Every generation has Trailblazers. These are the people who have the courage to step out ahead of others, walking into unknown territory to make sure the direction is safe, and to clear a way for the journey to continue. Before there’s a path, they make one. Then they return, and lead others along a route they've already traveled.
Sometimes a Trailblazer goes in one direction, then returns to say “That is not the way we should go.” To me, that takes even more bravery. And strength of character. These individuals have a heart of courage and a servant spirit. They are true leaders.
As I think about the recent shutdown of Exodus International, the largest "ex-gay" organization in the country, I am reminded of some wonderful folks who blazed a trail away from the harm and deception of such programs.
In 2007, three former leaders in the “ex-gay” movement stood up in public and admitted they were leading people in the wrong direction. They apologized for their actions.
Michael Bussee, one of the original founders of Exodus International, at one time the largest “ex-gay” organization in the country. He and Gary Cooper, another of the founders, traveled around the country, telling their story of overcoming homosexuality. That is, until they realized they had fallen in love with one another. They left the organization, and became outspoken critics.
Darlene Bogle was a minister in a Foursquare Church, directed an “ex-gay ministry in Hayward, California and was a leader in Exodus. She appeared on national TV and wrote prolifically about living as an “ex-gay.”
Jeremy Marks was the former president of Exodus International, Europe and founder of Courage UK, which began in early 1988 to provide support to those who wish to follow Christ and “come out” of homosexuality.
But this apology went beyond just “I’m sorry.” They took responsibility for the deception and damage they’d done. And (this is crucial), to this day, they continue to work for healing and speak out against these harmful practices.
When I first watched this video, I was inspired and awed by their actions. Though I’d also been involved in Exodus International leadership, our paths had never crossed.
Author’s Note: I hope you will take the time to watch this amazing video. I re-watched it as I wrote this entry, and was moved by one Michael’s (prophetic) statement: “Perhaps one day, groups like Exodus will go out of business…” That actually happened earlier this year!
Side Note: It’s also interesting (to me) that when the president of Exodus issued an apology after shutting down the organization, he did not take the same kind of responsibility for deception and damage as these brave leaders and he has not denounced the message.
They are Trailblazers—honest enough to admit they were leading in the wrong direction, and brave enough to turn around.
I've heard it said that you should never meet your heroes, and perhaps that’s true in some cases. But I have to say that these three people who touched my life when I didn't know them continue to be an inspiration to me now that I call them friends. I met Darlene at a Christian Bible conference several years ago. I work with Michael daily in an online group he started for those who've been involved by “ex-gay” groups. Jeremy stayed with us last week when he came to the states. (It was my first time to meet him in person, and what prompted re-watching the video and writing this post) I feel so honored to have them in my life.
Since the time of this video, we've seen other prominent “ex-gay” leaders make this turn-around.
John Smid was Executive Director of Love in Action, the oldest and largest ex-gay ministry in the United States. In 2008, he resigned after 22 years, and has renounced the practice and promises of ex-gay therapy. He has also issued an apology.
John Paulk is the most recent, and likely the most visible within the “ex-gay” movement. He and his wife were featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine as proof that a person can leave homosexuality and become straight. Earlier this year, he came out as a gay man, announced that he and his wife were divorcing, and renounced the efficacy of “ex-gay” treatments. He, too, issued an apology for his part in the movement. (Since the original publication of this entry, John has once again been interviewed by Newsweek, and his story is very different now!)
I am honored to say that I have to come to know and love both of them as well.
I’m convinced that there are folks leading “ex-gay” ministries who are aware that the programs don’t work (How could they NOT?), but they are too afraid to admit it. It’s probably tied to the fact that they make their living peddling the program, so they would lose their income if they were truthful.
But the lives of these five Trailblazers are testimonies to the power of living in honesty and integrity. They have walked that dead-end road of “ex-gay” treatment, then turned around. The fact that these amazing leaders (and many others) now speak out against what “ex-gay” groups promise to do should serve as a warning sign to anyone considering this path.
There is another way!
P.S. Inspired by this video, several years ago, I wrote my own apology