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Ex-Gay Survivor's Collage from Brandon Tidwell, Attendee of Soulforce 2007 Ex-Gay Survivor's Conference
By Katy Moore
Would you like to a hear a love story?
Tomorrow begins the Exodus Freedom Conference in California. Many of you know that Exodus international has for years been one of the leading “ex-gay” organizations in our nation. (Slogans like “Pray away the gay” may come to mind.)
It’s easy for us to see the harm and pain that institutions like this cause, but tomorrow we may witness an extraordinary moment of love.
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, has asked Linda and Rob Robertson to attend and share the story of their son Ryan’s struggle to accept his sexual orientation, and his eventual, tragic death, as witness to the harm of so-called “reparative therapy” in their son’s life and in the life of their family. They will be speaking at the opening keynote at the request of Alan Chambers.
In 2009, Linda Robertson wrote this honest, heartfelt letter about her family’s struggle to accept and love their gay son, and their heartbreak at his death.
Two weeks ago, that letter was re-posted by a Christian blog called Freed Hearts. That blog was picked up and posted on a Facebook page that was then shared over 500 times; but one of the most shocking re-posts came from none other than Alan Chambers. Chambers re-posted the link to their story on his personal Facebook page with the comment: “A story that has forever changed my heart, thoughts, and how I do ministry.”
Chambers then contacted Linda & Rob and asked them to come speak and share their ENTIRE story – uncensored.
Chambers has said that Exodus is ready to change their stance and apologize. The family says they “see this as a HUGE opportunity to help hundreds of struggling LGBTQ Christians and family members who need to hear that they are perfect and loved just the way they are.”
It is reported that Chambers plans to join the couple on stage after their talk to make a “major announcement”, followed by a Q&A session involving all three of them. The Robertson’s will be sharing that God created their son, Ryan, gay and loves him just as he was. Chambers has said this is exactly the message that he wants to share.
After the conference, Chambers is scheduled to appear tomorrow evening on the Oprah Winfrey Network to repeat this “major announcement“.
We are excited by this as Soulforce has a long history of speaking out against Exodus and other ex-gay organizations, going back to our founding by Mel White in 1998.
The Robertson Family encourages us all to ”pray that God will continue to move Alan’s heart these next few days, and that hopefully this will be the beginning of the end of Exodus International – and a major opportunity to publicize to all the other “ex-gay” ministries out there. Change is coming and God does live and breathe and move through ALL of us!”
How can a letter change the world? If it’s written in love, and with truth; prayerfully and faithfully from the heart that has endured the potter’s fire and come forth purified. How mighty is the God that we serve? How great His love for us? Merciful and holy enough to change our hearts.
Tomorrow something wonderful will happen. The sun will rise and all the people of the earth along with it will begin a new day. Bad things will happen, bad choices made., weddings, funerals, the whole gambit of human experience – day in, and day out. But still the new day comes.
Tomorrow we will see great things at work.
On the night of November 20, 2001, a conversation held over Instant Messenger changed our lives forever. Our twelve year old son messaged me in my office from the computer in his bedroom.
Ryan says: can i tell u something
Mom says: Yes I am listening
Ryan says: well i don’t know how to say this really but, well……, i can’t keep lying to you about myself. I have been hiding this for too long and i sorta have to tell u now. By now u probably have an idea of what i am about to say.
Ryan says: I am gay
Ryan says: i can’t believe i just told you
Mom says: Are you joking?
Ryan says: no
Ryan says: i thought you would understand because of uncle don
Mom says: of course I would
Mom says: but what makes you think you are?
Ryan says: i know i am
Ryan says: i don’t like hannah
Ryan says: it’s just a cover-up
Mom says: but that doesn’t make you gay…
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: but u don’t understand
Ryan says: i am gay
Mom says: tell me more
Ryan says: it’s just the way i am and it’s something i know
Ryan says: u r not a lesbian and u know that. it is the same thing
Mom says: what do you mean?
Ryan says: i am just gay
Ryan says: i am that
Mom says: I love you no matter what
Ryan says: i am white not black
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: i am a boy not a girl
Ryan says: i am attracted to boys not girls
Ryan says: u know that about yourself and i know this
Mom says: what about what God thinks about acting on these desires?
Ryan says: i know
Mom says: thank you for telling me
Ryan says: and i am very confused about that right now
Mom says: I love you more for being honest
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: thanx
We were completely shocked. Not that we didn’t know and love gay people – my only brother had come out to us several years before, and we adored him. But Ryan? He was unafraid of anything, tough as nails, and ALL boy. We had not seen this coming, and the emotion that overwhelmed us, kept us awake at night and, sadly, influenced all of our reactions over the next six years, was FEAR.
