Beyond Ex-Gay

Statement of Apology by Former Exodus Leader

Jeremy Marks 

Thank you so much for the great opportunity this event provides, to share the journey I have taken, through the past 20 years especially—which has involved moving right away from the ex-gay ethos I embraced in the mid 1980's, in response to the evangelical Christian church’s rejection of homosexuality and same-sex relationships.

Perhaps I should take this opportunity first to say how sorry I am, and to ask forgiveness from all my fellow Gay, Lesbian Bisexual and Trans-gendered people who might be listening to this—for my part in colluding with the religious right in the Western world.  Though at the time we did not see it this way, our collusion involved setting up and maintaining an oppressive anti-gay, and I must also say equally anti-Christian view of homosexuality, that profoundly dishonors Jesus Christ and has betrayed the Gospel.  There really can be no excuse for this.  But there are reasons for it, and I hope this brief statement will begin to shed light on those reasons, and bring understanding and possibly some reconciliation—as that is the ministry of the Gospel.

My story begins with the discovery that I was gay in the mid 1960's, at a time when the UK government changed the law, decriminalizing homosexual acts—almost exactly 40 years ago.  In those days I felt so uncomfortable in experiencing same-sex attractions because it was so different to the experience of everyone else I knew.  So I found refuge in a Church which was willing to embrace a repentant sinner, though this meant I had to fight any homosexual tendencies in thought, word and deed.  This allowed me some acceptance and place in the church, and a number of church leaders gave many hours of their time to “minister” to me—praying for deliverance and healing from homosexuality.  They were always compassionate and caring, but never was there a moment when we might have considered that our traditional view of homosexuality might have been wrong.

In 1986, I became a member of an ex-gay ministry in the UK where, for the first time in my life, I met other gay Christians involved in the same struggle.  Early in 1987, I had the opportunity to visit Love in Action in Northern California, where I was welcomed with immense warmth, kindness and hospitality.  As a result, I returned home to found Courage UK early in 1988.  In those days, when many traditional churches believed all gay people were bound for hell and were without hope, Love in Action founder Frank Worthen and his wife Anita, were true pioneers who gave the best years of their lives and everything they had to help alleviate the suffering and isolation of many gay Christian people.  They got little support or appreciation for their work from the mainline churches.

Back in the UK, we adopted Frank’s Steps Out of Homosexuality program, which we ran through to the end of 1994, when we had to close our live-in houses due to shortage of funds and a number of other practical issues.  This gave me an unexpected break from 7 years of feeling overworked—which allowed me to spend time assessing the long-term fruit of the ministry we had offered. We continued to run weekly support groups, but over the next few years, I became increasingly aware that none of the people who had been through our live-in program had experienced any change whatsoever to their sexuality; indeed the profound sense of having wasted years of their lives in working and praying for change resulted in the majority becoming deeply depressed, cynical and in some cases even suicidal —many losing their Christian faith altogether. A tiny handful, like myself, got married (heterosexually)  but far from this being the outcome of healing or any real change in orientation, we made this choice because in evangelical Christian circles we had just two options—we could either get married, heterosexually, if we wanted close companionship, or we could remain celibate for life.  Same-sex partnerships were never an option for anyone who wished to remain in the evangelical or charismatic churches.  

The one great benefit of our discipleship programs and support group meetings in those days at Courage UK, was that these provided an opportunity for lesbian & gay people to meet other Christians in an environment where they could be completely open and honest about the issues and struggles they faced.  This proved to be of lasting value to them.  Many close friendships were formed that have continued these past 20 years, and a few even found their partners in our group.  This was not officially “allowed”, of course, but I could not condemn them for doing so; I had no better alternative to offer them in view of our total failure to effect the change we had all been looking for.  

Even through the mid to late 1990's, we could see no alternative to the theological approach of our churches.  So we still wanted to find a way out of homosexuality.  Indeed this seemed to be the promise of God for all who truly sought Him, according to our understanding of the Bible.  During this time, I became President of Exodus International Europe.  However, I felt increasingly unhappy at what I saw as the dishonesty of my fellow Exodus ministries—no-one seemed willing to look at the issue of our failure to fulfil the promise of healing we claimed to believe was possible. Nor was anyone prepared to consider there might be an alternative view.  Finally, by the turn of the Millennium, I had personally reached the point where I felt that at the very least we had to respect those who formed committed same-sex partnerships, even if we could not agree on doctrinal grounds.  This forced the issue between me and fellow Exodus leaders with the result that I had to leave the Exodus movement in the summer of 2000.

One year later, I discovered Evangelicals Concerned, a theologically conservative, yet pro-gay, Christian ministry founded by Dr Ralph Blair from New York.  They had operated as a kind of opposite number to Exodus over the same time-span.  There I found Christian fellowship where members could fully embrace the possibility of being gay and Christian without conflict.  I also met many lesbian and gay Christians who had been in long-term committed partnerships, so at last I could see for myself that this is not only possible but entirely appropriate for gay Christians.  Consequently I fully embraced the ethos of EC.

Ever since, at Courage UK, we have operated as a gay-affirming Christian ministry.  As a result, I have become a pariah amongst evangelical and charismatic churches in the UK and beyond.  But apart from the sad loss of what I had believed to be many good friends, I have no regrets.  I could not possibly return to the spiritually and emotionally corrosive ministry style that has proved to be so misguided and downright damaging in the long run.  An interesting corollary is that most of those who had sought our help, who had been with Courage UK from the beginning in 1988, came with us in this journey; the fact is that we had journeyed and made the discovery together—that it is possible to be gay and Christian.

My challenge to Exodus leaders today is to remember that we began as pioneers, but lost our way when we found a measure of acceptance and support from mainline churches.  Instead of listening to the experience of those to who we had offered help, we refused to allow ourselves to face honest and necessary self-criticism, thus we failed to evaluate the long term effects of our work for what it was.  We therefore forsook the path of following the Spirit of Christ.  We compromised and settled for acceptance in the eyes of other Christian leaders—who really know nothing of what it means to be gay and Christian.  

I now want to try and encourage all those so-called “ex-gay” Christians who lead Exodus ministries—who, in their hearts, know very well that what I am saying is true—to change their minds, as I had to—to simply trust in God once again for their credibility and support, even though that may mean risking all, as you did before.  Though it has been tough, and I have lost everything, nevertheless I have found God to be faithful in providing for my basic needs.  So let us return once again to proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ—which is that love, acceptance and forgiveness is available to all who turn to Christ, regardless of their sexuality or gender.  And let us be honest in recognizing that God has commanded us to love one another—for some of us that may mean that our choice of live-partner will be someone of the same sex.

At the last Exodus conference I attended, in the year 2000, I noticed banners displaying the message “Freedom from homosexuality in Jesus Christ.”  This saddened me because I had seen no real evidence of that message in 12 years of attending Exodus conferences.  I knew people who (like me) had married, but that was not the same thing.  

Jeremy Marks is a British evangelical Christian who founded an ex-gay ministry called Courage UK in 1988.  Marks eventually became the President of Exodus International Europe and served on the board of Exodus International.  But by the end of the 1990s, he became seriously concerned about the long-term effects of ex-gay ministries. “I came to understand that our approach was sowing isolation, loss of faith, broken marriages, and even attempted suicides. I knew I must change our ministry approach.”  In 2000, in spite of opposition and ostracism from the evangelical community, Marks transformed Courage UK into a gay-affirming evangelical ministry.  Today Courage UK serves gay and lesbian Christians seeking a safe space to reconcile their faith and sexuality.

Public Apolgy from fromer Exodus Leaders