Originally posted 11/26/12 at Truth Wins Out
I became aware of Phillip Moore’s story during email conversations with his sister Teresa MacBain, a former pastor and current Public Relations Director of American Atheists. (Disclosure, I contribute to American Atheist magazine.) After she sent me a two-part interview that David Silverman, President of American Atheists conducted with her and her brother, I found myself compelled by his story. (This two part video interview can be viewed here and here). So I conducted an interview with Phillip Moore via email so others can learn of his journey as an ex-gay survivor.
Describe your childhood.
I grew up in a small community in North Alabama. Our family was ultra- conservative Southern Baptists. We attended church faithfully and were always actively involved in the church. Shortly after I was born, my father became a Southern Baptist minister.
There were five children in our family; three girls and two boys. I was the youngest. My dad was very strict. He didn’t express himself. Rarely did he give me any kind words of support or love.
My mom called me her baby, giving me endless love and affection when she could. When I was 15, I was only child left at home. I relied on my mother and my youngest sister to shield me from my dad’s verbal and physical abuse. But all that changed. In 1984, mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Four years later, she developed digestive problems and had to be hospitalized. After many diagnostic tests, exploratory surgery was performed and it was determined that she had ovarian cancer in the final stages. She died on Mother’s Day, one week before my birthday. My mother was my anchor. Her loss left me in a frightened and uncertain place in my life. Since I did not have a good relationship with my dad, I became angry with God for taking away my mom.
For those who didn’t grow up in a conservative Christian household, briefly outline what you were taught about the “sin of homosexuality.”
The majority of homosexual references were Old Testament stories such as Sodom and Gomorrah. While I was aware homosexuality existed, it was never mentioned or talked about at home or at church. Sex of any kind was never talked about, gay or straight.
How did men working in church settings respond when you told them about your struggles with homosexuality?
I was 23 years old working at a Pentecostal church as youth/associate pastor in the Panhandle of Florida. The pastor I worked for seemed like a nice guy who was very passionate about God and appeared to have it all together. One day I went to him to talk about my “struggles,” the loss of my mother, and my anger at my dad. I laid it all out on the table. I was taught that you could trust a man of God. He put his arm around me and told me it would be all right and that he would be my father. To me, this was great! I thought this had to be the mentoring and love I had missed from my dad.
But one day we went to the store, and on our way home we stopped at the park near the water. We were talking when I became emotional. He took advantage of this situation and made sexual advances toward me. He told me things like, “You need this and you need to be touched.” I froze and didn’t say anything. I didn’t know how to say no and felt trapped.
Then I began to see his daughter. Like all good churchgoing men, I knew I was supposed to find a nice woman of God and get married. I also think that in the back of my mind I believed he would not make any more advances toward me if I were his son-in-law. I was wrong. He had more access to me than ever. I felt even more trapped, isolated, and had no one to turn too. Later, I found out that he had made advances toward other people besides me.
I would actually tell my father-in-law, “Pastor, this is sin and we don’t need to do this anymore. This is your daughter and my wife.” He didn’t buy it. He had his own agenda that didn’t involve doing what was right.
I got mad and tried to distance myself from him. The family didn’t know what was going on; all they knew was that he and I were not talking. My wife came to me and said, “You guys need to make things right. We are family.” I went to him after my wife spoke to me, and said, “No more of this.”
He would agree but it would start up again in a month or so. He had me brainwashed so badly that began to believe that I could not live without him. He told me repeatedly that the Holy Spirit instructed him that this was God’s purpose for my life. He said that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that I needed to be touched. This went on for 3 years. Many times I tried to tell my wife but I couldn’t find the words. The abuse continued leading to the day my wife walked in on her father and me. My wife asked for a divorce.
After the divorce, I moved to Tallahassee, FL. I confided in a Pentecostal Pastor who pursued me like a predator and took advantage of me using my unresolved issues from childhood as a lure. This turned into a three-year relationship. This man was married and had children. Both of these pastors were manipulative and predatory.
