By Patricia Pair, publisher
with Anita Moyt, managing editor
Family & Friends magazine, July 2005
Reprinted with permission
In a recent interview, Love In Action International’s Executive Director Rev. John J. Smid spoke openly, honestly and at length with the publisher and managing editor of Family & Friends following a press conference Love In Action held in the wake of a two-week protest outside the organization’s headquarters in Bartlett, TN.
Married at age 19 to a woman, Smid admits he knew very little about his own sexuality, much less homosexuality at the time. Six years and two children later, he discovered homosexuality. In 1980, Smid and his first wife were divorced. Four years and several homosexual relationships later, Smid began “moving away from a three-year relationship with another man,” eventually finding a new life through some church friends. In 1986, Smid was offered a position to work with their live-in program and he married his present wife in 1988. Today, he is Love In Action’s executive director and is commissioned and licensed through Germantown Baptist Church in Germantown, TN.
F&F: Love In Action is one of a number of organizations that are commonly referred to as “ex-gay ministries” or “reparative therapy.” However, after Love In Action’s press conference, it seems neither of these terms describes your organization. Is that correct?
Smid: I think, for example in the context of Exodus International, that we’re a member of, … they often refer to the type of ministries as ex-gay ministries. I understand what they’re saying and I understand being referred to as an ex-gay ministry. I personally don’t like the term ex-gay. I don’t really think it really is a truthful statement. I don’t really think it clearly describes the way that we think here about homosexuality.
The reparative therapy concept — we also don’t refer to what we do as reparative therapy — largely because reparative therapy is a term that was coined by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi as it refers to his specific model of therapy. And we don’t use Joe Nicolosi’s model of therapy. We use a lot of different things and so I would not refer to us as reparative therapy either.
F&F: What do you refer to yourselves as then?
Smid: I think in the truest sense of the word when I speak with our clients or when I think about myself, we’re a Christian discipleship program and that means that what we focus on here primarily in all the things that we do, is we help people to understand their faith and the foundation of their belief in God, in Christ, in the fellowship of believers more fully and richly.
We believe that people who come to us and people whose families come to us for their families are primarily struggling with what does it mean to have these struggles, to have these issues: how do I respond best as a Christian, how do I respond to these issues in my life as a Christian, how can I raise my family as a Christian family when we’re having some issues that we’re really struggling with.
… At the bottom level of what we do, is we filter these issues through what we believe is solid Christian belief and doctrine. And the hope is that people will build a stronger, better relationship with Christ out of it and that through that they will learn more how to handle life’s circumstances appropriately. That’s why we don’t really spend as much time talking about homosexuality as we do a lot of other peripheral issues. We also bring in to the mix understanding about child development (and) what kinds of issues do we deal with when we’re growing up, what kinds of things impact us, why do we think the way we do sometimes, what do we base our philosophies on, sometimes based on past experiences and families issues, so we bring a lot of things into it that help to really flesh out who we are in a holistic sense; who we are as people.
F&F: For two weeks, the protesters shouted a number of messages to the staff of Love In Action. What would your message be for the protesters?
Smid: I think in the simplest sense, because I didn’t hear a lot of what they were doing, I think I did hear my name one time through a megaphone (laughs), but I don’t want to be cliche about this. I really believe in my heart that obviously, maybe not obviously, I think God really cares about his people. … He loves us and my response to them was not to try to find fault with them but rather to try to have an understanding of where they might be coming from. Just as I observed the signs, and I did hear some of the things kind of by the way that they were saying, and I really tried rather to somehow understand where they’re coming from instead of rejecting them or feeling harsh or judgmental towards them. … Again, if you believe it or not, but I’m really not being cliche about that because that’s the way I had to deal with my own heart.
I believe very strongly in the scripture of principal that when we’re dealing with reactions and attacks or negative responses I really challenge people to listen to what they’re saying, take it to heart, sort it out for truth and check your own response.
…For example, people ask me to respond to the political and national issue of gay marriage. And I said, you know, I really think there’s some truth when someone says, “Why can’t we be married? Your marriages aren’t doing so well,” or “You’ve got problems in your families,” or “Look at the divorce rates amongst heterosexuals, why are you attacking us?” They’re true. They’re right …
I think we would do a lot better to try to shore up our own house before trying to figure out everybody else’s. And, I think we would have a more believable voice if we did. So that’s the way I look at the protesters, … I just really tried to not allow that distraction as much as possible. We’re here to do what we’re doing. If you want to stand on the street that’s really up to you. It’s a free country. I’m not going to let that distract me from what I have to do everyday. I don’t have time to do that.
F&F: According to Love In Action’s website, the press conference last week was held “to call for open-mindedness and tolerance.” From whom were you seeking open-mindedness and tolerance?
