This was posted as a 3 part series and is put together here in its entirety. It is meant to coincide with the release of LA Jamison's book, "Discoveries in the Closet: A Young Mans Struggle with Faith and Sexuality". John Smid was the director of Love in Action, a live-in program to change gay men to straight, and on the board of Exodus International. The reason why any of this is still relevant is that ex-gay ministries are still rising up in place of the ones that fall. There was a past film made about the ex-gay ministry called Love In Action. One in which I was very close to going myself (I chose others in the end). The first film was called “This is What Love In Action Looks Like” released in 2010 about a boy who went through the ministry back in 2005 which was remarkable in that it was done in a very compassionate way. Most recently is a film called “Boy Erased” based off the true story and book by Gerrard Conley who went through a several week portion of the ministry when John Smid led the ministry.
John Smid's website and new ministry as an out gay minister is www.gracerivers.com
Why I Left Ex-Gay Ministry
Edited by LA JAMISON
John, what brought you into Ex-Gay Ministry in the first place?
When I divorced my first wife after I admitted I was gay, the reality of being gay was clearer than ever. I had two little girls. I wanted so much to be a good dad for them and there was no way that was going to happen if I was gay. See, I had spent several years in the gay bar scene. I had several broken relationships bringing a lot of emotional pain and this didn’t match the life I wanted for me or for my girls.
When I had just entered my thirties, I was excited about finding a deeper faith in God. In learning a lot about the Bible, I was enjoying the discovery of a life I could be proud of living. I began taking advantage of a new social circle of friends that inspired me to commit to staying away from gay relationships. In the background to this, I felt something about living as a single adult that was unfulfilling. I wanted to connect with someone at a deeper level. Since leaders in my new faith were teaching me that being gay was sinful, I had a problem to deal with. I was left unfulfilled. How could I not live a life being true to who I am as a gay man? Yet, how could I live a life in line with the new morality that I was learning about from the Bible?
Since I couldn’t be gay, I wondered if I could learn how to relate to a woman whom could understand my struggle? This was a big hurdle but I really didn’t want to live alone either. I saw that a relationship with a woman as my only option. I had met a lady who was great to be around and seemed to be someone I felt compatible with after such a long time of struggle and doubt. After a couple of months, I discovered a huge emotional barrier rose up. I shut down and was frustrated with what was happening inside of me.
I heard a radio program on Christian radio where a lady was being interviewed that had a gay son. She spoke of God’s transformation that could occur with gay people and how God could miraculously change them. I wrote to the address they gave at the end and connected with a ministry that proposed to helped gay people follow Christ and offered a way to change gays into a more heterosexual identity. I was thrilled about the prospect of further growth and possibly a way to get over the emotional hurdle I was experiencing with my girlfriend. I believed they were the experts and could help! I hoped they could help me to be the dad I wanted to be for my girls and that wasn’t a gay one.
One of these ministries was called Love in Action. They offered me a position as a House Leader Assistant in their residential program for gay people. I accepted the position thinking I would be moving out to California for a year at the most. Twenty Two years later, I found myself still involved there and I became a member of the board of directors for Exodus International. Exodus International was an umbrella organization across the globe that grouped thousands of ex-gay ministries together. I served eleven years with them.
During this time with Love in Action, I did get married to the lady I had been dating. The beginning of our marriage was very rough but we eventually found a way to make things work. The strength of our marriage was a general compatibility but the weakness continued to be my emotional barriers to intimacy with her. I was determined that some day I’d find a way to gain freedom, so I kept pressing in to Ex-Gay theories and hoped that some day I’d find the changes I hoped to find.
What convicted you to leave your positions with Ex-Gay Ministry?
I wholeheartedly believed the teachings and theories I learned through Love in Action and Exodus. I became a nationally known leader within the Ex-Gay movement. However, I could see that we weren’t having the success that I’d hoped we would with our clients. Yes, people were gaining reconciliation with their families and finding freedom from sexual addiction. Men and women were discovering strengths and courage they didn’t know they had. Nevertheless, I didn’t see anyone who found freedom from their homosexual desires. What we held onto was the belief that at the very least we were helping people to develop a better relationship with God through our Christian discipleship program.
Over the years, I would hear about people who went back to homosexuality. I didn’t know what to do about such stories. I just hoped God would allow them to see the errors of their ways and come back to God. Throughout the years, I searched and searched for a better way, a more successful way to lead people out of homosexuality. If God didn’t want people to be gay, He’d certainly had to provide a way, but I didn’t seem to know what that would be.
