Today John Paulk, former leader of a ministry in the US that helps people come out of homosexuality, has made a fateful decision to divorce his wife, re-enter the gay lifestyle, and renounce all his previous work with Love Won Out. As I said in a previous post on this blog, the ex-ex-gay movement and the gay community in general wanted blood and blood is what they have got. I personally feel a great sense of loss for John himself, his wife Anne, and their children. While I commend his being honest about his doubts, I cannot support his recent decisions. He has chosen to betray his family and those who, like me, have looked up to him. I don’t look down on him for having ongoing struggles and doubts because everyone has those too some degree, even well-known high flying Christian leaders. But with doubt and struggle there are answers for those doubts if people wish to see them and work hard at thm. I believe that John, like others who have made such decisions like John Smid and Michael Bussee, has cast aside his inheritance in Christ for a ‘bowl of soup’ (Heb 12:16-17)- a watery meal that doesn’t meet the famished hunger of the spiritual stomach. He may not have done this casually but the outcome is not positive. His decision represents a disregard for his inheritance in Christ and the blessings of his family and ministry. He is, in fact, suppressing that which he knows to be true (Rom 1:18) rather than realising a new truth about himself or God. These decisions war against himself as much as anybody else.
In his statement, John said that in light of his decision he can be who he really is: that is, living as a ‘gay’ man. But this is not who he is because, firstly, no-one is born gay; and secondly, sinful, carnal desires to not define who a person in Christ is. Such desires war against the soul and rob people of life and eternal blessings in God (1 Pet 2:11; Col 3:5; Rev 21:8; Heb 12:14) and no amount of soap-and-bubbles talk about God’s “endlessly flowing grace” and “just loving people” (bereft of a challenge to live in holiness) can redact this truth. God is a holy God who is a consuming fire (Deut 4:24, Heb 12:29) who demands holiness of people, though He is also graceful. The western church is in decline because it is emphasising grace over truth, and this is the same thing that John is doing, I believe, to justify his decision here as others like John Smid have.
John Paulk’s statement surprised me in a way because he said he regretted his work with Love Won Out, that it did caused so much ‘harm’. I found this to be unbelievable, given that his wife Anne, who came out of lesbianism, stood faithfully by his side and has not regressed back into a lesbian lifestyle. In other words, John has been living for the past 21 years with the very thing that defies his own justification for regressing back into sin. There are countless other faithful, well-grounded, and mature witnesses that he could have spoken with (Joe Dallas, Sy Rogers, Frank Worthen, and others) who have had success in living beyond homosexuality. What he is doing is going to amass greater judgement upon himself. That makes no sense to me and it grieves my heart. I don’t know where John is but he seems to be in a very fragile place. I pray that people are able to speak grace AND truth to his heart and that his heart be receptive to it because I believe he can be restored. But for leaders like myself in ministries like Liberty there are many lessons to learn about guarding my own heart and keeping my feet pure as I minister in this very sinful and depraved world where Satan and his agents just love bringing down Christian leaders.
Exodus International vice president Randy Thomas elected to celebrate Paulk’s decision: “John, I know we aren’t the closest of friends but I do hope you know I love you and your family. I love that you are wrestling with various issues with humility and honesty. In His grip of grace, you are safe. I will pray for you as you seek to serve, love, and honor God and others” . I believe that this response does a great disservice to the Paulks and particularly to John himself. Does Thomas not realise that this decision involves the dissolution of a marriage and the grieving of others? John’s new course does not do God honour: it breaks His heart and Thomas et.al. are enabling another person’s sin in the name of understanding. John is not safe: he has imperiled his salvation, rejected God’s good will for him, compromised himself, and grieved others. I do not say this to dismiss John but to say what is really going on because it is only by facing what he has done that people will put things in their proper perspective. James 5:19-20 says it for me:
My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.
A brother who does not lovingly and humbly rebuke a wayward brother is not a loving that wayward brother. In fact, that is hating him and John Paulk needs people around him who are not just going to pat him on the back as has been the case so far, by and large, in public. If there is anything I could say to John, if he is reading this blog, it would be this:
Please reconsider what you have decided to do. Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone and no-one is expecting you to be a picture-perfect ‘ex-gay’ person to be loved and accepted. This does not have to be your choice and you can always go back to truth and grace. As hard as the journey is, I am with you to help you fight sin, pray for you, listen to you, and do what I can. I know it is not an easy battle but think very carefully of the damage this will do to your soul and to the lives of others. I am sure you have already done this to some extent but please think more carefully and meditate on Scripture, even the hard bits calling people to severe holiness because without it you cannot see God. There are no shortcuts on the road to glory. I am not with you in your decisions of late, I cannot be in good conscience, but I do love you as a person and wish to see you restored even if what I am saying here might cause you some momentary grief (2 Cor 7:8-12). There is nothing that you cannot get through without the help of God (1 Cor 10:12-13). But think of the cost to your wife and your kids and the trouble they will face as a result of all this. Think of how hard it will be if, one day, you really come to sorely regret this but fear that God and others cannot forgive you. Are you willing to gamble with all that? I too am weak and need the strength of the Spirit. Please come back to what you know to be really true: this is not who you are.
27/4/2103 – ministry leader Andrew Comiskey wrote a brief and well-worded response to the John Paulk announcement. I couldn’t have put it better myself:
“With grief I consider the irony of Exodus’ response to John Paulk’s immersion in gay culture … Exodus used to focus on how Jesus leads persons out of homosexuality. Now Exodus appears to celebrate those who return to it. Exodus VP Randy Thomas just wrote a glowing account of Paulk’s renunciation of his ‘ex-gay’ status … yet [he] omits the fact that Paulk’s choices violate his vows to his wife and three boys who as teenagers need their father more than ever. Exodus seems more concerned with John’s authentic gay self than with the needs of his wife and kids.”