Smid: From anyone or everyone that was there, as well as those who would read the press response because, I think, since you were there, you noticed I was speaking to Christians and non-Christians, alike. And I was speaking to those that agreed or disagreed with where we were standing. I just wanted an opportunity to make a statement from our perspective. This is what our beliefs are. This is where we’re coming from. You can do with that what you want.
F&F: Do you consider yourself openminded and tolerant when it comes to homosexuals?
Smid: … My personal response to that, and I publicly believe this, people have the freedom in God and in this world to make their own choices, as far as how they want to live; how they chose to live. … God says clearly right after He says do not be involved in sexual immorality, He says all things are permissible but not all things are beneficial.
I strive to respond as God, I believe, responds to us and that is to appeal to our reasoning to say think it through and be honest, is it really beneficial? And it’s at that point I think when we have to make our own choices and so people who chose to live in homosexuality, homosexual relationships, people who chose to act out upon their sexuality and same-sex behaviors, that is everyone’s freedom to do that.
But I would appeal to that and say I just want you to really be honest with yourself. And, at some point, you may think differently. Are you open to that? In other words, are you open to the possibility that God may speak and He may appeal to you and say, “Think about it again?”
But I think so many times, I know I can do this, we can invest so much in our opinion that it’s difficult to change it once we are challenged to change it because, it’ll take too much work, or what will people think or, you know, whatever. I think we always have to be postured to think and to review what we believe.
And so when I see protesters, when I experience what we have in the last few weeks, I don’t just deflect it. I always go through and re-evaluate it; you know, what are they saying, what’s happening, what are we doing, is there something we can learn from this, what are my perspectives, what do I believe truth is. Every time I’ve done that I’ve come to the same conclusion, ultimately, that there (is) oftentimes a shift in my approach or the way I address it. … I can say that the way I address it today is not the way I would have addressed it 15 years ago because I really do try to listen. I really do try to understand people.
And, like I coined a phrase one time when I was on a TV show, there was a man that was very antagonistic and he was standing for a very strong, antagonistic gay organization and I really tried to hear his heart because I noticed the audience was not hearing his heart. They (the audience) were reactionary, they were abusive towards him. They were inappropriate, many of them, and as I experienced that scenario, my heart shifted and I recognize in that that we have to respect one another, even if we don’t agree. And I learned … we don’t have to agree to respect … I can disagree but I can still respect; I can still respect our God-given right to do as we want. Our right to do as we want, however, doesn’t mean it’s beneficial.
F&F: How many adults identifying as homosexual have gone through Love In Action’s program?
Smid: Oh, man, (laughs) that’s a really hard number to come up with. I know up through the year 2001, we had about 190 people who completed the program, that is when we had a one-year program. Since that time when we started the Source program, which was December 2001, I believe, I’d have to check that because I keep forgetting which year it was, since that time we’ve had, I believe it’s now about 300.
F&F: How many of those adults have returned to a homosexual lifestyle?
Smid: People ask me about success a lot. And I think everyone gauges success differently in terms of what is successful. For example, you might go to a drug and alcohol program and you might (remain sober for) a one-year period of time, well one year to me doesn’t really speak much. A lot of people might achieve a one-year sobriety and go back to their habits.
The way I gauge success, Patty, is how many people who complete our program, first of all, have a better relationship with God when they’re through than when they started. I would say very easily 90 percent … because I hear it in the groups. I hear it in their hearts. So many times they respond and say, “I am so much closer to the Lord now than I was. I understand him so much more now than I used to. I really have a relationship with Christ and I don’t know that I really did before.” So, that’s part of it.
The other part is do they pursue an ongoing relationship with God? Where before they came here they felt very distant, very distracted, very unconnected, very disconnected from God. I would say probably, at least 60 to 80 percent continue pursuing Christ after they leave here. I think that’s a pretty easy statement.
Even those that are negative towards the program, I’ve heard so many of their stories, will say, “I’m still connected to Christ, I still feel God in my heart, I’m still pursuing God.” And so, I think, “Man, as long as you’re pursuing God I trust He’s the one who’s going to work in your heart.” It’s not about Love In Action, it’s about Him.
As far as those that stay away from homosexuality, I think since I’ve been here I would say it’s very close to somewhere between 40 and 50 percent (who) remain solidly away from homosexual behavior after completing the program.
F&F: How many adolescents identifying as homosexual have gone through Love in Action’s Refuge program? How many of those youths have returned to a homosexual lifestyle?
Smid: The adolescent program we’ve had, because it’s new I remember the numbers a little better, we’ve had about 23 kids who have gone through it.
Out of 23, one of them left after two days, who was not a fit for the program; two of them remained through the two-week period and at the end stated that they were going to pursue homosexuality after they left the program. The other 19, or 20, at the point where they graduated, said that they were clearly not going to pursue homosexuality and they felt so much clarity about it. I think as a result of that since that time in two and a half years I would say I think, from what I can see and know, about three or four of them returned to homosexual behavior, but I clearly see their age bracket as a very fluid time and I don’t know where they’re going to be 10 years from now or 20 years from now.
