In this special episode, we interview McKrae Game, the former leader of one of the largest ex-gay organizations in the country. Conversion therapy refers to any attempt to change a person's sexual orientation, whether through psychotherapy, pastoral counseling, or support group programs.
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Tres Adames: 00:00 On today's show, we discuss conversion therapy.
Show Intro: 00:03 This is ask a Christian counselor where you can receive solid, practical and biblical answers on whatever personal or relational issues you are facing. Tres Adames is a Master's-level Pastoral Counselor in Phoenix, Arizona. Here's Tres...
Tres Adames: 00:19 Hi, my name is Tres and welcome to the show. Well, I have mentioned before that I have kind of stayed away from fairly controversial topics in the past, but I realized that there are things that are just too important to ignore, especially when they are affecting millions of people of faith. And I just want to let you know that this topic specifically is going to be very controversial. There may be things said that you disagree with and that's okay. All I'm asking is for us to think through a lot of these things. We did a previous episode on LGBTQ Christians that was fairly controversial and I talked about at the beginning how conversion therapy, which is efforts to change sexual orientation are not only unscientific and harmful, but also on biblical. That was the assertion that I had made. And I presented to other theological positions that many Christians have opted to choose instead, whether they are struggling with their sexual orientation or if they know somebody who is.
Tres Adames: 01:37 And to clarify, when we say conversion therapy, we may not necessarily be talking about psychotherapy that is seeking to change a person's sexual orientation. We're also talking about just different programs, whether they're church programs or programs put on by certain ministries or nonprofits—anything that is, that tries to or gives the impression that the program can change a person's sexual orientation. That's what we mean by conversion therapy. And that's usually what the media refers to. Any effort to change a person's sexual orientation is conversion therapy. And, you know, I get asked this from time to time, and I just want to clarify. I am an LGBTQ- affirming person. I'm an affirming pastor, affirming counselor. I was not always at that place. There was a time where I took the more traditional approach. I thought it was wrong. But, you know, after being in years of ministry and working with many different types of people I have come to the point where I believe there's nothing wrong with experiencing same sex attraction.
Tres Adames: 02:57 What you do with that is going be a matter of, you know, probably more of a theological debate. There are good Christians that land on either side of saying, you know, I'm gay, but I feel like I should be celibate or I'm gay and I believe I should pursue marriage. I have friends, very close friends on both sides of this issue that have chosen each of those options. And so I think we need to move the debate forward is we need to move past this idea that sexual orientation can change. And are there people who have claimed that they have changed their sexual orientation? Yes, there are. But many of them later recant later on and we're actually going to hear from somebody who represented one of these organizations that gave the impression that you could change or even at times asserted that you could change your sexual orientation.
Tres Adames: 03:53 And you know, at the same time I'm like, I don't know everybody's experience. I'm not those people who have had an experience like that, where they feel like their sexual orientation has changed. We do know that there is something known as sexual fluidity where some people can experience minor changes, but we do not, as far as we know, know for sure that somebody can change from homosexual attraction completely to heterosexual attraction. And even if there are people who have claimed that, by a great majority, we have people who have reported that they could not do it, it was impossible for them to do it. So there's a great majority of LGBTQ people, Christians and LGBTQ (just the community as a whole) who have grown up in a very difficult context where it was impossible for them to be who they were, who have tried to change, who have prayed and asked for God to change them, that have not experienced that change.
Tres Adames: 05:06 So I've made the point in previous podcasts is, okay, we need to understand that as far as we know, for a great majority of people, most people do not experience a change in their sexual attraction—and this is heterosexual and homosexual attraction. For the most part, it seems pretty set. So if that's the case, let's begin to now understand it from a scientific perspective, and then begin to build our theology around that. There are numerous places throughout church history where the church has come into some new type of understanding, whether it is theologically or scientifically, and we've, we've changed our mind on things. This isn't a new thing and I think people are just so afraid to do that. And you know, I'm not asking you to do that either. I'm just asking you to listen—especially if you are not an LGBTQ person. Just listen to the other experiences of those who do struggle in this area.
Tres Adames: 06:07 Yeah, I think so often we feel like we need to have an expert opinion immediately, and that's just not how it works. We need to constantly be challenging our own perceptions our own understandings. We need to be open to the perspectives of other people. You know, as technology has connected us more and more, it's become apparent that there's so much diversity of opinion. And I think that's why we see so many fights online. People are very afraid to not be right. It's just that pride, I think in all of us that we want to be right. And I'm not saying that you aren't ever right. There are times where we are right. But even if you're right about the assertion that you believe that homosexuality is wrong, all I would ask as a counselor, as a pastor is at least, at least, show some kind of compassion. Show some compassion because we're talking about people's lives right here. This isn't just a political debate. People's lives have been destroyed because they weren't accepted. And not even accepted, there's not even been an attempt to understand.
