An Open Letter of Forgiveness to the Ex-gay Community

In 2008, I left the ex-gay world and came out. Last year, I wrote this open letter on an anonymous blog. For those who don’t know, the ex-gay movement tries to lead people out of a homosexual orientation through prayer and therapy.

Dear Ex-Gay Community,

I remember the day I left all of you. It was one of the scariest days of my life. I would like to talk about that soon, but first, I need thank you – you gave me a lot. You gave me love, a sense of direction, and an incredible sense of comfort – of being home. You pointed me to the love of Jesus, and at times you helped carry me towards Him when I was too weak and too bloody, when my cross had become too heavy. I was surrounded by a nest of deep, deep warmth: a cozy place where all my questions had answers.

But you gave me other things as well.

For years after I limped away from you, the rage blinded me. The hurt felt like it threatened to crush me. There were many days and weeks when suicide hung heavily over me, threatening to take me away.

And the guilt would never leave. The guilt of being one of them: one who was too weak to keep going, one who bailed when it got too hard. You told me that if I left your warm little citadel I would be walking in error,  I would be choosing the wrong path and leading a life of destruction. I still believed that, even when the pain got too terrible to bear. I continued to believe that, even after the agony forced me out of your ranks like a naked child into the cold, harsh streets of the wide, unfeeling world.

~~~

I was 17 when I first entered the ex-gay fold.

Seventeen. A child. I was vulnerable, naive. I didn’t know how to discern right from wrong, I didn’t know up from down. All I wanted was to live a good life, to make my family happy, and to follow God. All I wanted was to do what God wanted me to do. I didn’t want to be gay. Looking back, there are so many things you told that 17, 18, 19 year old that make me furious, so many things that have left deep, ugly scars.

You told that 17 year old kid that he had his attractions because his dad was absent or abusive and because his mother was overbearing. Those words turned me against my parents – parents who loved me: a dad who loved me and played with me when I was a boy. A mother who nurtured me. A father who canceled international business trips to spend time with me. A mother who attended every single concert and play and cross country meet I was ever in. A dad who, even as I grew grew into my teens, would wrap his arms tightly around me and not let go and say, “Stephen, I love you so, so, so much.” A mother who made sure that every detail of my life – financial, academic, health – was set in place so that I could lead a happy and confident life. A dad who would come home every evening and cook dinner, a dad who read all the Narnia Chronicles and The Lord of the Rings and George MacDonald to me before bed.

My relationship with my parents was beautiful, but you convinced me that it was ugly, and that hurt me. It hurt my parents. It hurt my family.

Now, I look at my family and wish I knew how to tell them: this isn’t your fault. You gave me the greatest gifts I could ever have. You taught me to follow Jesus, to be a good, confident person, and more than anything you loved me the best you could. You weren’t perfect, but you did more than enough. I wish I could take back all those words, all that heartache, all those feelings of, “What did we do wrong? Why did he turn out this way?”

~~~

You told me that anything that detaches me from other men could cause homosexuality. You told me that anything that helps heal that connection – affection, companionship, friendship – would eliminate the feelings. I remember when I read that in a book – I was suddenly flooded with overwhelming joy. It’s so simple, I thought. Could it really be that simple?

All of you all told me it was. Back then, everyone in my life believed it was true. Everyone I prayed with, every pastor I talked to, every support group leader, every Exodus affiliated ministry told me with confidence that, if God were to heal that masculine bond I was supposed to have with other men, than everything would be better.

The joy was deep, but the disappointment was deeper and darker than words can express when I found out that it wasn’t true.

It didn’t go away – it got stronger.

It didn’t become simpler – it became more complicated.

It didn’t heal – the wound went deeper.

I experienced crushing disappointment and savage despair. I felt an overwhelming flurry of emotions: why had I been lied to? Why didn’t it work? What was wrong with me? Did God still love me?

~~~

You told me that homosexuality is caused by sexual abuse. You asked me, over and over and over again, if I had been abused as a child.

Perhaps because I hungered so much for an answer, or perhaps because I wanted so much to please you, I searched deep within myself. I came up with a vague impression of abuse. I latched onto that. And then I thought I could remember it. Someone close to me had sexually abused me.

But it wasn’t true. It was a fabricated memory. It was a lie. The consequences of this false memory were very, very real. I took on the shame of an abused person when I was never abused. I took on the identity of someone who was used when I hadn’t been used.

~~~

You treated me like a sex addict, like I had no control over myself. You talked to me like I had no moral self-restraint, as if the “addiction” had so consumed me that I was helpless. You convinced me that without your help, I would be lost.