I think when they’re 18, in college with the influences around and the stuff that’s going on, I think it’s pretty reasonable that they would return to some form of inappropriate sexual behavior. I just think that may or may not be the reality for them, but I don’t really count that as the end result because there’s so much to sort out at that age. I think we gave them the tools.
F&F: During the press conference last week, you said that once a person accepts Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior, they begin a journey toward becoming more Christ-like. Let’s say that while on their journey they slip, ie. give in to homosexual temptations, isn’t that okay since every man falls short of the glory of God and we’re are all sinners?
Smid: (slight chuckle) I wouldn’t say it’s okay because I don’t think God winks at it. God doesn’t wink at sin. He’s not an enabling God. He has very clear standards and He has very clear expectations of his people. Therefore, I believe, if we engage in inappropriate behavior there are consequences that we may or may not experience as a result. And sometimes God’s grace, meaning his cover on our lives, may allow us smaller consequences just because, for whatever reason He decides to be benevolent to some extent and yet there are other times He doesn’t and that’s the mystery of God.
I don’t believe He just ignores it. I don’t believe that at all. And I believe there are always consequences, some big and some small. My personal belief is that every single time someone engages in a sexual encounter with another person they are not married to, heterosexually married to, this is my conviction, there is always a consequence to that. A consequence on the soul, but that doesn’t mean it’s not forgivable. It doesn’t mean God can’t restore. I’ll put it in the positive — it means God will forgive and He will restore if we seek Him for that. And so, while every sin bares a consequence, every sin is also a sin that God’s willing to work with us on.
He is a very forgiving God, but He’s also a God of discipline and so He’s not permissive, in that sense. He says all things are permissible, but not beneficial and so, if I frame it in that, that means the beneficial part is where we have to really focus our choices. Is this really best for me?
I use an example of let’s say someone drove up here in a beautiful bright red convertible, which I like, and the keys were in it. Could I go out there, start that car and drive it away? Absolutely. I could if I wanted to, but I’d pay the price cause it’s not mine. I didn’t gain that permission. If I did it without permission.
I hate to minimize sexuality to that level but I think it’s a good analogy. Can I go and have sex with another man? Yes, I can, but when I do, I have to be willing to accept the consequences of my choices. That’s how God is with us. He’s not standing there with a sledge hammer waiting to squash us like a bug, that’s just not who God is. But He also does not remove the consequences and they’re there and they’re present and we have to deal with them. We have to face them.
F&F: Is homosexuality the greatest of all sins? Is it an unforgivable sin?
Smid: The perception that homosexuality is somehow worse than every other sin … that’s false doctrine. That’s wrong doctrine.
Yes, God says that certain behaviors are an abomination, but abomination is a word that our culture isn’t very familiar with. I believe what that really means is that there are serious sins, and I believe that they are. There are sins outside the body the scripture says, and there are sins inside the body that impact the body and He’s speaking there of sexual sin.
I believe it’s not that God is more angry about sexual sin. I believe the concept there is to think about it because the consequences are greater. In other words, I can go out here and I can have a bad thought or I can gossip or I can do something that’s wrong, but the consequences certainly aren’t going to be legal nor are they necessarily going to have such a strong reaction from someone, but there are other behaviors that do.
And I believe … the consequences of homosexuality can be greater than heterosexual sin because of the way it impacts us as a person, because of the further distance away from God’s created plan. He created us with heterosexual bodies. He created a plan for man and woman to be suitable helpmates. He created a family with a mother and a father, and that’s the created model all the way through scripture. Well, someone can stray from that model and act out in adultery and that has very severe consequences. It’s very severe trust-breaking and very severe issues. That’s one thing to handle, but then when we’re moved to homosexuality, I believe that impacts us internally, at a deeper level.
I think that when people act upon homosexuality, there’s room in that for someone to have more deeply-rooted issues because I’ve worked in this a long time and I’ve dealt with it myself and I know for me, I would say that’s true. The way that it impacted me and the issues that brought me to the place where I was acting out in same-sex encounters I think there were issues that I really had to grapple with that I think some other people don’t have to.
So, I think again, on that level, that it’s certainly not less forgivable, it’s certainly not less redeemable, my goodness. Like I said the other day, as I was sorting through my reaction to the press conference and my reaction to all the emails and the responses I’m getting, the negative ones that I’m getting, is, it’s like I want to shout out, “Don’t tell me it’s not possibly to leave homosexuality. My life counts. I have a story and my life counts and I’m telling the truth so don’t tell me it’s not possible.” And I’m not the only person. I’m not that unique and I know hundreds and hundreds personally, I mean personally, I’m not over-exaggerating and I’m not spreading big numbers, I know personally hundreds of people that are living free of homosexuality where at one time they thought it could never work or could never be possible.