We said all the things that we thought loving Christian parents who believed the Bible – the Word of God – should say:
We love you. We will ALWAYS love you. And this is hard. REALLY hard. But we know what God says about this, and so you are going to have to make some really difficult choices.
We love you. We couldn’t love you more. But there are other men who have faced this same struggle, and God has worked in them to change their desires. We’ll get you their books…you can listen to their testimonies. And we will trust God with this.
We love you. We are so glad you are our son. But you are young, and your sexual orientation is still developing. The feelings you’ve had for other guys don’t make you gay. So please don’t tell anyone that you ARE gay. You don’t know who you are yet. Your identity is not that you are gay – it is that you are a child of God.
We love you. Nothing will change that. But if you are going to follow Jesus, holiness is your only option. You are going to have to choose to follow Jesus, no matter what. And since you know what the Bible says, and since you want to follow God, embracing your sexuality is NOT an option.
We thought we understood the magnitude of the sacrifice that we – and God – were asking for. And this sacrifice, we knew, would lead to the abundant life, perfect peace and eternal rewards. Ryan had always felt intensely drawn to spiritual things; He desired to please God above all else. So, for the first six years, he tried to choose Jesus. Like so many others before him, he pleaded with God to help him be attracted to girls. He memorized Scripture, met with his youth pastor weekly, enthusiastically participated in all the church youth group events and Bible Studies and got baptized. He read all the books that claimed to know where his gay feelings came from, dove into
counseling to further discover the “why’s” of his unwanted attraction to other guys, worked through painful conflict resolution with my husband and I, and built strong friendships with other guys – straight guys – just like the reparative therapy experts advised. He even came out to his entire youth group, giving his testimony of how God had rescued him from the traps of the enemy, and sharing – by memory – verse after verse that God had used to draw Ryan to Himself.
But nothing changed. God didn’t answer his prayer – or ours – though we were all believing with faith that the God of the Universe – the God for whom NOTHING is impossible – could easily make Ryan straight. But He did not.
Though our hearts may have been good (we truly thought what we were doing was loving), we did not even give Ryan a chance to wrestle with God, to figure out what HE believed God was telling him through scripture about his sexuality. We had believed firmly in giving each of our four children the space to question Christianity, to decide for themselves if they wanted to follow Jesus, to truly OWN their own faith. But we were too afraid to give Ryan that room when it came to his sexuality, for fear that he’d make the wrong choice.
Basically, we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality. We forced him to make a choice between God and being a sexual person. Choosing God, practically, meant living a lifetime condemned to being alone. He would never have the chance to fall in love, have his first kiss, hold hands, share intimacy and companionship or experience romance.
And so, just before his 18th birthday, Ryan, depressed, suicidal, disillusioned and convinced that he would never be able to be loved by God, made a new choice. He decided to throw out his Bible and his faith at the same time, and to try searching for what he desperately wanted – peace – another way. And the way he chose to try first was drugs.
We had – unintentionally – taught Ryan to hate his sexuality. And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself. So as he began to use drugs, he did so with a recklessness and a lack of caution for his own safety that was alarming to everyone who knew him.
Suddenly our fear of Ryan someday having a boyfriend (a possibility that honestly terrified me) seemed trivial in contrast to our fear of Ryan’s death, especially in light of his recent rejection of Christianity, and his mounting anger at God.
Ryan started with weed and beer…but in six short months was using cocaine, crack and heroin. He was hooked from the beginning, and his self-loathing and rage at God only fueled his addiction. Shortly after, we lost contact with him. For the next year and a half we didn’t know where he was, or even if he was dead or alive. And during that horrific time, God had our full attention. We stopped praying for Ryan to become straight. We started praying for him to know that God loved him. We stopped praying for him never to have a boyfriend. We started praying that someday we might actually get to know his boyfriend. We even stopped praying for him to come home to us; we only wanted him to come home to God.
By the time our son called us, after 18 long months of silence, God had completely changed our perspective. Because Ryan had done some pretty terrible things while using drugs, the first thing he asked me was this:
Do you think you can ever forgive me? (I told him of course, he was already forgiven. He had ALWAYS been forgiven.)
Do you think you could ever love me again? (I told him that we had never stopped loving him, not for one second. We loved him then more than we had ever loved him.)
Do you think you could ever love me with a boyfriend? (Crying, I told him that we could love him with fifteen boyfriends. We just wanted him back in our lives. We just wanted to have a relationship with him again…AND with his boyfriend.)
