In 1995 I met a lot of people at the Exodus International Freedom conference. I met and eventually become friends with Joe Dallas, Sy Rogers, Bob Davies, Alan Chambers, Mary Heathman, Brad Sargent, and many others. I can remember clearly meeting John Paulk because he was so seriously preppy and certainly knew everybody and everybody knew him.
As time progressed I would hear, “Guess what John Paulk did?” or “The Paulks are going to be on Oprah!” or “John raised a substantial amount of money to start a new conference being promoted through Focus on the Family.” I had brief run-ins with him over the years and conversations here and there, we eventually became friends so that by the time he was photographed outside of a gay bar in 2000, I was able to appropriately reach out to him and offer my support and friendship. At the next Freedom conference he apologized to our fellow leaders and peers. Afterward he left the meeting quite upset and I followed him out. I told him that my respect for him had only grown as a result of all that had happened because before he was the preppy perfect “go-getter” kind of guy. Now, he just seemed normal not-perfect guy to me. That’s a good thing.
In 2003 John left Focus On The Family and the Love Won Out conference and moved to Portland with his wife Anne and their children. He started Mezzaluna, a high-end very upscale catering company, and has been very successful over the past 10 years. Which is not surprising. John is incredibly talented and his gifts shine brightly in Mezzaluna.
Over the past few years I began to hear a different version of “Guess what John Paulk did?” This time it was usually negative gossip or assumptions. I must sadly confess that I too bought into some of the hype without actually talking to John. For that I am sorry my friend. Even so, I did purpose in my heart a long time ago that no matter what John does or does not do, no matter what decisions he makes or doesn’t make, I will be a a loyal friend to him. That sentiment was born out of the Golden Rule and doing unto others as I would want done to me. I think we could all use a bit more healthy unconditional friendship in our lives. Don’t you?
Then, last week, an article was published by PQ (Proud Queer) basically saying that John is on his way “back” to the gay community and questioning whether they should accept him. Some, a few … not all, activists act like the religious legalists they abhor by coming up with a laundry list basically stating that John can only be accepted if he does and acts exactly like they think he should. How weird is it that the church, rightfully in some cases, gets excoriated by these same folks for kicking people out into the street for not publicly espousing the right beliefs and acting the right way and then they turn around and do the same from a different set of rules?
Anyway, after reading the PQ article I messaged John a quick note once again sharing my heart for him and offering to help if I could. This resulted in a phone call and a great conversation.
John shared with me that even though his currently estranged (my word not his) wife Anne is involved with the group Restored Hope Network (RHN) he has gratefully left that world behind and started his new career, his dream job, 10 years ago. There has been extremely brief contact with his former career during that time but he has not been a part of Anne’s pursuits with the RHN and has no desire to do so. John does consider himself “outside” of the “ex-gay” world and no longer supports reparative therapy or SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts.) He shared with me that he hasn’t gotten a dime for the books he wrote for over a decade now. In fact both books only survived one printing and are currently out of print. The rumors out there that the Paulks are still “making a living” as “ex-gay superstars” is simply not true. Please remember, all the international buzz about the Paulks happened in 1998 … fifteen years ago. John’s involvement with Focus and Love Won Out completely stopped ten years ago.
John got very emotional while we were talking, especially about young people. He seems very committed to combatting shame and condemnation being brought against gay people and especially gay teens because of religious intolerance.
Our conversation lasted about 40 minutes and for the first time in 18 years I completely trusted that everything that came out of his mouth was unhindered and came from a loving, and humbled, heart. I told him that while I related to him more after his gay bar visit in 2000, I could relate to him even more now that he is genuinely questioning past actions and motivations. While I don’t agree with all of his conclusions he shared on the phone, I can say I agree with about 95% of what he shared including renouncing the term “ex-gay.” I love that he is pursuing the true meaning of God’s grace. I love that he is fiercely protective of his kids. I love that he will not drag his marriage to Anne through the mud even though some seemingly heartless activists demand it.
So what is John’s “Shocking Secret?” He doesn’t have any … anymore.
I don’t think I ever thought of John as being fake. He’s always reminded me of Nathanael, the disciple Jesus described, “in whom there is no guile.” However, listening to John and his apparent newfound depth of honesty made me happy for him.
Not sure I can “go there” on a few things he stated but once again, regardless of what he says or doesn’t say, regardless of what he does or doesn’t do, regardless of what decisions he makes or doesn’t make … I will be an unconditional friend to him.
I believe that people, all people, are innately drawn to beauty, excellence, and authenticity. Chef John does that with his company and anyone (gay, Christian, … whoever) should be pleased, and very well served by hiring Mezzaluna. I also believe this is true of John personally. He is a beautiful soul, committed to excellence, and now more authentic than I have ever known him to be. Some of his critics may have actual good reasons to be upset with him but I would encourage them to simply talk to him directly and not threaten, or assume the worst of him or his family.
John, I know we aren’t the closest of friends but I do hope you know I love you and your family. I love that you are wrestling with various issues with humility and honesty. In His grip of grace, you are safe. I will pray for you as you seek to serve, love, and honor God and others.
- John Paulk No Longer Supports the “Ex-Gay” Movement (randythomas.co)
- John Paulk On Recent Comments, Faith, and His Family – Follow Up Interview (randythomas.co)