The "Ex-Gay" Myth and Why it Failed Me Read More!

Note: This post is really best listened to as a podcast. Sometimes the emotion gets lost in mere type! Enjoy!

EXODUSI’ve never been an ex-gay. I’ve never gone through an ex-gay ministry, or tried an ex-gay program, and never went into a live-in camp where gay men are taught to behave as straight men. Despite all of this, I can say without any hesitation that ex-gay ministries are no good whatsoever. In fact, they present a great deal of harm to LGBT people, especially LGBT Christians.

My lack of participation in an ex-gay camp wasn’t for a lack of desire. Quite the opposite, in fact. During my time of most intense struggle where I wrestled with being both gay and Christian, I lived here in Clarksville, TN. For most of that time, I struggled financially, and the research I did on the closest ex-gay ministry (Love in Action in Memphis) revealed that it would require a significant financial investment, which I could not afford.

I really wanted to do something about my unwanted same-sex attractions. I knew they were there. I just didn’t want them. Because of my fundamentalist belief system (that I held to at the time), I felt like I had to do something. I couldn’t pay for “proper” ex-gay treatment, and I certainly didn’t believe anyone around me had a clue about how to deal with same-sex attractions. In fact, my pastor at the time made that clear to me.

One thing I’ve learned in life is to find people who have gone through the process. Find out who’s done it before, in other words. The old adage rings true: never ask a pauper for financial advice. I knew my friends didn’t understand it. They were all busy chasing women… I mean…. ahem…. courting them. So what’s a financially strapped gay-struggling Christian to do?

Why, buy a few books, of course! That’s the American Christian Way!

I began to read a few books on how to overcome this unwanted same-sex attraction. I read material from Dennis Jernigan and Joe Dallas, specifically. These were men who were on the circuit who were “ex-gay.” They had “left the homosexual lifestyle.” I poked around a few other pieces, and began to notice something very interesting: None of the people who told their stories could say unequivocally that they were free of their same sex attractions. They were still “tempted.” or had to avoid certain situations.

While reading through these books, these stories, and these online testimonies, I began to notice a trend. The men who had all “left the homosexual lifestyle” as “ex-gay,” all had similar stories. When they were in the “homosexual lifestyle,” they were sluts. Big time. I’m surprised they didn’t have their penis fall off. Really. They all all talked about their conquests or how many sexual partners they had. Anyone would be saddened by their sordid tales.

But it didn’t represent where I was. I wasn’t a slut. I hadn’t thrown myself at every walking penis I could find. Hell. I was a virgin at the time. None of this represented me, and I certainly didn’t think any of their testimonies had any relevance to my own life. I just wanted to not be gay!

By this time, I was still very much in what I call my “SuperChristian” mode, where I did anything and everything I could to avoid the “gay” thing. I didn’t want to even THINK about the “gay” thing. If I ever saw a hot man (and I was surrounded by good looking, young, Christian men at that time in my life), I would fight to not think about how beautiful they were and how I would have loved to have gotten to know them more, and wonder if they would understand my struggles.

To add insult to injury, I would have my friends ask me my thoughts about masturbation… and tell me how free they were to come to a point that they would just masturbate! That’s exactly what I needed. Struggling gay guy talking to a hot straight guy about masturbation. Can you say, “mental picture?” Yeah. Not a big help in my quest to not be gay.

This went on for a few years until I realized how very alone I was. I could have made the effort to try to work it through in some sort of “discipleship” program, but frankly, I didn’t want to talk about THAT all the time. I just wanted it to go away.

It didn’t go away. Not ever. No matter how hard I tried to ignore it. I came to a point where I had to seriously consider that what I needed was someone who not only understood what I was going through, but would help me to come to terms with who I am.

The one thing I did NOT want was to go through some sort of self-destructive cycle with sexual lunacy. You know the game. Bed anything with a penis and hope I don’t catch something. I’ve seen too many people destroy their lives with that crap, and I had enough self respect to know that such behavior is not only sinful, but, well, it’s stupid.

I didn’t necessarily want sex. I wanted love. With a man. Sex would have been fun, too.

But I didn’t want to really look for it. I certainly didn’t want to be “gay.”