You led me into an identity of shame, not out of one. You led me to see myself as more broken that I really am. I didn’t have an addiction to sex, or to drugs. I had never even slept with a guy, but that didn’t seem to phase you.

~~~

I felt like a cripple, or a man with a terrible debilitating disease which kept him from living his life – from running, breathing, dancing, laughing, singing. I was convinced that I could not live my life – not life as it should be – until God touched me and I was healed.

So I went from prayer ministry to prayer ministry, church to church, support group to support group, ex-gay leader to ex-gay leader, hoping against hope that someday God would touch me, and I would be free.

That day never came, because I was already whole. I know that now – I could already run, dance, and laugh and sing. Nothing was keeping me from any of those things. Nothing but the wheelchair I had convinced myself that I needed.

~~~

C.S. Lewis tells us that it is only in the present that we are the most in touch with eternity. I spent the present fighting for a different future – a future where I didn’t have to have these feelings, a future where I didn’t have to feel inferior to other men, a future where I didn’t have to feel like a disappointment to the whole universe.

Because I missed the present, I missed the eternal. Because I missed the eternal, I missed God: Jesus of Nazareth, the God of the lost sheep of Israel, who opens his arms and says, “come as you are.”

~~~

The moment of change came when a dear ex-gay friend of mine looked at me and said, with deep sadness in his eyes, “I’m living half a life. I did the ex-gay thing expecting resolution. There has been no resolution for me. And now I just keep myself busy. I’ve stopped searching for the answers, because at this point in my life, they wouldn’t matter anymore.”

That was the breaking point. That was the end. I knew that if I kept going, if I didn’t act, I would end up in that same place – a place where the answers didn’t matter anymore.

So I outed myself on Facebook, to every one. I assured everyone that this didn’t mean I was actually going to do anything. It didn’t mean I was going to change my life of chastity. All it meant was that I was going to stop living in the ex-gay world, and stop trying to change this part of my life.

My world blew apart on that day, and nothing has been the same since. There have been moments when all I had was my love for God, and the confidence that, at the end of the day, despite all the questions and pain and loneliness, He loves me.

~~~

Honestly, I just want you to say that you are sorry. I want you to say that you messed up, that you will try to do better next time, that you acknowledge my pain. I just want you to admit that you are like every other human being on this planet: people with good intentions who can, on occasion, make heartbreaking and life-destroying mistakes. Welcome to the human condition. I don’t hate you – I think you are good people who have made some very misguided and damaging choices.

Instead of an apology, I hear all sorts of waffling and avoiding. I hear you say things like, “my experience in the ex-gay world has been very positive,” and you then leave it at that. I hear you avoid ever acknowledging that people like me exist. I hear you make excuses and cast blame and shift uncomfortably and then get on with business as usual.

So I guess I will cut to the heart of the matter: I forgive you. All that pain, all that agony, all that rage that your words instilled in me: I no longer hold that against you.

It is only in the embrace of our Father who knew complete abuse and rejection where we – forgiveless creatures – can learn to forgive. It is only in the heartbeat of our crucified Lord that our hearts come alive and can love again.

I know that embrace now, and I know that heartbeat. I understand now that He is making all things new, drawing all things to Himself. I understand that I am a great sinner and that He is a great savior.  And so I forgive you.

P.S. In March of 2013, Alan Chambers, past president of Exodus International, apologized to me personally for the harm done by Exodus. Also, since writing this piece in the spring of 2012, a huge number of ex-gay leaders have given official apologies.

 

17 responses to “An Open Letter of Forgiveness to the Ex-gay Community

  1. How heartbreaking to what they did to you! So glad that God’s forgiveness triumphs!You give hope to so many through your words and love. Thank you!

  2. Since I’m relatively new to you, I had not read this before. My therapist was trying to convince me of Reparative Drive theory, and actually had convinced me for a few months last year, until I read Justin Lee’s “Torn,” and began to investigate the matter more critically. Soon thereafter, I rejected the theory, and had a serious conversation with my parents.

    My dad responded first: “Sure, you and I didn’t have much in common when you were growing up, but neither did your brother and I. Why isn’t he gay, if this theory is correct?” My parents admitted that they had never been so deeply hurt in all their life as they had been by the Reparative Drive error. No two parents on earth could have loved their two boys more than my parents!

    I told them that I reject the theory, that there’s nothing to “fix” with regard to my homosexual orientation, and to forgive me for being hoodwinked by the teachings of ex-gay (though they’re not totally “ex” gay) “ministry.” Our relationship has improved ten-fold since!

    Having read part of your journey, I am so utterly grateful to have been spared the turmoils that you have experienced in that “ex-gay” context. May God continue to bring much-need healing and freedom to your soul, friend, as well as to so many others who currently need to abandon that ungodly, repressive, erroneous environment.

