Friday, June 21, 2013

Exodus No More

I think the earliest I ever realized I liked other guys in a romantic sense was when I was in the fifth grade. I was sitting out on the playground with a few friends and one of them started talking about and making fun of “queers” and “fags” (those were his words). I remember not really knowing what he was talking about, and so I asked him. He said it was guys who like other guys. At that moment, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I’d already been noticing other guys in that way. What I learned from this is that if I didn’t want to be made fun of or lose any friends, I’d better keep my thoughts to myself. More than that, I learned that I didn’t want to be gay.

Throughout middle school and high school, I was made fun of a lot by other guys who thought I was gay. There were lots of jokes and innuendos. Maybe no more than anyone else experiences, but it was still enough to make me feel as though there was something wrong with me.

I heard people at church and at home, friends, and family alike, talk about how homosexuality is a sin. I read the bible and concluded the same thing. I believed it is, and to some extent still believe it might be, a sin for two men to be in a sexual relationship with each other. But I believed something far worse, too. I believed it was sinful simply to have those sorts of attractions. I believed there was something about me that wasn’t supposed to be. I believed there was something wrong with me.

After high school, I experienced a really lonely and confusing time in my life. And it got so bad—I struggled so bad—that I very nearly took my own life. Thankfully, I was too scared to do it, and cared too much for my family to put them through such a thing, to carry it out. Thankfully, God heard my prayers for help and guided me back onto solid pavement.

After a very poignant rescue, and another month or two of thinking things through, I determined not to worry anymore about being gay. I realized if God would save my life as He did, that He must not have abandoned me. I knew in my heart that even if others may hate me for being gay, God didn’t. I felt a great deal of hope from that, and I used that hope to turn my life around. I put aside thoughts of taking my life, worked to build up my faith, to work harder on finishing goals in life, and to simply try my best not to give into temptations to sin. I determined that so long as I wasn’t actually giving in to my desires to be with another man, the temptations I felt to do that were nothing more than temptations. I determined that those temptations were not sinful in and of themselves. I still, however, cared about what others might think of me. So, I still tried to keep my sexuality to myself.

In 2005, my brother found out I was gay. His response was one of total rejection. It meant a lot then, and it still means a lot to me now, what my brother thinks. His response literally threw me into one of the worst states of depression I’ve ever been in. It opened up many old wounds and made me question a lot of my decisions. It made me question the hope I’d previously found. And it made me determine more than ever that I didn’t want to be gay anymore.

I ended up at a point where I knew I needed help. I knew I needed to be able to talk to someone about my struggles with homosexuality. But I couldn’t bring myself to actually do any talking with anyone about it. I went online instead and eventually came across Exodus International. I read the testimonies and some of the books listed on their website and connected to their message.  I felt understood for the first time in my life.

I eventually found a wonderful Christian minister through Exodus who was willing to counsel me. He was actually willing to listen to me. He was never judgmental. He never pushed me do anything I didn’t want to do or wasn’t willing to try. He was just kind to me. He offered advice, encouragement, prayers, and a shoulder to lean on. I owe him so much for the help he gave me.

Yesterday, I found out Exodus International will be shutting down.

I don’t know exactly how to feel about this. On one hand I feel a profound sadness about it; sadness, because I know how much I was helped through Exodus, and how much others have been helped by them. On the other hand, I feel it is for the best.

I can’t deny what help, what hope, strength, encouragement, and wisdom I gained through Exodus. They helped me not only feel more understood, but for me to understand myself better as well. I made friends through them. I started this blog (in a roundabout way) because of them. Knowing all of this, I don’t see how I can ever completely say that Exodus’ closing is a good thing.

However, I will concede that Exodus’ closing may truly bring about a great deal of good. I know not everyone Exodus worked with was helped as I was. Seeing so many negative responses toward Exodus now and throughout the last few years, it really has made me wonder if maybe I simply lucked out for some reason. I do believe, perhaps, that I understood their message slightly differently than most others. I was never told that changing my sexuality should be a real goal of mine, only that it was possible for God to bring about such a change—and that if it happened, it would be His doing above any efforts of my own. Perhaps others were told something different, or perhaps they understood it differently than I did, I don’t know. But I will say now, as I have many times before, that Exodus’ approach was not the best.

Reparative therapy is not the best approach to use when dealing with someone struggling with their sexuality. Exodus used, believed in, and advocated those practices throughout the years. I don’t believe they work. That is, I don’t believe they can ever really help bring about a change in one’s sexual orientation. The only reparative therapies I was ever willing to engage in were gender role related, and I can say that they helped me better understand myself and know how to better relate to other men. Rather than be a sort of blank slate as I felt I was beforehand, they helped me figure out and embrace those things I like best about being male. But these therapies, I certainly do believe can and have brought about a lot of pain for a lot of people, including false hope.

