even if we have yet to find a church “home.” In Christ, we are never spiritually homeless.

Again, don’t go somewhere you can’t support, just be careful to not let the muffled voices tell you that somehow the struggle to find an affirming faith community is evidence that there isn’t a “legitimate” one. YOU are the legitimacy; we are the Body of Christ even with our wild, weird and sometimes strange arrangements. For me it isn’t about either vs. or, it’s about love plus life.

I have definitely gone back to my more liberal’ish origins of my young adult life. That said, I am still quite conservative on my theology and even on some social issues (that aren’t LGBT+) related. I do believe in the Atonement; the reasons for it and the circumstances that fulfilled it. But I have shed my need to follow the culturally driven conservative playbook. It’s not my job, nor within my capabilities to try to make others believe the way I do. I am not perfect and slowly getting better at my default being, “Where is evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in this person or situation?” Honor them and respect their beliefs and build from there.

Also, keep in mind that LGBT+ people have all the same beauty and frailty as any other community of people. The muffled voices have placed inordinate consequences on us that is neither fair or accurate. It’s ok that the LGBT+ church and community are just like every other human on the planet. We cannot escape the frailties of what it means to be human even though we are living our “authentic” selves. I say this because it is easy to try to idealize, and then be disappointed by, those we agree with in the LGBT+ community. However, those old voices love it when that happens so remember if we do experience hurt and disappointment, it’s not because we are LGBT+ …it’s because we are humans among other humans trying to work at and figure things out.

All that said, what you do know and who you are is the key. You know you love Christ. He loves *YOU* not what you do or because of whose name you write on a tithe check. He is faithful and good. He wants you to be content in Him regardless of circumstance. He wants you to reflect His image; to know and be known, to love and be loved. I believe He wants you to know that with your future partner and He will bring him to you and you to him.

I have no doubt you will find an affirming faith community soon. Until then, be at peace. I believe the Spirit wants the absolute best for you in this life and I have no doubt you will have “eyes to see” that the church is already all around you; you have not been, and will never again, be alone.

Being free is good,


P.S. Two books that really helped along these lines are How To Make Sense of The Bible by Adam Hamilton, and God And The Gay Christian by Matthew Vines.

The Scapegoating of Ex-gays

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Ex-gays will repeat stigma and religious bigotry to fit into the conservative church, but they are not ever going to win over fellow church-goer because their “brokenness” is seen as so completely “other” than what the average church-goer goes through. There will be plenty of platitudes about “all sin is equal at the foot of the cross” and “no sin is stronger than the blood of Christ.” But in the practical day to day, the conservative church is very quick to say, “I have NO idea what it is like to go through what you go through with… you know… THAT struggle.”

Like the “scapegoats” in the Old Testament that had the sins of Israel placed on them and turned out into the desert to take away those sins, ex-gay/conversion ministries are handed the “sexual brokenness sin” issues so the church doesn’t have to look at, accept, or deal with the gift of God’s LGBT+ Children in their midst.

Ex-gay/Conversion ministries don’t mind this at all. They benefit from this arrangement. It carves them out a niche “ministry” without much competition for attention or donation dollars. With an ex-gay ministry at the bottom of a church’s local resources directory the church can say, “Yes! We love the same-sex attracted enough to help them not be that anymore with our special ministry on Thursdays at 7pm in the back room of the education building.” And as long as The LGBT+’s don’t make a show of it on Sundays and nobody gets caught in a gay bar on Saturday, the church (in practice) has absolutely nothing to do with “that very difficult and challenging sin.” They are in affect saying, “We love you but just don’t be you anymore. And if you need to ‘deal with’ your … stuff…  do it over there and don’t distract from everything else we are doing.”

The “scapegoats” are burdned and sent away to their “groups.”

When Alan, the staff and myself started developing a church network within Exodus, some of the old-guard member ministries (now a part of Restored Hope Network) had absolute meltdowns about how “the church” doesn’t get it. I remember clearly one very agitated leader saying, “They can’t possibly do what we do because they can’t and won’t relate. People won’t feel safe there!”

But in front of church leaders, their song was sung to a very different tune. They (we) would say the church is a great place! Especially if they support The Gospel According to Conversion Therapy. The Church is a loving “home” if they let ex-gay ministries have access to that churches sphere of influence, receive affirmation from its leadership, receive validation as a unique and powerful work, and of course financially.

Early on, the church was more than happy to hand off “that issue” but in some cases toward the latter 90’s and ’00’s, churches would try to do their own thing only to have an Exodus referral leader tell them they couldn’t because of the alleged nuanced needs of “the sexually broken.” One leader in Texas was called by a good number of churches to help them start groups but he told them they couldn’t unless they hired him (at a very high “honorarium”) to come speak to and train the staff. None of them did start their own groups, but all of them did start referring to him.

