When Ex-Gays Return to a Gay Identity

I recently received an envelope in the mail with no return address and no personal note, just copies of three articles about men who used to be part of Exodus International, who used to identify themselves as “ex-gay,” and now repudiate that part of their histories. It is consistent with emails and blog comments I have received pointing this out, and asking if that doesn’t negate my position that homosexuality is changeable.

I recently received an envelope in the mail with no return address and no personal note, just copies of three articles about men who used to be part of Exodus International, who used to identify themselves as “ex-gay,” and now repudiate that part of their histories. It is consistent with emails and blog comments I have received pointing this out, and asking if that doesn’t negate my position that homosexuality is changeable.

No. The fact that some people, denouncing something they used to support, now represent themselves as proud gays and lesbians, doesn’t change anything. Just as people who lived in sobriety from alcohol and drugs for years have been known to get sucked back into their addictions, it isn’t surprising that some would get weary of the struggle against their temptations and stop fighting.

Some people gave up earlier than others, hoping and expecting that if they just kept living “the straight life,” their feelings would catch up with their resolutions. They kept waiting for homosexual desires and temptations to disappear, and they didn’t. So they decided that they were done with trying to pretend to be something they weren’t. I’m good with not pretending; I’m a huge believer in authenticity and transparency.

But if someone continues to experience same-sex attraction even if they don’t act on it, does it mean they’re gay, as the culture insists?

What the culture says—if you ever have same-sex feelings, it means you’re gay—doesn’t matter compared to what God says.

God calls us to make choices every day that contradict and violate our feelings and temptations, but which we choose because they are the right thing to do. From the basics of the Ten Commandments to the ultimate example of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, He calls us to choose obedience and behavior that honors Him and other people despite our feelings. What if we don’t feel like telling the truth? Don’t lie anyway. What if we don’t feel like not killing the person who really ticks us off? Don’t murder anyway. What if we don’t feel like remaining faithful to our spouse? Don’t commit adultery anyway.

So what if someone doesn’t feel like stewarding their sexuality in purity and self-control? Regardless of the nature of the temptation, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, God calls us to possess our own body in holiness and honor (1 Thess. 4:4).

Sadly, some men who had come out of homosexuality have left their wives and children to return to living as gay men. This isn’t really much different from men who leave their wives and children for another woman. Succumbing to temptation, regardless of who tempts us, is still sin. Heartbreaking, home-breaking sin.

We’re hearing people saying, “I’m not ex-gay anymore because trying to be ex-gay doesn’t work. ‘Pray away the gay’ (a rather offensive term used by scoffers) doesn’t work. Trying hard to be straight doesn’t work. ‘Claiming my healing’ doesn’t work. I’m done.”

And they’re right.

What doesn’t work:

Name-it-and-claim-it theology, the religious version of “wishing will make it so.” Trying to speak reality into existence, as in “I am no longer gay because I’m a Christian,” doesn’t work because we don’t create reality through our words. Only the Creator God can do that.

Casting out the demon of homosexuality. While there is always a demonic component to idolatry and unrepentant sin, homosexuality is not caused by a demon, any more than bigotry, selfishness or gossip are.

Trying harder, praying harder, reading the Bible, begging God to make the gay feelings to go away. These human efforts are the religious equivalent of mowing the grass to get rid of dandelions. (For a completely different approach—grace—check out True-Faced.)

What does work:

Laying aside one’s sexuality as the measure of identity. “Who I really am” according to our flesh is always going to be at odds with “who God says I am” according to His word. Seeking a deeper relationship with our heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through the spiritual disciplines moves us toward reframing our faulty identity, no matter who we are or what we struggle with. We need to choose to find our identity in what God says about us—most importantly, receiving and owning the truth that He says, “You are My beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”

Looking at the contributing factors that shaped the same-sex “hole” in one’s heart (and the lies connected to them) to process them in light of God’s love and sovereignty, and then forgive the people who inflicted the wounds.

