John Paulk, once a poster boy for the ex-gay movement, disappeared from the public eye after he left his role as chairman of Exodus International in 2003. Now, 10 years later, Paulk is back in the spotlight–but this time he's apologizing for the reparative therapy he used to promote.
News broke when Paulk, who now works as a caterer in Portland, Oregon, told Proud Queer Monthly (PQ) that he no longer supports the "ex-gay movement or efforts to attempt to change [individuals' sexual orientation]." Paulk then issued a formal letter of apology (full text below), which revealed that he and his wife Anne Paulk, who describes herself as a former lesbian, are seeking a divorce. (The couple participated together in controversial ad campaigns.)
"Today, I do not consider myself 'ex-gay' and I no longer support or promote the movement," John Paulk wrote. "I know that countless people were harmed by things I said and did in the past, Parents, families, and their loved ones were negatively impacted by the notion of reparative therapy and the message of change. I am truly, truly sorry for the pain I have caused."
Anne Paulk issued her own statement through the Restored Hope Network Facebook page several days after her husband's story first appeared in PQ. She confirmed that she and John Paulk are divorcing, but she emphasized that his life choices contrast with hers.
I have walked the path that God has put before me, alongside those I love. There are also certain paths I have refused to walk down, dark and dangerous paths of deceit and sin. Someone dear to me has made different choices followed by very different words. And there, on that path, our ways part sadly. ... His conclusions and mine are very different in key ways. I would ask that you join me in praying for his decisions regarding his future, hope, God's truest freedom, and love to direct his decisions.
In a later statement, Anne Paulk added, "I have been true to my marriage vows and true to Christ. Though my heart has been tremendously grieved by John's words and moral choices, I have chosen–and will continue to choose–to follow Christ, care for my boys, and serve Restored Hope Network."
Randy Thomas, executive vice president for Exodus International, also wrote a blog post following a personal conversation with John Paulk. Thomas wrote:
While I don't agree with all of his conclusions he shared on the phone, I can say I agree with about 95 percent of what he shared including renouncing the term "ex-gay." I love that he is pursuing the true meaning of God's grace. I love that he is fiercely protective of his kids. I love that he will not drag his marriage to Anne through the mud even though some seemingly heartless activists demand it.
John Paulk left the ex-gay movement in 2003, several years after he was spotted at a gay bar in Washington D.C. He was removed from Exodus's board of directors, but was later reinstated. John Paulk also served as manager of Focus on the Family's Homosexuality and Gender Department.
John and Anne Paulk have been married for 20 years and co-authored a book, titled Love Won Out: How God's Love Helped Two People Leave Homosexuality and Find Each Other. John Paulk's apology encourages people not to purchase the book or any of his other writings.
John Paulk's full apology, as published in the Advocate, is as follows:
For the better part of ten years, I was an advocate and spokesman for what's known as the "ex-gay movement," where we declared that sexual orientation could be changed through a close-knit relationship with God, intensive therapy and strong determination. At the time, I truly believed that it would happen. And while many things in my life did change as a Christian, my sexual orientation did not.
So in 2003, I left the public ministry and gave up my role as a spokesman for the "ex-gay movement." I began a new journey. In the decade since, my beliefs have changed. Today, I do not consider myself "ex-gay" and I no longer support or promote the movement. Please allow me to be clear: I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people.
I know that countless people were harmed by things I said and did in the past, Parents, families, and their loved ones were negatively impacted by the notion of reparative therapy and the message of change. I am truly, truly sorry for the pain I have caused.
From the bottom of my heart I wish I could take back my words and actions that caused anger, depression, guilt and hopelessness. In their place I want to extend love, hope, tenderness, joy and the truth that gay people are loved by God.
Today, I see LGBT people for who they are–beloved, cherished children of God. I offer my most sincere and heartfelt apology to men, women, and especially children and teens who felt unlovable, unworthy, shamed or thrown away by God or the church.
I want to offer my sincere thanks to everyone who encouraged me to take this initial step of transparency. Even while promoting "ex-gay" programs, there were those who called me on my own words and actions. I'm sure I didn't appreciate it at the time, but they have helped me to realize this truth about who I am.
This is a life transition that has been and will continue to be, challenging. Sadly, my marriage of 20 years is in the process of ending. I want to take the time to make sure my next actions come from a place of truth and authenticity. Therefore, I'm drastically limiting my public engagement until my own personal life can be settled. After that I eagerly anticipate giving back to the community.
Finally, I know there are still accounts of my "ex-gay" testimony out there being publicized by various groups, including two books that I wrote about my journey. I don't get any royalties from these publications, and haven't since I left the ministry nearly ten years ago. I discourage anyone from purchasing and selling these books or promoting my "ex-gay" story because they do not reflect who I am now or what I believe today.