Coming Out of Homosexuality
An Interview with Bob Davies of Exodus International
Bob Davies is North American Director of Exodus International, a ministry for the support of men and women desiring to overcome homosexuality. He was interviewed by Executive Editor James M. Kushiner in Dallas in March 2000 while attending a conference on the family.
Touchstone: This year  the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., and the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., are facing debates at their national meetings about homosexuality. But this really isn’t news, is it?
Robert Davies (RD): What we see happening in the mainline churches is that it seems like at almost every general conference homosexuality is again an issue that’s up for discussion. I think that in many of these churches there’s a small, vocal gay minority that is very persistent, and they are just not giving up easily. And so they keep bringing it up. In some of these denominations, the church as a whole may say, “We have made a stand on this.” But then it comes up again; they just will not let it rest.
Alan Medinger, director of Regeneration, thinks that eventually you have to cease and desist from any more discussion on it because once the church makes a decision, it needs to just let the issue lie and stop bringing it up every year or two. He sees continued discussion as having the potential to go in only one direction and that’s to a more liberal position. Eventually the dialogue has to stop. You should move onto other issues, not keep bringing it up again.
It would seem, however, that simple persistence is the strategy for victory of the homosexual activists.
RD: Definitely. You wear down the resistance. The conservatives get tired of discussing it and then the more liberal people come in and take over the discussion and push through their agenda.
You said a “vocal minority.” I assume that is a pretty small minority, but there must be a lot of people who are supportive of that small group.
RD: If you look at the gay community in general, I think that there is a silent majority. But then there’s a small group that keeps agitating for “rights” and “gay marriage” and adoption and so on. But it’s always the small group within the gay community. I think that’s parallel to what’s happening in the church, too. It’s always the small, vocal group. They’re in the minority but they make a lot of noise so they get a lot of attention.
The word gay is a fabricated word that has taken another word and radically changed its meaning. As somebody has said about homosexuality, there’s nothing gay about it. What do you think about the use of the word gay?
RD: I have been asked the question before and there are certainly valid viewpoints on both sides. It’s a matter of discussion. My personal conviction and practice is that I do use the word gay in discussing this subject. My reason for this is that I view the homosexual community as almost a culture or subculture unto itself.
It’s kind of an evangelistic frame of mind that I’m going into here. When you go into another culture, you have to communicate in terms that they understand, that they relate to. For me, using the word gay is one more way to communicate clearly on their terms in an area where I don’t feel like compromising. Certainly, if we got into a discussion of the sinfulness of homosexuality or whatever, there’s no compromise on those things. But terminology is an area where there is a variety of opinions. Some people are very uncomfortable using the word gay and they stick with what they feel is the more biblically appropriate term of homosexual or lesbian. I understand that and I don’t think that’s a problem, but I have come to a different conclusion.
At least as far as when you’re in dialogue with the “gay” community.
RD: And perhaps it’s partly out of carelessness on our part, too. Because we’re discussing the subject so much around our ministry, we tend to adapt the terminology that is current in our culture, perhaps out of laziness. Even among ourselves, we tend to use the current terminology.
Can you tell our readers what Exodus International is and what it does?
RD: Yes, that’s my specialty. Exodus is a worldwide coalition of ministries to help men and women overcome homosexuality. We have 105 ministries in North America, and I’m the North American director. We also have coalitions in Europe, the South Pacific, and Latin America, and we’re developing in other world regions. We’ve been around for 25 years.
How long have you been with Exodus?
RD: Over 20 years. Exodus started in 1976 in California. I came along in 1979. It kind of grew up around me. I was the right guy at the right place at the right time.
And you are now based in Seattle?
RD: Yes. The office in Seattle is the administrative headquarters and referral center. So we get up to 800 people per month contacting us for help and, obviously, with my small staff of four, we would be quickly overwhelmed if we tried to help all these people. What we do is put them in touch with a local ministry that can give them ongoing counseling.
What kind of help are they asking for?
RD: Usually these are people who are Christians. They’re born again and the main reason they come to us is that they are in conflict with their homosexual feelings. From our office we have resources (a monthly newsletter that goes out to about 9,000 people in 47 countries, books, tapes, and videos) that we make available. I’ve written and co-authored a couple of books myself. A lot of books now that are in Christian bookstores on the subject of homosexuality and homosexual recovery are written by people who are leaders of Exodus.
We also do a lot of public relations work. I do radio interviews mostly on Christian stations. It’s a good opportunity to feel the pulse of what people are thinking and feeling out there and the questions that they have. We are right in the middle of another book project this year and we have developed a new website. So, we’ve really in the last ten years come to the fore in terms of leading the Body of Christ in disseminating this information, which has been really exciting.