Part of my motive for doing what I do everyday is to offer people the opportunity. That’s all I can do. If they want it then they can take it. People’ve left here, they’ve made other decisions, that’s their choice. But, don’t come back at me, it’s like a journalist will say, “Don’t murder the messenger.”
F&F: Are you familiar with the World Overcomers ad in the Commercial Appeal?
Smid: Oh yeah, I knew about it.
F&F: Apparently they (World Overcomers) believe the consequence of homosexuality is a one-way ticket to hell. Is that Love In Action’s belief?
Smid: No, that’s not my perspective. My perspective is that we lose the gift of eternal life because we are broken, sinful human beings in need of a savior. Everyone of us. I believe that God offers salvation to all, equally.
It merely is a collaborative relationship with Jesus Christ that in some theologies Jesus initiates and in other theologies we respond to, and I’m not going to get into that because that goes all over the road map. But I believe salvation is offered to all equally. And I believe salvation covers all sin. And I believe that the sin that some people refer to as the “unforgivable sin” I don’t believe is a behavior on our part, I believe it is a lack of asking for forgiveness. We grieve the Holy Spirit by not allowing Him to come in and show us the way to eternal life. And so I don’t think homosexuality even enters into that discussion.
F&F: During the press conference, I understood you to say that people cannot be happy, well-adjusted Christians and be homosexual. Is that correct and if so, why?
Smid: My message to that would be, from my conviction and from my Biblical understanding, that is inappropriate for the Christian life. I stand on that. That’s a prophetic message that I believe is absolutely true, however, I can’t tell you how to live. And so, It’s not my job to tell you what you have to do, but it is my job to challenge you with what I believe is the truth. In other words, that’s a free challenge, you know, I’m very convicted and it’s not just about homosexuality. I’m very convicted that any sexual behavior with another person outside of heterosexual marriage transcends God’s word. That’s my conviction. I’m not here to manipulate or to control or to relate inappropriately with anyone who believes otherwise.
F&F: I’m less concerned about the adults going through the Love In Action program because they are adults and chose to enter into the program. My true concern is for the young people whose parents put them in your Refuge program. To clarify, my concern for these young people stems from some of the things the protesters had to say about the program.
First, that males and females are forced to dress and act in accordance with their gender, ie, boys cutting their hair, girls having to wear dresses. If this is true, what purpose does it serve?
Smid: “The rules” are primarily therapeutic rules. One of the things we understand about people is that there are times when they can develop behaviors for affects or clothing styles that are rooted in a false image of themselves. … So, we neutralize the externals for the purpose of raising awareness.
For example, we know that sometimes women can struggle. The people we deal with are dealing with gender issues, sexual issues that sometimes these women can struggle with, “I don’t want to shave my legs because that’s what women do and I feel reactionary to that.” Okay, let’s talk about that. Maybe a man’s hair is extremely long, so much so that it kind of hangs over his eyes and kind of covers him up. Are you afraid to show your face? Are you ashamed? Cut your hair. How do you feel? “I feel vulnerable.” Good, that’s what we want to know. We want to hear your feelings. We want to know how you feel about showing your face.
You can grow your hair however you want after you’re done. That’s not the point. The point is we want to try and draw some awareness.
The clothing, for example, I have said that sometimes women, especially sometimes women who have been sexually abused, can feel very vulnerable wearing a dress because it means, “I’m a girl and because I’m a girl means I’m potentially vulnerable to someone’s inappropriate treatment.” Okay. Now here, we have safety. We have safe guards … We’re watching behaviors. We’re watching relationships. This is a safer place than the world so we’re not asking you to go out in the world and do something that feels very vulnerable or threatening. What we’re saying is, “Here, wear a dress. Now tell us how you feel.” Let’s deal with that. Let’s talk about safety. Let’s talk about boundaries. Let’s talk about how you can protect yourself appropriately without reacting to defensive detachment and putting up walls. Let’s explore that.
That’s why it’s been disheartening for me to (others) read the rules and have such strong reactions because there is a truly loving reason behind these rules. They’re not just blanket rules … Now, I don’t know if you understand that, if that makes sense to you, but that’s what they’re rooted in so we do a lot of talking about the spirit behind the rule, why it’s there. That’s why people that are here don’t really mind the rules, once they’re here; once they understand what we’re doing. And so, it’s like the rules have been thrown out to people who don’t know how to use them and they don’t understand the spirit of it, and I feel sad that that was done because they’re not really designed for public use because I understand that people don’t get it. They don’t know why we use them. …
I never played sports when I was a kid. And sports for me, especially football, has been particularly threatening to me. If someone had come to me and I’d been in a program like this, and they’d said, “Okay, we’re going to go play football.” I would have had very strong reactions to that because I have a real deep wound in there (points to his chest). A real deep wound in my heart about football. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be good for me. It just means it would have to be done delicately, and I would have to be given an opportunity to express my feelings and be valued in those feelings. That’s what we do here.