See how that works? Either way benefitted that leader.

When I was a part of that world, many of us thought we were fulfilling our “calling.” We were true believers and those of us who did eventually make what might be considered a good salary was very rare. However, in a stigmatized and legalistic environment, as long as we said the right things, behaved the right way and didn’t challenge religious stigma against LGBT+ people, we had what we thought was an honored place in the Body of Christ.

Only, eventually after all the pomp/circumstance/ritual, we found ourselves all alone in the desert carrying hurt and burdens we were never meant to carry. We realized we are still LGBT+ and still Christian. That all of this religious stigma/abuse was perpetuated through closed meetings in a room at the back of the church and fueled by inauthentic affirmation and funds. We realize that we shouldn’t be treated as a scapegoat turned away from full acceptance and affirmation in the Church. We are as much daughters and sons of Christ as anyone else. We left the desert and refuse to be locked in the stained glass closet of shame and condemnation. We give our hurts to Christ, extend forgiveness when able, and take our place abiding as full members of the Body of Christ.

Life is so much better not being someone else’s goat wandering around the desert of rejection carrying systemic bigotry on our shoulders.

Being free is good,

Ex-Gay Watch 2.0?

Some background, back in the Exodus days there was a very active blog with a very high volume of traffic called Ex-gay Watch. They were a “watchdog” group of bloggers that ripped apart (at least that’s what it felt like at the time) anything and everything we, our member agencies or the “ex-gay” movement at large would do. They haven’t been posting for almost two years but in their time… whew! From their about page:

Ex-Gay Watch fact-checks political and religious movements which seek to make gay people straight.

We provide critical analysis of the political tactics, religious rationalizations, research findings, health claims, and apparent motives of organizations which claim that sexual orientation is a choice.

Ex-Gay Watch was launched in July 2002. Then and now, evangelicals and conservative U.S. Catholics lobby to jail sexual minorities, deny them protection from politically and religiously motivated violence, and promote discrimination in housing, employment, and public services.

A subset of that movement, popularly known as “ex-gays,” seeks to profit from these campaigns, charging people with “unwanted same-sex attraction” thousands of dollars to attend regular support groups, conferences, and therapy sessions led by persons with sketchy mental-health credentials. Proclaiming themselves cured, “ex-gays” rationalize discrimination, criminalization and violence as necessary tools to coerce people to change their sexual orientation…

Of course, now I am like “YES!” but back then I was like, “OH MY GOD leave us alone!” They often drove me crazy, and I am glad some of my offline reactions were never recorded and put online :).

I never actually hated the bloggers themselves. I thought they were as honest with what they knew as they could be and passionate. I will always respect the sincere and passionate. But boy did they give me headaches when they would tear apart something we or our member ministries did. We would tell people to not read their blog but, of course, they all did. As a point person for all the Member Agencies to contact the Exodus office, this would often cause me to want to drink some alcohol before noon.

Since shutting down Exodus, and especially after I came back out of the closet, there have been a few suggestions from friends that maybe I could incorporate taking on a “watchdog” role. That I could blog about the organizations that continue to operate under The Gospel According to Conversion Therapy; to do so with a similar purpose as Ex-Gay Watch. Honestly, it is very tempting because of how easy it would be. Just a brief scan of three ex-gay/conversion ministry leaders profiles today gave me enough blog material for a week!

But there is a part of me that thinks that era is over so why feed the beast? The ex-gay/conversion ministry world is fading away (it started to well before Exodus shut down). I mean consider, all the “new” RHN ministries are still coming from the list of old Exodus ministries. The RHN leaders weren’t included as initial signatories of the anti-LGBT+ Nashville Statement. Ex-gay watch isn’t blogging anymore, and the religious right isn’t turning to RHN as the “go to” resource like they once did with Exodus. It would seem they have been relegated to non-relevance; an unnecessary and unreliable distraction.

Would drawing attention to them (directly) empower the pain and hurt to continue?

However, religious stigma with horrible consequences against LGBT+ people seems to be on the rise. LGBT+ people are still being bullied, systematically stigmatized, and forced into the closet with incredibly harmful consequences. These will all be issues long after the last RHN “member ministry” folds. Plus, negative attention is their only marketing strategy. I think their current leadership truly relishes and enjoys being seen as old testament “I can be a jerk because God told me to be one” type of prophets. Again, would consistently drawing any kind of attention to the perpetuate harm?

So, obviously, I am still thinking through this. I don’t have any desire to do Ex-gay Watch 2.0, but I am considering providing similar analysis when it can be confronted and redirected toward helping people leave the ex-gay/conversion world. Any input in the comments or privately would be welcomed.

Being free is good,