Love Won Out in Washington
- Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
- 2002 11 Nov
One of the most divisive issues in the church and society today is homosexual orientation. Are people born gay? Is it possible to change? Focus on the Family tackled this topic Nov. 2 at its Love Won Out conference in Washington, D.C.
"We are motivated out of concern for those who feel trapped by homosexuality," says John Paulk, a former homosexual who hosted the one-day conference. "Contrary to popular opinion, many people struggle with unwanted homosexuality and do not know that change is possible. This conference is a place for them to find the help and hope that I and thousands of other men and women have found."
Love Won Out is led by former homosexuals who are experts in the field of gender identity. They address topics such as the clinical development of homosexuality; the relationship between homosexuality and genetics; the pro-homosexual agenda in public schools; homosexual recovery; and the responsibility of Christians to offer an appropriate, compassionate response to the homosexual community. Special sessions for teachers, pastors and parents are available and local ministries and organizations offer resources.
Focus on the Family has shared this message with more than 14,000 men and women who have attended the ministry's Love Won Out conferences since 1998. In the last year, the conference has seen nearly a 25 percent increase in attendance; future conferences are scheduled through 2003.
Meet One Who Has
"But can homosexuals really change?" you may wonder. If so, listen to Mike Haley's response: "Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt. There are thousands of men and women that I personally know who have. It is possible and the church needs to begin to believe it and help those who really want out."
In an interview with Crosswalk.com, Haley, a former homosexual, shared his story of struggle and transformation. "It is proven that while it is very hard to come out of homosexuality, those who are driven and find hope and support and help from those around them are the ones who make it out."
Haley was raised in the church - born into a family with a very strong Christian heritage. "But," says Haley, "the church that I grew up in had the attitude that there is a hotter place in hell for those who struggle with homosexuality. It became a very uncomfortable place to be for me as a young boy and adolescent struggling with this issue. It wasn't a place where I felt I could go for help. It wasn't a church that stood the ground of being truthful about what God says in regards to the issue of homosexuality. And it was not loving to those who are lost.
"I think had the church done that," he adds, "I might have searched for help. But, instead, I got a one-sided story."
Haley left the church and immersed himself in a homosexual lifestyle. "I delved into the gay community for 12 years. It became a comfortable place for me. The gay community accepted me and I found my place." At the same time, Haley admits, it was also "miserable" for him. He felt he "had" to accept his homosexuality. But then he met someone.
"In my late 20s I finally met a Christian man who pursued me with the love of Christ and showed me the way out. He taught me to go against the things that I believed - that I was born gay, all the misinformation that the gay community likes to preach. I had believed it and fell for it."
When these misconceptions were challenged by Haley's friend, and he began to do his own research, he says he had to "then look myself in the mirror and say, 'Hey if what this guy is saying is real, then there is a way out.'"
In December 1989, after 12 years of being involved in the gay community, Haley "picked up and left everything that I knew, which was a very, very hard decision. I had known this most of my life, and I was expected to come back to a community that I didn't think understood me, much less even liked me."
But Haley somehow found the courage to leave. He found his way to Exodus International, an organization founded by and for men and women who have left the homosexual lifestyle. "I really began to believe that it was possible for me," Haley says. "Slowly but surely, it happened and 13 years later, I have everything I ever could have hoped for - a wife and two boys."
Now a youth and gender specialist for Focus on the Family, Haley coordinates and speaks at Love Won Out conferences nationwide. One trend Haley has watched is that conference attendance continues to grow. "A thousand people will come out to spend an entire Saturday dealing with this. That shows me that the Christian community is wanting and needing the information and is willing to talk about the issue, in hopes that their church can become a place where those struggling with homosexuality can find hope."
According to Haley, most major denominations are now wrestling with where they will stand on the issue of homosexuality. Are they going to ordain gay clergy? Are they going to allow gay marriages? "I think the church can't bury its head any more, like it used to," he adds.
Not Without Protest
The message that change is possible isn't readily embraced by most in the gay community. On Saturday, a coalition of about 12 pro-homosexual groups gathered in a protest outside the church where Love Won Out was held. According to CNS News, Wayne Besen, a spokesman for what the protesters, estimated the crowd at about 70 people.
What prompted the demonstration, Besen told CNS, was a series of advertisements by Focus on the Family in the Metro public transit system, The Washington Post and the Washington City Paper, publicizing the event. Protesters got together to challenge what they saw as the "incredibly dishonest" message of the ads.
According to a press release from Focus on the Family, the ad that appeared last week in the Washington Post recounted the journey of Amy Tracy, a former lesbian who worked as a press secretary at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Tracy, now a senior writer for Focus on the Family, left her life as a feminist activist and a lesbian to pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ.
"Activist organizations in Washington have ridiculed and attacked those of us who have left homosexuality. Some want to deny our story and silence us," Tracy states in the ad. "Our only desire is to help people who want to be free."
Owners of The Washington Blade, the nation's largest gay newspaper, overruled editors who wanted to publish an ad about overcoming homosexuality from one of the country's best-known ex-gays.
The ad in question features John Paulk, manager of Focus on the Family's homosexuality and gender department. Paulk's story of how Jesus Christ helped him leave homosexuality was ridiculed by gay activists in 2000, when he was spotted in and photographed leaving a Washington, D.C., gay bar. Critics cited the event as proof he was "living a lie" as a heterosexual husband and father, a contention Paulk refutes in the advertisement prepared for the Blade.
Blade editors initially agreed to publish the ad, but William Waybourn, president of Window Media, which publishes the Blade and other gay-themed newspapers nationwide, overruled them last week.
Waybourn's rationale, related in an e-mailed statement, was that company policy requires the immediate rejection of any ad from "anti-gay" businesses, regardless of content. Yet a few days earlier, in an interview with the Washington Post, Waybourn indicated that the content of the ad, not who paid for it, was the key consideration. "We're looking at it," he said. "I don't want to censor the ad, but at the same time I want to make sure the ad is correct."
The discrepancy in Waybourn's statements has left Paulk perplexed, according to Focus.
"It seems as if they had to go looking for a reason to reject it," Paulk said. "Evidently, when they looked the ad over, they couldn't find any reason to say that my message and my experience wasn't correct. So they had to bring up this policy to justify keeping this message of hope from their readers."
In the ad, Paulk shares: "It was 15 years ago, to be exact, that I made the decision to leave homosexuality, the only life I'd ever known. At first the journey seemed impossible and the challenges insurmountable. My feelings told me I was a homosexual, my attractions were exclusively to men and I didn't know who or what I would become if I pursued this path. But the pain I felt inside-the pain of broken gay relationships, one night stands, and an inner emptiness that gnawed at my heart propelled me to pursue someone greater: Jesus Christ. He cared for me like no man ever could. Jesus met me in my loneliness and began to teach me how to live apart from homosexuality.
"Ten years ago I fell in love with and married a beautiful woman named Anne. The bond we have is so much more fulfilling than any I had in homosexuality. This November, our third son will be born. It's been a long journey, one that's misunderstood and unsupported by many Christians, by society and by the gay community. But it's a journey that I, and thousands like me, will never regret taking ... for at the end of the road is life."