October 10th, 2011
The former head of one of the nation’s most prominent ex-gay ministries now says that homosexuality is something that cannot be “repented,” because “repentance from something means it has to be something you can control, like actions.” John Smid, the former director of Memphis-based Love In Action, the country’s largest ex-gay residential program, now says that homosexuality is “an intrinsic part of their being or personally, my being. One cannot repent of something that is unchangeable.” He also says that in all of his years in ex-gay ministries, he never met a gay man who became heterosexual, and that he now considers himself homosexual “and yet in a marriage to a woman.”
Smid had been the director of Love In Action for nearly two decades when it became the focus of international attention in June 2005. That’s when sixteen-year-old Zach Stark announced on his MySpace blog that his parents were sending him away to an ex-gay non-residential youth program after he came out to them. Zach also posted the program’s rules that he would be forced to live under while enrolled in the program. Advocates protested for several days outside the main offices of Love In Action. That incident has become the basis for Jon Morgan Fox’s documentary film, This is What Love In Action Looks Like. Love In Action announced they had shut down their youth program in 2007.
Smid stepped down from Love In Action in 2008 after twenty-two year at the helm. He then established a different ministry, “Grace Rivers,” while continuing to cooperate with Fox’s film, all of which coincides wtih what appears to have been a period of introspection over his role in the ex-gay movement. In 2010, Smid reportedly wrote several letters of apology to some of his former clients, and disclosed on Andrew Marin’s blog that he still experiences “erotic attractions to those of the same gender (male).” Smid’s latest blog post on his own web site continues on those themes:
I have gone through a tremendous amount of grief over the many years that I spoke of change, repentance, reorientation and such, when, barring some kind of miracle, none of this can occur with homosexuality. The article today is a great example of how we as Christians pervert the gospel as it relates to homosexuality as though homosexuals aren’t welcome in the kingdom unless they repent (which many interpret to change). But since homosexuality is not “repentable” then we put homosexuals into an impossible bind.
Smid contines bywriting of what he sees as the greater theological imperative, which is for all people to “turn our lives to God’s kingdom and away from the kingdom of the world,” and what that kind of transformation brought about by a religious conversion would mean for gay people:
Yes, there are homosexuals that make dramatic changes in their lives as they walk through the transformation process with Jesus. I have heard story after story of changes that have occurred as men and women find the grace of God in their lives as homosexual people. But, I’m sorry, this transformation process may not meet the expectations of many Christians. I also want to reiterate here that the transformation for the vast majority of homosexuals will not include a change of sexual orientation. Actually I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.
Smid wrote that he has met gay Christians who have gone on to lead celibate lives, and otheers who have entered into heterosexual marriages. He then added, “But, I’ve also met some who experience transformation from sexual promiscuity to a faithful gay relationship that is truly, in their experience, a great blessing to their relationship with Christ. Oh, I understand the controversy in all of this.”
Past postings on Smid’s blog reveal an ongoing evolution in his thinking about gay people, starting a conversation he had with Michael Bussee, a co-founder of Exodus International who left the ministry to come out with a gay man and become a strong critic of the ex-gay movement. That conversation took place in 2008, at around the time of Smid’s resignation from Love In Action. Smid’s description of that visit with Bussee sheds considerable light on Smid’s frame of mind when he stepped down. Smid’s reconsideration of his previous work in the ex-gay movement continued with a conference for gay Christians he attended in 2010, where he met a number of couples who shattered his preconceived notions about gay people. In Smid’s latest reflection, he realizes that his own understanding of his faith was clouded by those misconceptions:
My dear friend, this is a very tough issue and I am trudging through some very deep waters trying to better understand God’s heart on this matter. I have now gone around the world listening to Him, listening to the stories, seeing the tears of rejection in some, and the peace of God’s love in others. This is so different than I always thought in my small world of ex-gay ministry. And yes, it was a small world because I made it small. I was completely unwilling to hear anything that didn’t fit my paradigm. I blocked out anyone’s life story or biblical teaching that didn’t match up with what I believed.
When I was at LiA I never taught a session on the scriptures regarding homosexuality that I understood. I know that sounds strange but it is true. I didn’t teach them because I really had never studied them for myself. I merely quoted what I saw that others had written on the issue. I felt an obligation to at least teach something on what the Bible said, but every time I attempted to study it for myself it made no sense to me and I just went back to the writings of others within the ex-gay subculture.
Smid now says that the example of gay people remaining honest with themselves while exploring their spirituality in an orthodox Christian context can lead to an “authentic relationship with Christ”:
In traditional homosexuality it appears that it is intrinsic to a person’s fabric of life. Nature or nurture, it is far to complicated to have a definitive answer for the origin of homosexuality. However, I hear story after story of men and women who accept themselves as being gay, in Christ, and finally find that life makes sense to them. Many are able to then nurture an authentic relationship with Christ because they are being honest and authentic with themselves and finally are able to accept His love unconditionally which changes the dynamic of their understanding of Him. Far too many homosexuals who are seeking Christ perceive that they cannot come close to Him if they remain a homosexual. In this mindset they search feverishly for change that will not come to them.
As for whether Smid ever really changed his own sexuality in all of the years he devoted himself to ex-gay ministry, he now says:
I am homosexual, my wife is heterosexual. This creates a unique marriage experience that many do not understand. For many years I tried to fit into the box of heterosexuality. I tried my hardest to create heterosexuality in my life but this also created a lot of shame, a sense of failure, and discouragement. Nothing I did seemed to change me into a heterosexual even though I was in a marriage that included heterosexual behavior. Very often when I am in situations with heterosexual men I clearly see that there are facets of our lives that are distinctively different as it relates to our sexuality, and other things as well.
There is no question, I love my wife. God has worked powerfully in and through our relationship. The fact that she married me in the first place knowing of my past homosexual promiscuity said something quite profound about her love for me. Which, by the way, was not an enabling, “I can fix him” kind of relationship. My wife has never tried to fix me or change me in that area of our relationship. She truly unconditionally loves me. But this doesn’t change the fact that I am who I am and she is who she is.
[via Ex-Gay Watch]
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