Tres Adames: 07:29 So, today we have an interview with McKrae Game, and he was the former leader of Hope for Wholeness, which was one of the largest ex-gay network of ministries in the country. And very recently, he came out as gay and has renounced a lot of the things that he taught through his organization. So I just want you to hear his story and then I'll have some additional thoughts at the end. So here's my interview with McKrae Game. So I have with me McKrae Game and he is the former director of the largest ex-gay ministry in America. But I want him to explain things in his own terms. I want to welcome McKrae. Thank you for coming. If you could tell us just a little bit about you and a little bit about your story.
McKrae Game: 08:21 Thank you Tres. So I don't know if I was the leader of the largest or not, there would be another organization that would probably contest that. But in our support groups that we had, our online support groups that we had, I would definitely say that we were the largest in the country, if not the world. But you know, I just got out of an interview, you know, so many interviews and podcasts and everybody wants a piece of me now. I, I didn't necessarily mean for this to happen. I was terrified of what direction I would go with my life. But I was on a set, I was on a set path for the last 20 years. I wouldn't have called it conversion therapy and no one who is a part of you know, Hope for Wholeness or a part of that way of life.
McKrae Game: 09:20 They don't call it conversion therapy. They don't even call it ex-gay ministry that they religion-ize it and they call it different things. But conversion therapy is you know, what the gay community and what others who see the harm in it have labeled it, but it's basically any practice that is, it is really falsely overly promising an outcome or at the very least, it is not allowing people to live what I believe is their true selves. But they get into religious language. And it's really about doctrinal language. It is, it is about a beliefs set. And so it's, it's really, you know, the evangelical world believe that homosexuality is wrong. Of course, scripture speaks about that. Many people believe that as it is modern day interpreted. But the reality is whatever scripture says or, or whatever people say and believe you have got the (and I know I'm running a long, it's a long sentence that seems to have no end) but you've got the hardcore evidential proof of people like me who were on a path for 20 years and it wasn't working.
McKrae Game: 10:52 You know, I was on my fourth nervous breakdown and now post coming out and accepting, okay, I'm gay. I've never had so much peace in my entire life. And I know I get constant communication from, from people and saying, oh, I just didn't pray for you hard enough. You've lost all your hope. You've lost your way. And no, I, I found myself. I was lost for 26 years trying to be a square peg in a round hole. And you know, I still believe in Jesus. Jesus is still my Lord and Savior. I, I still love Jesus. Jesus still, I was praying for, for some people yesterday, I still ask for prayer from people, but I was never able to deny my gay or my same sex attractions as being the core of who I really am. I was never able to turn that off. You know, I, I've had my father say, why can't you just turn that off? And I'll put like I've never had a opposite sex attraction, opposite sex sexual attraction in my entire life. I had a, I had had sexual responses, quite frankly it with my wife, you know, I loved my wife, I love my wife, but I, I did it have opposite sex, sexual attractions. I, I've never been sexually attracted to the opposite sex.
Tres Adames: 12:37 And that's interesting because we don't, we don't ask, you know, straight people to not ever have any type of sexual attraction at all. Sure, there might be some people that struggle with lust, but we don't ever expect that they won't ever have a sexual thought again. But it's almost like there has been that standard for LGBT Christians that they shouldn't feel those things.
McKrae Game: 13:01 Yeah. They're supposed to shut it off. I had a pastor say to me, well, don't you believe God would want to restore natural temptations to your life? And I said, well, that sounds good, but you have no scripture to back up what you just said. That is an unbiblical statement. So, you know, but that is, that is the doctrinal or, or modality that they use because homosexual, same-sex attraction, doesn't fit into their thinking and they don't know what to do with a gay person.
Tres Adames: 13:48 Yeah. And that's what I understand is a lot of these ministries were trying to reconcile the reality that people were sexually attracted to their own sex, but then also trying to deal with scripture and specifically those passages that appear to condemn gay people. So...