We take them out and play football because it brings those kinds of things up for some people. Now, for other people, it’s merely giving them a safe place to explore football where they’re not going to be ridiculed or feel inequal around men who already know football.
That’s the spirit of so many of these rules. I can relate. That has happened to me. I’ve felt cornered by sports at times in a situation, it’s like, I’m really uncomfortable. You know, this is really hard for me. And I struggle with self-pity in that, that’s not healthy.
We have a baseball field out here. I am looking forward to the times when men will experience tremendous feeling by playing baseball. One guy that played baseball recently, and again it’s not that they have to play baseball to be men, that’s not the point. I remember him coming out and playing baseball in another situation and (he) hit a homerun. He will never forget that homerun because he was in a group of people that supported him and loved him and encouraged him. And he saw a talent that he was never given the opportunity to pursue. … We’re not here to try and mold you into a mold that’s not you. We’re here to explore who you are and help you to figure that out. And I see that as Christian discipleship.
F&F: Secondly, that the young people are forced to become “on level” during the first two days, meaning they cannot talk to anyone, including their parents. If this is true, what purpose does it serve?
Smid: The on-level status … was primarily initiated because we recognized, it’s done through the adult program, too, and the same reasons are there at the beginning.
You bring in two young people who maybe as recently as yesterday engaged in a sexual encounter with a friend or they were living in a world where they used a lot of extreme language, or whatever. Okay, that was yesterday, now they’re in a program today.
We don’t want these kids to come together without accountability and start talking about things that happened yesterday that could stumble one or the other into inappropriate thoughts or inappropriate reactions. We also know that sometimes emotional bonds can be developed over a common pain and can be built very quickly. And so we restrict their communication while they get settled.
They can talk in groups. They can talk with their staff workers; they are allowed opportunities to communicate. And with the adult program, we give them an older brother, we call them a big brother, and they have time each night where they can process the day. So, we’re not shoving them into silence, but we’re providing safety.
And the on-level with their parents is so that they don’t go home and start reacting and getting their parents wrapped into something before they have some instruction about healthy communication. And so it’s a safe time. It’s also a time where they can reflect and think and have some quietness because that’s really important, that time to just think, especially when they’re going through a real shift in their schedule and what’s happening with the program. Very distinct purposes.
And later, of course, if they obey, if they follow that structure and get out of it what we intend them to, we release that and they start communicating like everybody else. And most of them, many of them, have put themselves back on it (on-level) at times when they realize the value of it. And they’ll say, “I’m feeling unsettled right now, I want to go back on safe-keeping,” it’s called safe-keeping. But if we have two people that look like they’re having or developing a negative relationship, we put them on-level and that means they cannot speak to one another outside of an accountable situation. It’s again designed as a safe guard.
F&F: And third, that the young people are subjected to “shaming sessions,” ie, they are forced to report to their peers, their parents and the parents of fellow attendees all their sexual fantasies, desires and experiences, including wet dreams, and in return their parents are told to confront their children in a harsh manner regarding the information they disclose. If this is true, what purpose does it serve?
Smid: That has to be a misrepresentation. I know for a fact that that verbiage is not used in any of our communication. What we do is we have a structure called a Moral Inventory, which is written. One of the other things people have said is that they’re not allowed to keep journals. We use a journaling format that keeps it healthy because we know that people can negative-bond with their journals. They can spiral into negative places, which are unproductive, so we have a journaling process called the Moral Inventory where they inventory past sexual relationships or circumstances.
They’re not allowed to speak in the moral inventory about specific sexual behaviors or specific sexual practices or particular sexual fetishs. They’re not allowed to speak about that because we know that can stumble people, give people ideas that they don’t need to be knowing about. What this does is it explores their feelings that surround a particular sexual event.
“I felt this before.” “I felt this during.” “I felt this after.”
Those moral inventories are read in groups called MI groups where they’re given feedback and what we’re looking for in those particular sessions are, “Are you seductive in this MI?” “Are you reading it in such a way, are you writing it in such a way that’s seducing?” That’s inappropriate. We don’t do that here.
“Are you minimizing, are you making light of a situation that’s serious?” “Are you really in touch with your feelings?” “Are there feelings there? How can we help you find those feelings?”
