Ex-Gay Survivor To Former Leader: “This Is What An Apology Looks Like”

Jim Burroway

October 13th, 2011

The recent statements from John Smid, the former director of the Memphis-based Love In Action ex-gay ministry, in which he says that he has never met an actual ex-gay who has changed his sexual orientation, and that gay relationships can be incorporated into “an authentic relationship with Christ,” has been hailed throughout the LGBT blogosphere as a startling and welcome change. It certainly gives new meaning to Exodus International’s slogan, “Change Is Possible!” Smid has followed up his previous post with a new one expressing his gratitude for the response and announcing that he will be undergoing an “I’m Sorry Campaign” as part of this weekend’s Memphis Pride.

There are a couple of problems with all of that though. While it’s well and good for Smid to announce a public “I’m Sorry Campaign,” he needs to be very careful of two things. First, the announcement of the campaign with Chicago-based Andrew Marin skirts dangerously close to becoming a hey-everyone-look-how-sorry-I-am self-promotional bandwagon. If Smid’s goal is to truly demonstrate how sorry he is for all that he has done in the two decades he headed the ex-gay residential ministry, a parade (whether it be literal or figurative) strikes me as an unseemly and inappropriate setting for that.

But the greater problem could be with who he’s apologizing to. Sure, Memphis’s LGBT community deserves an apology. But as ex-gay survivor and former Love In Action client Peterson Toscano pointed out in a comment he left here at BTB, he has a lot more work to do with those he harmed directly before forgiveness can be granted and healing can begin:

I believe there is an important difference between “hating on John Smid” and critically considering his transformation, what he has said, what he has not said, and his entry into spaces among the very people he previously reviled. It is more than a simple matter of someone “doing something stupid,” offering an apology, and then being berated. There is history that cannot be ignored. There are people who have been harmed who are “in the room.”

These are big changes for Smid, perhaps part of an on-going evolution in his beliefs, perhaps first steps before many, but after years of devising and practicing psychological torture to the many men and women who suffered under his treatments and theories, he should not be just given a free pass and a full, cheerful welcome into LGBT spaces and particularly “gay Christian” spaces inhabited by many people directly harmed by ex-gay treatment. Thoughtfulness for the victims needs to be considered.

It is a complicated and delicate matter when a former abuser admits wrong and seeks to rebuild relationship.

John Smid and his staff are responsible for the pain and suffering of hundreds if not thousands of people. For over two decades he has spoken passionately in public, in the media, at conferences and churches, spreading harmful and inaccurate teaching that has set parents against children and fueled the self-hatred of LGBT people.

As a former client, I understand that John Smid provided me with weapons to go to war against my sexuality and personality. His program was abusive, cruel, and damaging to me and others. People have suffered and still suffer and have needed to spend time and money seeking recovery from the treatment Love in Action inflicted upon us. Many of us went to John Smid and LIA seeking help. We ended up harmed. Some were even forced against their will to endure these treatments.

John Smid, like all of us, needs community, and it is likely that his former friends and colleagues in the ex-gay world and conservative anti-gay church will want nothing to do with him. But his entry into the LGBT world is complicated for some ex-gay survivors.

And while his statement is yet another brick to fall off the crumbling ex-gay edifice, I believe he needs to do much more to demonstrate his regret and new found understanding. It is proper justice for John Smid to acknowledge what many of us already discovered for ourselves. It is proper justice for John Smid to begin to set the record straight. It is proper justice for John Smid to seriously and deeply consider the harm he has caused. And before people forgive John Smid and welcome him into the fold on the behalf of all of us, I believe it is essential to ask critical questions and expect much much more from someone who has done much much harm.

What will that much much more look like? How can John, if he is willing, begin to make amends for his destructive actions?

For just a small taste of those destructive actions, listen to former LIA client Jacob Wilson describe one component of the “treatment” — LIA’s “Friends and Family Weekend:

I’ve had other LIA clients corroborate Jacob’s experience. Peterson wrote about the destructive impact that weekend had on his parents, with damage that haunted his mother right up until the day she died.