And a new journey was begun. One of healing, restoration, open communication and grace. LOTS of grace. And God was present every step of the way, leading and guiding us, gently reminding us simply to love our son, and leave the rest up to Him.
Over the next ten months, we learned to truly love our son. Period. No buts. No conditions. Just because he breathes. We learned to love whoever our son loved. And it was easy. What I had been so afraid of became a blessing. The journey wasn’t without mistakes, but we had grace for each other, and the language of apology and forgiveness became a natural part of our relationship. As our son pursued recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, we pursued him. God taught us how to love him, to rejoice over him, to be proud of the man he was becoming. We were all healing…and most importantly, Ryan began to think that if WE could forgive him and love him, then maybe God could, too.
Linda Diane Robertson and her son Ryan
And then Ryan made the classic mistake of a recovering addict…he got back together with his old friends…his using friends. And one evening that was supposed to simply be a night at the movies turned out to be the first time he had shot up in ten months…and the last time. Ryan died on July 16, 2009. And we lost the ability to love our gay son…because we no longer had a gay son. What we had wished for…prayed for…hoped for…that we would NOT have a gay son, came true. But not at all in the way we used to envision.
Now, when I think back on the fear that governed all my reactions during those first six years after Ryan told us he was gay, I cringe as I realize how foolish I was. I was afraid of all the wrong things. And I grieve, not only for my oldest son, who I will miss every day for the rest of my life, but for the mistakes I made. I grieve for what could have been, had we been walking by FAITH instead of by FEAR. Now, whenever Rob and I join our gay friends for an evening, I think about how much I would love to be visiting with Ryan and his partner over dinner. But instead, we visit Ryan’s gravestone. We celebrate anniversaries: the would-have-been birthdays and the unforgettable day of his death. We wear orange – his color. We hoard memories: pictures, clothing he wore, handwritten notes, lists of things he loved, tokens of his passions, recollections of the funny songs he invented, his Curious George and baseball blankey, anything, really, that reminds us of our beautiful boy…for that is all we have left, and there will be no new memories. We rejoice in our adult children, and in our growing family as they marry…but ache for the one of our “gang of four” who is missing. We mark life by the days BC (before coma) and AD (after death), because we are different people now; our life was irrevocably changed – in a million ways – by his death. We treasure friendships with others who “get it”…because they, too, have lost a child.
We weep. We seek Heaven for grace and mercy and redemption as we try – not to get better but to be better. And we pray that God can somehow use our story to help other parents learn to truly love their children. Just because they breathe.
Linda Diane Robertson
Originally written on December 5th, 2012
Posted on January 14, 2013 – Ryan’s would-have-been-24 birthday
Delegate Program Description
We are seeking 3 Ohio Delegates with experience in social justice work with a strong focus on Intersectional Justice to organize across communities and movements for equity and equality. The Delegate program is a yearlong residency to foster, mentor and develop leadership of LGBTQ people and Allies in two tracks: Field Organizing and Social Entrepreneurship. Each participant undergoes rigorous training on the principles of nonviolence as it relates to social justice issues and developing organizer best practices.
The heart of the Delegate program is to enable Delegates to organize and mobilize activists, leaders, and their communities to tackle multiple forms of oppression and diverse issues and policies, with a particular focus on the many forms of migration. Delegates act as collaborative forces in their own communities to foster leadership in LGBTQ movements.
As a Delegate, you will get hands-on experience as an organizer through using art to create community, participate in political initiatives, analyze political movements and historical contexts for our current activism, and educate yourself and others. You will gain experience in making resource connections, providing training to individuals and organizations, organizing events and symposia, public leadership, and developing programs and responses to local needs.
We will provide mentorship, training, modest stipends, supplies, and collegiality!
Experiences and Requirements:
• Committed to a 10 month residency as Soulforce Delegate, August 2013 through May 2014
• Approximately 5 to 10 hours per week with a stipend of $200 a month.
• Delegates must be willing and able to travel and work with other Delegates, activists, communities, and organizations relevant to their work.
• Delegates should have experiences and relationships across communities of LGBTQ, for example: communities of color, faith, undocumented immigrants, trans* community, youth, students, and allies.
• Delegates must have access to internet and phone for weekly trainings, conference calls or Google hangouts online and creating social media online presence.
- Committed to attend a one week training in July or August 2013 in Ohio.
Training Dates in Ohio – in efforts to work with participants’ availability we are considering two training dates: July 25 – 30, 2013 or August 1 – 6, 2013.