We have another format called an Introduction, which is a verbal MI, and that’s where they describe a situation or circumstance verbally in front of the group. We’ve found tremendous value in them expressing it verbally. Actually, the purpose of this is the opposite of shaming, the purpose of it is to release shame because many of them have had feelings and situations that they’ve hidden for so long that the shame builds up. “I must be an abomination.” “I must be worse than everybody else.” “I must have done the unforgivable thing.” “Certainly no one else has ever experienced this.”
Oh no, we have. And we raise our hands to relate. I’ve been there. I’ve done that, if we can honestly relate to where they’ve been. So it’s really quite the opposite.
So, there’s no explicit sexual content. No explicit sexual behaviors and … shaming’s not allowed because we attempt so strongly here to say, instead of shaming someone or criticizing them, that would be what we call defensiveness. We don’t allow that, that’s a group norm.
There’s no defensiveness. There’s no preaching or teaching. We’re not here to try and preach at you. Now, the staff will teach but as a peer group. They’re not allowed to respond in preachy or teachy ways. We challenge that straight up. It’s designed to be very clear, very safe, very productive, very respectful. And so, that is a really, deeply, inappropriate description. …
We’d be opening a sexual brothel if we allowed people to talk about their sexual experiences, especially men. I have seen that in emails so I don’t where that started.
F&F: How do you feel about the theory that God made each of us, homosexual and heterosexual alike, and God doesn’t make junk?
Smid: That’s a very cliche statement that I’ve heard about, the God doesn’t make junk thing.
What I know is that God created each one of us destined, I believe, to find a love relationship with Jesus Christ. At the same time, each of us were born into an imperfect world, therefore, each one of us have flaws, some of them emotional, some of them physical. The spirit of man isn’t junk.
But I believe each of us can have maladies that we have to learn to deal with. So, therefore, I don’t believe for a minute that God says, “And by the way, I’m throwing you out there without a leg.” I don’t believe for a minute that God intends that. Therefore, if we are born with maybe a psychological malady or we experience something in our life that emotionally wounds us, God absolutely does not intend that to happen.
But God gives us answers and He gives us His grace and He gives us His spirit to learn how to respond to the imperfections of this world. I believe that homosexuality is, in part, one of those imperfections that impacts us as people. And I’m not going to say where it comes from exactly because I don’t think there’s a definitive answer on that.
I think every person’s experience is different. I think there’s different reasons, there’s different factors. Some people may, just as a result of sexual debauchery, get involved in orgies and it’s not an orientation issue, it’s just sexual games. I believe that can be the case. But I believe there are other people who really may never really know where their homosexuality came from or why it’s there.
But I believe that God gives us the ability, if I follow my own theology, that homosexual behavior is inappropriate in Christianity. I believe God can give us, and does give us, His grace and His ability to live joyfully in His name. I read an email the other day, it was like, “Some people are born gay and what do you think should happen? Should they just have to live sexless lives?”
Well, that’s another cultural issue where people, I think, fall into entitlement to sex, and God never told us we were entitled to sex. He basically said quite the contrary. If you’re not married as heterosexuals you live sober lives.
While someone may struggle with homosexual attractions or temptations, I believe that God can give them the grace to live single and have a tremendously valuable, worthwhile life as a single adult, regardless of those temptations. And I always mention to people who struggle with homosexuality to think about how many men and women in this world who don’t struggle with homosexuality live single lives without sex and it’s a struggle for them but they find a way to live a single life without sex. What about married couples who may have some something that impacts their marriage either physiologically, medically, emotionally where they do not engage in sexual behavior with each other and they struggle?
You know, that’s life and some people have those kinds of circumstances, and if they do, I don’t believe that God then winks and gives them permission to find sexual play or gratification other places. I just don’t believe in that.
So, you’re either married and faithful or you’re unmarried and sober. That’s what I believe God calls us to and I don’t think that’s really so bad. I know, too well, that sexual promiscuity can lead to a lot of really difficult emotional issues and I think a whole lot of people would do well to learn to how to live with self-control. I think they would be really happier, in the end, more satisfied, more confident.
So, in answer to your question, I’m trying to summarize, I don’t believe that God made anybody homosexual. I don’t believe for a minute that that’s true. If He did, then I believe His word would instruct us and it doesn’t. There is absolutely not one positive reference in the scripture. If we believe God’s word is the inspired word of God, and it’s not in error, which I do believe, there is not one positive statement anywhere about homosexuality and there are lots of instructional messages about how to have a heterosexual marriage. There is no instruction anywhere for homosexual marriage and its distinctively different because same-sex relationships are totally different; they’re different dynamics. And God doesn’t give any instruction for it and so I would say then how would a loving God give you homosexuality and not give you any instruction? I’d be pretty angry about that. I think I would be really frustrated with that.
F&F: But some things have changed. Some men in the Bible had several wives.
F&F: And we don’t condone that now.