What I saw in the “ex-gay” circles through their websites and literature was that idea that I’m broken because I’m gay. I wasn’t broken. I was just different. I didn’t see it that way at the time, and the “broken” belief was deep in my spirit. It was a dark cloud that led me into a deep depression. I thought I was broken — and had no idea how to get UNbroken.

This is what the ex-gay legacy did for me. I was the collateral damage. Churches would expect me to go through programs I could not afford. The entire church culture was built around being “broken.” And then there’s the “causation” drumbeat. You know the drill. People are gay because they’re molested as children. People are gay because they have absent fathers. Or overbearing mothers. None of that relates to me.

I was never molested. My mother, while strong willed (what mom isn’t?), is certainly not overbearing. Okay, my dad and I have kind of a strained relationship. But let’s be real. He’s a former football player, a lawyer, and a judge. I’m a graphic designer and illustrator. He likes Garrison Keillor. I like science fiction.He’s a Rush Limbaugh Republican. I’m a Rachel Maddow Democrat. We have nothing to talk about. We have nothing in common. Of course we have a strained relationship. I love my dad. He loves me. We just — well — don’t talk. And that’s okay.

Ultimately, my desire to change was rooted in one simple solution: faith. I needed faith to change. Since my particular brand of faith at the time was within the charismatic community, faith wasn’t just a belief in God, it was a required belief that I would be “delivered.” I would be changed. And if I didn’t get changed, then I didn’t have enough faith. I needed more. More. More.

Once I saw that pattern start to emerge, I realized the fallacy of what it was all about. This is the exact same spiritual superiority that looked down upon me because I am STILL mostly deaf. Since birth. I’ve never been healed. I “didn’t have enough faith” for a miracle. I should have believed more. It’s my fault. I’m the one that’s inadequate. I’m the one who has to have more faith. Better faith.

It was my fault that I’m still deaf. It was my fault that I’m still gay. God can fix me. If I believe. If I have enough faith. You know, people still tell me this crap. “You just need to have faith.” Seriously. After a while, the false condemnation of “not having enough faith” becomes exposed for the manipulative lie that it is.

It’s nothing more than spiritual abuse and witchcraft, quite frankly. I rejected that garbage years ago, and I patently reject it today. There’s no such thing as “ex-gay;” it’s just self-deception. There is no “SSA;” it’s just gay. There is no such thing as “enough faith to change;” it’s just new and creative ways to lie to yourself and those around you.

In fact, the ex-gay “industry” is changing right before our eyes. Exodus itself is in the process of a major rebranding effort. Once Alan Chambers admitted last year that “99.9%” of all people can not change their sexual orientation, the group went through an immediate upheaval. Leaders within the group began to divide themselves, with some of the more hardline people leaving to form a new group called the “Restored Hope Network.” Exodus, for its part, began to embrace the reality that gay Christians are indeed Christian. RHN, on the other hand, emphatically rejects such a notion as heretical. (Of course, I would counter that if there’s no hope as a gay person, and we know that gays can not change their sexual orientation, where’s the “hope” they want to “restore?”)

The outright virility of RHN centers around the work of people like Dr. Robert Gagnon, who takes great pride as being the “foremost” expert on why homosexuality is a horrible thing, and the bitter rejection of gay Christians based on his theology. Gagnon was very public about his demand for Alan Chambers to resign. Chambers stayed. Gagnon left. But not without a stinging essay that concluded:

For Clark Whitten (and thus for Alan Chambers) you “get grace,” you understand it, when you can say to yourself that you are free to commit any sin without any consequences in terms of one’s relationship with God. That is what liberty is, he says. But 1 John repeatedly states that if you walk in darkness, keep on sinning as a defining feature of your life, are not keeping God’s commands, love “the world” with its lusts, as a way of life do not do what is right, or hate your brother, you have no partnership with Christ, his atoning blood does not continue to cleanse your sins, you are from the devil rather than from God, the truth is not in you, you do not remain in Christ and God, you are not in the light, the love of the Father is not in you, you have not come to know God, you remain in death and have not transferred to life, you do not love God, and you have no basis for reassuring your heart that you belong to Christ. You are, in short, a liar.

Frankly, the only word that I can think of that adequately describes Dr. Gagnon rhymes with “bass pole.” But I digress.

