‘Stepping Out (of Ex-Gay Ministries) in Faith’
Randolph Baxter earned his Ph.D. in History at the University of California at Irvine in 1999. He served on the staff of Love in Action’s year-long, live-in ‘ex-gay’ program in 1987, and was an office assistant for the former ‘ex-gay’ ministry Turnabout in London in 1988. From 1995 to 1998, he served on the leadership council of a California chapter of Evangelicals Concerned With Reconciliation.
Growing up in both a small town and a conservative Christian family, I had quickly realised that homosexuality was not acceptable. A distant God did not approve of me; church was a duty, a façade of self-righteous piety. Coming out of the closet in such a situation was not an option, either; my father once reduced me to tears after I hinted of my affection for an older schoolmate. Not into sports due to asthma, I felt like a failed man, too lacking in self-esteem to be confident about much of anything. Given this background, when I went to an evangelical summer seminar for youth and made a ‘born again’ commitment to Christ at 16, I eagerly confessed (in private) my sins of ‘idolatry’ and ‘homosexual inclination.’ My overriding desire became that of submitting to what I thought was God’s will. I could accept but one ‘G’ in my life God or Gay. My homosexuality was something I hadn’t chosen for my life, but at least I could choose to my faith in Jesus a safe, hiding place.
Now, I trusted, my new Lord and Saviour would soon set everything right, changing my ‘lust’ to ‘holy and pure’ non-sexual friendships. The ‘ex-gay’ ministries God led me to at the age of 20 seemed just what I needed. I still thank God, overall, for those five years my ‘ex-gay’ brethren were the first evangelical Christians I had met who told me that my homosexuality, in and of itself, would not condemn me to hell. True, trying to ‘change’ compounded my internalized homophobia, but God used that period in my life to keep me out of the promiscuity in which I most likely would have engaged, as a university-aged male with an abysmally low self-esteem. My ex-gay years also provided me a kind of neutral, asexual space to grow as a Christian and lay a foundation to begin dealing with who I was on the inside.
My true change did not come in the form I had prayed for that of ‘change’ from homosexuality to heterosexuality. The revolution came from within my own thinking, and as I opened myself up to alternative interpretations of the Bible and sexuality. Jesus tells us that we can tell the tree by its fruit. After three years as a ‘counselee’ and over a year in ministry leadership, I had seen enough unchanged ‘ex-gays’ to realize that the definition was not of sexual ‘preference’ but of ‘orientation’. I personally witnessed so many sincere sisters and brothers in Christ pray, study and submit themselves to ‘change’ for years and years. The only lasting effects were increased frustration and undiminished homosexual desire. A few I knew even attempted suicide, feeling they had ‘failed’ God. Others, like my friend Lee from Reading, lost their faith altogether fifteen years later, I still grieve for his lasting disillusionment.
I gradually began arguing with God: ‘If You’re so loving,’ I asked, ‘why would You allow people to develop such an intractable condition of ‘sin’?’ Was God a sadist? Where was the Prince of Peace, Jesus the loving Saviour, in the cycle of hope and despair I saw repeated before my eyes, time and time again? It slowly dawned on me that guilt, shame, impossible expectations and the threat of ostracism all favourite tools of ‘reparative therapy’ were not the means to the life-transforming grace and true freedom Jesus offered us all on the cross. If Satan’s goal was to pull, push, drive or distract us away from Christ, then ‘ex-gay ministries’ had managed to accomplish that goal, with flying colours!
After I left the staff of Turnabout in London to pursue a career in university teaching, I knew it was time to fully ‘come out’ and spend whatever time it took a couple of years, in my case wrestling with God over how I could be ‘actively’ gay and Christian. Could the two ‘G’ words co-exist, after all? Ultimately, I had to re-examine my entire original commitment to Christ. In part, I had predicated my faith upon the desire to rid myself of my homosexuality. This desire had turned into a fear-based, all-consuming idolatry in and of itself. Despite my fear that He might, God never failed or abandoned me as I let go of my expectation of change. I merely had not been ready, earlier, as a young believer stuck in a homophobic society and church, for a sexually affirming faith. God sometimes has to protect us from ourselves until we can be remoulded into His broader vision for our lives!
I emerged from my time of internal struggle with both a more healthy image of a loving Father-God and a vision of ‘holy and pure’ lesbian and gay Christian love and community, one that has since sustained me. I completed a study of Bible verses relating to homosexuality (available upon request), discovering that the ‘clobber passages’ so often used against gays refer chiefly to situations of cult-prostitution, infidelity and rape. Homosexual orientation and monogamous, loving and committed relationships between same-gendered people are not condemned at all in Scripture. What a revelation I could now live the full and complete life that Christ had designed for me from before time!
Once I removed my mental blinders (culturally driven expectations about masculinity and femininity), I realised that God had answered my fervent prayers from so many years before. He merely had not fulfilled His promises of healing and growth in the way I had imagined, even demanded in my fear and arrogance. As I ‘came out’ into what I had thought was an evil, perverted condition, I became more of a ‘man’ read ‘confident person of faith’ than I ever thought I could be.
Since then, God has graciously provided fellowship with like-minded believers through the U.S. ministry Evangelicals Concerned With Reconciliation (www.ecwr.org), and once they undertook a similar process of re-evaluation Courage in England. From the start, I found others who had hearts for bringing the Gospel to (understandably) alienated lesbians and gays, for challenging fundamentalists on their own ground, and for seeking ways of keeping Christ meaningful for evangelical gays and lesbians. I value the Body of Christ (God in the fellowship of believers) all the more. I see Courage and other ‘ex-ex-gay’ groups growing and maturing into the powerful force I believe God intends it to be in a needy world; it is truly a blessing and an honour to be a part of that.
Within a couple of years, I fully ‘came out’ to friends and family (with mixed results) and began the slow process of learning how to date. After five years of dating, I was blessed by God with a loving partner who despite problems of his own (plus some of mine) has shared my vision of a committed, monogamous partnership in love and faith.
I still grieve over those whose belief in Christ I may have ignorantly damaged by urging them to follow the ex-gay path. Through it all, however, Jesus has always been there, in setbacks and in victories a most faithful and gracious Saviour, as I’ve stepped out with a renewed and refreshed faith.
© Randolph Baxter