During my last couple of years with Love in Action, there was a significant protest of our ministry by pro-gay advocates, which led to serious staff division and internal ministry struggles that seemed to be insurmountable to me. I finally decided to resign from the ministry. I was tired and extremely burned out from all of the problems that were present.
After I left my position I was unemployed and had no idea what was next for me. One day a friend called me that I had met several years earlier. She began to talk with me about people she knew that had now reconciled their faith and their homosexuality. She asked me if I were willing to have a conversation with one of her gay friends. I was deeply challenged by the conversation because I didn’t believe that was possible. I had nothing to lose in talking with him and actually was curious to hear their story. So an appointment was made for a telephone conversation with Michael Bussee.
I left that conversation with Mr. Bussee both surprised and challenged. I could see that he was a good man, a man with morals and spiritual convictions. I also saw that he was a humble man who was very willing to admit his mistakes. Where I had once seen him as an enemy because of our different beliefs about spirituality and homosexuality, I know felt something deep within my heart began to shift that was undeniable.
I was soon meeting more gay Christians. I was invited to attend a conference specifically for gay Christians. This was a huge mind blowing experience. Seeing over one hundred people who loved God and were LGBT was an eye opening experience. Hearing their stories inspired me to further study and thoughts on the matter.
Over the next couple of years, I came to see how I’d believed some things wrongly. I had accepted interpretations of the Bible that I now felt convicted were wrongly taught or wrongly interpreted by a certain segment of the religious community. I learned that there were diverse opinions on homosexuality in the scriptures by people that are equally convicted and conservative in other areas of belief.
I had to settle this in my own heart and finally came to believe that someone could be gay, and could be a deeply believing Christian. This changed everything, and I had to begin to deconstruct over two decades of Ex-Gay ministry and a certain way of thinking.
My first step was to write a generic apology for the things that I now came to believe were wrong and harmful about my teachings and involvement within the Ex-Gay movement. This led to the beginning of making amends to people person to person, face to face. Powerful reconciliation occurred. I’ve never seen God’s principles of forgiveness and restoration like I’ve seen in the last several years. Humble dialogue, owning mistakes, and allowing the past to go to the past has been amazing.
As I’ve opened my ears to listen more clearly to the stories of those who’ve been involved in Ex-Gay ministries, I’ve also heard more pain. I am finally seeing the harm done from well-intentioned people to those in their care who have believed homosexuality to be sinful and an abomination. I was one of the passionate communicators who conveyed that God could never be happy with someone who is gay.
I’m discovering more and more Ex-Gay ministers are rethinking their positions on the matter. I’ve connected with many men and women who used to be Ex-Gay leaders and have now changed their views. It’s a difficult path to walk. Many of us invested our entire faith, our hope for a specific future, and our relationships in the Ex-Gay message. We believed in a hope beyond hope that would bring us to freedom from homosexuality.
What I learned is that I had a choice; I could go back into a closet of deception (I cannot unlearn what I know today); or I could continue to move forward no matter what the cost.
What advice would you give to ex-gay leaders or those involved in ex-gay ministry who may be struggling with their beliefs as you were?
I’m not a person who can live without authenticity. I cannot lie for long, or very well. I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. For those who are finding their path beginning to change, take courage. You are not alone. For others who are seeing that this can undermine years of a belief system, it truly does get better as we open our horizons.
I thought that opening up my mind would allow the devil to come in and deceive me more. I stuck with people who closed their hearts and weren’t open to thinking differently. Today? I’m relating to all sorts of people, having all kinds of enlightening conversations and discovering a larger God and a larger faith than I’ve ever had known before. I’m seeing the amazing goodness of God in and through gay people and their lives.
I used to believe that a gay couple could never truly love each other because of my thought that any gay relationship is based in sin. I’m now seeing amazing, loving, committed gay relationships. If you are someone whom is beginning to entertain new thoughts on homosexuality and faith, I recommend opening up your ears to the life stories of those around you. Listen to the hearts of LGBT people without an agenda for changes. I found that the deep messages within the Bible are alive and well throughout the LGBT community. Messages of love, forgiveness, redemption, and restoration are alive and well there too.
My life is richer, fuller, and more l could have ever imagined those many years ago. Taking the risk to hear, to think, and to change opened me up to the abundance that the Bible promises.