McKrae Game: 14:09 The hard thing, you know, with somebody like me who was leading a nondenominational organization network, you have got, you know, hundreds of people coming from vast different denominational beliefs in extremely religious and extremely diverse directions. A lot of very Pentecostal people, Independent Baptist, Southern Baptist. I was Southern Baptist my whole life. And so you didn't have this mindset of being able be gay and Christian. That was not, that was not an acceptable way of thinking. So you had to either shut down your sexuality, shut down your thinking. I mean, you couldn't even look at a man or, or you were to reorient your thinking and date women and try to enjoy someone who you were not sexually attracted to. Now, you can be relationally attracted to someone and find some level of, of satisfaction and stimulation in that. But you know, as a friend of mine said that's not your first choice. Yeah. You know, and, and so they're not able to accept their first choice that they are indoctrinated to believe, no, that is not acceptable behavior. While you know the heterosexual person is able to accept what is their first choice what, what comes naturally to them. The homosexual person is not able to accept that.
Tres Adames: 16:15 What would you say to families now who may have family members, whether they're kids, even their own parents that have come out and they're struggling as Christians to reconcile accepting their family member and then what they believe about scripture?
McKrae Game: 16:34 You know, that was one of the areas that I dealt with a lot in ministry and cause you, you know, what was more important? Your faith or the person's participation in your life? And a lot of people chose their faith over that relationship and so they would kick kids out of the house. They would stop paying for their college. You know, they would take away their cars, anything they could to try and manipulate that child's path. You know, if you had an adult, I have adult friends where their families won't talk to them, their children won't talk to them. And so you, you have to make a choice. And if you're going to choose your faith over your family member or your friend, I don't know what to tell you. I, I don't believe that's how Jesus would respond. That you, you can't show me in scripture that's how he responded. And you know, I, I'm not going to call homosexual a sinner, but if we start at that place that's, you know, we, because we're all sinners.
McKrae Game: 18:10 If we can at least start at that place that we're all sinners and say that homosexuals are sinners, then Jesus would have broken bread with them, Jesus would have sat with them. They would have been drawn to Jesus and Jesus would have not been giving them a hard time. Jesus wouldn't have said, "Okay, if you don't stop this, I'm going to send you to Hell." Jesus wouldn't say, "If you don't stop this, I'm going to stop spending time with you." That's just not how he was. And so I don't understand why family members are treating their kids this way. Why family members are treating their brothers and their sisters, their aunts and uncles, their grandparents, their fathers this way. But, but they do, they, they are very pharisaical. They are not Jesus. They're the pharisees. And in that instance, and that that methodology, that way of thinking never works. They are never going to change that person. You're not gonna change that person from being gay by withholding your relationship from them. You're just punishing each other.
Tres Adames: 19:30 And there are, and there are current pastors—prominent pastors—that are advocating exactly what you're mentioning, that you should just cut them off. You shouldn't have any type of relationship with them, which is sad.
McKrae Game: 19:46 While a lot of these pastors are sinning in their own ways in their own lives.
Tres Adames: 19:51 Yeah, exactly. And in working with families, one thing that I notice is that really the family has to go through a kind of coming out process as well. It's not nearly the degree as the LGBT family member does, but the family, if they accept them and especially if they're in a context that is not accepting, the family almost has to go through this very difficult process as well. Again, not to the degree as the person who's coming out, but still they too have to go through some major changes and maybe even lose friends and other family members.
McKrae Game: 20:26 Right. And yeah, I had that in the, even in the "ex-gay" world because to the church, even as an "ex-gay", they shunned me and my wife and stopped talking to us and distanced themselves from us—just the fact that I ever was gay. I mean, I mean, how unloving was that? And then now that I have come out, I mean, I, I have just gotten nonstop hateful messages from, from Christians and just sad communication, nothing like Jesus would communicate or relate. It's just been a nonstop, daily, I mean it's every day, multiple times a day or there are Christians, you know, coming at me. And, and that's just sad.
Tres Adames: 21:40 Yeah. What would you say to parents that are considering or even not just parents, even just individuals that are that still want to believe that, you know, ex-gay ministry or conversion therapy or whatever it is, is something that they should pursue, that they should get involved in?
McKrae Game: 21:59 Well, you know, if, I'm, I'm sure there's a, a diet that says eat lots of bread, you know and there's people that give testimonies to eat lots of breads as diets, you know, and there's testimonies to do it, but you know, overall how many success stories do you find for that? I mean, you know, that sounds like a ludicrous argument, but quite frankly, if you, if you look around with this issue, you've got way more people speaking against conversion therapy, then you've got people who's speaking for it. And you know, my problem with the ex-gay and conversion world is people who are not willing to be really honest. They, they have not changed. They use different, they use terminology we all use, but it has different definitions. And I used to say that I need to come up with the proper definitions of the words that we use because the words change, freedom, wholeness, healing. They don't mean what people think we mean. I need to just redefine them. Well, okay. I guess. The problem is, people perceive that when I say those words, they perceive gay-to-straight. When people say that they have changed, they don't mean they are straight.