I think one of the things that we’re known for is the powerful tool of the testimony, the witness that we give. Many of our leaders have overcome homosexuality. So they are there as role models and mentors to other people who are seeking that same change. I think that this role modeling is very powerful because a lot of people in the gay community have never really known or understood that they have a choice.
A lot of them have been aware of homosexual feelings for many years, and they feel that this is something that is inborn; it’s genetic, and they can’t overcome it. When Exodus comes along and says not only can it be overcome, but we have overcome it in our own lives, that can be very threatening to the gay community because it begins to undercut the whole premise of their modern movement, which says that it’s genetic and therefore unchangeable. That’s the whole basis of gay rights in our culture. When we come up against that, we get a pretty strong reaction.
What kinds of reactions have you encountered?
RD: A couple of years ago we had a media campaign in which 15 major Christian ministries sponsored full-page ads in newspapers like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and USA Today. We had about 3,900 calls in response to that campaign over a six-week period. We had never had such a large quantity of phone calls.
I would say about 95 percent of those calls were from hostile gays and lesbians telling us in the vilest language imaginable that we should cease and desist from giving this message. That really opened my eyes to see how threatening our message is to the modern gay movement. When we were able to get it out to millions of people, we ended up on the cover of Newsweek magazine, Peter Jennings, ABC, NBC, Good Morning America, and other shows. It also generated coverage in a tremendous number of newspapers.
The gay community, I think, for the first time realized we were a significant force to be reckoned with. In the past they had always dismissed us, saying, “This is a small fringe movement. These people are never going to amount to much. They have no impact.”
But when they saw us getting on the national media, they really stood up and took notice. They let us know that they were very unhappy with this message getting out. Since then, they have really started to come out against our organization. There’s a battle going on in the worldwide web because the gay and lesbian organizations have a lot of major sites. They don’t hesitate at all to strike back against Exodus on their websites and ridicule what we’re doing.
I’ll give you another current example of what’s happening in the war of the media. For some reason, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who has 20 million listeners everyday on her radio show, has really come out to basically promote our cause. She talks about Exodus frequently and is very supportive of people getting therapy to change. The gay community has targeted her as the major enemy. She is supposed to be getting a contract for a television show, and they have made a major stink about it. They’ve gone to Hollywood, they’ve staged protests, and they’ve harassed directors and other people in power in the media to get them to cancel her television show unless she stops promoting this message that gays should change. So that’s an example of what’s happening even outside of our conservative Christian circles. They are coming against us with everything they have.
Now, she’s saying that gays should change as opposed to can change?
RD: She’s saying that therapy should be available for people who want it.
Have you felt drawn into or felt pressure to speak out on the “gay marriage” issue, such as the Vermont legislative vote?
RD: Typically we haven’t because we have always taken a stand that we’re non-political. We feel that if we’re drawn into those kinds of discussions, they could quickly become a major focus of our ministry and that’s not why we feel God has called us to this. There are other ministries like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and so on, that deal with those types of issues. When the media calls me for comments, I always refer them to those organizations.
Something has happened in the last couple of years with those ministries that I think is very exciting. They have begun to hire former homosexuals and lesbians as spokesmen for this issue, which is a very powerful tactic. There’s a woman named Yvette Cantu, who’s at Family Research Council. John Paulk, Mike Haley, and Amy Tracy are at Focus on the Family. These people have come out of homosexuality, so they understand the whole political thing from an inside point of view. They are very effective in their way of issuing statements to come out against it because their very presence undercuts the message of the pro-gay community. I think it’s a very effective strategy, and it’s being used more and more in conservative Christian circles. So I say, “Right on.”
What would someone who has come out of homosexuality say about “gay marriages”?
RD: Let’s go back to the basic premise, that a lot of this is based on the “fact” that homosexuality is genetic and it cannot be changed. If you’re creating a platform on that structure and somebody, namely a former homosexual, comes along and speaks against it, then you’re given a double-whammy. There’s double power to their message because their personal witness supports their message that homosexuality is not genetic and that it can be changed. Therefore, the basic argument defending gay marriage is illogical. It’s not the truth.
But our society has divorced sex from procreation, so that sex has come to be seen as an end in itself that provides pleasure, intimacy, and so on. If the primary goal of sex is not procreation but rather pleasure—then doesn’t it make sense that a society with such a view would eventually recognize “same-sex marriages”?
RD: Yes it does.
To what extent have the churches bought into that kind of thinking?
