Rescued from Reorientation

bwjuliecroppedI’ve had the unique experience of spending the past 10 years heavily involved in Exodus ministries.  The early years were often difficult because I had to navigate conflicting messages, but I couldn’t be more grateful I remained in those circles.  I’m grateful because In the midst of drastic changes and often confusing messages, it’s been a space for me to encounter the radical grace of Jesus.

What do I mean by confusing messages?  I mean that I often haven’t understood the end goal.  Some leaders in the past claimed that an eradication of homosexual attractions was the goal, and I’ve sweated through how-to workshops to ensure the complete removal of attractions as I “embraced my femininity”.  (“Does this mean I have to trade Northface for Gucci and hiking for heels?” I thought to myself.)  Some have shamed those of us who were continually honest about our unchanging attractions, and insisted that if we were only more dedicated then we too would experience “freedom” from homosexuality.  And some have simply said that Jesus offers us life, and that if we come to follow Him with all our hearts then we won’t be let down—gay attractions or not.  I read every book I could find, searched the Scriptures through and through, talked to gay people, talked to straight people, cried, messed up, wrestled and struggled to find the answer to the question: will God still love me if my attractions never change?

I’ve come to realize that my confusion was the result of two issues in particular: 1.) There were people who insisted that I should make a categorical shift from gay to straight.  They insisted that God’s one and only will for someone in my shoes was a process of reorientation.  Most people affiliated with Exodus no longer believe that—thank God.  2.) There was also confusion on my end by what people meant when they said they weren’t gay.  The term “gay” is understood in a variety of ways in our culture right now.  There are some who believe “gay” refers to attractions alone, while others understand it to mean an expression of sexual behavior.

When most of the people in Exodus circles said they were no longer gay, I believe they were saying they’re not basing their identities on their attractions; I don’t believe they intended to communicate a complete eradication of homosexual attractions.  Because many Christians do still understand the term to inherently mean, “I’m actively engaging in homosexual sex,” they choose not to identify themselves by that label so as not to falsely communicate their belief regarding what Christ is calling them to in celibacy (for those whose attractions don’t shift).  This group also believes there are countless things that make up the whole of their identity, and they want to communicate the entirety of who they are as Christ followers and Christ followers alone.  That makes sense to me now.

While I’m grateful to have stuck around long enough to see these issues resolved, I’m grieved by several consequences I feel have resulted from the past false communications and occasional misunderstanding of terms: the first problem I see is that it appears walls have been erected in our process of conceptualizing our framework for understanding the nuances of our faith and sexuality.  I personally feel like there are often barriers between Exodus and gay Christians who have chosen to remain celibate in obedience to what they believe the Scriptures ask of them.  I’m burdened by the breach between us and our brothers and sisters who are in the same boat, trying to navigate the difficult waters of determining God’s will for people like us.  And I truly hope for unity in the days to come.

The second consequence I see—a tragic consequence that breaks my heart—are the stories I hear from gay people who have been shamed by Christians because they were given an ultimatum: Leave homosexuality or leave our churches.  That’s nothing short of tragic.  You deserved better than that; you deserved to have Christians come alongside you to listen, to empathize, to pray for you, to cry with you, to throw their arms around you and struggle with you.

If Exodus ministries have in any way contributed to that—whether it was because of past false communication or misunderstandings regarding terminology—I’m personally extremely sorry.  It grieves me that somehow the beauty of Christ’s way has at times been reduced to the message: “stop being gay.”  Here’s what I can tell you: Jesus Christ is the most beautiful One who’s ever walked the earth.  He embodied grace, mercy, justice, love; he saw the unseen; he touched the untouchable; he cried with the outcasts and shared meals with the marginalized.  And if in any way at any point there has been a message communicating anything other than, “Jesus loves you right now, right where you are,” then you haven’t been loved the way you deserve.

So to those of you who have been disillusioned, damaged, or downright shamed for being gay: know it breaks the heart of God and there are many of us at Exodus grieving on your behalf.  I also want you to know I earnestly pray for you.  I don’t know many of your names or faces, but I pray the Lord will meet you and bring healing from the pain that was caused. I pray that one day we can hear your stories—stories of encountering the scandalous love of Christ in the most unexpected places.  And I want you to know now what I wish you had known when you passed through before: Jesus loves you right now, right where you are.”

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