Tres Adames: 23:51 Yeah, and that's true. I do notice a lot of that word-smithing that goes on.
McKrae Game: 23:55 They mean, they mean that they are now no longer participating in homosexuality. They mean they are controlling their thoughts. They mean they're not looking at gay porn. Okay, well good for them, but that does not mean that they are now straight. You know? Just because they're married does not mean they're lusting after other women. You know, and okay. They'll say, well, scripture says you're not supposed to lust. Okay, I understand, but all men lust, okay? Let's not lie. Okay? And if you do lust, which direction do you lust in? Okay, if you're going to struggle, which area do you struggle in? Let's not be false advertisers. Let's not be pretenders because we are, you know, talking about sex and sexuality in trying to reorient someone or believing that people should reorient is serious stuff. It's a very serious stuff. You are messing with people's countenance.
McKrae Game: 25:02 You are messing with people's peace and if someone cannot have peace in their life, that is serious stuff. People kill themselves over things like that. People do and have killed themselves ever. Stuff like that. People are giving me an onslaught of hard time saying that I killed countless people because of the organization I ran. So when, when you, you know, promote an idea and you're not honest and you aren't using language that is honest. So that's the thing around this subject. People aren't using enough words because to use enough words, you can be honest. And I use a lot of those words. I used a lot of words to be honest, but my honesty was not always appreciated.
Tres Adames: 25:57 Yeah. And as you mentioned, I know there are a lot of people that are currently upset with you. I mean, what do you, and I'm sure you've been asked this already several times, what do you say to those people who have been hurt? Maybe not directly by Hope for Wholeness, but by other ministries?
McKrae Game: 26:13 And they lump it all together and they put me at the top of responsibility of all of that. And, and I get that. I understand their anger. I understand they're lumping together and putting me at the top of it. You know, I say to them, I hear you, I understand. I'm, I'm sorry, I'm trying to make amends. It's why I am speaking out. I could have just been silent. You know, somebody said, you know, why is he not crying? You know, why is he smiling? I'm like, okay, I've processed this for a year and a half now. And that's why I'm not crying. And I'm still processing, you know, people were hitting me with some pretty hard, very challenging questions. You know, it's really easy when you are so fixated on believing you're right and so much of evangelicalism, they believe they are so concretely correct—that's a concrete wall that real lives are hitting.
Tres Adames: 27:27 Yes. Exactly.
McKrae Game: 27:28 And you know, I just don't see that in the life of Jesus. And in relationship. You know, you don't have relationship with a concrete wall, you have relationship with, with a, you know, in so much in Christianity we say Christianity is a relationship. We say it's not a religion. Okay. Well, if Christianity is not a religion because we say a religion is us trying to do good works to get to God to earn favor. Okay. We say Christianity is not that. Okay. Well if it's not that, then stop acting like it's that.
Tres Adames: 28:07 Yes, exactly.
McKrae Game: 28:08 That is exactly what they are doing.
Tres Adames: 28:11 Mmhmm. And I have noticed that, I'm sure you have noticed this before, is homosexuality apparently is the worst sin.
McKrae Game: 28:21 It's the whipping post.
Tres Adames: 28:22 It is and everything else just pales in comparison to it. And I notice that the gospel message, even when speaking about this changes, it turns into a works-based Gospel. They have to change everything about themselves. We asked them to do things that we don't ask anybody else to do.
McKrae Game: 28:41 Right.
Tres Adames: 28:42 In order to be accepted.
McKrae Game: 28:44 Yeah. They have penance and they're never accepted. In my 26 years in Christianity, I was never accepted.
Tres Adames: 28:51 Even as an ex-gay leader?
McKrae Game: 28:54 Even as an ex-gay leader, I was never accepted. I mean they were friendly to me, but did they ask me to play golf with them? Did they ask me to come over to watch the game with them? Never. Not once.
Tres Adames: 29:08 Wow.
McKrae Game: 29:10 And so, you know, when I stopped going to one church, nobody called me. When I stopped going to another church, nobody called me. And the one guy who would call me, I had to block on my phone the other day because he was just, it was, it just got too ugly.
Tres Adames: 29:31 Yeah. Yeah.
McKrae Game: 29:35 You know, there is this unwillingness to accept people for who they are.
Tres Adames: 29:40 Why don't you give us a little bit of the story of what happened after you left the organization? What happened? What brought about the change for you? And when I mean change, I mean getting to the point where you accepted yourself and came out.