RD: I’m not sure about the churches, but I know in our secular culture this idea of separating sex from procreation has really made inroads, and I believe that it’s paved the way for a greater acceptance of gay marriage and adoption and the movement for gay “rights.” Gay marriages are their next big push, and that’s where we see a lot of activity in the legal realm right now. I don’t know the specific figures off the top of my head, but I know that the pro-gay movement is making significant inroads in changing the cultural opinion about some of these issues. Years ago, they would never have made it to first base with it. Now they’re almost hitting a home run.
It’s shocking to see how much erosion of attitudes has occurred in the last 30 years, and how many people are now buying into it. Unfortunately, what I see happening, in general, is that the Church is so heavily influenced by our culture and media, and it really does make me wonder where the Church will be in 20 years on this issue. The church’s door is being pounded on from without by our culture to break down its attitudes and its “prejudices” about some of these issues. We’re seen as backwards and as bigots. There’s a lot of name-calling going on that I think is very unfair. I just say, without apology, that my beliefs are based on an unchanging Scripture that’s a revelation of God himself. The whole premise is not open for discussion with me.
I think that, ultimately, that’s what the Church needs to come back to, that there are certain unchangeable laws and principles based in Scripture that we have to hold onto because once we begin compromising in one area, it can be like dominoes. I see that beginning to happen in some of the denominations, in which there is a small, vocal minority that is trying to change their denominational stance, especially in the area of homosexuality; they’re trying to get affirmation ceremonies for homosexual couples and they’re pushing for ordination.
What’s really disturbing to me is that an increasing number of clergy are not only abandoning biblical standards, but are banding together and affirming that apostasy in one another. One fellow will get together and bless two men who want to make a commitment, and 15 other clergy will attend the ceremony and be witnesses to that. This is a new trend. In the United Methodist Church, groups of clergy are now banding together almost like rebellious bands.
It doesn’t seem that the hierarchy is dealing effectively with the problem, so what then?
RD: I think it’s getting harder for the hierarchy or the officials to come out against these growing numbers of activists who are getting organized. The conservatives have to exhibit a similar solidarity so that they can hold the line, and I see that that’s also happening. There are other ministries parallel to Exodus that exist; one of them is called Transforming Congregations, which is primarily a United Methodist movement, so they have a very high presence at the General Convention, and they’re really organizing to get this message out to as many churches as possible.
The basic premise of that whole movement is that congregations should be the avenues for life transformation. They are saying that you don’t accept somebody with his sin; rather, you seek to bring him into wholeness by applying the life change of Christ to his struggle, in this instance, his homosexual struggle. These are churches then that have the message of hope and change that are coming together as a national organization so that they can ultimately have an impact on where their denomination goes on this issue. I think that is a really exciting development.
It often takes the support of a local body, either the church as a whole, or a support group—Bible study, accountability group, maybe a Promise Keepers group—because these men or women are often struggling alone. For a lot of us, it’s been a deep, dark secret that we’ve never told anyone else. A lot of these people really need to be surrounded by some healthy same-sex relationships.
Could you explain that aspect—the need for a healthy same-sex relationship—and how that relates to healing for homosexuals?
RD: I believe that homosexuality for a lot of men is birthed in a lack of same-sex affirmation. The enemy comes in and seeks to lead them astray, saying, “You can fulfill these needs in a sexual way.”
What these guys are looking for is same-sex affirmation, so the solution is to have those legitimate needs met in a healthy, godly way. At its root, it’s an emotional and spiritual problem. We have to apply a spiritual solution, and I believe that connecting with other men has for many former homosexuals been absolutely a key to their development and their healing.
Also, the other element, of course, is to really bring to bear on the issue the whole power and hope of the gospel, particularly in relating to God as a loving Father, because a lot of these men have struggled in a relationship with their dad or with older men. There’s been a distance there and an alienation.
When they come into faith, they really struggle with the idea that God wants to be intimately and lovingly involved in their life because they’ve never experienced that on an earthly level. We know that the patterning that we get from our earthly father is often, for better or worse, how we perceive God as Father. A lot of these guys have very negative experiences to overcome in order to grow as Christians.
There’s very powerful role modeling that can go on with other men in the church to demonstrate what it means to be loving, accepting, and affirming, but in a godly way, not in a sexual way. The needs of these men have to really be met.
Many lesbians have been very wounded by men. I believe that they’re on a flight from masculinity. Anything masculine to them represents hurt and pain. A huge number of the women coming to our ministries have been sexually abused, and they have a whole series of problems that they have to deal with in approaching God as a heavenly Father as well.