I don’t think the folks at Exodus are quite at the point of embracing gay Christians fully, but they’ve made quite a bit of progress in recent years. They have been distributing a flurry of clarifications and apologies to various groups, so it’s just a matter of time before the dust settles. I’m also convinced that the leadership — including Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas — are going through a journey of their own. They’re getting a lot of criticism from all sides right now, but they’re also engaging in a lot of conversations. I won’t speculate on where they’ll all end up, but the level of humility that I’ve seen recently is a very good indicator.

I’ve also had some wonderful conversations with Michael Bussee, who was one of the co-founders of Exodus. He and Gary Cooper left the organization after they realized they were in love with each other. Oops.

The rigidity of the RHN, though, is its own trap. These are people who have elevated their doctrines and theology over the people they believe they’re called to reach. As a result, they’re not going to reach anyone but equally-shortsighted parents who don’t want their children to be gay. The likelihood of spiritual abuse in these situations is almost a certainty. My prayer is that anyone impacted by this “network” will eventually find healing.

It took me a few years to come to a point where I can embrace both my gay sexual orientation and my faith as a Christian. I’m thankful that the grace of God carried me through those dark years without the added torture of an ex-gay experience. Even touched by it as little as I was, I still felt the obligation to try. Thank God that He carried me to a place of perfect peace and unity.

One of the old slogans for Exodus is “freedom from homosexuality.” I have freedom. It’s freedom from the lie of self condemnation. I am not broken. I am whole. I am gay. And I am Christian.

And it’s a wonderful thing.

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23 Responses to The ex-gay myth and why it failed me

  1. Kathy Verbiest Baldock says:

    I LOVED listening David!

  2. James Myers says:

    Wish I had been around as a friend then to help you deal with it.

  3. Vanessa Wolfe says:

    I am so happy for you that you have found peace in who you are :)

  4. Bobbie Thevoiceof Reason says:

    Sexuality and religion have nothing to do with each other. You are God's creation, and perfect just the way you are.

    • I have to respectfully disagree. The Bible teaches that none of us are perfect and are all with sin. Except Jesus, of course, which is why we put our faith in Him.

    • James Myers says:

      That right there is one of the bigger reasons why I stopped believing the Bible and left Christianity. A truly loving God would not pre-judge His children as guilty just for being born, nor could He rightfully condemn His children for being what He made them in the first place.

    • God judges because he is righteous, not because he doesn't love us. He sent his son to die on the cross in order to break the curse of death because he loved us so much.

    • That's part of the "protective shell" that some evangelicals hold to, James. They genuinely believe that God did not make anyone gay. No one is bisexual, and no one is really lesbian or a transgender. Accordingly, since they believe God didn't make me gay, it's not something that he has to un-make. Therefore, it's all my own responsibility to change my behavior. You see how that works.

  5. you are perfectly who God created you to be. and you are imperfectly perfect – just as I am – just as we all are.

  6. Holly Cook says:

    I am so sorry that this judgement came down upon you. Being gay and being deaf are not choices and no amount of "faith" will change those circumstances. You sound like a beautiful person. Not to mention the fact that Jesus said absolutely nothing about homosexuality. That was Paul, who based his whole ministry around the idea that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised (penises, anyone?). Jesus preached love. I hope that you find love. Every human being deserves to be loved. As an avowed member of the Christian Left, I can say with certainty, Jesus loves you. And I love you for your courage. Namaste.

  7. Sherri Cornell says:

    Thank you! I admire your faith and honesty. You are an inspiration. Love is an orientation.

  8. Thanks, David. I went through a long ordeal myself and finally decided that "Since I prayed fervently for God to change me for 28 years, He must have made me this way and has a reason for wanting me this way." And that was how I reconciled the gay Christian dichotomy (NOT oxymoron) 15 years ago. But just today, I read an article which itself was very good and positive. But the comments after were mostly "the other side" condemning it, with one or two who defended and affirmed it. It was the most negative batch of comments to follow any article I ever read! And it discouraged me. So I really needed your testimony tonight. Thank you. I am so glad the young people of today do not have it quite the way we had it 3-4 decades ago. And yet there is a long way to go. But with people like you taking a stand, it's going to get better still. God bless you.

