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Exodus regret

In pro-LGBT documentary Pray Away, ex–ministry leaders tell of their reembrace of homosexuality

Julie Rodgers at church in Pray Away Multitude Films

Exodus regret

You can see a bitterness in John Paulk’s eyes as he tells how he left homosexuality, professed faith in Christ, married a former lesbian, fathered two sons, and paraded himself as a gay-to-straight success story—and now says it was all a lie.

The Netflix documentary Pray Away, featuring disillusioned former leaders of ex-gay ministries like Paulk doing on-camera penance, isn’t fun to watch. It’s also nothing new, given Hollywood’s penchant to preach a pro-LGBT, anti–conversion therapy message through recent movies like Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

But in an ironic sense, Pray Away is educational for Christians learning from the missteps of a fallen ministry, Exodus International, launched in 1976 to preach a formula of accountability, therapy, and spiritual intervention to homosexuals seeking to leave their lifestyle.

Paulk served as a board chairman for Exodus’ North America branch for five years until he was discovered chatting up men in a gay bar. He, along with former founder Michael Bussee, former executive vice president Randy Thomas, former women’s ministry leader Yvette Cantu Schneider, and former convention speaker Julie Rodgers commiserate about an organization they now regret being part of.

While stories of regret are important, the documentary leaves out others. John Paulk finds love with another man, but we don’t know what happened to his wife Anne and the sons he left behind. We see Julie Rodgers’ lesbian wedding, but no sign of the parents who’d sent her to counseling.

After Exodus leaders confessed they couldn’t eliminate their own same-sex attractions and followers admitted feeling the same way, the leaders caved, and by 2013 Exodus was extinct.

Pray Away does feature an ex-gay leader who didn’t cave—Jeffrey McCall, who leads another ministry, Freedom March. Though the film seeks to portray McCall in a bad light, viewers can’t deny his testimony about leaving the LGBT community and finding freedom in Christ.

Juliana Chan Erikson Juliana is a correspondent and a member of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Juliana resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area with her husband and 3 children.


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