Chapter 1.
Can Homosexuals Really Change?

From childhood Mike Reed felt different from other boys. "Hey, sissy!" they would taunt him on the school playground. "You throw that ball like a girl!" Sometimes the attacks went further than words, like the time some boys put needles in their shoes with the points sticking out from the inside. Then they cornered Mike on the playing field and kicked him hard enough to draw blood. After that he started shaking whenever any of the "tough" boys approached him.

In high school Mike landed a part in the school play and began hanging out with the kids in theater. He discovered many of them had also experienced peer rejection, so they banded together for mutual support. But he did not tell even his closest friends about his growing sexual attraction to other men.

When Mike had his first homosexual encounter while in college, he felt like he had finally found himself. After that initial experience, he began to frequent gay bars and became involved in numerous sexual relationships with other men.

Then Mike "fell in love" with a man and they began a long-term relationship. This is what I've always been looking for, Mike told himself. He felt as if his needs for male love and attention were finally being met.

But the "long-term" relationship only lasted a year and then fell apart. Mike began a spiritual search which led him through mysticism, yoga, Religious Science, Christian Science and finally to Christ "Two friends from work took me to a church where I heard that Jesus died for my sins," Mike recalls. "After that I started pulling away from the gay bars."

Then Mike saw an attractive man at church whom he had previously seen in the bars. They talked after the service and felt an instant bond. We're both gay and we also have a common faith in God, Mike thought. It seemed like the perfect basis for a relationship and soon they were sexually involved.

Two weeks later both of them became convicted that something was wrong. One night in bed, Mike's lover turned to him and said, "We can't do this anymore. It's wrong." He opened his Bible and showed Mike where it forbade homosexual relationships.

"The Scriptures hit me like a brick between the eyes," Mike admits. "We got down on our knees and asked the Lord to help us turn away from homosexuality."

Mike moved into a home with two other Christian friends who had no past gay experiences, and his spiritual journey began in earnest. Even when he worked in a restaurant about two blocks from one of the gay bars and his old friends came in and harassed him, Mike stood firm. He began to see the dissatisfaction and emptiness in their eyes that previously he had felt in his own heart.

Eventually, Mike heard about Love In Action, a Christian ministry located in San Rafael, California, which specialized in helping people overcome homosexuality. He joined their live-in program in June 1979. During the months that followed, Mike began to deal with deep issues in his life, such as his masculine identity, feelings of inferiority to other men, discipline of his thought life, and the need to form healthy friendships with other straight men in his church.

Slowly over the next several years Mike began to experience significant and lasting changes. His friendships with other men especially transformed his life, as God used them to minister healing and acceptance. At times he was discouraged by continuing homosexual temptations, but he persisted in seeking change.

"As I persevered, God brought me through," Mike says. He read in the Bible over and over how much God loved him and had a purpose for his life. "A renewing of my mind was taking place, but it took time I had to be patient."

As he gained confidence, Mike slowly began taking more of a leadership role in the worship team at his church. Eventually, he led worship regularly for the congregation of two hundred adults. Although he still struggled at times with memories of his past involvement in homosexuality, Mike pushed forward into new challenges and friendships. He wanted everything that God had planned for his life.

Then Mike began dating women he met at his church. One of these relationships matured into a serious commitment, and in 1987 Mike was married. Today he and his wife, Helen, have three children.

Now Mike says his previous lifestyle seems far behind him. "I see myself as a fulfilled man, as a strong and stable person. I don't look at myself as being homosexual I don't even think of myself as 'ex-gay' so much. It's an area that I relate to less and less."

Change Is Possible

Mike Reed is just one of hundreds of men we know personally who have overcome homosexuality. We are also familiar with numerous women who have experienced similar changes in overcoming a lesbian past.

Starla Allen is one example. "My childhood was normal in many ways," she recalls. "Though my parents were strict, I knew they loved each other. Our home was secure. Yet, looking back, I'm aware of several events that helped set me up to later pursue a lesbian relationship."

When Starla was four years old, her family visited her grandparents. "Amid all the chit-chat, my grandfather started teasing me and he hurt my feelings. I started crying. My father didn't know how to respond. He took me into a bedroom and told me to stay there until I could 'pull myself together.' I felt ashamed, like I was being punished. I won't show that kind of emotion again to Dad, I promised myself.

"As my younger sister and I grew up, our parents warned us about the dangers of men, especially strangers," Starla remembers. "My father once told me, 'If anyone ever hurts my little girl, I'll kill him.'"