    • It's unfortunate that so many people have chosen to embrace myths rather than learn the truth about sexual orientation and relationships. So long as we have pastors embracing and proclaiming the "change is possible" myth, it will go on, alas. We are often left to fend for ourselves to finally come to the truth. By then, we're left scarred, wounded, and beaten. This is part of the reason why so many former ex-gay leaders are speaking out against this kind of spiritual abuse. There's still a long way to go, though.

    • John Taylor says:

      Amen David!

    • Yes,fortunately the moves are afoot to ban such "therapy", but the opposition is still strong. I just pray that it can be brought to an end before too many more (and so many of them young people who really need good guidance) can be harmed by it. I think – or I hope – that the fact that nowadays so many more of us are out and speaking out against such things, will mean that youth today have more alternatives to seek understanding, than just "the church on the corner".

  9. Rolf Pelkey says:

    Great post, David! And I am right there with you, but slightly different. You see, I had walked away from the Church when I was 17 after a failed suicide attempt, mostly because I believed the words I heard from other churchgoers that I was incapable of being loved because of my orientation. But when I was 38, I had a surprise visitor– God. I didn't go looking for God– God came looking for me. And when I found that God really loved me, a gay man (with no sexual experience at the time), I was floored. At the time, the mantra I was given by God was "…and the truth shall set you free." I embraced Christianity and began going to church. Then I moved south, into the Bible Belt, and felt pressured from the church I was in to become 'ex-gay'; I read the books like you did and as a 'prayer warrior', I fervently prayed for a change… and the unexpected change happened! I learned to see me as God sees me, and I learned to love me as God loves me… and all that condemnation that others tried to heap on me for being gay? It was false. That was NOT of God, and there is nothing Christian about it. I no longer let churchgoers define me or define God's capability for love. I am happily married to another man who is also Christian. And I still love God, and am fully aware that God still loves me, regardless of what those who occupy the pews in hopes for a God experience say. So, stay strong in God, and may the truth set you free…

  10. Wondering how you as a Christian reconcile the Roman's issue with homosexuality? And then those bothersome verses that list all the sins that will condemn you – homosexuality making the list. Excellent article – just curious of how you deal with those verses.

    • Rolf Pelkey says:

      As a Christian? I can't speak for David, but I refer you to Romans 8. Pretty much the whole chapter, but you can focus on verses 35-39 if you want. Let those verses sink in, and then ask yourself, who shall separate us gay Christians from the love of God? It surely won't be you or any other earthly authority or any other power. Then skip to Romans 12. You can begin with verse 9. It discusses "Love in action". But if that doesn't help, then you skip back to Matthew 7, verses 1-5. Surely you will find your answer there.

    • Hi Kathleen. Romans chapter 1 is entirely about adultery and those who have rejected God. It has nothing to do with those who are gay Christians. For more, read my series on Christianity and homosexuality, starting here:

  11. John Taylor says:

    Thank you so much for your testimony, David. I can TRULY relate to you in so many respects. Your story parallels mine in a lot of ways.

    I came out at 26, in 1988. I turned 50 last September, and I'm still healing from some of the damage that was done to my self-esteem. I too, suffered the brokenness, the low self-esteem, the depression, and not believing that I deserved good things to happen in my life.

    Much like you, I was NOT a promiscuous; I was NOT into 'the scene', and have always been removed from all of that. Just like you, I steered away from ex-gay ministries. Though curious, I sensed an inherent danger with them.

    I have ALWAYS favored love over sex, and though I have not found a partner, am still trusting God and the universe for the right man to come into my life.

    I can say with certainly that it has been only through and by God's grace that I've gotten over, and continue to do so.

    So thank you again, dear sweet, strong brother. Here's wishing nothing but God's best in your journey.

  12. Beth Jenkins Stubbings says:

    David, I just discovered this site and want to thank you for this moving article and your work in emphasizing LOVE over HATE. I was raised in the church, a preacher's kid, in the Deepity Deepest South. While I didn't have the experience of being gay in that context, I was alienated as a very young person by the pervasive Groupthink of that environment. I internalized so many harmful messages– pretty much all of which were "if you think or question anything, you're going to hell."

    I was alienated from the church for decades for this reason. I came back slowly and cautiously, and only after figuring out how to avoid the hell-pushers. Knowing that I'm not alone in seeking the God of Love, that there are people like you out there that reject the hate-mongers who speak so loudly and make Christians look like ignorant bigots gives me hope and joy. Thank you.

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