I don’t know if there was a single moment when I realized that I had these feelings. I truly had believed that they would go away. “I’m a Christian; this isn’t possible.” I thought I had a mental disorder or worse: was possessed. Why would I ever tell anyone? Then began the sleepless nights of praying:
“God, I’m sorry. Please forgive me for whatever it is I did to be cursed with such an awful disease.”
“God, I promise I will do whatever you want me to, I’ll be a preacher, I’ll be a missionary, just take this away.”
“God, if you have any ounce of love left for me, get rid of me.”
The last part became my nightly prayer. I was 13 years old. I sincerely believed that anything would be better than the reality I faced. Church became my hiding place. I started seeing a counselor when I was 14 to address self-image issues, depression, and your other typical teenage awkwardness. At 16, I walked into another counselor’s office. I still hated life, I hated the anxiety I felt every waking moment of every day, and most of all, I hated myself. This counseling was much like what is commonly referred to as ex-gay therapy. This was my lifeline. No one asked me to go. I chose to go. I wanted to rid of “this”. At this point I am sure you can guess what I am talking about, “Yes, I for sure am/was/kind of am/was/am attracted to men.” I was too afraid to say it. This secret, I was convinced, would go with me to my grave.
I followed all the rules. I did all the homework. I read all the books. I prayed all the prayers. Then I undid it. I stopped doing things because I had to. By the time I was 18, I was relearning about God and His grace. I was still heavily involved as a church youth leader and a youth leader within the ex-gay ministry. I had made some really positive changes in my life. I longed for the day when I could have a healthy, heterosexual marriage, a child, a dog, and a white picket fence.
And let me stop here and address this: I never went into counseling to become straight; I went into counseling because I wanted a solid answer. The first thing I told my counselor was, “Give me the trick, prayer, potion—whatever it takes. I want to be in here one year maximum and never have to talk about this or deal with it ever again.” To say that in the back of my mind I didn’t think there would eventually be some sort of heterosexual dream out of it would be a lie. I believed that God would “heal” me one day.
Then the entire system collapsed in 2012. Along with my nightmare at a Southern Baptist seminary, being drilled by students about my incorrect theology (or lack of), the same was happening within the ministry of the largely known Exodus International . Looking back, I think I really believed that the ex-gay world was going to be my future line of work. I never told anyone that, but I believed it. For all intensive purposes, I was successful: the virgin kid with the squeaky-clean image who had overcome legalism and was now “overcoming homosexuality.” What church wouldn’t hire me? But somehow in my heart I knew that my world was going to change drastically. I feel so many emotions as I invested so much time and energy in this ministry and this “struggle.”
There’s sadness, disappointment, anger, hurt, loneliness, and, in a way, a feeling of being duped.
Through it all, I have no regrets. I don’t blame anyone. I believe that the Exodus affiliate ministry saved my life. I didn’t go through reparative therapy, although I sometimes researched it and practiced some methods on my own. No one ever tried to give me an exorcism or told me that I was the worst sinner in the world. However, we in the church have been guilty at shaming people and playing God to the point of idolatry. Becoming straight is the greatest golden idol in the church if you are a gay person—excuse me—struggler of same-sex attraction.Today, I feel like more of a man than I have ever felt. I look around me and see a culture war going on. I cannot stand to hear the debates over gay marriage. The arguing among Christians is enough to drive a sane person to the asylum. I don’t watch the news because it is stressful to listen to; I also don’t enjoy church anymore. There is a part of me that exited the church a long time ago, even though I still go sometimes. There is a profound quote I read a few months ago from John Pavlovitz about LGBTQ people in the church:
“The truth is, so often they aren’t turning away from God, they’re just removing themselves from harm’s way.”
To me, the Church I’ve come to know does not mirror what Christ intended , yet we hold up church attendance as if it’s the pinnacle of a true lover of Christ and spirituality. Jesus really is all I have at this point. I realize that even sharing some of these things today may make that statement all the more true. For that I am sad, yet hopeful.
“The truth… in love,” is used to somehow make hatefulness sound spiritual. I have learned that some of the most vitriolic people are those who claim to know the love of Jesus most. It’s sickening really. As sad as it makes me to say that, it is the truth. Yet I am so hopeful that we can change that stereotype, along with the rest in the world, although we may never reach that goal in the near future. There is always hope even when we cannot see it.
I don’t know what church is going to look like for me in the future, but God has given me so much peace about it. Currently, I am just passing the time until I am settled in college. I have left the bonds of religion. I just want to love God and love people. I have a hard enough time loving Christians, much less, loving an institution filled with well-intentioned, but often ill-informed believers. At the end of the day we are one, even if we disagree. “Heretic,” “reprobate,” and “blinded by Satan,” these are just a few of the things people have said about me over the years. Today, it is water off a duck’s back.
I long for the day when we can just share our true stories without fear of feeling like a sinner in the hands of an angry Church.
 Since, Exodus International has closed their doors. Founder of Exodus International, Alan Chambers admitted publicly about his same-sex attraction but took it a step further and apologized, I have immense respect for him doing this. You can listen to his interview and apology with Anderson Cooper here [added addendum from editor].