This letter was sent originally through the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s “True Faith Doesn’t Bully” campaign in September. Please read the outpouring of love and letters from the LGBTQ+ and ally community by clicking here.
Letter from Randy Thomas, Executive Director of Thrive LGBTQ+, Former VP of Exodus International.
My name is Randy Thomas, and I am writing to you today, with a full heart of hope, in partnership with the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s “True Faith Doesn’t Bully” Campaign. I am the Executive Director of Thrive LGBTQ+. I am also the former Executive Vice President of Exodus International, the most extensive pastoral form of conversion therapy and ex-gay ministry in the world between the years of 1976 and 2013.
I was also the key player in developing the deep ties with the Southern Baptist Convention that Living Hope Ministries (LHM, once an Exodus referral ministry) still deeply draws upon to this day. As the former Director of LHM (before joining Exodus), I brought in both the current Executive Director and Chairman of the board, both Southern Baptist Pastors. As an ex-gay ministry participant and leader for over 20+ years, I was mentored by several of your pastors. As EVP at Exodus, I also sat with Richard Land, the SBC’s former President of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in many meetings in Washington DC. My friends spoke at your conventions, and I helped present ex-gay supportive motions at your convention in New Orleans in 2001, revered Al Mohler, and exhibited Exodus in your convention halls.
I will never forget singing amazing grace with over 10,000 of our brothers and sisters in Christ. The beauty of the moment is forever etched in my soul. I know the SBC has beauty in its membership. I have seen it firsthand in many ways. My letter today attempts to reveal the seemingly unwanted gems, the treasures within your midst, that to date have been hidden away or forced from your ranks.
In 2013, my spiritual blinders toward LGBTQ+ issues were violently ripped off because of a dear friend’s suicide. My beautiful Michael had several issues going on, but the main reason he thought this was an option was because of his inability to reconcile his faith and who he was as a gay man. I see now that cultural Christianity’s view of LGBTQ+ people as sinful at best and an abomination at worst is not the heart of God. Suicide is not the fruit of the Spirit, and yet that is what erroneous toxic theology, ex-gay ministry, and cultural stigma produce.
I learned that supporting conversion therapy in any form, including ex-gay ministry, was dangerous to our communities, destructive to families, and deadly to those seeking “change” or “freedom from homosexuality.” I helped make this case to the Exodus board and helped shut it down. Living Hope, run by your brother pastors, disowned me long ago. However, if I could convince them to stop facilitating this destructive harm, I would.
I denied the truth of who I was for over two decades. As someone who was at the very top echelon of the ex-gay movement for years, I can say from both a personal and professional viewpoint, conversion therapy and ex-gay ministry not only doesn’t work, it is deadly. To not affirm your LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ and instead curse them is religious bullying. To tell them they will be disowned by God in the present, and tortured by Him forever, for merely being who they are, is the worst form of religious bullying and abuse as it attacks a person at their core sense of being and identity.
I hate to be so direct, but lives are at stake. From having defended and lived out your beliefs for two decades, I know that you do not believe it is loving to affirm and embrace LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ. I very humbly submit you are wrong. The best deceptions are the ones that lead you to believe there is only one way to love with black and white answers. I encourage you to challenge your long-held assumptions/beliefs by reading with an open heart and mind a book called “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines. Please check out our work at Thrive LGBTQ+ as well. There is a way to serve Jesus faithfully, honor God’s Word, and love your LGBTQ+ siblings in harmony. We have found that way.
Michael was a treasure who was bullied by religious people like us into thinking he was unworthy. It doesn’t matter how much we smile, sugar-coated, or patted on the back; our beliefs taught him to hate himself for being gay. Our beliefs led him to believe he was being “punished” by God for merely being who he was. He didn’t know, because curses surrounded him instead of blessings, that being gay is a gift of relational beauty in this world.
Michael was a precious gem who will not lift his voice with the saints on earth because ‘amazing grace’ is often not amazing enough for SBC pastors to extend to LGBTQ+ people. Affirming Michael for who God made him to be was not made available to him from the pulpit, from you, and at the time, from me. Like you, I believe in “once saved, always saved.” I hate that I have to wait to see this beautiful treasure, my beautiful Michael, in heaven instead of seeing him flourish among us.
Now, imagine all those voices singing “Amazing Grace” abruptly going silent, vanished. That deafening silence is the sound of all the LGBTQ+ souls lost to suicide because of religious bullying and cultural stigma.
What a tragedy of epic proportions. You can change that.
Pastor, you can find and help save the lives of many precious gems of God, His LGBTQ+ children. Take off the religiously imposed blinders, and you will see a path toward affirmation and adding more beautiful voices to our amazingly gracious chorus.
Respectfully, your brother in Christ,
Executive Director THRIVE LGBTQ+
Don’t forget, this letter was originally sent through the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s “Letters to the Southern Baptist Church — Letters of Affirmation” campaign in September. Please read the outpouring of love and letters from the LGBTQ+ and ally community by clicking here.