One night when Starla was thirteen, she'd been babysitting for a couple she knew. As the man drove her home afterward, anxious thoughts went through Starla's mind: Why is he stopping at the liquor store on the way to my home? And why is he turning onto this dirt road? The man parked the car right next to a lake, with Starla's door opening directly over the water. "Why are you doing this?" Starla yelled, as this man pinned her down against the seat of the car. Panicking, she realized there was no way to escape without further bodily harm. He proceeded to rape her.

"I remember the awful feeling of being violated, of having my own emotions totally ignored while he fulfilled his desires. I wondered if I'd done anything to encourage his advances. I didn't think so. Still, I felt deeply ashamed."

After the rape, Starla also remembered her dad's warnings about men. "I honestly feared Dad might kill this guy if I told him what had happened. If Dad did that, he could go to jail. I decided to tell no one, just stuff the whole experience down inside myself and forget about it."

Outwardly, Starla's parents noticed that she started acting a little tougher and "more ornery." She dressed in baggy shirts and blue jeans, wore no makeup, and kept her hair cut short. But they attributed all this to normal teenage behavior.

Throughout high school, Starla tried dating. But a deep-seated fear and hatred of men had already taken root in her heart. "Unconsciously, I viewed men as adversaries to be conquered. With that attitude, my dating life was a disaster, which proved not only that I didn't need men, but that they didn't need me, either."

In college, Starla met Kathy, who seemed to be a kindred spirit. "I taught her how to fence. She taught me to play handball. But what really affected me was her offer to pay for our sodas after a handball game. I knew she was very short on money, yet she offered to do this. Such a little thing, yet it made me feel like I could let down my guard with her. As I began to open up, we developed a deep emotional connection. I even shared my rape experience with her. Gradually, a physical attraction developed between us and we became lovers.

"We were together for about five years. The first few years were full of romance. But eventually, I realized I was sacrificing myself to this relationship, much more than she was. I did the housecleaning, shopping and cooking so she could pursue her artistic talent. Eventually, she started seeing a man. When I objected to this, she snapped, 'You can either learn to handle it, or we're through.'"

Starla stayed with her lover, though the relationship continued to crumble. In desperation, she also tried dating a young man she knew. But her emotional pain continued to build to the point where suicide seemed like a reasonable option.

"I even had my method of suicide picked out. In my emptiness, I surveyed the wreckage of my life. Was this all there was? Then I remembered the words of Mom Nelson, a woman who'd headed a girls' group back in high school. 'Jesus can really change your life,' she always said. I thought, Well, I've tried everything else. I might as well give him a chance." Starla uttered a simple prayer: "God, if you're up there, I'm giving you three days. Here is my life. See what you can do."

Exactly three days later, Starla ran into Mrs. Nelson and told her about the prayer. They found a quiet spot nearby and had a long talk. Then they prayed together, and Starla asked God to forgive her past and help her begin again.

Starla moved to her own apartment and spent hours alone reading the Bible. She found a local church where she felt much love and acceptance, even after she shared her past with some of the church members. "My first year as a Christian was like a honeymoon period. Sexual temptation was not a big problem. I felt I'd finally found Someone who would give me all the love I could stand."

Over the years, Starla's healing has come in many ways. "The most significant change I've experienced is in being released from my hatred of men," she says. "First, I reached a point where I knew God just wanted me to be willing to forgive men, including the man who raped me. He knew I could not forgive emotionally, but he just wanted my willingness. The best I could do was to pray, 'OK, God, I'll try.' This hatred of men was such a stronghold, but over time, with prayer and even fasting, I could feel my attitudes changing. Eventually, I reached the point where I could actually pray for the man who raped me and mean it."

Today, Starla is a Ph.D. candidate. As a therapist, she helps both men and women find healing and resolution from damaged emotions. But her experience especially equips her to offer encouragement to other women seeking to come out of a lesbian past.

"Close, caring relationships with other godly men and women have been so important," she says. "The freedom to talk and share my emotions with others has helped remove the blanket of guilt and blame under which I suffocated for so many years. As I've realized I in no way encouraged the man who raped me, I no longer need to hide the woman within me. I am free to dress, feel, think and respond in ways that express my femininity. I'm discovering the woman who was suppressed inside of me for so long."

For the man or woman struggling with homosexuality, there is hope for healing and new freedom in Christ!

The authors of this book, Bob Davies and Lori Rentzel, have worked in the field of ex-gay ministry since 1979, when we both joined the staff of Love In Action in San Rafael, California. Both of us have been involved in the leadership of Exodus International, a worldwide referral and resource network of ex-gay ministries; since 1985, Bob has served as executive director for Exodus. Despite similarities in our ministry involvement, however, we entered this field of ministry for very different reasons.