Delegate Position Descriptions and Duties
Delegate 1 – Pop-up Shop Director and Trainer
Organize a 2 week Pop-up Shop (a short term lease on a storefront, objectives TBD) and take the lead on organizing training opportunities led by Delegates covering topics such as racial justice, nonviolence, and other elements of the Delegate curriculum. Includes time and resources for a personally determined project.
Delegate 2 – Queer/Migration Organizer
Organize a symposium on Queer and Migration issues for a broad public audience. Prepare the ground for Equality Ride and Artifacts events (separate programs exploring future implementation in Ohio). Includes time and resources for an additional personally determined project.
Delegate 3 – Trans* and Faith Organizer
Organize a conference on Trans* and Faith working with local Trans* communities, organizations, churches, and schools. Prepare the ground for future Equality Ride and Artifacts events (separate programs exploring implementation in Ohio). Includes time and resources for an additional personally determined project.
Delegates will work together in a mutually supportive cohort with some overlap in responsibilities. Each Delegate will also, through their work, explore artistic, healing, and fundraising elements in a way that suits their focus area and personality. All are encouraged to work collaboratively with local groups, and we will work as a team to support the political and social visions of other Ohio stakeholders such as Equality Ohio, Trans Ohio, and the Equality Federation. There will be plenty of space for individual creativity and leadership on how you implement your projects.
Application Deadline to apply is July 5, 2013.
Completed applications may be sent to: email@example.com
Soulforce Executive Director Rev. Dr. Cindi Love is now in Hong Kong for the 2013 Amplify conference. The meeting of LGBTQ-affirming churches, pastors, and laypeople is expected to attract more than 300 people. Cindi will be a workshop presenter and keynote speaker, and will be preaching at the Sunday worship service on June 9th.
Cindi’s teaching will focus on the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote that “Every wall is a door,” and on Ephesians 2:14. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (NIV). Cindi says the obvious parallels in the Emerson text and biblical text struck her, as well the correlation between Ephesus at the time of Paul being a thriving Asian port city and contemporary Hong Kong. But mostly she sees the text as providing instruction to overcome barriers to full Christian fellowship that are based on arbitrary and unloving notions of religious “purity”—most recently that have affected LGBTQ people.
As LGBTQ-inclusive Christians in Asia begin to find each other and form community, Soulforce will be there offering encouragement, solidarity, and lessons learned from our own resistance of fundamentalism.
Keep in touch with Cindi’s trip on Facebook and through blog postings on this site and on Huffington Post.
Monday June 24th promises to be an unforgettable night of fun at Hell’s Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis, as Soulforce teams up with RECLAIM, an LGBT Youth Services organization to raise funds for social services and social justice!
The event will include a Happy Hour and Silent Auction starting at 5PM, with special live-singing entertainment! Then enjoy Esmé’s Glitter Lung Drag Cabaret from 7-10 PM. Chat with the performers, take pics with friends in the Gender Bender photo booth, treat yourself well at the self-care silent auction, and learn more about
SOULFORCE and RECLAIM’s work!
But for this magnificent event to occur, we need a few things from you!
1.) If you will be in Minneapolis on June 24th, first of all, RSVP here!
2.) If you can be there from 4PM-10PM, we could also use your help as a volunteer. Tasks will be simple, and will be doled out by Soulforce’s very own Esmé Rodríguez (Don’t worry, she has a light touch.) Contact Esmé if you can volunteer (esme@soulforce,org).
3.) We need donations of items and services for the self-care silent auction. Think products or gift certificates which support inner and outer beauty (e.g. alternative health professionals, body workers, salon, etc.) If you have items to donate, again, please contact Esmé (firstname.lastname@example.org).
4.) Finally, if you can’t make it on June 24, and you would like to donate to this fundraiser online, please go to Soulforce’s online donation page. Make sure you specify in the note at the bottom of the online form that this donation is for the Reclaim Your Queen fundraiser!
All proceeds will be split between Soulforce and RECLAIM. RECLAIM is a youth services organization in Minneapolis that aims to increase access to mental health support so LGBT youth may reclaim their lives from oppression in all its forms.
Some of the performers for RECLAIM Your Queen!
L-R: Chase Chance, Martina Marraccino, Nocturna Lee Mission, Sara Tonin
“As one of those students, I’m so incredibly encouraged by this, I’m drawing tears.”
– Student from Biola Queer Underground, commenting on Cindi Love’s Huffington Post article.
