For people who experience unwanted same sex attractions, ex-gay ministries profess to offer freedom and healing. The people who attend these ministries are called “ex-gays”. People who attend those ministries and find freedom and healing albeit not from same sex attractions, but freedom and healing in accepting who they are, are called “ex-ex gays” because they typically leave the ex-gay ministries. I am in the latter group. Tonight as an ex-ex-gay, I am pondering that very significant part of my journey and I am giving thanks.
After a marriage that fell apart due to the same sex attractions that I had kept a secret since 7th grade, the ex-gay ministry in Oklahoma City called First Stone Ministries was for me a God-send. An answer to prayer. An oasis. A chance to be healed and cleansed and “fixed”. A chance to be normal. And most importantly, a chance to order my life so that I could fully honour God.
So I went into the ex-gay ministry excited. Expectant. Open. Willing. Grateful to have this chance to finally get the monkey of same sex attraction off my back. Over a period of about 15 months, I threw myself into my “healing” as I called it. Once a week individual counseling. Plus once a week group counseling. And at one point, once a week therapy with a psychologist. Sharing my secret. Crying many tears as I released the hurt of carrying this burden silently for 17 years. Voicing the hope I desired for normalcy. Sharing my fears. Sharing my yearnings for freedom. There’s that word again…freedom. I listened to other fellow strugglers. And I began to change. I began to experience healing in my life as I shared freely with other receptive hearts. Up to this point, I had only shared what was acceptable. What was in line with accepted theology. But this sharing with the ex-gays was deep. Real. Earthy. Gutteral. Messy. And as my authentic self slowly began to emerge and be set free as I claimed the truth, change was all around me.
The odd thing was that my same sex attractions were about the only thing that wasn’t changing. Oh I was told that change was certain – just keep praying, keep talking, keep sharing, keep an open heart. So I continued to do these things. But after 15 months, the grace of God broke through as it finally dawned on me that this is who I am. And I’m not supposed to change my sexuality. The question for me was how do I honour God with my entire being, including my homosexuality? So I left and became an ex-ex-gay.
Leaving that Exodus ex-gay ministry was the hardest decision I have ever made. For in that leaving, I felt I was leaving God. But God is so faithful and is with us even when we aren’t aware of it. And over the next 4 years through prayer, Bible study, theological reflection, study, tears, laughter, and most importantly planting myself firmly in the midst of a new kind of Christian community, I was able to fully reconcile myself as both gay and Christian.
It’s been over 16 years since my involvement with ex-gay ministries. So what are my reflections this evening on my whole ex-gay experience? One of gratitude. One of thankfulness. One of appreciation. While I wholeheartedly disagree with the philosophy of ex-gay ministries, I am forever grateful for those people who took in a scared young evangelical man who realized he might be gay, and held him as he cried. They provided a forum for me to speak my truth for the first time. They offered a safe space to unload years and years of secrets and shame and fear. When the church I was working in asked me to leave, these beautiful people at the ex-gay ministry asked me to stay with them. Sincere in their devotion, they modeled for me the loving, welcoming arms of Jesus. Even though I believe they are sincerely wrong in their mission to try to change sexual orientation, you’ll never hear me bash them. When most of the evangelical church judged them for their work with gay people, they heard the call of Christ to love. And their faithful witness has forever shaped me.
So as an ex-ex gay, I am thankful. Thankful I escaped the terrible deception of ex-gay therapy. Thankful that I am living in the truth that homosexuality is not a sin, sickness, or a “thorn in the flesh”, but that homosexuality is part of how I am wonderfully made. Thankful that I have a vibrant, passionate faith – not the faith of my childhood to be sure, but a true faith that has gone through the fire and not only survived, but is thriving. And thankful that for 15 months of my life, I was privileged to know the men and women of First Stone Ministries in Oklahoma City who took me in and helped me become the man I am today.
The Rev. Curt Allison
provisional Director of Faith and Spirituality