I think that the intervention and the role modeling of other men in the Church can be a bridge for them to see that not all men are out to hurt them and that there are godly men who are interested in their well-being, who affirm them as women, and who delight in their femininity as they continue to grow in Christ as women. Male leadership is tremendously important for both the men and the women who are coming out of these homosexual struggles to exhibit what godly masculinity and femininity really is.
Many people don’t believe that homosexual persons can change. Is there any evidence that there’s any genetic basis for homosexuality? You have much anecdotal evidence of people who have actually come out of homosexuality; is there any way you can make that case?
RD: Let’s look at the genetic argument for a minute because I think this is a very important question about which even many Christians are confused.
There are three statements that I’ll make about the case for inborn homosexuality. Number one is that it’s very inconclusive. These studies are often one-time studies that have never been replicated. Number two is that very often the researchers of the most publicized studies are homosexual and have been very public about it. Sometimes they have even admitted that they are very invested in the results of their studies for personal reasons. This doesn’t mean that I would dismiss their studies, but that I would look at them very carefully. Number three is that secular research is never going to be able to prove objectively a spiritual reality. So, we have to be careful that if we’re looking at science to prove something that is based on the power of God working in our lives, then we need to be careful about basing our whole case on science or on psychology, which can be shaky foundations.
But isn’t there objective evidence that shows that individuals engaged in a homosexual lifestyle at some point stopped and became, if this is the right way to put it, heterosexual?
RD: Certainly, as you said, we have hundreds of anecdotal studies. What we’re now pursuing is how to use psychological techniques to prove what we know as a reality in these people’s lives. I expect that within the next five years, we will have studies available that will prove that what we are saying is true, that God is in the process of changing these people and releasing them from homosexuality. I think where the problem comes in is that in the real world, this is not a clean, one- hundred-percent transformation, because we understand as Christians that all of us live in a fallen world and we’re still clothed in fallen flesh.
The problem I run into over and over again is that if somebody claims to have been changed and yet admits to any ongoing temptation or struggle, they are immediately dismissed by the world. The world says that if you’ve really changed, you won’t have any kind of struggle at all. That is a false premise that can be intimidating to the person who’s trying to witness as a changed being. They know that there is some level of residue, such as memories or associations, from their past. The enemy knows the weak areas in our armor and he’ll try to tempt us. As soon as there’s any level of temptation, the world says, “See, you haven’t changed.”
So, that can be an issue that we tend to struggle with in Exodus. Like any recovery program, we claim that the process of change is ongoing, and from the biblical point of view that the transformation will never be fully complete until it’s in Christ. We’re all in process, so it’s very easy for the world to mock and despise us. Those of us who are in a process of change know that our transformation, though it may not be complete, is at the same time significant, deep, and genuine.
There are an increasing number of men and women in Exodus leadership who were once deeply involved in the homosexual life and are now married and raising families. That, to me, is radical transformation. Whether or not those people still have some degree of ongoing struggles is not the issue. Spiritual warfare is a reality for all of us, so I would expect that there probably would be some level of struggle from the past. But that does not negate the fact that their lives have been radically changed by the power of Christ.
What about the failures—people who seem to leave homosexuality and then go back to it?
RD: We’ve had some highly publicized failures even among our leadership. I can’t speak for those individuals, but I know that many happened in the early days of Exodus when we still had a very rudimentary understanding of counseling techniques. That has not totally gone away, but it has certainly diminished in the last 20 years.
I think that some of the people who came to Exodus in the early days—and I still see this—come in with certain expectations that I don’t believe are biblical. They have certain conditions that God must meet them this way, on this time frame, to this degree of change, and if he doesn’t, then they give up. They don’t realize that it’s a difficult process, even with the overwhelming power of Christ. Homosexuality is a deep-rooted issue that can go back to the earliest years of life. It is a very hard struggle for many of these people.
They say, “I’ll give it my best shot for two years. If I’m not totally and radically changed and ready for marriage in two years, then I’m out of here.” They don’t even think about this rationally, but this is what happens.
I don’t think you can come to God on your terms; you have to come on his terms. Whether or not the change occurs in that time frame, I think a better way to approach it, is to say, “Lord, I totally surrender this part of my life to you. Do whatever you will with me. I’m going to follow you no matter what changes or what doesn’t change.” Those tend to be the people who are still around after 20 years, because they’re pursuing Christ more than they are pursuing a change in their sexuality. The change is a by-product of their fervent pursuit of Christ.
At Exodus, do you put people in touch with one another at the local level? Are there any kind of support groups through local chapters and various organizations?