McKrae Game: 29:55 Right. So I was, you know, fighting my fourth nervous breakdown, going to therapy. My board had mandated that I go to counseling and Celebrate Recovery. I was, I was really not wanting to go to Celebrate Recovery. I just wanted to go to counseling and I was really, I was very open about my struggle with pornography. But I was not stopping the pornography. Pornography was the only outlet I had from my mountain of stress. And of course, you know, the evangelical will say you have prayer. And, and I would agree. And I was praying, but it's still that that struggle was still there and it was not going away.
McKrae Game: 30:47 And, and my board was getting impatient with me. And in November of 2017, they decided to render my services no longer required and removed me from my position. And so that was extremely painful that, let me see, that I had to go through. And then I was processing that pain for the next year and a half. Almost, you know, this November will be two years. I was processing that pain and I processed the pain, then I processed the lostness. And I process it with friends who, who encouraged me to allow myself to accept myself as a gay man. And I didn't honestly really even mean to come out on Facebook. I had a post where I, I said I was gay and I just meant that's, you know, I've always been honest about having same-sex attraction.
McKrae Game: 32:05 That was the language I used at the time. But the world uses the term gay where the ex-gay community uses the term same-sex attraction. And, what is more honest than anything is, is to just use the socially, the world's terminology, and stop using wordsmithing. But you know, the church of course doesn't want you to use the word gay. You know, one of the things the church does that I find extremely frustrating is they use the world. They'll talk about the world. It's those people. We're over here and the world is out there. And I find that very offensive. And, and so I pushed, I pushed away from that offense and I said, okay, I'm going to find a community that accepts me for me. And so I started looking for some gay-affirming churches and I've got a couple of gay-affirming churches that I go to. And so the more I have allowed myself to accept the fact that I'm a gay man, the more peace I have found. Now I haven't found external peace so much because people are giving me all sorts of crap, but I'm not allowing their anger to affect my internal peace. And so they can have their crazy party over there, but I am, I've come to accept and live at peace with myself.
McKrae Game: 33:53 And you know, that's, that's my story. And, and now I'm just trying to I, I didn't mean for this to blow up. You can't control the media. The media is going to do what the media does.
Tres Adames: 34:06 Exactly, yes.
McKrae Game: 34:06 And you just have to, it's like trying to control the ocean.
Tres Adames: 34:10 Yes.
McKrae Game: 34:10 You can either get a surfboard and ride the waves, or you can drown. And I'm just choosing to get on the surf board and try to do some good with it.
Tres Adames: 34:25 Good. So what would you say to somebody who is struggling with their sexuality, even if they have, you know, certain theological beliefs that conflict with that?
McKrae Game: 34:35 I think they need to find someone who thinks differently than they do.
Tres Adames: 34:39 Hmm. Mmhmm.
McKrae Game: 34:40 Because if you are always, I mean that, that was one of the things that helped me the most was now as an ex-gay leader, as a former ex-gay leader back then, I would have said, you need to find someone who thinks in the direction that you want to go. In other words, you want to not be gay, then you need to make sure you don't talk to anybody that thinks that gay is okay.
McKrae Game: 35:11 Well, how has that been working for you, is what I would ask. Dr Phil asks. If you don't have any peace in your life, you have been living trying to deny your sexuality, then that hasn't seemed to be working for you too well. But so I would encourage you to seek out a therapist that is gay-affirming and ask them to challenge you on your thought processes and help you to find peace in your life. Now people aren't gonna want to hear that, but you're going to get to a breaking point. You know, my, I don't know what my breaking point was. You know, I found my, you know, self through processing my pain. And I think if people come to a realization of how much pain they are in, and what to escape that pain, then they need to realize they're going to have to do something different than what they have been doing.
Tres Adames: 36:32 So that was my interview with McKrae Game and I just kind of want to end with a special note for specifically those of you who may be struggling. There are a lot of really good resources available to you. First of all, if you are suicidal or actively considering suicide, I would encourage you to contact the Trevor Project where you can get online help immediately. Just go to: thetrevorproject.org. You can also call 1-866-488-7386. And they have trained volunteers to help those who may actively be considering suicide, especially for those who are struggling to come to grips with their sexuality. Also, a really good resource is QChristian.org, which is the website for QChristian Fellowship. It used to be called the Gay Christian Network. I'll also put several books in the description for those who are struggling or those who are just simply wanting to understand this from a theological perspective and various theological perspectives, but none that advance or advocate or give any type of credence to any type of ex-gay therapy or conversion therapy. These are all good resources that are affirming and even to those who may have more of a traditional perspective in regard to things on sexuality. So we'll put those resources in the podcast description. Well, I want to remind each and every one of you that you are made in the image of God and he loves you unconditionally. Walk in this knowledge and get support when you forget. God bless.