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The John Paulk Story Redux

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By David Clarke Pruden, MS – BarbWire guest contributor

If you ever wondered what happened to John Paulk, the former ministry leader who repeatedly found himself the subject of media attention a decade ago for his rather rollercoaster career as a gay, ex-gay, gay spokesperson. Well, he reemerged again this week in a feature article in Politico (a political news site) to tell again of his failed attempt to overcome his own homosexuality and criticizing Texas governor Rick Perry and the Texas Republican Party for “getting it wrong” when they suggested that people can indeed manage, diminish and even overcome their homosexuality and should be free to do so.

Religious ministries, like the one John Paulk was associated with are primarily concerned with helping people to live lives that are congruent with their religious faith and the standards or commandments of that faith. Other than depending on a spiritual healing, religious ministries generally lack both the intention and the necessary skills to help an individual diminish their homosexual attractions. So, people like John Paulk may well carry those attractions throughout a lifetime with little emotional relief. And, if you become a “ministry star” where you speak, travel and write books about your journey out of homosexuality how do you tell someone that you are still hurting and really need assistance?

Psychologists and therapists, on the other hand, tend to deal with issues related to an individual’s daily functioning or personal happiness. These are private and very personal matters that would be inhibited by the “spotlight” of media attention. They are best addressed in a quiet and confidential setting.

That being said, some people who are experiencing homosexual attractions will seek psychological care because they are motivated by their faith or personal life values. Others seek care from a licensed professional because they have important lifestyle concerns. For example, they may be married and want to preserve their marriage and their daily association with their children, or perhaps they are motivated by health issues related to homosexual sexual behavior. Regardless of the motivation, they seek professional help to manage or diminish these unwanted attractions and many therapists like those associated with the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and the American Association for Christian Counselors are willing to support sexual self-determination. Simply put, sexual self-determination is the right of any person to determine for themselves their own sexual behavior, identity and direction.

John Paulk certainly has the right to tell his own personal story. What is less useful is when he decides his story somehow represents a kind of “universal template” that applies to all other people experiencing homosexual attractions. He used to be the “poster boy” for the ex-gay movement saying to others “I know the way. Follow me.” Now he returns to the spotlight as a self selected (or media selected) spokesperson for gays once again saying, “This time I really do know the way, follow me.”

Perhaps the real problem is making a life choice, much less an eternal choice, based on the stories told by others.

Some people with homosexual attractions report being happy and fulfilled engaging in same-sex sex and adopting a gay identity. However, many people with homosexual attractions are primarily identified with their religious convictions or personal life choices and find that their homosexual attractions are not compatible with their personally selected goals. For them, diminishing those attractions and managing their behaviors is a rational and achievable goal. John Paulk’s story is just that, his story. Each individual needs to write their own story and that may take them on a very different journey than the one Mr. Paulk is currently experiencing.

David Clarke Pruden, MS, is the Executive Director of National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).

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