When I finally spoke to the Senior Pastor of the church where this man served, he continued the cycle of abuse, humiliating me before the staff and church. He stripped me from all my duties as assistant worship leader, and made me follow a plan of “restoration”. My punishment was to last for a year while another minister who had an affair was only given a couple of months. Finally this minister kicked me out of the church.
I moved away from the Pentecostal Church to a Methodist church. The first Sunday I attended and I heard the minister speak I felt a peace there. I immediately made an appointment with him during week where I explained my situation and my struggles. I told him if he has a problem with me to let me know now, as I was reluctant to trust a minister again. He let me know that he welcomed me and would help me. (A few years later, he actually affirmed me being gay.) I spent about six months at the church working in a program dealing with sexual addiction and same sex attraction. I soon realized it was not working. I was still attracted to guys.
I didn’t tell my dad that I “struggled with homosexuality” until 2004 when I went to an Exodus sponsored reparative therapy program, Love in Action. My dad was supportive of me getting help yet stunned that he didn’t realize I was struggling with homosexuality. After my decision to ‘come out’, we did not speak often. It wasn’t until just before my dad’s death that we came to any semblance of a father-son relationship.
Describe the different ways you tried to “cure” yourself of “homosexuality?”
From the age of 26 to 31, I tried everything: Exorcising demons, attending seminars and revivals, dating women, trying regression therapy, participating in the Celebrate Recovery program (sexual addictions and same sex attraction), reading everything I could find on being free from homosexuality, and ultimately a residential reparative therapy program. I did everything to find a cure for being gay.
Why did you come out of LOVE IN ACTION (Exodus International) gay camp in Memphis, TN (do you have a specific name of this camp?) as a gay man?
I came out during the LOVE IN ACTION (LIA) program because I found out the truth about myself. I discovered I was gay. My experience during the LIA treatment was unique. It was a live-in reparative therapy program that I willingly participated in. Therapy included isolating oneself from family, friends and secular items for 30 days so the participant could focus on God and the program. During the first three days everyone had to remain completely silent unless you were in class. This was to focus on the LIA program and to spend time with God. An important exercise included speaking the truth and overcoming lies. This gave me understanding of the many things I thought were true about myself growing up. It helped me to understand who I am and gave me a voice.
During my experience the lies that were exposed from my abusive childhood gave me confidence in myself. I finally accepted the realization that I was attracted to men and not women. My turning point at LIA was my final question: Does the attraction to men ever go away? No one could answer my question. (Note: In recent months, the LIA director, John Smid stated that he is gay and that sexual orientation cannot be changed.)
Having come out yourself as a gay man, how did you respond when your sister, who was serving as a Methodist pastor, came out as an atheist?
I knew she had been struggling with her faith. I knew that I had been where she was. Teresa has been supportive of me and non-judgmental my entire life even after I came out as a homosexual. She didn’t understand at first but she never stopped loving me.
How do you reconcile your faith and your sexual orientation?
When I left Love in Action in 2005, I removed God and Christians from my life. I stopped going to church, and would get angry if anyone mentioned anything about God. In 2010, at the suggestion of a good friend, I attended services at Foundry UMC, a gay friendly church in Washington, DC. I immediately felt the love of God in my heart. Through the pastor’s counseling and sermons, I was able to understand that I can be a Christian and be gay at the same time. My experience at Foundry helped me to accept the truth that God loves me and created me this way: a gay man. I am a man of faith but have little confidence in organized religion.
Through all the pain and sorrow my hope is that my story will bring awareness to the world about clergy abuse. I created www.prey4innocent.com to provide a safe place for those who have been abused to share their story.
Becky Garrison is a panelist for The Washington Post's On Faith column and contributes to a range of outlets including The Guardian, The Revealer, American Atheist magazine and Religion Dispatches. Her books include Roger Williams' Little Book of Virtues (forthcoming) and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, and Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries.