This is the first scene in a continuing story that L.T. Miller will be sharing with us over the coming weeks about his adventures in (and coming out of) an ex-gay ministry.
I had been on the road for just under a week. Every emotion known to mankind kept me company. And then the moment I remember most clearly, that moment when I first caught glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge – almost there. Oh my God, I thought to myself, what am I doing? I’ve quit my job. I’ve packed all of my belongings into the back of my truck, and I’m about to move into a big house with fourteen strangers all trying to be “straight”.
Think. I had to think. I drove across the bridge and took the first exit into a parking lot with a sweeping view of the city. I was a nervous wreck . . . excited . . . terrified. I remember looking out at the city – the fog looming just above the tops of her towers – pondering the irony of it all, thinking to myself that San Francisco served as beacon of hope for thousands of gays and lesbians from all over the world – a refuge – a place of unbridled freedom. And here I was on the other side, turning my back on that freedom, too afraid of what it would do to me if I embraced it.
My whole body shook as I pulled into the driveway of my new home. Was this real?
“Just chill . . . chill out” . . . I kept telling myself as I got out of the truck . . . then . . . with no warning whatsoever there was a deluge of footsteps and eager smiles coming my way with so much force, I was afraid I was going to be trampled. “You must be L.T.” . . . and before I could utter a word, there were hugs and pats on the shoulder, “Welcome, welcome”. All I could muster was a faint smile. I simply nodded and smiled and followed.
I think it was Jake who made the biggest impression initially. I suppose I was a bit intimidated by him. One thing for sure: he certainly didn’t fit the typical gay stereotype. He was an impressive figure, standing over six feet tall, looking like he had just wandered in from a hard day’s work, barefoot, wearing dirty jeans and a tight black t-shirt, a cowboy hat atop a shock of shoulder length hair. A full beard covered his rugged features. Underneath it all he looked like a weathered Mel Gibson. I wasn’t too sure what to make of him. I’ll never forget him standing there with his calloused hand extended toward me. I stood frozen, not sure how to react to his enthusiasm. I muttered a weak hello and offered my limp hand in return.
Oh dear God in heaven, I thought to myself, why have you forsaken me? All I wanted to do was run – hard and fast – to the first gay bar I could find.
As I nervously mingled with strangers my thoughts were pulled in a million different directions – mostly back to the life I had so hastily deserted – and now here I was in this strange place, surrounded by strange people.
Frank Worthen, the founder of New Hope Ministries, immediately struck me as a kind gentle soul. He had a slight lisp which I found incredibly endearing. New Hope Ministries is the continuation of the work Frank began in 1973 when he committed his life to Jesus Christ. After his conversion he founded Love in Action, now known as Restoration Path, one of the largest and oldest ex-gay ministries in the world. He was also one of the founding fathers of Exodus International North America in 1976, once a world-wide umbrella ministry whose mission was to help gays change their sexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.
Once everyone arrived, we all congregated in the spacious living room and Frank shared his story. He was born in San Francisco in 1929 and recounted what life was like there as a child and his experience growing up gay. When his mother took him to kindergarten, his teacher told her, “Your boy is very different from the other boys.” As he grew older his peers began calling him names which he later learned meant “homosexual”. When he was ten, he began taking piano lessons. He reminisced that his piano teacher knew the Lord in a powerful way. She took him to her church, where he began to study organ. His father died when he was thirteen. During his time of grief, the pastor took an interest in him and over time assumed the role of a father figure. One day he took him into his office and said, “Frank, you are a homosexual.” Then he added that homosexuals were different from other people. This wasn’t the first time Frank had been told he was different. His story resonated deeply.
Afterwards we gathered around the large dining room for our first meal together – prepared by Jake. As he served us, I couldn’t help but notice the dirt caked underneath overgrown fingernails. When we held hands before saying grace, I was thankful that I was not seated next to him. As I sat there and picked at my overcooked chicken and cold mashed potatoes, I said nothing. I watched and observed.
Chris, a tall lanky blond boy held court. He put us all at ease. He was only twenty years old, extremely loud and entertaining. He stood six feet four inches, and possessed a presence that would shake a house. I think it was Ron who came up with the chant we’d later recite in unison whenever he’d enter a room. We’d start in a whisper, “My name is Chris” . . . then as loud as we could, “AND I TALK LIKE THIS!”
Little did I know then that he and I would become lifelong friends. He has been a constant force in my life for almost twenty years, and I can’t imagine this journey without him. And now, although thousands of miles separate us, we still talk and reminisce. Whenever our paths cross it’s akin to riding a bike. There is no awkward silence; we pick up right where we left off, talk a mile a minute, interrupt one another, and finish each others’ sentences.
Over the years Chris has shared with me excerpts from his writings about our experience at New Hope. This pretty much sums up those first days: “It was all about immersion; immersion into the mindset that we must fight against these urges. Immersion into the idea that if we focused on God intensely enough his love would course through us, washing away these evil thoughts”.
I did indeed focus on God intensely that year at New Hope, and as I allowed His love to course through me He revealed Himself to me in a way I never imagined. In time, He helped me realize that my thoughts were far from evil.
photo credit: John (away) via Flickr, cc
L.T. MILLER was born in a small southern town. While in college, he became involved in ex-gay support groups, and in 1996 was accepted into the New Hope Ministries residential program in San Rafael, CA. During his two year stay, he questioned everything until finally he completely abandoned a misguided ideology that made less and less sense. He found a gay church in San Francisco where he was accepted for who he was, and with the loving support of a lesbian pastor he was able to begin life anew as an openly gay man. L.T. Miller is the Ex-Gay Survivor.