A huge pillar of the “ex-gay” industry fell last month when Alan Chambers publicly apologized to the gay community for the harm Exodus International did to so many thousands of people over several decades, and closed the organization’s doors. Randy Thomas, also long-affiliated with the organization, has now augmented those actions with his own personal, public apology. I find it very interesting, in part, because he echoes and expands on a theme hit by Alan and also by John Paulk, that of being used by the Religious Right. Both Alan and John have now experienced how quickly the Religious Right will turn on a person who they once claimed to love, for the sin of questioning their orthodoxy and supremacy. It seems to be much the same with Randy:
So many eye-opening experiences have occurred in the past twenty-four months – including the suicide of a beloved friend and former partner this past January. The loss of Michael forced me to face some issues I had not been willing to deal with until that time. And it’s through this process that I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to apologize to the gay community.
My understanding of public policy at that time was limited to the talking points I was given to tailor my testimony around. I did not do much research beyond these talking points – and as a result, my perspective was limited and nearsighted. I am very sorry that my uncritical perspective contributed to the hurt that many LGBT persons were already feeling.
I participated in the hurtful echo chamber of condemnation. I gave lip service to the gay community, but really did not exemplify compassion for them. I placed the battle over policy above my concern for real people. I sometimes valued the shoulder pats I was given by religious leaders more than Jesus’ commandment to love and serve. That was wrong and I’m disappointed in myself. Please forgive me.
I directly empowered people to co-opt my testimony and use it against the gay community. There were a few times I almost worked up the nerve to confront them, only to hear them invoke my name at an opportune moment. “Of course I love gay people,” they would say. “Just look at my good friend Randy…” It was very selfish of me to back down in these situations. I apologize.
I was, in a sense, attracted to this kind of power and allowed my conscience to be numbed so I could have a seat at their table. In the name of trying to positively affect Christian leaders, I willingly became one of their pawns. Again, I was selfish and prideful. Please forgive me.
Randy goes on to state that his own personal “ex-gay” experience didn’t involve the harmful sorts of “reparative therapy” so common to so many erstwhile member organizations under the Exodus umbrella, and that he used that fact to obscure what was really going on in many of the organizations. In doing so, he says that he never felt the pressure to change his own sexual orientation:
In 1992, I was part of an Exodus affiliated ministry in Texas that believed being in relationship with Jesus alone was our goal. I never felt pressured to change my same sex orientation. I saw my life greatly improved by having the freedom to question my sexuality and identity. I assumed this was what happened at every Exodus group, and I ended up idealizing the entire ministry based on my singular experiences in Texas. However, after joining the Exodus staff, I was confronted with the reality that some methods used by some of our local ministries ended up bringing hurt and pain to the very people they were trying to comfort.
There are many good people in the broader Exodus movement that I didn’t want to hurt by sharing the bad we’d uncovered. Other staff members and I dealt with some of these ills privately. But by keeping quiet, and not even letting our own leaders know the depths of what concerned us, I contributed to the negative response surrounding Alan’s recent apology. To protect some leaders, which wasn’t totally inappropriate, others didn’t know how bad some things had gotten.
Randy specifically says that the thing he regrets most is his time working with Living Waters and vitriolic “ex-gay” charlatan Andrew Comiskey, who has been particularly vile toward Alan Chambers and John Paulk as they have made public steps toward integrity and have tried to start repairing the damage done by their former careers:
I look back on my time as a Living Waters coordinator (eleven years ago) with the most remorse. Even though there is some good in this program, it often ripped open old wounds in the name of healing by attempting to manufacture an environment for the Lord to work in. I have to apologize for the times some people may have felt manipulated to bare their souls to a group full of strangers. I apologize for any pressure we, on the Living Waters team I led, might have placed on group participants as we tried to help them cultivate “authentic experiences.”
As a trained Living Waters coordinator, I used to hang on to every word Andrew Comiskey said. I even did some online consulting work for him. But today, over a year after leaving his employ as a consultant, I look back and recognize there were signs that something was wrong. In retrospect, I realize I helped build Andrew Comiskey’s online platforms – platforms which have increasingly gotten more vitriolic and stigmatizing toward the LGBT community. I regret that and I’m sorry.
Randy finishes his post like this:
I apologize to the gay community for idealizing and reinforcing the institutional groupthink of Exodus. I apologize for remaining publicly silent about the hurt caused by some of Exodus’ leaders and actions. I also apologize for my inexperienced participation in public policy, placing my personal ambition over truly serving the gay community as a Christian friend.
Moving forward, I pray the Lord helps keep me humble and reveals any issues/situations that require my consideration. I will keep an open heart and ear, and if and when action is necessary, I pray to find the grace and courage to quickly apologize and/or make amends.
I would point out that Randy’s apology doesn’t go quite as far as Alan’s does, and seems to stop just short of condemning efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation, but it’s notable that here, we have yet another former “star” in that movement, apologizing for the harm caused by “ex-gay” programs, and specifically those affiliated with Exodus International. And the part about Comiskey just makes me grin. It’s always nice to watch what happens when people suddenly realize what snakes they’ve been working with and influenced by. We look forward to hearing Randy expound more on what he’s learned from this whole experience.