What I would really like to see happen out of Exodus’ closing is that a new bridge can be created between the Church and LGBT individuals. I would love to see those who worked for Exodus, or who was helped by Exodus, go forth and bring awareness to those issues which unnecessarily, undesirably, and regrettably separate LGBT individuals and otherwise from inclusion in the Church. Reading the reasons for which Exodus is being closed, I do find some hope that that will happen. For that reason, I can’t be too very sad to see Exodus come to an end. From its death, I see and hope for a new birth—the result being something far better than what was before.

With that in mind, I pray, “Lord, please help your Church be able to better reach out to others. Please help us to make a positive difference in the lives of others and to show them your love and grace. Please help us to better understand each other, Lord, and to be more accepting, forgiving, and smarter in our dealings with others. In your son Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

Sunday, June 9, 2013


It occurs to me that one of the greatest frustrations and struggles I’ve had in my adult life is to avoid certain sins I am prone/tempted to commit. At times I have had great success at resisting these sins. Other times, I have failed miserably.

I used to get really depressed every time I had a fall. I would try really hard not to, would make it for some time, and then would inevitably have a stumble. And I’d beat myself up over and over again for each little stumble I had. I’d pray for forgiveness, try again, have some success for a time, and then fall again. It was a horrible pattern that I couldn’t seem to break free of. And I’d listen to people tell me and others that it just takes time, that I was probably just setting myself up to fail somehow, and that if I’d just pray harder, fight harder, believe harder, and have greater patience, I would eventually reach a point of not sinning but very rarely, or being able to avoid certain sins altogether.

That hasn’t worked.

I’ve thought a lot about why I haven’t been able to completely keep myself from sinning. Why haven’t I had greater success? I think the answer is simple: I am a fallen human being, stained by sin, tempted by the devil, and made weak. I cannot do anything on my own to bring about my salvation, nor (more likely) totally go without ever sinning again. With this in mind, I think if humans were capable of ever completely resisting sin in the first place, then why did we need Jesus? We wouldn’t have. We would all have simply been able to uphold every letter of the law at all times and would have been saved by our own doing. We couldn’t do that though. We needed Jesus to save us. We needed a new covenant.

When I look back at the last several years I can see that more often than not I was trying to live up to the old law, looking at my faith in a very legalistic mindset—that if I’d just say and do all the right things, I would be okay. The problem with that mindset is that it devalues the sacrifice Christ made for each of us. He saved us, taking our sins upon himself, and offering us forgiveness and grace. We are not bound by the old laws. When we act as though we are, as if our salvation is dependent upon our following the law in the strictest sense, we make Christ’s sacrifice meaningless.

Jesus made things very simple for us. He told us to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. He told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. And He told us to believe and have faith. He also instructed the people he helped and taught to “sin no more”. On this point, was Jesus telling us we could and should never sin again? Or was he telling us to simply try our best not to sin anymore?

I believe both.

I believe with Christ’s help, it is possible for a person to never again sin. However, I also believe that, for reasons known only to Him, we may not always be given the help we need to stop sinning. I believe this because I know how hard I have tried and how hard others have tried, desperately tried, only to wind up failing. In the past I’ve tried to the point of near insanity (and I mean this in the most literal sense), and hated myself fiercely for any failings. And I was wrong to do this.

I get really frustrated with Christians who seem to believe that people should never sin, and who judge, belittle, and condemn anyone, including themselves, who do occasionally sin. I despise the attitude that church is only for sinless people. And yet, that is such a prevalent attitude among so many Christians. I’ve witnessed this firsthand myself. And what damage do Christians cause by having this attitude? How many prospective Christians do they run away from Christ by having such a legalistic mindset? How much damage do they cause themselves by their arrogance and lack of humility?

One thing I’ve learned the last few years is to not beat myself up so badly every time I have a fall. I’ve tried in earnest to change my attitude from one of legalistic adherence to one of accepting love, forgiveness, patience, and grace. I am not a perfect person. And I may never be a perfect person the whole time I walk this earth, regardless of however hard I try to be. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try, but just that whenever I come up short, it’s not the end of the world. There is still great hope for me.

Trust is something else I’m trying really hard to learn. Not so much trust in other people, which I have worked on some, but to let go and fully trust God—to believe that He will lead me and guide me in life to where I need to be, to what is best for me and Him. Doing this has certainly helped to bring about a lot less worry in my life. It has also helped me to accept and believe in His promise of forgiveness, to know that I am not damned by a single wrongdoing, but offered redemption instead.

“Lord, I pray you will look after all those struggling to overcome sin. I pray you will lead them and comfort them, and forgive them when they are weak. Give them the patience to endure, and the trust to continue following you no matter what. Help me in this same regard, Lord, and in all other ways you know I need it. And please also help the church to better know how to welcome and work with people of all backgrounds toward your glory, Lord. In your son, Jesus’, name I pray. Amen.”