Choosing to learn to live with a tension: our flesh wants things that are dishonoring to God, dysfunctional and dangerous, but God calls us to do the right thing anyway. Regardless of our desires and feelings. Right from the beginning, He told Cain, “[I]f you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it” (Gen 4:7). God didn’t say to Cain, “I know, you’re angry because I didn’t accept your offering. That’s who you are, an angry soul. Go and let your anger explode!” In the New Testament, we read, “The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28). God didn’t say to the thief, “I know, you feel compelled to take what doesn’t belong to you. That’s who you are, a stealing soul. Go and act on your desires to steal!”

Now we have people saying, “I am attracted to the same sex. Since everyone says I am defined by my feelings, I now realize that’s just who I am.” And God does not say to them, “I know, you are gay/lesbian/transgendered/bi-sexual. That’s who you are, so go act on it!” God calls everyone to the same standard: sexual holiness and integrity, which means keeping all sex within the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman.

Adjusting one’s expectations. Accepting the truth that one’s attractions and desires may always be warped to some degree; they may always remain an area of weakness that can drive the disciple to a deeper level of dependence on God, which is essential for growing in relationship with Him. That may mean learning to live with a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-10) instead of insisting that the only culturally acceptable change is a 180-degree shift in attractions from homosexual to heterosexual.

There is no “easy button.” Submitting to the process of sanctification means crucifying the flesh, and that’s hard. For any Christ-follower. And that’s where lasting change happens—as we are made into the image of Christ (Gal. 4:19), as we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). And that might, or might not, extend to our feelings. Regardless of who we are.

This blog post was originally published on May 6, 2013. 

Sue Bohlin is a speaker/writer and webmistress for Probe Ministries, a Christian organization that helps people to think biblically. She loves teaching women and laughing, and if those two can be combined, all the better. She also loves speaking for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) and Stonecroft Ministries (Christian Women's Clubs) on the topic How to Handle the Things You Hate But Can't Change, based on her lifelong experience as a polio survivor. She has a freelance calligraphy business in her home studio; hand lettering was her "Proverbs 31 job" while her children were young. Sue also serves on the board of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered organization that helps people struggling with unwanted homosexuality and the family members of those with same-sex attractions. Sue never met a cruise ship she didn't like, especially now that God has provided a travel scooter for getting around any ship! She is happily married to Dr. Ray Bohlin, writer and speaker on faith and science with Probe Ministries, and they have two grown sons. You can follow Sue on Twitter @suebohlin.


  • Kathy Koch



    I like you more now than ever! this is so complete and so beautiful and so true. Well done! Thanks for thinking through this issue so many have made complex.

    Blessings! I'll be praying many read this and see its truths.


    • Sue Bohlin

      Bless you Kathy!

      "I like you more now than ever"??!!! Yes, you ARE the Queen of Affirmation!! *grin* Thank you so much for the support. This issue is heavy, heavy on my heart.

  • Bekah

    This article was so great,

    This article was so great, and really has helped me with some understanding. I am currently the wife of an ex-gay returned to the gay. It truly is heartbreaking and home breaking. Thank you so much for posting this


    • Sue Bohlin

      Heartbreaking and home-breaking

      Bekah, I am so very, very sorry to hear of your story. That is why I am 100% sure that those who choose to leave their spouses and families are not hearing from God, calling them to be "authentic" when it means breaking up a family. It really is as simply as choosing one's flesh over everything else that matters. I am so sorry for how much you hurt. I have wept with other wives in your shoes. Praying for you to experience Jesus' comfort . . .

  • JDC


    Perhaps the real sin is persuading a gay person to 'become' heterosexual and get married based on the mere hope that somehow they will be 'cured' and start to have romantic and sexual feelings for their spouse. I mean, honestly, that's as smart as jumping off a 7 story building because you heard stories of people who miraculously survived.


