By John J. Smid
My heart is grieving today for all of the men and women who have spent the majority of their lives praying, seeking, and hoping for deliverance from their homosexual attractions. For over four decades there has been a faulty message conveyed that people can change. A deceptive message that most often caused many to believe that they could experience a change in sexual orientation from gay to straight.
Begging at the altars of their churches, praying on their knees at their beds, crying themselves to sleep night after night, all to come away time after time with no change. They didn’t experience freedom from attractions that have often been said to be against nature, against God’s desires for their lives and often referred to as an abomination. Many have listened to sermon after sermon about the evil of homosexuality. Hearing that God’s desires for one’s life is contrary to their experience, which is to them as natural as the desire for good food or peace in the heart. These messages can be so deeply destructive.
Some people believe that homosexuality is merely a sexual desire. They believe it is simply a sexual appetite that can be controlled by repentance and self-discipline, and that it should be. This mindset often comes from people who have never been gay. From straight people who have their own natural sexual orientation.
For my entire life I have had deep needs for an intimate connection with another man, the kind of connection that finds peace and fulfillment in merely holding one close, or laughing freely in such a way that can lead to an intimate hug without fear. It hasn’t been about an orgasm as much as it has been a connection of the heart with another man, something that transcends a sexual climax.
To be told for over two decades that this kind of connection is against God’s nature, sinful, and that one can never have this kind of fulfillment has been disheartening. It has led me to depression, sadness, and has caused many years of feeling separated from my very soul. The only way I could find to cope with that message has been to shut down my intimate life, to foreclose on any hope for fully being the man I have so desired to be. I’ve lost laughter, joy, and peace. I got married thinking that somehow, God would bless my decision and in faith believed that it could be a very satisfying alternative to my nature.
To believe it is merely a sexual desire minimizes the intimate nature of who we are. It can bring us to attempt a fleshly sexual practice that is unfulfilling. This is where so many gay men end up. Since the culture, especially the religious culture, says that within the context of their faith, they can never hold another man close or connect with him intimately, many have lost their heart and soul. They have found themselves with only genital connections, or cold abstinence without the true fulfillment of embracing something that is a desire deep within them. I’ve known some who have given up any hope of a relationship and live alone, which can exacerbate the problems of lonely sexual encounters without intimacy or a bitter contempt for life and people.
For women who are lesbian and desire intimacy with another woman in relationship, the cultural message is that this is wrong and will cost them their relationship with God and others. This has also been deeply destructive. This can heighten an anxious distortion of their search for intimacy that has led to emotionally codependent relationships and for some an erratic life experience. This has also been harmful, destructive, and has cost many women a total loss of hope in their hearts and their faith. For some it has created a hardened legalism for their own lives and toward others. A ministry peer once said that it is more common among ExGay participants to live in emotional dependency than almost any other group. This pattern is more common in ExGay circles than it is in true lesbian relationships. I tend to believe him! Just like many things in life, when we are told we cannot have something that is so deeply natural, and needed, it can quickly become something that is distorted and fueled by disappointment and shame.
For over twenty years I worked diligently to help gay men lay aside addictive practices with sex and pornography. Some found abatement for a season, but many never found the freedom they desired and only went on to even more one-night stands or anonymous sexual encounters. The ongoing shame often led to a complete separation of their souls from God or anything spiritual.
This is until they finally released themselves from the cultural message that would refuse to acknowledge the deep need within them. Once they went on to find the true intimate connection with another person that matched their nature it seemed somehow that their road of life began anew. Life entered into them. After time, they opened up the door to a timid seeking of God once again. As they peeked through the door toward God’s heart the fear of disapproval often kept them outside that door but at least they did open it a little.
As I’ve reconnected with a large number of those who were involved in some sort of ExGay experience I’ve discovered that quite a few of them have gone through this transition. As I’ve talked with them I found that many have found partners with whom they now share their life. In most cases, they are no longer living in a frantic practice of one-night stands and anxious dependencies; rather, they have found peace with someone they love.I’ve discovered that a major key to resolving the addiction of encounter after encounter has been for many, a release of the bondage of legalism and a decision to walk free in the love of Christ. This is the kind of love that allows them to embrace a relationship without shame. These folks are no longer trapped in the cycle of anonymous sexual encounters or the anxiety of emotionally dependent relationships.
The ExGay message of God’s deliverance from the homosexual orientation has been destructive! It has created a dangling carrot of change without any real outcome of freedom from homosexuality. The damage has occurred in the subsequent loss of one’s soul, or the destruction stemming from serial fleshly encounters that only leave one void and searching for the next one.
In all of my recent studies of scripture, I conclude that there is nothing that would forbid a gay or lesbian from a satisfying intimate relationship with another gay person. There is no prohibition of same sex intimacy with someone they are committed to and love from their heart. The forbiddances appear to come from fear, and an unwillingness to discover what homosexuality is truly all about. They come from a biased study of the Bible. It seems there is little interest in deep study, and a reluctance to listen to the hearts of gay men and women.
I believe much of my grief today is also from how I played a role in furthering the message of deliverance from homosexuality. I used to teach that hope for their eternity would come when they found freedom. I conveyed a message that God would be more pleased with people who were not gay. I spent a tremendous amount of energy attempting to help men and women find a life of freedom of their natural homosexual desires.
Today I realize that it is far better to help men and women accept their homosexuality as an innate and authentic reality. Regardless of where it came from, it is what it is. There is freedom in Christ for someone to hope for intimate connection with anther compatible human being if they so choose to pursue it. For those who are satisfied with a life of singleness, there’s a place for them to accept being gay and feel accepted and loved within that life experience. But neither choice can be made until they accept their homosexuality without shame.
I believe that in this they will find contentment and peace as a child of a loving God. Sadly, this acceptance may also cost them in their relationships with those who cannot accept that reality with grace. It may bring about human rejection and conflict with those they have known.
I also grieve about the way that homosexuality has become such a divisive issue within communities of faith. The imbalances that occur in judgment and criticism toward gay people within faith communities are sad and unnecessary.
I am hopeful. As I watch the world around me, more and more people are choosing to act upon love and grace even when they don’t fully understand homosexuality. Those within faith communities are making the choice to practice the law of love, rather than trying to hold to a legalistic perspective of the Law.
I’m working my way through this very process myself. I’ve discovered the freedom from compulsions and facades that plagued me for many years. I’m finding the delivering power of the grace of God. I’m opening up my heart to an authentic soul experience. I’m seeing the freedom that I always hoped I’d find, but it’s not through being delivered from homosexuality—it’s through accepting it.
It’s a scary thing to expose myself to the very thing I believed for so long would destroy me and could cause me to lose God, and to bring me to fail in this life. It’s fearful to see those I’ve known for years abandon their connection with me because I’ve chosen to accept something about myself that has always been there. They appear to be resistant to follow my reality. I feel sad about my own separation from people who have become critical and have attempted to draw life away from me. I feel grieved that my marriage of twenty-four years ended because it was also built upon the false hope that someday it would be a natural marriage.
Deconstructing the facades that I used to hold up a false reality can be quite disconcerting and unsettling. But I do feel the anxiety levels decreasing. I can sit more quietly these days without feeling the need to make more noise. I breathe more deeply. I can also be silly and laugh uncontrollably more often than ever in my life. I am committed to continue helping others find this kind of freedom.
John Smid is the founder and executive director of Grace Rivers, a ministry with the gay community. He is a national speaker and the author of Ex’d Out: How I Fired the Shame Committee (2012), which recounts his experiences with and final break from Love In Action International where he worked for twenty-two years.