Dr. Erik Thoennes of Biola University
Two weeks ago, Soulforce collaborated with a remarkable group of students, the Biola Queer Underground, to call out a professor, Dr. Erik Thoennes, at the conservative Christian Biola University for comments in which he compared the “sin” of racism to the “sin” of being LGBTQ.
We asked that you write to Dr. Thoennes and to the president of Biola, Dr. Barry Corey to confront them about the pain they are causing LGBTQ students who are being asked to choose between obeying their school’s policies and their awareness of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
It appears many of you responded.
One letter from Soulforce delegate Ellie Ash-Bala was particularly moving, as it spoke to her experience as a graduate of another evangelical Christian school. Ellie wrote:
Dear Dr. Thoennes,
“…I urge you to accept the BQU’s request for a public forum on campus where more than just one side of an issue can be discussed in the context of Christian community and in the spirit of Christian love. There are students on your campus right now who are trying to hold onto their faith and wrestle with their sexuality at the same time. They want to do so with integrity. Please do not push them away from their faith community at the time when they need it the most.”
If you’ve written a letter to Dr. Thoennes and/or President Corey, thank you so much for showing solidarity with these brave students, and witnessing to God’s love for LGBTQ people everywhere.
Now we’d like you to take one more step. If you wrote a letter to Dr. Thoennes or President Corey, we ask you to go to the Soulforce Facebook page and post those letters.
Share with the world your hope for more inclusive dialogue on the issues of LGBTQ students at Christian colleges and universities. As the quote above shows, sharing your stories of overcoming the oppression of false biblical teaching and bad theology gives great encouragement to LGBTQ young people.
If you didn’t get a chance to send a letter, it’s not too late. Here’s an update about what has happened so far.
We asked that Soulforce supporters familiarize themselves with an open letter written by Biola alum Jos Charles critiquing Dr. Thoennes’ views, as well as a recording of his comments, and Soulforce Executive Director Cindi Love’s article about the Biola Queer Underground on the Huffington Post.
In response to this evidence of oppression, we asked that Soulforce supporters write Dr. Thoennes (email@example.com) and President Corey (firstname.lastname@example.org) about Biola’s policies of exclusion of LGBTQ students, and to ask them to hold a public forum with the Biola Queer Underground on the common roots of racism, homophobia, and transphobia.
As with all Soulforce actions, we asked that letters be written according to our principles of nonviolence–that is, without violent or abusive language.
Although Dr. Thoennes and the Biola administration have refused to answer the open letter or respond directly to the Biola Queer Underground, the administration did schedule a meeting with some individual LGBTQ alumni about reports of bullying by professors and students on campus. Certain blog postings from Biola alumni sympathetic to Dr. Thoennes’ positions have also attempted to defend him from what have falsely been labeled “campaigns” by Soulforce and GLAAD. (Anything not to admit that the criticisms of Biola’s policies are coming from its own students and alumni.)
These responses do not meet the demands of the open letter that the administration hold an open forum on campus with members of the Biola Queer Underground.
But the tentative steps by the administration to address bullying and evidence of Dr. Thoennes feeling pressure from a student group he publicly mocked and refused to acknowledge as having any validity, suggest that next school year the environment might be incrementally better and safer for LGBTQ students on one Christian college campus.
For too long, Christian colleges and universities have placed the weight of the Bible, longstanding church traditions of homophobia and transphobia, the false and dangerous claims of “conversion therapy,” and the public shame of family and friends on the shoulders of LGBTQ students–suggesting these young people had an “identity crisis” about their sexuality or gender identity. Now, thanks to your support, and the hard work of Soulforce volunteers, staff members, board members, and Equality Riders, it is becoming clear to these schools that they have the identity crisis, as they unsuccessfully attempt to align their policies of oppression with their missions as Christian institutions.
So keep writing those letters and share them with the Soulforce community on Facebook. Soulforce will keep you updated with further developments.
Click here to see video about the Solandres online community!
Solandres is adding to our online presence by building out a community space for activists. We are committed to our same values as always – challenging fundamentalism – but bringing in a fresh look at how social justice movements are linked. We do stronger work when we work in partnership, and that’s what Solandres is all about.
We have our first retreat this weekend to establish the architecture for this community, but we have one really important practical matter to solve:
We need a sign language interpreter to make this retreat accessible for one of the participants. After pulling strings and calling in favors, we can get interpreters for 33 hours at $40 an hour, when it is usually twice that.
Can you make a gift of one hour of interpretation today? Just $40, and you ensure we do not miss out on the valuable perspective of our friend and fellow activist.
Thanks so much for rising with us to the standard of full inclusion.
-The Soulforce Team