The world at large had never heard of John Smid before 2005. That’s when the ex-gay operation he ran, Love in Action, became the target of protests after a teenager named Zach began posting on the Internet about how his parents forced him into LIA’s youth program, “Refuge.” The controversy led to court battles with the state of Tennessee, where LIA is located, over whether or not it was properly licensed to deliver “treatment” to youth. The legal issues were resolved in 2006, and Refuge eventually closed its doors. In 2008, Smid resigned from LIA.
Now, Smid is back with a new ministry called “Grace Rivers” that affirms “the sinfulness of any sexual act outside of the scriptural context of Holy Matrimony between a man and a woman,” and still upholds an offer of “redemption,” even though Smid claims to be out of the “ex-gay” making business. The new ministry also comes with an apology from Smid for his past actions:
I really wanted to help the young men in our program but in some cases the design of our program caused more harm for some of these kids that it did good. I am very sorry for the ways that Refuge further wounded teens that were already in a very delicate place in life. I am grateful for the way that God lovingly called us to revamp the methods for dealing with families with teens so that more teens weren’t hurt.
This is a small snip of a very long, and self-involved, apology to those who may have been harmed by Smid’s approach at “reparative” therapy for gays and lesbians. In the apology, Smid acknowledges his own ongoing attraction men, even though he is married to a woman.
Reaction to the apology has been mixed. At Smid’s site, reader Trystan Dean gets to the heart of the problem with the apology:
John Smid, thank you for your apology, but it’s a little too little, too late. Your essay is all about you. You describe the people you’ve harmed as “lessons” for you. Are you truly capable of loving someone else? You admit your marriage is second-rate, a less-than situation of resignation rather than joy. You settled for a woman though you still lust for men.
Michael Bussee, one of the founders of Exodus Ministries, who later gave up the ex-gay charade and left Exodus to be with one of the other co-founders Gary Cooper, called the apology a “big step” for Smid. But Bussee noted, “No repentance is perfect or will satisfy everyone. I have personally and publically apologized many times over (for nearly 30 years now) and I am still told by some gay activists that my apology was not enough – and will never be enough. Could he do more? Sure. Should he do more? Of course. All of us should do more.”
While it’s true Bussee’s past actions have contributed to the pain and suffering of many of his gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, I would believe his apology over Smid’s any day. Why? Because, he did as Jesus tells us to do – go and sin no more. When Bussee left Exodus, he left the whole movement. He ditched this idea that being gay was not God’s design for his life and quit trying to convince anyone to “change.” He truly repented of his harmful “ex-gay” ways.
Smid, on the other hand, has simply moved his operation to a new ministry. Sure, he’s apologizing for his past, but his present is nothing more than a “kinder, gentler ex-gay” operation. He’s now focusing on people who he says have been “impacted by homosexuality,” offering them counseling and respecting where they are now, but if you come to the Restoration Grace Conference you’ll “hear that through Christ you can triumph over same-sex attractions.” Sure, that’s not a promise of a “cure,” but it is a promise for people to learn how to live a life of denial – just like Smid. How, exactly, is that any different than what he was doing before at Love in Action?
I’m sorry, but all I hear in this “apology” is another ex-gay charlatan trying to drum up business.