Recently I read Still Time to Care by Greg Johnson. The subject of the book is the rise and fall of the ex-gay movement, and more specifically, Exodus International. I have an interest in the topic, but my interest in the book was personal because our very own Roger Jones and Scott Kingry are quoted several times throughout the text.
It was interesting to learn of the positive influence Where Grace Abounds had on people during the Exodus years, and continues to have, as many folks associated with WGA can testify.
One woman attending her first Exodus conference in 1997 realized her own “deep homophobia…and prayed, ‘Lord, I want you to change my heart. Take away my fear. Let me be present.’ Shortly afterward a group of guys from Where Grace Abounds were playing speed Uno in the campus coffee shop. ‘Come play with us,’ they insisted…They were real people with real faces with stories just like mine…I have loved gay guys ever since.’” (pg 72) BTW – Jill became a ministry leader in her part of the country.
I started reading this page turner expecting a history of the ex-gay, Exodus movement. I was not disappointed.
I was not heavily involved with Exodus International, but I was aware of some of the history and issues/scandals of the movement. Pastor Greg discussed those, but he did so as a matter of fact. I didn’t sense any malice in his assessment.
I was not expecting Still Time to Care to have the effect it did. I had to spend time reflecting and journal writing. It offered me something more than just a history of Exodus International.
In Part One, “The Paradigm of Care,” I learned that Gospel greats, such as Billy Graham, CS Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and John Stott all were supporters of “gay Christians,” men and women struggling with same-sex attraction and loving Jesus, wanting to live the Biblical ethic.
I don’t think “what if” is a healthy place to live, but I do occasionally visit there. “What if,” when I had my encounter with Jesus in 1975, I had been told Jesus loves me as I am, a gay man, and that He has a plan for my life as a celibate Christian, instead of being told I should pursue opposite sex relationships and “once you get married, those feelings will go away”? “What if” the Paradigm of Care had been, “come as you are and let Jesus live through you,” instead of the Paradigm of Cure, “come and let Jesus heal you, get straight, get married and live for Jesus”?
Of course, that didn’t happen and many heartaches later, here we are (an ex-wife, 2 wounded children, and I, and God only knows who else) are making our way in this world, looking to Jesus for the strength and courage to move on.
In Part 2, “The Paradigm of Cure,” Greg gets into the history of Exodus International. Reading this section, I came to realize that even though I was not heavily involved in the Exodus movement, I was affected by the idea of change. I read the books on the WGA required reading list. I read more books as well. I wanted to get started counseling as soon as possible so I could be fixed. I “needed” and wanted to be cured. I had a wife whom I loved very much. Soon children arrived whom I also loved deeply.
By this time the Church had long since moved from the Paradigm of Care to the Paradigm of Cure. Instead of caring for gay Christians and nurturing them in the love of God, she was trying to fix us and make us straight. I can’t tell the number of small groups I sat in and listened to wounded people in their pain and anger, feeling unloved by the people of God.
For me, the cure never came, and my marriage ended. My relationships with the people I loved the most in the world were damaged and they have never been the same.
Pastor Greg wrote about how the Paradigm of Cure affected so many people. While some people claimed to have experienced a change in orientation, most were still struggling with same-sex attraction (perhaps as high as 99%+).
As I discussed this with Scott and Mary in my Discipleship Counseling session, Mary reminded me of my first phone call to WGA. I was standing at a pay phone, in front of the Cherry Cider stand, at the mouth of the Thompson Canyon in northern Colorado. Mary asked, “Are you a Christian?” I went silent and began to cry.
Under the Paradigm of Cure I was not a Christian. My church had “disfellowshipped” me. In my heart of hearts, I loved Jesus and wanted to live for Him. I knew I was a Christian, but my church told me something different.
I don’t remember WGA leadership ever pushing change, but change was not denied. After all, so many were professing change. Sy Rogers was a perfect example. Even if he never said orientation change was possible, that was what I heard, because that is what I wanted to hear. How could it not be possible?
Pastor Greg addressed the pressure to change and the importance of the narrative to the ex-gay movement. I’ll let you read his assessment, and as I mentioned previously, it seems to be factual with little malice.
In Part 3, “The Rising Challenge to the Historical Ethic,” Pastor Greg addresses homosexuality and same-sex relationships in history. He addresses gay marriage and the historical basis for embracing it, or rejecting it, today. This section fascinated me.
Pastor Greg addresses many of the arguments I’ve heard in support of gay marriage. I am skeptical of most “gay” movements these days because so many support what I consider to be a sinful lifestyle. Greg gave me hope that not everyone outside WGA in embracing affirming theology.
In Part 4, the book addresses “The Path Forward.” This section offers hope. The Church must leave behind the notion of orientation change.
Change does happen. Orientation change is rare if it even happens at all. Even those claiming orientation change, if honest, would likely deny complete deliverance from same-sex attraction and total cure to opposite sex attraction.
Jesus does change us from lost sinner to sinner saved by grace, a saint. Jesus changes us from loveable to loved. Jesus moves us from forgiven, to righteous. We are the righteousness of God in Christ.
Is all of this really what Greg Johnson wrote? You’ll need to read Still Time to Care to know for sure. Of this I am certain, this is what the Holy Spirit said to me in the writing of Greg Johnson. There was so much more I could share, so many great quotes, but I will end with a paragraph from Greg’s “Conclusion” that sums it up so well.
“The church’s attempt to cure homosexuality failed. This failure is an opportunity. We learned that sexual orientation is real. It’s not an addiction. And any shifts within it are fairly rare and incremental. We learned that the biblical sexual ethic calls us away from homoeroticism to holiness, but that holiness doesn’t mean heterosexuality. We learned that the same-sex oriented believer’s biggest struggle may not be with sexual sin but with a need to give and receive love. We learned that the Lord designed the church to be our family. We learned that God calls many believers, including many straight ones, to celibacy for the kingdom. We learned that when we police people’s terminology—gay, same-sex attracted, whatever—they experience it as emotional abuse. We learned that we can’t fake it ‘til we make it. We learned that honesty is not a threat to the gospel. We learned that the longing gay people have to make themselves lovable is truly fulfilled not by becoming loveable but by becoming loved. Loved by God. Loved by his family, the church. It was a rough forty years, but coming out of the ex-gay movement, I can say we have learned a lot. (pg 243)
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