And so you can well imagine that while those of us who haven’t been personally affected by Smid’s two decades of abuse at LIA might be inclined to accept his apologies, we are not the ones in a position to do so. I do not want to diminish the tremendous and welcome journey that Smid has undertaken since leaving Love In Action, and I do not think we should dismiss the importance of his change of heart. I do believe it is worthy of encouragement and praise.

But we cannot offer absolution. We are not the ones in a position to forgive him. That can only come from the thousands who crossed his path at Love In Action. And I believe it will only come about through one personal apology at a time. Just as Smid forced everyone to undergo exhaustive personal assessments and stand up before a stage in front of their parents and loved ones to reveal each and every deep, darkest secret they can uncover, Smid will now have to demonstrate his willingness to undergo the same humiliating experience himself. When you consider the foundations of his Christian faith, it is not without precedent. Christian theology holds that Christ’s “humbling upon the cross” is the very cornerstone of forgiveness.

Which means that the act of repentance will likely end up being a lifetime of work for Smid, just as he originally saw his leadership in the ex-gay ministry as his life’s calling. And you can also imagine that it is going to take much, much more work (and I would suggest, probably much more humility on John’s part) for those thousands who walked through Smid’s door to let bygones be bygones.

Peterson has posted what he thinks an appropriate apology might look like. But by ending his re-working of Smid’s apology with questions, he shows how difficult the task remains: “What can I do further to address the wrongs I have done? How can I demonstrate just how much I regret my actions and the consequences they brought to you and to others?”


October 13th, 2011

When I was in Catholic school, we learned about the origin of the Sacrament of Confession, or more appropriately, Reconcilliation. Far from being a routine part of any Catholic’s experience, was originally limited to the sins of murder, adultery and renouncing the Church – this was in the early Chrisitian Church days when Christians were still being sent to the lions, and one way to save yourself was to renounce the Church. In all three sins, the sinner has not just hurt himself or his relationship with God, he has damaged his relationship with his community, and must make amends. In the early Christian Church, this meant a minimum of one year of public professions of guilt and sorrow, begging for forgiveness and the wearing of hairshirts. All of that may be too much to ask of Mr. Smid, but I whole heartedly agree that he has a lot of pennance to do among survivors of “ex-gay” therapy.


October 13th, 2011

What a very good response, far more temperate than my own reaction. I can’t forget that this man made his living doing this stuff. With no training, no education, he embarked on a career hurting others.

He posted a very peculiar comment at the throckmorton blog. It does not read to me like the comment of someone who has properly understood his situation. Indeed it has just a whiff of anti-gay thinking about it.

Regan DuCasse

October 13th, 2011

Thieves, abusers, those who defame…which is the equivalent of those who profit from the ex gay industry. They all build on vulnerability and exploitation. Not just of the individual, but the political atmosphere as well. The powerful influence of all manner of systemic bigotry, supports the exploitation.

The penance of thieves and abusers, requires MORE in compensation, than the equivalent of what they THINK they’ve taken away or damaged.
As most people who are analytical can glean from some ex gay who remain so, there is a weakness of character that requires a large amount of validation and reinforcement. Sometimes abnormal amounts of it.

Which would imply that the opposite is true if they are to compensate those they have harmed. Perhaps, in a way, Smid needs time to ‘grow a pair’, in order to fulfill that compensation. And whatever time it takes, perhaps we’re obligated to be patient.

It’s up to him to study what it’ll take to grow that pair, and build the strength of character required to now be an advocate. Some people can’t wait and HE won’t live forever.

I hope this teaches him also, why he shouldn’t have done what he did. Too many people did run out of time, and some are still at too much risk to never have it.
Such as in the case of all the very young teens at risk of suicide and also those who torment them.

Some would like to respect whatever time Smid should have to grow a pair and a backbone, but perhaps he needs to be on notice that it should be sooner, rather than later.

Bruce Garrett

October 13th, 2011

I keep being reminded of what Malcolm once said about progress. How, if you put a knife six inches into my back and you take it out four inches that isn’t progress, and if you take it out all the way That isn’t progress. Progress, he said, was healing the wound.

