“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV)
For nearly 30 years, I was a woman without direction, without purpose, without hope. My life was a mental, physical, emotional and spiritual mess, and something had to change. In 1986, while standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Palo Duro Canyon in northwest Texas, preparing to jump, something did change. God found me and would not let me go. It’s not something that can be easily described, except to say that the experience was real, it was profound, and it began a journey of discovery and awe of our loving Creator that continues to this day.
I knew that I could not continue living as I had been if I was to continue living at all. Two months after my encounter with God, I ended my five-year live-in lesbian relationship, quit my well-paying job, and moved back home with my parents. I started attending a small non-denominational church and became involved in a fledgling ministry in San Antonio associated with Exodus International. The words of Jeremiah gave me comfort, because for the first time it seemed that there was truly “hope for a future” for me.
But it was a hope for a future based upon man’s definition of “healing” and “wholeness,” not God’s.
I became involved with the Exodus group because I was seeking a deeper walk with God and sought the companionship of others who shared my struggle and faith. I attended weekly support meetings and Bible studies. I became a leader within our group, attended Exodus International conferences for the next four years, and became a role model and “poster child” for change.
Without going into great detail, know that the only “change” that actually occurred in my life was indeed a deeper walk with God. I learned to read scripture for myself. I learned how to pray. I learned to depend upon no one except God for affirmation of my wholeness as a woman.
The people associated with Exodus have a desire to bring people into relationship and fellowship with the Christian church as a whole, but their efforts are woefully misguided. I tried to “change.” I underwent five years of intense counseling and “reparative” therapy that left me more insecure, unstable and guilt-ridden than I ever was before. But I lived behind a facade of happiness and wholeness because I didn’t want to disappoint those who had prayed for me for so many years.
The best thing to come out of my time with Exodus was the Bible study and fellowship with others who were trying to reconcile their sexuality and spirituality. We shared a common bond of wanting to become closer to God. We wanted to be included in our church. Four of us from the group gathered every Saturday night for a year for a time of prayer for the ministry. It was an extraordinarily powerful time.
The worst thing about being involved with the group was the way I saw how Christians treated one another “in God’s name.” I witnessed abuses of power and position that would not be tolerated in a secular setting, yet were considered the norm within the context of “ministry.” Gossip abounded in the form of exposing others’ shortcomings to one another by saying, “we need to pray for so-and-so because…”
When someone tried to leave the group, they were subjected to counseling to stay where it was “safe.” The group was likened to a hospital, where people go to heal; yet little healing actually took place. Old wounds were constantly re-opened and examined. People became dependent upon the group dynamic rather than depending upon their own God-given sensibilities and conscience.
It took five years of struggle within the context of Exodus to be able to see through the deception of the organization. They are well-meaning but misguided in their efforts. It took another five years of quiet agony and inner turmoil to come to terms with, and accept, the gift of my own God-given sexuality as a lesbian. God created me, loves me, accepts me, forgives me, and desires for me to live a life dedicated to justice, mercy, and walking humbly before God (Micah 6:8).
Through the years, it has become important to me to speak out to bring light into the deception of Exodus Ministries. This kind of deception is not only spiritually damaging, it can have deadly consequences as well.
One young man I knew was diagnosed as being HIV-positive in 1989 right before attending an Exodus conference. At that conference he “found Jesus,” went through some “deliverance” prayers and came away fully believing that he was “healed” of his homosexuality and HIV status. He, too, became a role model for others who were struggling to reconcile their faith with their orientation, and eventually became the director of an Exodus ministry in another state.
In April 2000, my friend died from AIDS-related pneumonia. Because he was convinced that God rid his body of HIV, he never sought treatment that could have extended, and spared, his life. He didn’t tell anyone when he became ill last winter. He didn’t tell anyone until he became too ill to work — and by then it was too late to medically intervene.
To their shame, Exodus International posted a one-sentence obituary on their website when my friend died, directing people to their international office should they want information on an Exodus ministry in his state. There was no mention of why he died, no mention of the contributions or sacrifice he made on behalf of Exodus for so many years. Nothing.
It is important to recognize that people can be both homosexual and Christian; the two terms are not mutually exclusive. It is equally important to continue speaking the truth about groups such as Exodus International who are misguided and spiritually damaging to those who place their trust in anyone or anything other than God alone.
There is hope. There is a future. Lives can be changed and transformed; however, it is not necessarily the way that those from Exodus would lead people to believe. True healing and wholeness comes from the amazing grace and power of the Spirit working within the life of one who seeks God and is willing to listen to the “still small voice” speaking in the midst of chaos and turmoil.