I share Natalie’s thoughts and prayers for Michael Johnston. It’s tough when I find myself acting contrary to my deeply held values and beliefs, and I can only imagine the same is true for him.

I need to point out a secondary issue, though. In speaking of Johnston, Peter LaBarbera notes:

Homosexual activists will surely charge that this latest falling “proves” that homosexuality (“sexual orientation”) cannot be changed, and that ex-“gay” ministry is a failure. Of course, such reasoning is fallacious, and is tantamount to asserting that Alcoholics Anonymous is a fraud because some of its adherents slip back into drinking.

Without getting into success and failure rates of either group (an intriguing topic, too much to address here), both groups fall short in promoting responsibility and harm reduction.

The simple truth is that we all slip up from time to time. We all fall short of our goals and contradict our values in some fashion.

AA would be an ideal place for folks to hear that they are responsible for exerting whatever control they can muster despite alcohol’s knack for impairing good judgement and common sense. In a worst case scenario during a slip-up, problem drinkers remain responsible for staying away from the wheel of a car.

Exgay ministries would be an ideal place to promote honesty and responsibility in worst case scenarios, as well. Michael Johnston had spoken publicly in the past about his remorse at exposing others to HIV without telling them. Apparently, based on quotes from a recent sexual partner of Johnston’s in Southern Voice, that pattern continued:

“What we did was unsafe,” said the man, who spoke only on condition of anonymity over fears that he would lose his job because of his sexual orientation or HIV status.

“I brought it up all the time, but [Johnston] didn’t seem to think it mattered,” the man said. “He would have these parties, get a hotel room, get online and invite tons of people – he just wouldn’t care.”

The man said he met Johnston, who he said called himself Sean, in a gay Internet chat room. They began meeting in the late fall of 2001, and their sexual relationship lasted about six months.

“It wasn’t all the time – he would just appear from time to time,” the man said. “But we were friends for a year and a half.”

“Sean” only revealed his HIV status at the end of the men’s friendship, claiming he had just found out, the man said. He learned Sean’s true identity from a friend who also dated him.

I accept that Johnston is a man of principle who has a conscience and feels remorse. I accept that the internal conflicts he experienced between his beliefs and actions contributed to his impaired judgement.

I just don’t accept that, as LaBarbera reports a Johnston family member saying, his primary failing was “trusting in himself, rather than God”. LaBarbera continues:

My friend preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to millions, but he has now lost his public ministry and his reputation due to his actions. He caused pain for many others. These are the burdens he will have to carry for the rest of his life due to his selfish choices.

I’m not so concerned about the pain of the purported millions who feel disillusioned, I’m concerned about those with whom Johnston shared friendship and intimate moments mixed liberally with lies and HIV. AA credits spiritual deficits for relapses, Johnston may cite powerlessness because of losing his grip on God’s sanctification. By whatever name, those are smokescreens. A person of integrity, in circumstances like this, will say, “I screwed up. I had better options but did not choose them. I am utterly sorry for the irresponsible decisions I made.”

Maybe some good can come of this, though. Alan Chambers has spoken of his sadness and compassion for Johnston and his partners. Next, it would only make sense for him to promote responsibility and honesty amongst Exodus leaders should they find themselves in worst-case scenarios.

— Steve B.

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