    Jonathon Rauch writes of his own experiences and contemplates the notion that being gay is a choice as follows:

    'Let us suppose, for argument’s sake, that there are people who declare: “Actually, I would prefer to be (probably) childless, to face a hun
    dred kinds of social difficulties, to disappoint and maybe horrify my parents, to risk alienating myself from some of my friends and many of my peers, to be an object of disgust and scorn to many millions of people. Sure. Sounds fun. Let us also overlook, again for argument’s sake, that many homosexuals, far from embracing their condition, struggle desperately to change or suppress it, even to the point of suicide. No: imagine that homosexuality is something many people contemplate and choose. Now arises the question: suppose (I want to ask heterosexuals) you decided, at age 14, to fall desperately in love with a classmate of your own sex. How would you go about doing it? How would you talk your temples into throbbing and your throat into constricting? . . . What hormonal levers would you pull?


    • Sue Bohlin

      The “real” sin?

      My blog post didn't have anything to say about suggesting people marry in hopes that marriage will cure them. I would point out, however, that over the course of human history, millions of people have married spouses they had no feelings for on their wedding day. Ever hear of arranged marriage? I'm not suggesting it, but we should cultivate awareness of things beyond our own culture and our own moment in time.

      The "real" sin is what God says about homosexuality and any kind of sex outside of marriage. He gets to define sin. (And marriage, for that matter.) My post was about framing the issue in terms of what God says, and His intentions for us. This response was about feelings, as if that's all that matters. For the record, I do realize that same-sex attractions and desires are discovered, not chosen. But actions are chosen, and we are always responsible for our choices. That's what I blogged about.

  • In His Blessings

    Valid statements

    You make good allegory between alcoholism and homosexual ism.  They don't realize that we have our choice for our destiny..His Purpose or my way.

    i am a rookie of my blog and I made a post as our articles are in somewhat similar.  I am also new to your blog and the website thanks to our colleague.

    Your attention through His Work will be greatly appreciated.

    • Sue Bohlin

      Thanks, Alan.

      I appreciate the feedback, brother!

      Someone challenged me about a statement you made a few months back; the link to the "blog comment" in my post is my response to it. Please let me know if I am mistaken or need to make any adjustments in what I said.



  • Melanie Newton

    Fantastic Explanation

    You put into words exactly what I've thought about the issue for a long time. Fantastic, godly wisdom! Why does our culture seem to separate out sexual issues from other issues regarding temptation in our lives? We pursue our rights to act on our sexual "needs" regardless if it pleases our God or not. 

    • Sue Bohlin

      Separating out sexual issues

      Thanks, Melanie. Our culture is highly sexualized, buying into the lie that sexual pleasure is the highest good and the top priority for a fulfilling life. Of course, because it's a lie, people keep seeking something else, something better, something other, and never finding the payoff that the lie promises. The enemy laughs and laughs. . .

  • Shally

    John Paulk announced that he

    John Paulk announced that he renounced the "ex-gay" identity and is leaving his wife Anne to be openly with men again. John still says he's a Christian. The question is, if you believe in eternal security, are people like Paulk still saved?

  • Sue Bohlin

    Still saved?

    I think Christians who renounce their vows to follow their flesh show that they are at the very least confused about themselves, the character of God, and the immense sacrifice that Jesus made to pay for their sins that they are returning to. If someone is truly "born from above," but departs from the kind of life God calls us to, something has gone very wrong. But I don't think they lose their salvation, which is a free gift from God. What they do lose, I believe, is their place in the Kingdom of God. I think many people conflate salvation with the Kingdom, where Jesus rewards faithfulness with rewards and positions of responsibility. It may involve the millenial reign of Christ on Earth, it may refer to His re-creation of the new heavens and the new earth, but at some point Jesus will physically reign over an earthly kingdom. . . and reigning with Him is a reward that can be lost–unlike our salvation, which Christ secured with His own life and is a gift.

    At least, that's what I think.

