One year ago this week Leslie and I walked into the dark, unremarkable basement of Hollywood Presbyterian Church and sat down in a circle made up of people whom some in the mainstream Church would rather forget. There was a time when I believed they should be forgotten or at least ignored. I was the leader of Exodus International, the largest Christian organization in the world offering hope for change to anyone impacted by homosexuality. That change had come to mean ridding oneself of homosexuality. These folks all came from Christian backgrounds and had damaging stories about Exodus and the Church. They were no longer interested in the change Exodus represented. Though I hadn’t been connected to or even met most of them, the organization I was leading bore responsibility for some of the anger and hurt they carried into the ominous basement that Sunday afternoon. As the leader of Exodus International, I was their enemy.
I had been intentionally listening to stories like theirs for months. I knew something had to be done. The hurt was extensive and I believed it was my duty to make things right. I needed to repent and apologize to this group. The apology had to be unequivocal, unconditional. I asked Lisa Ling and her crew to capture the apology on camera so others could also hear and receive. The entire 3 hour and 25 minute ordeal was filmed and portions of it ended up being featured in an episode of her hit TV series Our America on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). It only seemed fitting to partner with Lisa as she had facilitated a coming out journey of sorts for me when she pursued me for an interview that aired in March 2011.
As we sat in the dark recesses of the Hollywood Pres. basement with the hurt turned angry children of God, we not only listened to their words, we heard how their emotional and spiritual wounds had come to engulf their hearts. Leslie and I were focused and ready to not only listen to their tragic stories of neglect and abuse, but to own their pain, all of it, on behalf of and as a part of, a culpable body. I have no doubt many in the room hoped I would not only apologize for the wrongs they had experienced, but that I would capitulate and endorse all things gay. At the same time, they probably expected me to rebut, refute, and challenge them and their stories. I’m sure some may have even thought I would make all sorts of excuses in an effort to justify myself and dramatically leave the building. I am equally sure that as people watched the show many in the Christian Church hoped for and expected the same behavior. Such actions would have been heralded as a victory and I would have been awarded for standing up to the pro-gay agenda and its propagators. But, neither group would be completely satisfied. Such unChrist-like actions would have dealt a crushing blow and served as the worst abuse of all.
We did the only thing we could do. We listened. We believed their stories and acknowledged their pain. We apologized. We vowed to never again promote or condone the type of behavior that had caused them such pain. We hugged them, posed for a few photos with them, and our time together came to an end.
That day and every person there have had a life shaping effect on our lives. Friends sitting with us and on the sidelines that day will be friends always. It was the last piece of a huge puzzle leading to the closing of Exodus. Our lives will quite literally and figuratively never be the same.
Leslie and I are imperfectly human. In our own power and strength, the basement session and year following would have been unbearable. The words used to describe us in the last year could fill volumes. Hitler. Hero. Traitor. Antinomian. Hypocrite. Hater. Lover. Good. Kind. Evil. Brave. Pretty much every good and bad name you can think of has been awarded to us. It could have driven us mad. In the end though, we are simply a Son and a Daughter of our Good Father God following the example of Jesus, the One who laid everything down and died for us. We were not called to die for the men and women sitting in the circle that day. We were called to listen to them, acknowledge them as fellow human beings and believers in Jesus, and to apologize. Leslie and I were called on to represent the Church by the head of the Church, not by all the members of it.
From any vantage point, Leslie and I have been marginalized. For years we have been marginalized by society for our belief that God’s creative intent for sexual expression is one man married to one woman for one lifetime. Now in our efforts to simply and wholly love and serve people, we have been marginalized by the mainstream Christian Church who once hailed our story as miraculous. We are now an embarrassment to many and I’m not always exactly sure why. Ironically, it is now the LGBT community who respect our complex story and are increasingly accepting us for who we are: unlikely friends.
As I see it, the truth God whispered to me, a gay teen sitting in a gay bar more than two decades ago, is the same truth I proclaim today, God loves me. Knowing He loves me compels me to proclaim, “He loves you!” Being secure in the fact God the Father loves and is pleased with us, believing what Jesus accomplished through living a perfect live, sacrificing himself on the cross, and rising again for everyone is enough and I will promote nothing else.
This reformation has set Leslie and me free. We are free to love boldly, publicly, liberally, and without fear of being misrepresented, mislabeled, or misunderstood. Outwardly we have become what we inwardly always longed to be: friends to anyone who wants to be friends with us. We will welcome all who come to us. We will speak only of our Good Father and His Son Jesus and we will do so with all openness, unhindered. (Acts 28:30-31). Our story is more miraculous than ever. Our marriage even stronger. Our legacy to our children will be one of love without condition, the same legacy Christ left.
As we mark this anniversary of our liberation and look ahead to Easter this weekend I am so grateful for all God has done in our hearts and lives over the last 12 months. In our flesh, we wouldn’t have chosen this path. Instead, we chose to submit our flesh and follow Christ and His ultimate example. We are both beneficiaries of His unfathomable grace and people who can now more clearly point to Him and His Grace and our Good Father God.
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20 (NASB)