John Smid, former executive director of the renowned ex-gay program Love in Action, admits that after 22 years as director of the program, “I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.”
Love in Action also included the youth program ‘Refuge’ which gained notoriety in 2005 when 16-year-old gay youth, Zach Stark, wrote on his blog of his distress at being forced into that program by his Fundamentalist parents.
Since leaving Love in Action in May of 2008, Smid has had time to reflect on his 22 years as program director. “It’s time for honesty,” Smid declared in a letter of apology that he wrote last year and said that “for many years” now he’s thought about the claims of people who said “they were harmed or wounded from their experience with Love in Action or Exodus International.”
While admitting in the past that he “still had homosexual attractions”, in his newest blog article published this week and titled ‘Where Is the Repentance?‘, Smid brings his honesty to a new level. In responding to a reader’s question who asked if Christians who are gay can stay that way without repentance of their homosexuality, he had the courage to say the following:
“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.”
“Repentance from something means it has to be something you can control, like actions,” he writes. “So often people will say someone needs to ‘repent’ from homosexuality. It is something that actually cannot be repented of. People are, or they are not, homosexual. It is an intrinsic part of their being or personality, my being. One cannot repent of something that is unchangeable.”
Smid shares, “I am facing a challenging season in my life… I am at great risk of believers who have known me for many years rejecting me because I am daring enough to ask the questions I never would ask before. To be honest, not many within the church are open to these kinds of discussions without being defensive and reactionary. I stand to lose some very close friends because I have chosen to unconditionally love gay people and to support them now without pressuring them to change.”
He adds, “…we as Christians pervert the gospel as it relates to homosexuality as though homosexuals aren’t welcome in the kingdom unless they repent … But since homosexuality is not ‘repentable’ then we put homosexuals into an impossible bind.”
Smid admits, “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… 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 ‘Love in Action’ 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.”
“Now that I am not submerged into one sided perspectives, I am open to studying and reading the scriptures for myself, I am finding so many rich truths that I wasn’t ever made aware of before. For the first time in all of these years, the scriptures that many have said refer to homosexuality are making sense! I am reading them in context. I am asking questions about who the passages were written to. I am asking what was being talked about, and why the words were written in the first place…”
“I am on my own road of discovery in this area,” Smid acknowledges. “Nothing I did seemed to change me into a heterosexual even though I was in a marriage that included heterosexual behavior.” He says, “I am really trying to gain God’s heart for all of this and I am willing to allow Him to show me His truth.”
Like many other evangelicals, Smid is discovering that when examined closely and in their historical contexts, the standard canonical interpretations of the few passages that generally get appealed to in this debate do not survive close scrutiny. I did not arrive at this conclusion overnight and we can’t expect others to either. We’ve all been blinded at one time or another by our reifications and canonical interpretations. A reification, of course, is when we use a concept or doctrine so often and for so long that it comes to be a distinct “thing” to us, something that’s really there, a piece of our mind’s furniture. Fact is we are often greatly unaware of how much of our mental furniture consists of reifications. A canonical interpretation is a way of looking at a biblical passage or doctrine that we’ve become so accustomed to that the interpretation has become indistinguishable in our minds from the text or the passages themselves.
Smid is learning that God’s concern is not to change the sexual orientation of gay people to bring them in line with social norms, but rather to help them become secure in Him, assured of His love and acceptance and set apart to follow Him faithfully and responsibly. He does not pretend to have all the answers and while he is sure to get much flak from those who will be unhappy that he is no longer towing the “politically correct” party line, I think he is to be commended for his honesty and courage. He is not just writing about repentance here. He is walking it.