When Tony called the office, and on hold waiting to talk to me, I have to be honest; I did not want to talk to him … at all!
I mean not at all. Tony was an ass.
Not just an ass but a high maintenance let’s throw down in front of the whole country kind of an ass. Tony, not his real name to protect the mean, had been thrown out of our Exodus conference several years before because of yelling at and interrupting workshop teachers, plus being an ass to just about every person he met.
And now, after a few years here he was on the phone wanting to talk to Alan, at that time the new President of Exodus, but ending up talking to me.
I cannot remember the exact prayer before I picked up the line, but it went something like this:
Dear Jesus, please help me to not see Tony as an ass and for me to have the grace to not treat him like one either. Amen.
After taking a deep breath, I picked up the phone and said,”Tony, how are you?”
Tony talks fast, and he doesn’t need you to verbalize words to feel like he is having a conversation with you. Not only did he want permission to come back to our conference that summer, but he also proceeded to tell me we “needed” him to do a keynote address.
I was stunned. Tony is a man who insulted and threatened almost all of his peers. He burned every bridge imaginable and was now expecting us to make him a keynote speaker at our biggest yearly event.
I resisted the temptation to call him on the carpet for all the awful unresolved situations he created over the years and told him a truth that I hoped would get me off the phone faster. I said,”Tony, there are some issues we would have to resolve before that could ever be a possibility. Regardless, we have already confirmed all of our guest speakers.”
He replied by saying that we needed to make room for him to do something and to utilize him more often. He took ten minutes to communicate that, but that is the essence. I told him, “again; we have some serious unresolved issues with you and how you treated many of our leaders. If you would like to work through all of that to reconcile our differences, that we can do, having you as a speaker of any kind at the conference is not something we can do.
Tony got mad.
He proceeded to recite to me his ex-gay leader resume. On and on about all the amazing things he had done to counter the evil gay agenda. I took a deep inaudible breath as he just kind of went berserk.
Randy I was an EXPERT in this field for years! I was one of the top ten ex-gays in the world for over a decade.
I laughed out loud. Like belly laughing. It was not even an option. It just struck me as extremely funny to think of a top ten ex-gay list. Then my mind started coming up with all these criteria, and I just cracked myself up even further.
My guffawing response did not improve Tony’s disposition in the slightest.
Over my eventually stifled chuckling as I tried to stop laughing Tony asked angrily, ” WHAT are you laughing ABOUT?” I replied, “Top ten ex-gays? That has got to be one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. If you are going to be in the top ten of anything, why would you pick THAT list?”
He went off, and I apologized for laughing. When the conversation finally calmed down somewhat, I stuck to my boundaries of needing to resolve past conflicts before entertaining ideas of working with him again. I even convinced him to set up another phone call with me to try and do that.
The truth is that being “ex-gay” is such a rare novelty that even as an operationally defunct dysfunctional 47-year-old movement (at the time of this writing) we never really figured out what “ex-gay” actually means. Plus, what being “ex-gay” did imply, you want to be in the top ten of that?
To go from 1976 when the founders of Exodus were simply trying to find their way to somehow Tony thinking he is some kind of ex-gay superstar is an incredible leap not based in reality but a product of what Exodus had become. Exodus was a niche ministry with cultural oppression and stigmatization of sexuality buried in its foundation. For all our smiling and hugs, Exodus was not a pure grace based approach to understanding the gospel for LGBT+ people.
As the culture shifted toward blessing the LGBT community as the morally acceptable and a beautiful expression of love it is, the voice of those with a stigmatized religious view of LGBT+ would prop up the Christian ex-gay worldview as the testimony de jour on Sunday or public policy battles. Ex-gay/Conversion ministry testimonies provided cover for ongoing systemic hatred within organized religion.
The church is waking up to the fact that it is not and never was acceptable to shun those of us who are gay. That while there are nuances and a few unique issues that arise from being gay, the truth is that LGBT+ people can come to Christ, walk out our salvation as LGBT+ people in loving relationships and receive His Atonement and blessing.
Being gay and understanding how that plays out, and what it means in my life, through and through does not make me forever unique. The gay community for all its bravado and flair isn’t that different than the community at large. Humanity is humanity, frailty is frailty, strength is a strength, dignity is dignity, and love is love.
Remembering Tony while writing this has brought some sadness. He passed away suddenly a few years ago and died way too young. I hate that my interactions with him were so contentious and I hate that he was used to stigmatize the LGBT+ community and found that a noble cause. I hate that he was in a place where he enjoyed thinking he was doing good by hurting himself and us. I hate that he was propped up, rewarded by the activist right in the church, and validated for living an inauthentic life; that he went to the grave never having known peace with his Creator and sexuality in this life.
Mostly, I hate that the Exodus “product” was to produce false experts who could tell good stories that wrought so much hurt and devastation. It became about us, our projected idealizations being declared as facts and our carefully crafted message instead of God’s love and grace to LGBT+ people.