Disclaimer: I’ve always promised to be honest and transparent in my posts. I will honor that promise here, and for that reason, some of what I share might seem salacious, but that’s not the intention. It’s merely part of this story, though not necessarily a proud part. (I will not be graphic.)
Obviously, the “ex-gay” stuff didn’t work (Hint: I’m gay!), but that recent encounter has me reflecting back on how and when that realization came to me.
Ingrained beliefs don’t change easily, and often require a signification reason...or motivation...for re-examination. (e.g., A Christian parent who suddenly learns their child is gay will need some answers.) Jesus said those who hunger and thirst would be satisfied. (cf: Matthew 5:6) It’s when we realize that what we’ve known and believed is not working that we become hungry and thirsty to learn. Then we're open to new revelation and insight.
For me, it was a series of events, over a period of time, chipping away until my rigid belief-system crumbled. And Light came in.
Ministry Growth and Conflict
By all external markers, my church was considered successful—one of the fastest growing in our state, according to one national magazine in a story about us. Before there were mega-churches, with contemporary worship, and a casual atmosphere, we were doing it. It was exhilarating, but also time-consuming, demanding and exhausting. Our church attracted folks from diverse religious backgrounds: traditional Protestants, old-school Pentecostals, Evangelical Catholics, and lots of Charismatics—a veritable granola bowl of doctrines and creeds. Eventually, these different belief-groups wanted to prevail when it came to church practice. There was near-constant strife and conflict. For me, church began to feel more like a combat zone, and I was becoming shell-shocked.
During this time, I was also overseeing the work of several adjunct ministries, including our “ex-gay” program, as well as traveling to speak in other churches and conferences. I was wearing down and wearing out.
Two tragedies put me in an emotional tailspin.
A member of our “ex-gay” ministry was diagnosed with advanced, terminal AIDS. He was so ashamed, he refused to let me visit, and died believing it was God’s judgment for his sin. I remember thinking: that’s not the message we want to impart. I had so much guilt.
Not long after that, a dear friend of mine from seminary called. He’d “come out” to me just before he quit seminary, and we’d stayed in touch. He wanted to change, mostly because his father was a well-known Southern Baptist Pastor. The day he called, my wife and I were entertaining friends at our house, but I could tell he was upset, so I promised to call him the next day. That night, he killed himself.
Fatigue and Disillusionment
Everything combined to put me in the hospital with extreme exhaustion.
I was tired of trying, and tired to talking about it. When I did talk, I chose my words carefully. I had to think about everything I said, afraid I would reveal my questions instead of the answers.
Where once I’d been definitive, I would now hedge on my responses.
The turmoil was so strong and persistent, I felt exposed. I was certain folks on the “outside” knew was happening to me on the “inside.”
Surely my pain, my confusion, my doubt was evident.
How could they not see I was living a lie?
I began to indulge my desires more and more. Suggestive conversations, clandestine meetings, casual, furtive encounters. But mostly, it was in the form of erotic reading materials and movies shown in those dark, private booths at the back of dingy, XXX bookstores.
One night, I was “browsing” the gay magazines section when I looked up and saw the husband of a church member. I left without him seeing me, but I was terrified. What if I’d been caught? (That was always my biggest fear.) More than anything, I was aware of that continuing “battle” I was not winning.
Once again, I was so disappointed in myself.
I was a failure.
I was not fit to be a spiritual leader.
I’d been at the church for more than 10 years, but made the decision to quit. Obviously, my resignation was cloaked in religious explanations of "God's timing," "new avenues of ministry," and "the leading of the Holy Spirit." But that was no truer than my victory over my inner desires. I’d lost enthusiasm for the ministry; apathy was my most identifiable emotion. My soul was mired and my mind, murky. I remember it was like walking in thick mud; I had to keep moving, but every movement took such effort.
A few months later, my wife and I had an honest talk, and realized the main thing we’d in common was church. With that gone, and we had to examine: who are we, outside of our ministry? We agreed to a trial separation, and I moved out of the house.
That Moment of Clarity!
The next week, I met some friends for dinner and they introduced me to Marty. There was an obvious mutual attraction, with lots of flirting during the meal. After dinner, Marty invited me to his house, which began a brief, but torrid affair. This opened the floodgates of those suppressed desires, but now, I made no effort to restrain them. The weeks that followed were a fog of work, travel, drinking and meaningless one-night stands. I used the activities to avoid asking myself the difficult questions.
One night in small studio apartment, the stark realities overwhelmed me. Everything that was important to me was gone or in shambles—my family, my home and my ministry. Sitting on the sofa, with a half-empty bottle of Bourbon on the table and a gun in my lap, I knew that all those years of sincere effort, of begging God and working so hard to change had not worked. The emotions that spewed out of me that night resembled those Bible accounts of "weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth." I was distraught and inconsolable.
I could not go on like I had in the past. I would not go on like I had in the past.
The truth was evident: I was (still) gay.
I distinctly remember telling God how sorry I was that I had failed.
With my realization, I shouted into my empty room (To God?): “I’m done!”
It was crushingly sad, knowing that in addition to the other losses in my life, this decision meant abandoning my faith, which was a treasured dimension of my life. But, as I’d always been taught, I could not be both Christian and gay.
I dozed off in the chair from emotional fatigue. When I woke up a few hours later, I put away the Bourbon and the gun.
A few days later, I filed for divorce.
In solidarity with my new awareness, I got rid of all my “ex-gay” materials. That part of my life was also gone...forever. (If only things were that simple!)
Shortly after my divorce, I took a job in Southern California, where I “came out” publicly as a gay man. It was a tough, confusing and depressing time for me. Fortunately, I found a loving group of LGBT Christians who welcomed me, nurtured me and in time, helped me rediscover my faith and regain a sense of worth.
During this time, I met others who’d been harmed by these "ex-gay" programs. So, in spite of my decision to leave it all behind, I knew I had to speak out.
Many Christians were critical (and continue to be) when I abandoned the “ex-gay” ministry and came as gay. To them I would say: I’m living my life in honesty and integrity, pursuing truth, seeking to express divine Love and working for justice. For me, that's what our faith requires.
Conversely, many gay people are critical that I was involved in “ex-gay” leadership. To them I can only say: I can’t make up for my involvement, and I would never try to justify my reasons. (Years ago, I issued an Apology for my involvement.) However, for the past four decades, I've been committed to use what happened to me, and what I learned when I was involved, to prevent others from being spiritual and emotional abused by these programs and their lies.
Very soon, there will be a section on my website, part of Rainbow Resources, dedicated to exposing the deception and dangers of these groups. And I'll continue to write about the subject on my blog, as I've done HERE.