Thursday, 13 October 2011

"Love in Action": Ex-ex-gay John Smid's Journey of Grace.

This past Tuesday, was "Coming Out Day". One notable example of someone who came out publicly was John Smid, the former director of the ex-gay program "Love in Action". Writing at the website for his new ministry, Grace Rivers, he publicly declared that he is gay, and that in effect, there are no genuine "ex-gays" - only gay people who have learnt to live a life in contradiction with their innate orientation.

A number of LGBT websites and blogs this week are reporting this news. For example, this is from one of the early reports, at LGBTQ Nation:

John Smid, the former Executive Director of Exodus International’s oldest ministry “Love in Action,” has publicly admitted that he is gay, and now says that being LGBTQ is an intrinsic part of a person’s being, not a “behavior” that one can repent from.
Writing on the website of his new ministry, Grace Rivers, Smid said, “One cannot repent of something that is unchangeable.
Smid, who resigned as Executive Director of Love in Action in 2008 — an ex-gay Christian ministry that purports to “restore those trapped” in homosexuality — is now disavowing the message he preached for years that promised gays they could change.

Those are the simple facts. (Wayne Besen has excellent commentary at Falls Church News). What interests me, from the perspective of queer faith, is the story behind the story - what was the journey that led him from director of a major ex-gay program, to coming out himself, and proclaiming publicly the dishonesty that underpins the movement. To learn more, I began to explore his website, Grace Rivers.

Smid summarized part of his spiritual journey in a post for June16 this year, just before the premier of Morgan Fox's documentary film, "This is what Love in Action Looks Like". He has filed the post in the category "A Journey of Grace", and that is precisely what it is.

Back in 2005, when first approached about the planned documentary on the protests outside Love in Action premises,  Smid and his colleagues wanted no part of it.
I had no intention of being any part of this documentary. The Love In Action staff discussed Morgan’s proposal and decided it would be best to remain silent and allow it to be what it would be without any words from me. I was frustrated about the fact that there was a protest and even more that it was being chronicled by someone I believed to be a fringe film artist in the gay community. I wanted no part of any of it.
However, he did agree to an initial meeting with Fox over coffee, and began to modify his views. Instead of seeing Fox as a "fringe film artist", he began to see him as a person of integrity and talent - and began to recognize things about himself, which had been suppressed.

Some years later, after he had left his post at Love in Action, Smid began to further "process the effects of the protests".  In particular, he began to see the negative effects on young people of forcing them into a program against their will, if it was the wish of their parents - on the basis that parents knew best. That led him to arrange further meetings with Morgan Fox, to talk over the protests - and to put these reflections onto additional film.
So, we began to schedule the interviews. I spent many hours with Morgan in front of a camera sharing my life story, answering questions about my 22 year work with Love In Action. We also drove around town to different spots for “B” roll footage for the documentary.

As the film was worked into a DVD, Morgan and I talked a lot about it. We discussed the different directions it could take. I shared my thoughts, Morgan shared his, and it became a kind of project that we both flushed out together
The next phase of the journey came after the filming was complete, and Smid got to see a DVD of the final product - which he disliked. He was uncomfortable and embarrassed to be such a central part of the film - but when he examined his feelings more closely, he found that it was not because of the content of the film, but on the grounds of his part in the Love in Action program itself.

Morgan and I got together and I began to share honestly the things that I had written down that were challenging me about the film. I started with, “Morgan, I feel embarrassed about being seen in the film.

“His face dropped into disappointment. He said, “I’m sorry, John. I didn’t mean……” I said, “No, Morgan, this is about me and my reaction. It isn’t about you or what you produced. His honest response to my comment allowed a very vulnerable conversation to come out. He was humble and yet honest himself. I went on to explain more of my agreement that I had been wrong and that we had done some things that needed correction.

And so it was that from initially being opposed to having any part in the filming, John Smid moved to a point where he wanted to participate in the premier, and has likewise moved from running a program to "convert" gay men into ex-gays, he has now come out publicly as gay himself, and declared that indeed there are no ex-gays.

As a Christian, Smid agrees that gay men may encounter the transforming power of Christ in their lives  - but this transformation does not lead to a change in orientation. For some, it may lead to marriage (to a woman) and children in spite of their orientation, or it may lead to a life of voluntary celibacy - or it may lead to a life in loving partnership with another man.
Actually I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual. I have met some women who claim that is the case but then again, male sexuality and female sexuality are vastly biologically different so this would not be a fair comparison.
I have met men who find their transformation to include marriage to a woman and having a family and it is something for them that is a wonderful life experience. I’ve met some who find their transformation to include satisfaction in living a single life in Christ and His calling. But, I’ve also met some who experience transformation from sexual promiscuity to a faithful gay relationship that is truly, in their experience, a great blessing to their relationship with Christ.
John Smid's story can hardly be described as "Damascene" - it was not sudden, but took place over a number of years. What is important in it, was the effect of honest and open sharing with another, and honest self-reflection, followed by the courage to admit to the mistakes he had been making in the past, about himself, and about the changes he had been urging on others.

Even the CDF, in their otherwise hostile Pastoral Letter on homosexuality, concludes by reminding us of two key texts in scripture, "Speak the truth in love", and "The truth will set you free".  By beginning to speak the truth with Morgan Fox back in 2005, John Smid allowed the Holy Spirit to do her work, leading him on a notable journey of grace of coming out. That journey began in discomfort and embarrassment, as in coming out to himself showed him the errors of his previous position. It will have continued (probably) in coming out to friends and associates -such as Morgan Fox, whom he now acknowledges as a friend. It reached its culmination this week, in declaring himself in a public blog post. In doing so, I am certain that he will have found confirmation, as countless others have done on coming out, that "The truth will set you free."

John Smid has a new ministry, Grace Rivers, which works for the transforming power of Christ in our lives. As he has now proclaimed forcefully, that transformation should not be seen by the queer community as threatening, but liberating. 
It is our greatest desire to see Christ transform His people. We hope that He may use Grace Rivers as one instrument to do this. We have learned that honesty and authenticity are the vehicles to see the fruit of the Spirit flourish in our lives. We invite you to look through the pages of the Grace Rivers website to see events, articles and tools to reflect our desire. It is our hope you will see Jesus reflected in the truths set forth here.

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