Lori's Story

One October evening in 1977, I settled in to work my shift as a phone counselor for a twenty-four-hour Christian crisis hotline in Minneapolis. While I stared at the phones, waiting for the lines to start buzzing, a friend of mine placed a copy of the Love In Action newsletter in my hands. "Lori, look at this."

I read that Love In Action was looking for someone with writing skills, office background, and an interest in homosexuality to work in their ministry office and put together counseling materials.

"That sounds like me," I said, and my friend agreed. In addition to phone counseling at the hotline, I had studied journalism in college, worked a few years as a newspaper reporter, and was currently a receptionist. More significantly, I had recently learned a lot about homosexuality, more than I had ever expected to know. Through a relationship with a close friend who was seeking Christian help in overcoming homosexuality, I had discovered that such help was hard to come by. For people getting out of drugs, alcohol, or even prostitution, Christian counseling and support were plentiful. For the man or woman trying to break out of homosexuality such counseling was almost nonexistent.

Also, back in 1977, material on homosexuality written from a Christian perspective was scarce. A few balanced articles were available, but most tended to be poorly written, discouraging or sensationalistic. ("I was delivered of ten demons of homosexuality, and now I'm totally free!")

After reading the Love In Action newsletter, I was excited by the opportunity to be personally involved in changing this bleak situation. An exchange of letters and a visit to the ministry confirmed to all involved that I belonged at Love In Action, so in January 1979, I boarded a Northwest Orient jet, leaving icebound Minneapolis for the lush, green hills of San Rafael, California.

I passionately believed the Bible promised healing and change for people coming out of homosexuality and lesbianism. My goal, when I arrived at Love In Action, was to communicate this hope through writing. But nothing worthwhile comes easily. Being involved in ministry to men and women changing something as deep as sexual identity exacts a price. I didn't remain a detached, helpful observer for long. In the process of equipping me to minister to others, God allowed me to face my own desperate inner sins, struggles, misbeliefs and insecurities.

For the next few years, I lived in the ministry's community houses, sharing daily life with both men and women coming out of the gay and lesbian lifestyles. We spent countless hours talking, praying, crying, sharing confidences—plus just hanging out and having fun together. Some of my deepest and best relationships were formed in those years.

In sharing homes and friendships with women seeking healing from lesbianism, I learned a lot about myself. Areas of shakiness in my own sexual identity quickly surfaced. Though I have never been involved in a lesbian relationship, I did go through a period of several months during which I experienced strong sexual and emotional attractions to women. I had to examine hurts and attitudes within myself and get counsel and prayer support from trusted Christian men and women around me.

Those particular temptations passed, but never again will I view my sexuality as something set in stone. And not a year goes by where I do not question, examine and pray about some facet of what it means to be a woman or uncover some new area of my sexuality that needs healing or redefining. As the mother of three small daughters, I have added motivation for discovering and embracing God's full intent for me as a woman.

Bob and I have done much reading and research on homosexuality and lesbianism, examining both from secular and Christian viewpoints. Both of us have experienced much healing in our lives and sexuality. But perhaps the best thing we have to share in this book is our experience of living for years "in the trenches" with men and women going through the excruciating, amazing process of being healed in their sexual identities. We've been there, talking through decisions, grappling with hard questions, seeing hope come into people's faces. We've struggled alongside, sharing in the journey of healing.

We are well-acquainted with how tough this journey is, too well-acquainted to sit in harsh judgment on friends and counselees who have opted to return to homosexual involvement. Yet we have witnessed solid, substantial healing in so many men and women over so many years that we can say without hesitation, "There is a way out of homosexuality. For the man or woman who truly desires it, there is hope and healing in Christ."

Bob's Story

I will never forget the day when, at age fourteen, I read a book for teens on the "facts of life." Near the end was a chapter that described the symptoms of homosexuality. Much to my horror, I discovered that every single quality applied to me!

I had been raised in the church; prayer, daily Bible reading and weekly Sunday School attendance were ingrained habits. So how could I have this problem? I wondered.

Rather than seek help, I hid my fears, withdrew from everyone and eventually quit going to church. Why bother, when God seemed irrelevant to my deepest needs?

In my late teens, while a freshman at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, I checked out books on homosexuality and learned of the large gay subculture in many North American cities. Curious, I began visiting adult bookstores and reading homosexual magazines. Only guilt and fear kept me from pursuing actual sexual encounters with other men.

