John Smid was once the director of Love in Action a longtime Exodus International affiliate based in Memphis, TN. I have always found John’s candor refreshing. My first contact with John was at an Exodus meeting where he questioned the slogan, “change is possible.”
In addition to support groups, LIA also had a live-in program known for rigid behavioral rules as a means of reducing same-sex attraction. That program is now closed and John is no longer with LIA.
In recent months, John has developed a ministry called Grace Rivers and has taken a different course in discussing homosexuality. A blog post last week is one that is quite relevant to the claims about change of orientation, recently ignited by the release of a paper in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy containing the final data from Jones and Yarhouse’s study of Exodus participants.
Perhaps the best way to summarize it is to quote significant parts and comment as I go. I recommend reading the entire piece. In response to a reader who asked (in italics):
I have been reading your posts since the beginning. Every week I have more questions. I’m sorry, I don’t understand where repentance fits into all of this. I don’t mean to be harsh….I just honestly don’t understand.
Are you saying homosexuality isn’t wrong or are you saying it is wrong, but we have to be patient while God’s goodness brings the homosexual to repentance? I see that you are saying homosexuals can be Christians, but can they remain that way…never expecting a change?
Smid replies (in italics):
Repentance from something means it has to be something you can control, like actions. So often people will say someone needs to “repent” from homosexuality. It is something that actually cannot be repented of! People are, or they are not, homosexual. It is an intrinsic part of their being or personally, my being. One cannot repent of something that is unchangeable. I have gone through a tremendous amount of grief over the many years that I spoke of change, repentance, reorientation and such, when, barring some kind of miracle, none of this can occur with homosexuality. The article today is a great example of how we as Christians pervert the gospel as it relates to homosexuality as though homosexuals aren’t welcome in the kingdom unless they repent (which many interpret to change). But since homosexuality is not “repentable” then we put homosexuals into an impossible bind.
About sexual orientation change, Smid writes (in italics):
Surely, indiscriminate sexual behavior, stealing, gossip, and other “behaviors” are things that need to be considered when we speak of walking in the kingdom of God. God desires to transform us into His image more and more each day. But in the larger story of the gospel, biblical repentance means to turn our lives to God’s kingdom and away from the kingdom of the world. To change our allegiance from the god of this age, to the Lord of Lords! In this repentance, it allows God to be in the forefront of our lives and we decide to allow His kingdom to reign in us. Therefore we enter into a road of change, transformation. The issue then is what will that change look like for each of us. Yes, there are homosexuals that make dramatic changes in their lives as they walk through the transformation process with Jesus. I have heard story after story of changes that have occurred as men and women find the grace of God in their lives as homosexual people. But, I’m sorry, this transformation process may not meet the expectations of many Christians. I also want to reiterate here that the transformation for the vast majority of homosexuals will not include a change of sexual orientation. Actually I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual. I have met some women who claim that is the case but then again, male sexuality and female sexuality are vastly biologically different so this would not be a fair comparison. (emphasis mine)
Change is a change of mind, a change of behavior and intention but according to Smid, it is not a change of attraction. John notes that some women can make a better case for categorical change, but men and women are different.
John then describes his situation as being a “homosexual and yet in a marriage with a woman.” Mixed orientation marriage is a phrase that makes sense to John as he is deeply in love with his wife but is clear that they are not of the same sexuality.
John Smid has been in the thick of the ex-gay ministry world since at least the mid-1990s, serving on the Exodus board and as the director of one of the most visible ministries in the nation. He has known and knows many more people who have tried to change than I have known. I think his experience is incredibly relevant for the church still struggling with how to address GLBT issues.
Are there any ears to hear?