  3. I’m not sure I can ever forgive. Decades of my life have been squandered plugged into that evil paradigm. Thank God you’ve escaped while you’re still a young man.

      • Your words are much appreciated. Thank you. I know that I have get past all this vitriol, own up to my own responsibility (no one held a gun to my head) and move on and live my last chapter with integrity and charity.

  4. Why are public schools still the battle ground for Christians insisting that prayer and the Bible be taught in them?
    Why the hue and cry that it’s a restriction of religious freedom that they don’t have this particular access? Why the complaint that it’s this lack of Christian teaching and prayer in the public schools that leads to society’s problems?
    Christians, anyone of faith has the freedom to teach whatever from their texts in their houses of worship. In their own homes. They can congregate in public places like parks with those that share the same faith. There are MANY options to get the word out, so why demand public schools be venues for their teaching too?
    And why to they complain that any child preaching at another they think is gay is their RIGHT to do?
    I know why.
    Attending a public school is mandatory. Attending a house of worship is not.
    A gay person still has to argue that they don’t choose their orientation. Or has to defend that they choose to have a romantic life.
    When NO ONE chooses their orientation, and everyone has the right to choose a romantic life. It’s healthy to.
    It’s very important to point out how much guilt and shame IS placed on parents who have done a great job. And the ex gay industry doesn’t apologize for the mistakes they make, nor do they explain the exceptions to their template. Such as the majority of straight kids who have the same parents and parenting attention as their gay siblings.
    I am a straight ally. I resent this interference in what I want to know and learn from gay people. The ex gay message has had it’s turn, screwed up a lot of people with so much misinformation and expectation.
    I’m sick of hearing them. And I’m sick of them and their endless intellectual and moral dishonesty.
    I’ll call it what it is: The religious who will not respect the fact they have no right to control everyone and everything. The extension of their control freak tendencies is not to be a matter of public policy.

  5. I read this and it makes me want to give you a hug. Sorry you had to go through that Stephen.

    One evening back when I was in college I wrote a lullaby to myself. I remember everything about it. It was a cool autumn night and I was sitting in a yard swing with my guitar, looking up at a sky full of stars. It felt like the weight of the world was crushing me from years of trying to be strong, putting up a front. I didn’t want to be labeled fagot or queer but I knew the pretending and hiding was killing me. Society had done a great job of making me hate myself. At that moment, God pierced my heart and below is what came out as tears came flooding. Even though it was years later before I “came out” it was a nice respite to know God was there with me, letting me know that I was a child in his eyes.

    Come back little boy, come back
    Come back little boy tonight and cry
    Come back little boy, come back
    You can try to be a man again tomorrow

    Cause the world has treated you bad
    And you don’t think a man should be this sad
    Come back little boy, come back
    You can try to be a man again tomorrow

  6. Pingback: If It Aint Broke | thenewgaybar

  7. So well put. You inspired my writing today :) I used to compare being gay to being an amputee. Neither are born that way, and change is impossible for both. That comparison was so damaging for me, believing that gay IS broken. I’m still in the process of working through all the feelings of failure and self-loathing I acquired through well-meaning folks who thought they were helping. I’m really inspired by your forgiveness. Your writing is a real encouragement to me…thank you.

  8. I don’t tell too many people this, but I met my wife in an ex-gay group 18 years ago. Obviously we were kicked out – best thing that could have happened. Fortunately we are still together because the first few years together were pretty messed up as we blindly tried to undo the damage and try and figure out how to live our lives. Thanks for sharing this, Stephen.

  9. Steven, do you think there was/is some malicious intent on the part of the reparative proponents/facilitators? I would have simply assumed they were/are doing following Moberly in what they thought was the most current theory, and now its been proven ineffective, and bad science. Couldn’t they have been doing what they truly thought was best/most helpful to you, as well as your salvation? Quite moving and remarkable that Chambers apologized to you … but would he really have needed to, again, if he was serving people through his ministry as best as he could at the time? Do you think he knew he was lying all along? And is someone really lying if they think what they promulgate is true?

  10. Dear Stephen, thank you so much for your honest, heartfelt writing. I wish every Christian could read this post and sit with it until God gives us the courage to repent and ask forgiveness of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Please keep writing. I pray for you to be surrounded by love, given space to heal deeply, and that you will know always the fellowship of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Much grace to your parents, too. Lord have mercy on us. God bless you and keep you.

  11. Stephen your love and commitment for God shone through this writing and how great is our God through His Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth because you trust in Him not man. Stay in that place of love and trust for God 24/7. You are definitely on the right track. God is building you a testimony of His love, power and commitment to you. You Stephen are an adopted child of God:) bless you for sharing your testimony.

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