  • rlockey

    no easy button

    Thanks for this post, Sue.  I apprecitate when those who share this perspective have the boldness to speak it out in the Christian realm and beyond.  Many hold back in fear of sounding judgemental–or at the least, insensitive or ungracious.  And sadly, some speak out who actually are.   

    5 years ago this month I walked away from a long-term relationship, homosexuality, and 20 years of a gay identity.  I was 37 at the time.  Although same-sex attraction remains a reality for me today,  purity is a choice and always will be.   By God's grace and in the power of the Spirit, I will stay the course.   Indeed it's the only way any of us do, regardless of our areas of struggle.

    I often receive mailers like the ones you mentioned.  Sometimes I read them with sadness, and at other times I toss them right in the trash aware of how desperately Satan wants to distract & derail me.  But everytime I pause and pray.  I pray for those who have been deceived or given up, and those like me, who are still fighting.  I pray for families affected, a culture confused and for the Church, as a whole.  I pray all would have fresh revelations of God's love & truth.    

    May God continue to empower you, inspire you, amaze you & bless many through your ministry. 

    with love& grace,

    Renee Lockey

    AUstin TX

    • Sue Bohlin

      Bless you, Renee!

      Your choice to honor God with your life, stewarding your emotions and your sexuality in a way that glorifies Him through the choice to be pure, deeply blesses me. You are one of my heroes!

      I have a female friend who also walked away from a sinful, unwise relationship with a man to honor God with her life. I think both of you will hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

      Thanks so, so much for writing!!

  • Gary47290

    Sadly, this is one more know-it all article by a know nothing

    "Pray Away THe Gay" is not offensive. What is offensive is the pharisee in you trying to dictate people's behavior without knowing their soul.

  • Keke

    Thank you so much for that

    Thank you so much for that break down! i feel so much better and more confident to go out and face my fears of same sex attractions. God bless you.

  • Robert Maitlander


    My daughter has come out as "Transgender" and is starting the process of transition.  We are devastated of course and have tried to discourage her and educate her since age 13 when she first told us.  Parents please watch the internet for what  your children are reading. We foolishly allowed our daughter to search out this and get confused.  Now we have no choice but to tell her we love her but will not allow her to live with us while undergoing this transition.  Please pray for us.

  • rachelle

    being transgendered

    i think u r wrong in the statement.i am transgendered and dont align myself with gay culture nor do i have same sex relationships. i am in fact intersexed .so please dont classify me wirh a blanket statement.

    • Sue Bohlin

      Wrong in the statement?

      I'm sorry, I don't know what statement you're referring to. 

      If you are intersexed, meaning you were born with a biological anomaly that produced ambiguous genitalia, then you are not in the same category as someone born with a totally normal body but who pursues the feelings that they are in the wrong body, for whatever reason. I think there's a category error in your thinking. 

      What I do know is that God loves you just as you are and He wants you to look to Him for direction on how think of yourself and your sexual identity. I pray that you will turn to Him to quiet the confusion in your head and your heart.


    Much needed clarity

    I knew a young lady who was truly on fire for the Lord. I saw her as a future missionary. She is today an out and out unabashed lesbian. Her FB profile pic shows her kissing her girlfriend.

    Before we rush to condemn we need to truly attempt to "walk a mile in their shoes". I have a lesbian cousin. It was not a Christ-centered home she grew up in. Indeed, when my uncle learned that young M was another man's child from an affair with his wife, he became even more distant from my then aunt. They eventually divorced. The "bio dad"?? I think he had some contact with the young girl but he eventually faded from the pic too. When the home life is so radically dysfunctional and warped it must invariably have some impact on a young child.

    Still other homosexual men have given me variations of a similar story: Dad was a ram rod straight career military man. He could never show unconditional love for his son. And so the youngster eventually sought approval wherever he could find it–generally a straight pathway to an older male who initiates the teen or even preteen into a gay experience.

    A loving supportive church can assist folks to cast off all manner of oppressive sin. The task is making sure your church is such a place where those folks hurt by disordered sexuality can find support for even miniscule progress away from the homosexual life.

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