Smid: It wasn’t condoned then, either. … The Old Testament reveals how fallen and broken mankind is. It reveals how far off the mark we can go. And it’s a real story about real lives. There’s a real story about David engaging in immoral behavior with Bathsheba. It does not say that God condones it. But rather quite to the contrary. It shows the consequences of it. So the Old Testament shows how far off the mark we can get and it shows the consequences of going off the mark.
The New Testament gives us instruction and guidelines and it shows us God’s awesome grace and mercy and forgiveness when we do go off the mark.
F&F: During the press conference there was a lot of talk about teens being “confused” and “depressed.” It seems that telling them that what they are feeling is wrong and that to continue to feel this way will result in a loss of their parents love and God’s love would lead to more confusion and depression.
Smid: I agree with that. That’s not what we’re telling them. (laughs) Once again, I believe it’s a misrepresentation. A lot of the kids that come here are confused and many of them struggle with feeling depressed.
Many of them do fear the loss of God’s love and the loss of their parents’ love, that’s true. And so, what we try to do is help them understand what love really is. It’s not a feeling. It’s a commitment.
We also help them to understand maybe where the depression is coming from. We help them to look for why they feel ashamed of themselves. We try to build stronger relationships with their parents and it’s been very interesting because of the restrictions, “the rules,” and because of the nature of the program, across the board, the parents will come and they’ll say things like, “Because we’re not watching TV, and we’re not hiding under music headphones and we’re not using computers to distract us, I sat down with my son last night and had a three-hour conversation with him and it was the first time in five years.”
And so the product of the program I think bares out that they really are finding communication. They’re finding new ways of bonding with one another. And regardless of what the son or daughter chooses to do after that, it builds a better relationship to deal with it more effectively. And I believe a lot of the shame and depression begins to lift.
F&F: It’s assumed that the young people in the Refuge program undergo intensive therapy on their path to “change.” Are their parents also expected to “change,” too, or do you consider the parents completely right in what they’re doing?
Smid: Absolutely we exhort the parents to continue to change. We understand that children that are struggling with the things that these kids are struggling with often reflect an unhealthy balance in the home. And they often reflect parental imbalances and it often reflects parents who are not skilled or don’t have the understanding about how to deal with things that come up in the family.
We work very much with the parents and, for the most part, the parents leave saying they got more out of the program than the kids did. So, yes, absolutely, the parents are required to work their own program along with their children.
F&F: Love In Action is a Christ-centered ministry, what do you tell people of the Jewish faith who come to you seeking help to change their sexual behaviors? Or is the program only open to Christians?
Smid: The program maintains a Christ-centered balance. It maintains a Christ-centered perspective and therefore, if someone comes to us of another faith we are willing to work with them but they have to understand that we are not going to change our perspectives in order to minister to them.
If I had a Jewish person, for example, I’d probably refer him to a ministry I know of called J.O.N.A.H. (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), which is a Jewish ministry that helps people with their sexuality.
I probably would let them know there are other places. For example, there’s an organization in Salt Lake City, or in Utah, called the Evergreen Foundation, which is a (Latter-day Saints) organization that helps Mormons who are struggling with their sexuality.
If I knew of a referral I’d certainly let them know about it and help them find a place more appropriate to their own beliefs.
F&F: There’s a lot of homosexuality and people being on the down-low in both black and white churches. But I didn’t see too many African-Americans on your staff. What’s their involvement in Love In Action?
Smid: We really do try and pursue the African-American community, and we do have a relationship with World Overcomers; they have referred people to us. We have spoken at their church on a couple different occasions.
There are other churches in the Memphis area that we’ve worked with. I’ve spoken at Mississippi Boulevard. We’re working with several Black congregations right now.
It is my deep desire to work with the Black community. And we actually find quite a lot of acceptance there because I think there are a number of Black churches in Memphis that are willing to admit that there are sexual issues that they have to face. But it’s not any worse than white churches. White churches don’t want to admit it either. And so, yeah, I have a deep heart to work with the Black churches. There is a distinct problem.
F&F: Have you ever had any African-Americans go through the program?
Smid: Yes, we do, and we’ve had African-Americans on staff. And we have a Black lady on our board.
F&F: On the Love In Action website you wrote a paper on a statement called the “homosexual myth.” Is that a basis of the program?
Smid: That article is one that I feel very convicted about in that I don’t believe people should adopt an identity of homosexuality, because it’s my belief that homosexuality involves feelings, it involves attractions, it involves behaviors and I believe to take on an identification as a homosexual is one of those things that I think can block someone from remaining open to having a true identity.
While I believe people can engage in behaviors, because, you know, that article came out of a challenge that came to me numerous times, that’s why I say I listen when people challenge things, I really do. I had numerous people that would come to me and say, “You said that you used to be a homosexual.” We had a billboard in Memphis one time where I made that statement on the billboard, you know, “I used to be a homosexual,” which today I would never say that. I learned from that, that that’s not really true.
