The former leader of Exodus International’s oldest ministry says you can’t repent of homosexuality — and he now publicly admits he is homosexual himself.

John Smid, who resigned as Executive Director of Love in Action in 2008, has made his strongest statements yet disavowing the message he preached for years as the head of a ministry that promised gays they could change. Writing on the website of his new ministry, Grace Rivers, Smid says being homosexual (he generally uses this rather clinical term rather than “gay”) is an intrinsic part of a person’s being, not a behaviour he can repent from:

One cannot repent of something that is unchangeable. I have gone through a tremendous amount of grief over the many years that I spoke of change, repentance, reorientation and such, when, barring some kind of miracle, none of this can occur with homosexuality.

He also makes a confession you won’t hear from Exodus (except Exodus President Alan Chambers in an off-guarded moment, although he later backtracked) — he’s never met a real ex-gay person:

I also want to reiterate here that the transformation for the vast majority of homosexuals will not include a change of sexual orientation. Actually I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.

Smid goes on to address a hypothetical question: Which is worse, two gay men in a 30-year faithful, committed relationship or a heterosexual married five times? He commends the gay couple for an “amazing feat” of faithfulness and sacrifice, and suggests they “could be more faithful in their walk with Christ than the person married five times” (and vice versa). Basically, he seems to say, it doesn’t matter — and Jesus is the judge of the heart.

He also talks about the change in how he defines homosexuality. The Exodus line is that, essentially, homosexuality is a behaviour and an “identity,” both of which must go. Smid now has a different take:

I used to define homosexuality or heterosexuality in terms describing one’s behavior. I thought it made sense and through the years often wrote articles and talked from that perspective.

Today, I understand why the gay community had such an issue with my writings. My perspective denied so many facets of the homosexual experience. I minimized a person’s life to just their sexuality but homosexuality is much more than sex.

He also makes a frank statement about his own sexual orientation:

I would consider myself homosexual and yet in a marriage with a woman. My sexual desires, attractions and lifelong struggle with common factors relating to homosexuality are pretty much all in the classification of homosexual.

I am homosexual, my wife is heterosexual. This creates a unique marriage experience that many do not understand. For many years I tried to fit into the box of heterosexuality. I tried my hardest to create heterosexuality in my life but this also created a lot of shame, a sense of failure, and discouragement. Nothing I did seemed to change me into a heterosexual even though I was in a marriage that included heterosexual behavior. Very often when I am in situations with heterosexual men I clearly see that there are facets of our lives that are distinctively different as it relates to our sexuality, and other things as well.

Smid ends by saying that honestly accepting your sexual orientation can open the door to a faith and life that makes sense:

I hear story after story of men and women who accept themselves as being gay, in Christ, and finally find that life makes sense to them. Many are able to then nurture an authentic relationship with Christ because they are being honest and authentic with themselves and finally are able to accept His love unconditionally which changes the dynamic of their understanding of Him. Far too many homosexuals who are seeking Christ perceive that they cannot come close to Him if they remain a homosexual. In this mindset they search feverishly for change that will not come to them.

These are important admissions for a former Exodus leader of Smid’s significance. He was the centre of attention during the controversy over Zach Stark, the Memphis teenager forced by his parents into attending Love in Action’s Refuge program. In four years, he has gone from being head of Exodus’s best-known and oldest established ministry to stating that he is and always has been gay, and admitting that gay Christians in same-sex relationships can and do exist. And more than that — he can’t condemn them for it.

There is a certain haziness to Smid’s new statements, and rather than taking an unambiguously pro-gay stance, he errs on the side of caution. But it’s progress, and he indicates he’s open to widening his viewpoint:

I was completely unwilling to hear anything that didn’t fit my paradigm. I blocked out anyone’s life story or biblical teaching that didn’t match up with what I believed. … Now that I am not submerged into one sided perspectives, I am open to studying and reading the scriptures for myself, I am finding so many rich truths that I wasn’t ever made aware of before. For the first time in all of these years, the scriptures that many have said refer to homosexuality are making sense! I am reading them in context. I am asking questions about who the passages were written to. I am asking what was being talked about, and why the words were written in the first place.

Peterson Toscano, who received therapy under John Smid’s leadership at Love in Action, has weighed in on his blog. He mentions that even back in 1996, Smid told clients same-sex attraction was unlikely to be reversed, although I would note that, in Exodus, there’s a big difference between saying, “I have same-sex attractions” (as Smid used to) and saying, “I’m homosexual” (as Smid says now). And there’s a big difference between saying it privately, within the ministry, and saying it publicly.

That said, Peterson offers a useful perspective, encouraging us to embrace the positive while being wary of the potential for more confusion:

What I do find heartening is that John is willing to listen to others he had previously shut out. I can imagine only good will come of this listening process. I imagine he has much to learn and unlearn after 22 years of receiving and providing misinformation. I hope he finds useful resources, perhaps takes some queer studies classes, listens to many voices within LGBTQ communities and that he reads a lot of helpful books on sexuality, gender, orientation, queer history, and theology. As he seeks to become a spokesperson again (which seems evident from his blog and the announcement of his book) I hope he can become an informed source this time. We do not need more confusion out there.

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