Eventually, several years later, I made a renewed commitment to my childhood faith and was accepted as a student at Prairie Bible College in Three Hills, Alberta. During the next three years, I was spiritually strengthened by a constant diet of God's Word, both in the classroom and my private studies. My self-confidence blossomed as I experienced close friendships with other men—something I had never known before. Yet I kept my homosexual desires a deeply hidden secret.

Two years after graduation, I attended a discipleship training school in Germany run by Youth With A Mission, a worldwide evangelistic ministry. After the six-month program, I began praying about my future. How did God want me to serve him?

One morning during prayer, I saw myself back home, handing out tracts in front of Vancouver's largest gay bar. My heart sank. No way, I moaned inwardly. I'll do anything—except that!

Over the next several years I tried to forget about my continuing homosexual struggles. I started training for the mission field. I was still sexually abstinent, but the pull toward homosexual relationships was growing stronger. Then one day I read a book which mentioned Love In Action, and I requested their monthly newsletter. Finally, in 1978, I came to the realization that my sexual struggles would never be resolved without some specialized help. I wrote Love In Action (LIA) and asked for an application to their live-in program. I arrived on their doorstep June 1, 1979.

That summer I made some startling discoveries. I realized that, because of my own sexual struggles, I could give meaningful support to others facing similar battles. And because I had never fallen into homosexual behavior, I could offer valuable insights on perseverance and spiritual warfare.

My initial summer's commitment grew to six months, then one year. Before long I realized my life had taken a permanent turn. I began editing the ministry's monthly newsletter, writing new literature and speaking at local seminars.

God continued to work in my own life. Much to my surprise, I discovered that homosexuality was not my sole problem. The illicit same-sex desires were only an outward symptom of deeper emotional wounds that needed healing. Through LIA's support group, I was able to openly confess such struggles as insecurity, fear and envy of other men.

The unconditional love of my church was also crucial to my growth—especially support from straight men. Because of my position on staff with Love In Action everyone knew of my past. But the men at my church were not afraid to show their acceptance by a smile or warm hug.

All my life I had struggled with feelings of inferiority around other men. But through affirmation from these Christian men, I slowly began to feel more like "one of the guys." I had received some of this same-sex affirmation at Bible college, and now the healing was continuing.

Then came the biggest shock of all In 1984 I sensed that God was leading me into a marriage relationship. I sought confirmation and counsel from my pastor and closest friends. Nine months later, I was exchanging wedding vows with a pretty, brown-eyed brunette. A new adventure was about to begin!

Yet, even in marriage, my healing process continued. As a married man, I have grown in my role as husband, lover and friend to my wife, Pam. Like many men who have dealt with homosexuality, I struggle at times with passivity. I still hate confrontation, so God gives me plenty of opportunities to grow in that area (whether that means asking a macho neighbor in an upstairs apartment to turn down his blaring TV at 11:00 p.m., or telling my wife what I really think about her ideas for our vacation!).

Whether it's facing the roots of my homosexuality or some other challenge in my spiritual walk, I know that my growth will continue for a lifetime. And that is the same challenge and promise that every Christian faces. None of us has "arrived." We're all in this together!

What We've Learned

During the past fourteen years, we have become personally acquainted with hundreds of men and women who have left behind the gay and lesbian lifestyle. We will be sharing more of their experiences in coming chapters.

Through our combined years of practical ministry involvement, we have learned that each person seeking to overcome homosexuality is different. Those who have exited from homosexuality span a wide variety of ages, personalities, occupations and church denominations.

Some ex-gays and former lesbians were once immersed in the homosexual subculture of cities like San Francisco or New York for several decades. Others endured a silent struggle, confiding in no one, never having a homosexual experience—but wrestling deeply with same-sex fantasies and desires.

Now some of these men and women have been free from homosexual involvement for ten or twenty years. They are not just suppressing their strong homosexual or lesbian longings. There has been a true resolution of this issue in their lives.

There is no identical plan of action for healing, no quick fix or one-two-three formula Some of these overcomers have found all the help they needed through their local church. Many others have found support through a local ex-gay ministry, like Love In Action, which offered counseling and weekly fellowship support groups. Still other men and women—those with deeply rooted symptoms needing professional expertise—have sought additional private psychological therapy.

This book may not answer all your questions. But we hope it will serve as an introduction to the most important issues that you will face as you seek to overcome homosexuality. As you read of how God worked in the lives of other men and women, you will gain insights and encouragement for your own recovery process.