People will say, “Well, maybe you were never gay to begin with.” “Oh, you were married before, well maybe you’re bisexual.” And I really reacted to those statements negatively. It’s like, wait a minute, I don’t like that. I don’t like what you’re saying because I wanted to defend myself. And as I defended myself I wanted to say, “Well, you should have been with me those four years that I lived in homosexuality, you know, I pursued it with gusto.” And then I thought, “Well that’s not very good. I don’t want to be prideful about that.” (laughs)
You know, I kept trying to find a way to answer their questions. And I finally realized, I thought, “You know, I was never gay and I’m not heterosexual, either.” And neither are you.
We’re men and we’re women. And in our maleness and our femaleness we may chose to live out our lives in heterosexual relationships. We may have one homosexual relationship. We may have some homosexual, some heterosexual relationships. I don’t like the identity names. I don’t like the nouns.
I didn’t used to be gay. I’m not heterosexual. I’m not an ex-gay. I’m John, and in my identity, I can act upon that in various different ways or I can struggle with attractions, but that doesn’t make me a homosexual. I just think that that narrows my life too much, and other people’s, as well.
F&F: In March 1994, you were quoted as saying something in regard to Tom Ottosen. It was in We The People. You are quoted as saying, “I would rather you commit suicide than to leave Love In Action and return to a homosexual lifestyle, wanting to return to the gay lifestyle. In a physical death you could still have a spiritual resurrection; whereas, returning to homosexuality you are yielding yourself to a spiritual death, from which there is no recovery.” At the press conference you said it was taken out of context. Can you give it to me in context.
Smid: That was a misrepresentation and it was taken out of context, that’s true.
That is a quote of a quote of someone reporting what I said. Okay, so we’re playing telephone. I remember that meeting and I remember the context of what I said was, “It would almost be better if you weren’t alive than to return back to the life you that you have struggled so much to leave.”
Now, the spirit of what I said, I have to be honest about, was manipulative. I know that I was really trying to rescue him. And in my trying to rescue him, in my heart, I was doing more work to save him than he was doing to save himself. And, that was an error on my part. That was error of judgement. I should have been less manipulative and less co-dependent. And, I learned from that scenario. I learned … not to do that.
I’m not here to rescue people from something that they’re choosing. I’m here merely to share my heart with them. And so, that was taken out of context because I know that the suicide word is a buzz word and I truly believe the author of that article embellished and was trying to get a reaction by using that statement. I believe that’s what I saw in the article. And, I feel very grieved that that is still on the Internet because it is a misrepresentation.
F&F: If you were not a minister involved with Love In Action, would you still be involved in a homosexual lifestyle? I guess what I’m trying to say is here you have a wall of protection and this subculture. If you did not have this subculture, could you be where you are today?
Smid: I have to say that being where I am is certainly an accountability for me. It provides an accountability and I know that it does, in that I could stand to lose too much if I went back to homosexuality. But it’s so many wonderful and encouraging things.
But also, my marriage is an accountability. I don’t want to lose my marriage. I don’t want to lose my wife. I don’t want to lose all the tremendous blessings that I’ve gained over the last 20 years. Nonetheless, the clean heart. Everything is open. I have nothing to hide. I have a clean heart and I would not trade that clean heart for anything.
F&F: Would you be willing to participate in a forum to discuss the mental health issue representing Love In Action’s views as such, and I’m thinking more on the level of possibly having the university set up something?
Smid: I would certainly be willing to discuss my personal life experiences. Absolutely. That’s an open book. I have no reason not to. If I had the time and the opportunity I might be willing to do that, that’s why I stay open. Like Dr. (Robert L.) Spitzer, for example, called me and interviewed me on his study. It’s like, “Absolutely. You can talk to me all day long, I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
F&F: Would you be willing for Love In Action to participate in a valid survey to determine the actual success rate of your program.
Smid: Yeah, I would say yes as long as it didn’t interrupt or distract us from the work we have to do. Because, sometimes those things can become so pronounced that all of a sudden everybody’s more worried about the study than they are getting the work done. And, it can be very distracting for clients.
F&F: One last question. If indeed you are doing God’s work, why charge for it
Smid: That isn’t a simple answer. First of all, I believe that people should be invested in their own recovery. I believe that people should be invested and we have found over the years when we give it away for free, people aren’t serious about being here. And, it really produces less outcome, to be honest, and more reactions.
The other side of it is, somebody has to pay for the air conditioning. You know, it’s just responsible. And, we actually … charge very much less than most programs that do what we do at the caliber that we do it. It really is … a bargain. And we’re told many, many times by many professionals that we should charge more. And we may have to eventually, just because … we’ve got to pay quality people to be here. You’ve got quality counselors. They’re not going to work for free. …
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