RD: We have 105 local chapters and what we do is put them in touch with a local ministry and, very often, they’ll have a weekly support group. They immediately go into the support group and begin meeting other people. We recognize that there is a certain danger in that. You have to have strong leadership and clear boundaries. Many ministries actually screen these individuals before they get into a group situation to make sure that they really do know Christ and are really serious about change. So, it’s a building up situation rather than a tearing down. It’s the local ministries that actually run these support groups.
What kind of relationships do some of the local chapters have with the local church? Is there pastoral involvement?
RD: I’ll give you an example from my own life. I was involved in a ministry in the San Francisco area for 18 years, which was very involved with the local church. Everyone in the ministry attended a weekly support group for people overcoming homosexuality, but then church attendance on Sunday and involvement in a church Bible study were also mandatory. They strongly encouraged the guys who were in the program to participate in other church activities, like the singles’ group.
So, there was a constant feeding back and forth between the church and the support ministry. I’m convinced—I’ve seen this over and over again—the degree of change that we saw was certainly empowered by that involvement in the local church. I believe that if you are with other people in a similar struggle, it can be tremendously liberating.
But, ultimately, your growth has to be bigger than just your little group, what we call an ex-gay subculture. You have to get into the Body of Christ. You have to be experiencing meaningful relationships with people who have never had that struggle because it’s another level of acceptance and healing that comes when you’re embraced by the Body of Christ at large. And that, to me, is a really important part.
A lot of these ministries are very much involved with the local church. Some of them are actually under the covering of a local church; others are more interdenominational. They are run by a board of directors, but they have significant relationships with other churches in their city.
I imagine that some people don’t get the support that they need from their local church. What then?
RD: There are other parallel ministries besides Exodus, like Courage, which is a Roman Catholic ministry. A person may get in touch with his local Courage chapter and fellowship with other Roman Catholics in that context and still be involved in Exodus. It’s not an either/or situation. It really depends on the people and what they’re looking for. Some of them may be going to, say, their local denominational church on Sunday, but they may be involved in other activities during the week at another church or in a fellowship that is embracing several churches. I think there are ways that they can get those needs met during the week, even if their family prefers the local mainline church.
Say a group of Roman Catholic priests, Presbyterian and Baptist pastors were to ask you, “What should we be doing? What could we do better?” What would you tell them?
RD: One thing that I challenge pastors to do is to give the whole counsel of God in relationship to the issue of homosexuality. We have done a terrific job of sending out the message that homosexuality is not God’s intent for mankind. People know that in the gay community. They know somehow that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin, but often what I hear over and over again is that “I never heard the second part of the message, which is that this is something that God can heal and forgive.”
I think that is the challenge that I want to issue to the Church. We need to give that hope for change; we need to remind people that this is a sin, but like any other sin, it can be forgiven by Christ. There are many people in the churches today who are silently struggling with this issue. They don’t know where to go; they have their radar out for a word of hope from people who have understanding and compassion. I think that if pastors would bring this up, perhaps in a message, in a newsletter, or at a Bible study—a neutral context and a message of hope, not condemnation—and welcome hurting people who need help, they might be shocked at how many people in their church would come forward with hidden sins that they have never been able to bring out.
I’ll give you one example. There’s a pastor of a very large church in California who gave that message one Sunday morning. He said, “If you’re struggling with homosexuality, we want to help you and I want you to contact me this week. We will match you up with a man in the church who has never had this struggle. He will mentor you, walk beside you, and pray for you.”
To make a long story short, within a month or two they had a group of approximately 40 men who were involved in those kinds of relationships. That was the degree of struggle existing in that large church, and I think that is probably paralleled in many other churches around the country. They’ve just never had the invitation from the pulpit to be open about this struggle and to seek help. I think that is the challenge.
Especially in North American churches, we are very much into imagery and we appear to have it together. I lived my whole life like that, behind walls that indicated that I didn’t have any significant struggles. I think that’s the beauty of groups like Promise Keepers that are beginning to break down that wall so men can be honest with one another. They find that huge numbers of men are dealing not only with homosexuality, but also with sexual addiction, pornography, and other sexual impurities. It’s just rampant in the Church. These men don’t know where to go; they don’t want to be the first ones to have to bring the subject up because it’s too risky and they may be rejected. I think the message of hope and healing has to come from the pulpit.
Letters Welcome: One of the reasons Touchstone exists is to encourage conversation among Christians, so we welcome letters responding to articles or raising matters of interest to our readers. However, because the space is limited, please keep your letters under 400 words. All letters may be edited for space and clarity when necessary. firstname.lastname@example.org
“Coming Out of Homosexuality” first appeared in the July/August 2001 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue. Click here for a printer-friendly version.
An introductory subscription (six copies for one year) is only $29.95.