I realize he was a very controversial figure then and now, but that quote has always rang true to me. Progress is healing the wound. Sometimes I find myself thinking that much of the opposition to gay equality at this stage springs from an intuitive understanding of the staggeringly grievous harm they have done to so many innocent hearts; the burden not only of guilt for it, but the work of making amends. Better to keep fighting to the bitter end, and pray death will render their part in this human tragedy moot.

But will it? I would at least try to make some amends now, imperfect though they may be, while I still could.

Ben in Oakland

October 13th, 2011

As isaid, atonement is in a class all by itself.


October 13th, 2011

Real atonement requires the perpetrator to give up ALL rights to being frustrated or angry with the ongoing responses from those you’ve harmed. When Michael Busse got angry and defensive with me for angrily attacking him for his huge role in my nightmare teenage years I opened up a dialogue with him that helped him realize that he didn’t have the right to be angry, frustrated or defensive with me. He didn’t have the right to say “I refuse to continue apologizing over and over again for my past wrongs”. Once he realized that he had an obligation to apologize personally to each and every person who gave him the opportunity and had an obligation to accept, without judgement, anyone who refused to accept his apology something really amazing happened within BOTH of us. I’m happy to say that I have completely forgiven Mr. Busse and am now proud to call him “friend”.

Mr. Toscano is very right. The abusers don’t get to decide what needs to be done to make amends and they don’t get to decide when they’ve done enough. Their victims alone have this right.

Just wondering

October 13th, 2011

I wonder if (the very religious) Peter LaBarbera will ever undertake an “I’m Sorry Campaign”?

Smid is taking some huge steps in the right direction, of course, which is deeply appreciated. I hope he’s on the path to ending his self-torture (as in not allowing himself to act on his sexual orientation) as well as his torture of others.

Paul Douglas

October 13th, 2011

Bruce has an excellent insight:

Sometimes I find myself thinking that much of the opposition to gay equality at this stage springs from an intuitive understanding of the staggeringly grievous harm they have done to so many innocent hearts; the burden not only of guilt for it, but the work of making amends. Better to keep fighting to the bitter end, and pray death will render their part in this human tragedy moot.

Subliminal guilt can drive people to do horribly cruel things and I’ve no doubt it plays a role in some of the haters’ hearts. I wish John Smid well on his journey.


October 14th, 2011

He teamed up with Andrew Marin? LOL! Another strike against him. Marin pretends to be a gay-loving Christian. But he is a disgusting homophobe who has the exact same opinions about gay people as other evangelical conservatives. He merely wants people to be nice about it. He is just a Christian PR clown


October 14th, 2011

Bruce, the knife, in this case, was stuck into the victims back. Then handed to his/ her parents for another stab. Then the victim was carefully trained to stab themselves over and over again. Do not underestimate the damage done by psychological abuse, especially at the hands of so-called professionals — it is profound because of the air of authority behind it, the vulnerability of the victims, and the particularly pernicious way it divided them from the very people who should be their support system in healing. It can distort the personality of the victim, making it harder for them to trust or build relationships. And they have such a well of anger and hurt they’re left to wade through on their own. I suffered abuse at the hands of a psychological professional as a kid (related, believe it or not, to bedwetting, not gay issues), and the results lasted decades. I later found out that the practitioner lost her license, was sued by multiple clients, and was forced to leave the industry. I never got that apology, so I have no idea whether it would have helped, but at least I got the satisfaction of knowing that other people judged her actions wrong and actionable.

How do you forgive the unforgiveable?

It’s easy for those of us not victimized to say “hey, look, we won one! haha, they admitted it! case closed, let’s move on!” – and boy am I glad I’m one of those who has the luxury of putting this very bad man out of my mind.

But let’s not forget. He put bread on his table, food in his mouth, and a roof over his head for decades by these actions. By my standards, all of those things are forfeit. This guy should be stripped of his possessions and required to live off the kindness of strangers. Perhaps that will be the judge of his sincerity and contrition – because “just words” don’t cut it. And yeah, a hairshirt sounds just about right.

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