PORTLAND — More than a decade ago, husband and wife John and Anne Paulk were on the cover of Newsweek magazine and in newspaper ads and national TV shows as visible figures in the Christian “ex-gay” movement.
Today, the two are going different directions in sharply contrasting ways. As reported last month by The Oregonian, not only are the Portland residents and parents of three sons divorcing after 21 years of marriage, but he has renounced conversion therapy and is again living as a gay man, while she continues to describe herself as an ex-lesbian and is helping lead a Christian ministry that seeks to change sexual orientation through faith and counseling.
Both issued prepared statements for the press.
“I am truly, truly sorry for the pain I caused,” John wrote April 24. “I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people.”
For her part, Anne stated that her heart “has been tremendously grieved by John’s words and moral choices,” but she nevertheless asked for prayer for him. She added that “I have chosen — and will continue to choose — to follow Christ, care for my boys, and serve Restored Hope Network.”
Restored Hope Network is a coalition of ministries serving those who desire to overcome sinful relational and sexual issues in their lives and those impacted by such behavior, particularly homosexuality. Anne is the network’s coordinator and board member.
On their web site, www.restoredhopenetwork.com, the network’s leaders stated that they are “grieved over the poor moral choices that John Paulk apparently has made. Although long separated from wife Anne, John’s actions most impact her and their three children. We stand alongside of Anne as she grieves the dissolution of her marriage. We are confident of her integrity as she continues to serve Christ and family, and to coordinate RHN. She has continued to live out the truth that Christ and His Body changes lives.”
In his young adult years, John Paulk worked as a male escort and a drag queen. He eventually claimed to have experienced a change in sexual orientation after coming to faith in Christ; he now says that change did not occur.
“For the better part of 10 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,” he stated.
John Paulk was the founder and former leader of the ministry Love Won Out, which was launched by the Christian organization Focus on the Family. From 1995 to 2000, he was chairman of the board of Exodus International North America, a network of ex-gay ministries. His 2000 autobiography Not Afraid to Change addressed his sexuality and attempts to change his same-sex desires.
Later that year, after an incident in which he was revealed to have attended a gay bar, both organizations removed him from leadership positions. Paulk returned to Portland, attended culinary school, and in 2005, he opened a catering business, Mezzaluna.
Promoted by some conservative Christian groups, but opposed by the medical community, reparative, or conversion therapy is a range of treatments that aim to change sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Conversion therapy has been a source of intense controversy in the United States and other countries.