March 4th, 2010
In May 2005, the ex-gay movement suddenly registered on the consciousness of the gay community. Word was rapidly spreading about Zach, a 16 year old boy who what involuntarily taken to an “ex-gay camp” by his parents to receive religious conversion to heterosexuality. The “camp” was Love in Action, a residency based ministry in Memphis for those who sought “freedom from homosexuality” and it’s leader was John Smid.
The Memphis gay community, led by Morgan Fox, responded with an unusual ‘protest’. They lined up alongside the road to LIA and waved signs at those coming in; not angry signs of opposition, but messages of hope and encouragement. “God Loves You”, “We Support You.”
They were hoping to let those passing into the compound hear a message that God’s love was unconditional and that there was no need to change. And this message hit home in a most unexpected place. It changed lives in a way that Fox and the Memphis gay community could not have expected. This presentation of love challenged the core beliefs of John Smid.
Three years later we found that Smid had left Love in Action after 22 years at its helm. And then his introspection really began.
Over time John’s perspectives about sexuality, obedience, grace, and how he viewed the world changed. So much so, that he surprised some of us by commenting last week on Andrew Marin’s blogsite:
Many years ago, under Love In Action, I put up a billboard here in Memphis with my picture on it with the words “I used to be gay”. I was pretty proud of what I had pronounced and thought surely this would bring a big response. I heard virtually nothing for the year it was in place in a prominant place in Memphis.
In retrospect, I believe it didn’t bring much reaction is because it was a lie. Oh, I haven’t lived in homosexual relations with others for over 25 years but did I really “used” to be gay?
Through the years of committees and discussions with other leaders we have never found a way to describe our life experiences effectively. I think this is because we are all experiencing life in unique ways the defy words that are appropriate.
Today I can say clearly that while I still experience erotic attractions to those of the same gender (male) I have chosen not to engage these attractions because I am a faithful husband to my wife. But to say I am “ex-gay” doesn’t give justice to my life experience nor does it effectively describe to others what I have experienced and can actually communicate a lie if someone doesn’t hear my heart correctly.
Needless to say, this is quite a different message than was dominant during his days at Love in Action. That John Smid was less interested in what anyone else thought and quite certain of himself.
“I’m looking at that wall and suddenly I say it’s blue,” Smid said, pointing to a yellow wall. “Someone else comes along and says, ‘No, it’s gold.’ But I want to believe that wall is blue. Then God comes along and He says, ‘You’re right, John, [that yellow wall] is blue.’ That’s the help I need. God can help me make that [yellow] wall blue.”
Intrigued by what he perceived to be a radical change, Ex-Gay Watch’s David Roberts called Smid and discussed his new perspectives. This led to Smid writing a letter of apologies to those whom he had hurt over the years. Some are directed to specific people, others are more of the “if I’ve hurt you” variety. I’m sure it includes some of our readers and is well worth reading.
John has not changed his basic theology about homosexuality. And some of you may find his apologies to be disingenuous or contrived. I do not.
If I had to put words in his mouth, I’d put John’s new attitude at, “God loves you. I believe that your behavior is sinful and that God would like you to change your behavior, but even if you don’t, I’m convinced that He still loves you and forgives you. And I’ll not judge you.”
This may not go far enough for those who believe that any disagreement with sexual behavior is a condemnation of people and inherently harmful. And that’s fine; I have no objection to those who don’t wish to allow non-supportive theology (or any theology, for that matter) into their lives.
And I certainly would not send anyone to counsel with a ministry that lists the following as one of its “doctrinal statements“:
We acknowledge the sinfulness of any sexual act outside of the scriptural context of Holy Matrimony between a man and a woman.
But I am appreciative that John is moving away from the “change is possible” paradigm. And I’m very glad that he is taking ownership for the pain he has caused and is asking for forgiveness.
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On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.
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