Love In Action’s John Smid apologizes

Timothy Kincaid

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.


March 4th, 2010

Baby steps. I don’t care what he does with his own life (though I’m sure his wife very much does, and should.) I do care that he owns the pain he’s caused and is trying to not cause any more.


March 4th, 2010

Good for Smidy!

Evan Hurst

March 4th, 2010

So thoroughly unimpressed.


March 4th, 2010

I think that there is progress here. Smid seems to be accepting and admitting that sexual orientation does not change. If Exodus and the rest were honest on that one point to the people that come to them, that would represent tremendous progress.


March 4th, 2010

It has to happen eventually to every gay person involved in those organizations. The next step for him would be to get a divorce and finally live the way he was meant for; it will be hard and may take time, but it’s for the best.

By the way, does anyone know what happened to Zach?


March 5th, 2010

Would Smid similarly claim that he loves pedophiles and doesn’t judge them at all? I would find that hard to believe and yet he classifies gay people EXACTLY in the same way.

Through the years, anti-gay extremists have tried to smooth over their views by saying “well everyone is a sinner” (Remember George Bush said this exact same thing when confronted with a question about homosexuality). But you have to dig beyond the mere words. They believe that Josie or Merl who may spontaneously swear when they cut their finger has committed a sin. But that is completely 100% different than gays whom they believe not only sin, but embrace the sin (which according to them is the epitomy of pure evil).

When someone like Bush or Smid tries to minimize the fact that they call gays sinners, you have to realize that they classify us with pedophiles, murderers, and rapists. When they say “we all sin”, they are in no way grouping themselves with these people. It’s just a talking point so the media will blindly comply and characterize them as “non-judgmental”. It’s total BS.

That is why they oppose gays from marrying, adopting, serving in the military, having employment protections etc etc etc. Yet they would never oppose these same rights for all the other people they say are sinners (who occasionally swear, forget to let the dog out, get angry, sleep late, etc). They think we are deeply evil, not just “sinners”.

Michael Bussee

March 5th, 2010

I agree that it is an important step. I would encourage him — and all of us who did harm intentionally or unintentionally through our involvement with Exodus — to take the next step, and the next…

No repentance is perfect or will satisfy everyone. After 30+ years of apologizing, I am still sometimes told by some gay activists that it’s not enough and never will be enough.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. If only Frank Worthen, Alan Chambers, Randy Thomas and the rest of Exodus leadership — past and present — would take such a step. I know this journey personally. It’s not an easy one or one that comes without cost.

But after all the wrong done, it is simply the right thing — the “Christian: thing — to do. Could he do more? Should be do more? Of course. But this is a very important step. I believe God will take him the rest of the way.


March 5th, 2010

This whole “congratulate him for deciding not to be quite so hateful and destructive” mantra is getting old on this site. The fact that he’s still out there speaking to the masses when he knows he’s caused this degree of harm speaks for itself — he remains more interested in what comes out of his mouth than on what’s going into his ears, and he doesn’t deserve any congratulation for that.

“Thanks for hurting me a little less” doesn’t cut it where I come from. I’d take him off a short list of people who should be publicly villified and consider moving him to people who should be shunned and ignored, but I’m not inclined to embrace the man while he continues to hold fast to beliefs that call me a sinner and evil, or calls my 10 year relationship a sin and evil.

Folks, it’s called self-respect. Find some.


March 5th, 2010

I agree with Andrew. I don’t think we should be so quick to forgive.

I’d rather reserve my respect for myself and those in the GLBT community who have the guts to be who they are and support our people than waste it on a self-hating, wannabe heterosexual like John Smid.

Apologies, even long ones delivered in writing, aren’t enough. If he wants forgiveness, then his apology needs to be coupled with a promise that he will not, in any way, work against the interests of the GLBT community ever again. If he promises to keep his religious beliefs about homosexuality to himself and not to support any anti-gay political cause or oppose any pro-gay ones, then he’ll have my forgiveness. I respond to “I’m sorry” when someone steps on my foot, not when he has dedicated his life to destroying the lives of others but made little indication that he plans to substantially repair the damage he’s done.


March 5th, 2010

@AJD: “If he promises to keep his religious beliefs about homosexuality to himself and not to support any anti-gay political cause or oppose any pro-gay ones, then he’ll have my forgiveness.”

This. I’m glad that he’s owned up to his past dishonesty, but my opinion of him will be influenced far more by how he behaves toward others in the future.


March 5th, 2010

My point exactly, Martin.

Evan Hurst

March 5th, 2010

Yep, yep, yep!

Martin, AJD, Andrew, all of the things you all said.

I think we in the US are a little bit too trigger happy with our obsession with redemption stories. Skepticism is always in order, especially with characters like this.

pierre denerome

March 5th, 2010

Johm smid,pauvre vie miserable.


March 5th, 2010

Mel, thank you. You put your finger on exactly what’s wrong with the “we’re all sinners” line.

It doesn’t get any better when they backpedal and say, “Well, I didn’t really mean to compare your monogamous relationship of twenty years to pedophilia…”

To what, then? Securities fraud?


March 5th, 2010

This struck me more than his current remarks:

“Then God comes along and He says, ‘You’re right, John, [that yellow wall] is blue.’ ”

Dissecting it, John acknowledges, and God acknowledges, that the wall really is yellow, not blue, but in John’s vision, God lies to him, telling him what he wants to hear, rather than what is true.

I think we are seeing here just how imperfect and anthropomorphized the fundamentalist take on God is –

“That’s the help I need.” Here John admits that he needs, or needed, for God to lie to him about reality, to tell him that the world really does conform to his whims, even though it does not. It is about using God to bend reality to their will, even when that makes God a liar, rather than surrendering their will to God.


March 8th, 2010

~~~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.”~~~

Oh please. If he really felt sorry, he’d be actively speaking out against the psychotic religious camp he worked for, not writing half-assed apologies. He’s still a sexually repressed, pathetic excuse for a human being who has caused direct and indirect harm to countless people through his actions.

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