Finding God in Exodus International

Exodus Billboard

Originally published at Deeper Story

Last year, Exodus International, the largest ex-gay organization in the world, shut down.

I was at a Starbucks late at night when the news erupted over Twitter. I all but cried. I called my mom. “This is such good news, wow! wow!” she said and then I texted my brother who took to Facebook, posting the news by saying “This is a HUGE WIN for humanity.” This was monumental. A miracle. An answer to so many prayers said by so many souls in our community.

My total “ex-gay experience” was a rainy afternoon, in the home of a man who was not a counselor. He wasn’t from Exodus. In fact, I never met an Exodus counselor nor I have been to any Exodus events. And yet Exodus International once held a daily presence in my life. A powerful one.

Late one night, in my closeted teenage years, I quietly tapped into the Google search bar a desperate question: “is there a cure for homosexuality?”

Topping the list of results was Exodus.

The site was beautiful, flashy, streamed with messages of hope. The banner picture was of a man about my age leaning against a brick building, his sad eyes fixed upon the heavens, a question written below him, posed to him, posed to me: “do you want to leave homosexuality?”

Yes. Yes I did.

And so I dove into the material. Listened to all the testimonies. Drank in so much hope of the day I might be normal. Might be loveable. Might be enough.

I’d been keeping track of Exodus for years when all the red flags started popping up. I read the story about the organization’s founder, Michael Bussee. How decades ago, he resigned from Exodus, only two years after he started it, and it was because he fell in love with another man and he saw the catastrophic consequences of his “ministry.” Despite his recantation, the organization carried on, garnering wider and wider success amongst conservative evangelicals, but Michael didn’t stop. He stayed hard at work. He held protests and vigils, spoke with the media, did whatever he could do to dismantle this calamity that he bore into the world.

I heard some scary statistics. Dark ones. Story after story of souls who had come in desperately seeking “the Cure” and walked away wounded and depressed, alcoholics and drug addicts trying to dull their learned self-hatred. Many left the faith. Many took their own lives. And many went bankrupt. Spent tens of thousands of dollars on “therapy” that never ever worked, and as insane as that might sound, think what you’d be willing to give if it meant God would stop hating you, maybe start loving you. That’s what this was about.

In the aftermath of the Exodus shut down, I wrote: “I am dragging my feet toward forgiveness,” and as time has gone on, I have covered so much ground. In the freedom of Christ, I have learned grace, I have learned that I am enough, and part of this walk means making peace with those who implied I never was.

And in my process, I made a radical decision. I decided to open my eyes and look for grace. And to my surprise, in the darkness, I found the face of God. This is the truth I am unearthing about him: He is always on the job. Even in the darkness.

As much as it kills my pride to say it, Exodus was the ray of light I wrapped my hands around to keep moving forward. Their words were not simply soft taps on my closet door. They were invocations of love. They stirred things up in my soul. They spoke in the only way my conservative, bitter heart could hear. And in the end, they moved me forward, out of the darkness of shame, into the light of self-love and dignity and faith.

After I learned that I was loved, that I was made “good” and that I was accepted, that God loves the gays, too, I looked back at the organization with profound disgust, fire in my eyes. I saw the depth of their unethical practice. Of the money they were collecting. Of the shame and abuse they were perpetuating through harmful theology and freak “science.”

And yet.

And yet… I somehow owe them. I owe them because lured me into the tension, into coming out, into questioning, and as much as I hated them for the horrors they did, I knew deep down that, in some vital way, I had to thank them.

I can’t ignore the night that I heard one girl’s testimony, a girl from my college, speak to our campus Chapel about how God healed her of homosexuality. I remember the way these words haunted me: If you’re struggling with this, you can’t go it alone. Tell someone safe and trustworthy. If there is no one else, then tell me. It would be a bald face lie to say that specific moment, those few words, her story didn’t set in motion my own coming out.

Neither can I deny the impact of Sy Rogers, the delightfully funny ex-gay poster boy. Though his testimony of change is manipulative and dangerous, and I completely disagree with his theology on same-sex relationships, what I remember most from his talk was when he described the first church to take him in. He knew they loved him, because the men weren’t afraid to touch him. Hug him. Hold him. Shoulder his tears. And I wept as I listened to this on my iPod by the beach. That was my biggest fear he was talking about: I would be untouchable.

And now, even, I can look back on my meeting with that man, the one I sought out, the one I asked for help, and I can see the love of God in him, even as he shattered me. Because he prayed with me and he called me a saint, he said I was beloved by God.

And there is something comforting about that light in the dark. God was there, in the room, in the rain, dropping a line of truth into one of my murkiest moments.

Today, I tried searching for the old Exodus page and was redirected to a new one. They’ve reformed. They are now a group called: We Speak Love. And who knows what this will look like, but my anger quiets at the title, at the unanticipated repentance and surrender in the shut down of last year.

I look again, and I see God. I see the strange telltale movements of the resurrected Jesus, working wonders even in the most sinful of places, shaking this whole wide world to restoration.