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Zach's parents 'come out' about the attempt to 'de-gay' their son

“To me it’s not what’s right and what’s left, it’s what’s right and what’s wrong. My wife and I will stand by that ’till the day we die, as far as homosexuality is not in God’s plan – it’s wrong.”

–Joe Stark, father of Zach, the teen that was sent to the Love in Action ‘ex-gay’ camp

I just don’t know how much homophobia I can stomach in one day. But here’s one more.

You’ll recall my earlier post, “Why ‘ex-gay’ programs like Love in Action are immoral,” about Zach, the young blogger that was being sent off to ex-gay camp by his parents. This story later caught the attention of the media, and there was an investigation by the state of Tennesee to see whether the institution, Refuge, an arm of Love in Action, was credentialed or qualified to treat young people, held against their will.

Now we know that Zach is real, and his parents are the ones “coming out’ to defend their attempts to “de-gay” their 16-year old son. This report is from Pat Robertson’s CBN, but it covers it well.

Can parents help children struggling with same-sex attractions turn away from the homosexual lifetsyle? One Memphis father says they can – and the city’s gay community is none too happy about it.

Joe Stark did what he believed any responsible Christian parent would do. In late May, Joe’s 16-year-old son, Zach, told his parents he was gay. The Starks, devout Christians, enlisted the help of “Love in Action International,” a Memphis-based ministry that provides prevention and treatment for behaviors like homosexuality and drug addiction.

But little did the Starks know that their actions would create a firestorm among local homosexuals. In an exclusive interview with CBN News, Joe talked about his decision to enroll Zach in the “Love in Action” program, and the controversy that has followed. “We felt very good about Zach coming here because… to let him see for himself the destructive lifestyle, what he has to face in the future, and to give him some options that society doesn’t give him today,” Stark said. “Knowing that your son… statistics say that by the age of 30 he could either have AIDS or be dead.”

The Starks’ story took on a life of its own when Zach began posting his thoughts on an Internet blog. “My mother, father, and I had a very long ‘talk'” he wrote, “…where they let me know I am to apply for a fundamentalist Christian program for gays… I’m a big screw up to them, who isn’t on the path God wants me to be on. So I’m sitting here in tears.”

“Zack has got a mind of his own, and that’s a God-given gift,” Joe said. “And Zack will have to make those choices when he is an adult as to what exactly he is going to do with his life. But until he turns 18 and he’s an adult in the state of Tennessee, I’m responsible for him. And I’m going to see to it that he has all options available to him.”

It wasn’t long after Zach’s blog appeared online that protestors began lining the streets outside “Love in Action.” They said that homosexuality is not a choice but something that comes naturally – and that Zach is being deceived by his parents and “Love in Action.” “When you ask someone to live in a lie, it’s a dangerous, dangerous slope that you’re running down,” one protestor said.

Propagandist and satisfied “ex-gay”, John Smid.

But according to Rev. John Smid, homosexuals do have a choice – and his life is a perfect example. Smid is “Love in Action’s” executive director, and he left the homosexual lifestyle in 1984. He’s been happily married since 1988, and he wants others like him who have struggled with homosexual feelings to know that they do not have to act on their same-sex attractions.

“I just see so many people who want to discount my life,” Smid said. “My story, my life, my experience, counts. And I have found tremendous freedom from homosexuality and a deep level of change in my life that would have never occurred had I never been given the opportunity to leave homosexuality.”

Smid credits his faith in Jesus Christ for giving him the courage to leave homosexuality behind. But his stance is anything but popular among gays and their allies. Since the Zach Stark controversy began, “Love in Action” has been investigated by the state of Tennessee over allegations of child abuse. Although they were cleared of all charges, the stigma remains, and those who have followed the case closely say that’s unfair.

“The child services of the state dismissed the charges,” said Mike Fleming, a local radio host. “And I frankly think that the bottom line of this is that homosexuals are afraid that this does work, and they have set out to destroy “Love in Action.” I don’t think there can be any doubt about that.” [There’s a second investigation under way. Tennessee’s Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities Department has opened its own query because Love in Action is also offering counseling in drug and alcohol addiction. State officials say the organization can’t do that without a license.]

Gay groups have criticized “Love in Action’s” techniques as heavy-handed. Clients are forbidden from listening to secular music, using the Internet, or wearing sexually suggestive clothing. But Joe says that’s one of the program’s strengths. “A lot of things that Zach spent a lot of his time doing were taken away,” Stark said. “And I can see why they do it now. It’s because, if you’re not doing those things, then what are you doing? Sometime or other, you have to communicate with your family. And that’s a big thing that has happened in our family – Zach is communicating a lot more with us.”

But critics say “Love in Action” doesn’t work for everyone. According to one former client, the program actually helped him to embrace his homosexuality. He calls the program “unrealistic.”

Rarely in life will you ever live that closed off from the world,” Brandon Tidwell, a former client of “Love in Action,” said. “It’s very, I think, deceiving, or misleading, or creates a false hope for people, to help them to create change in that very isolated environment, and then move out into the real world and try to continue to…understand themselves in a whole different way.

Smid points out that all of “Love in Action’s” clients, including Tidwell, have grown closer to their parents as a result of the program. Many came away with a better understanding of Jesus Christ as well. As for Zach, the jury is still out. But his father remains steadfast that he made the right decision for his son.

“To me it’s not what’s right and what’s left, it’s what’s right and what’s wrong,” Joe said. “My wife and I will stand by that ’till the day we die, as far as homosexuality is not in God’s plan – it’s wrong.”

Here are my other posts on this story:

Follow-up to Love in Action’s ‘ex-gay’ re-education camp

Six more weeks in ‘ex-gay’ camp for TN teen

Update on the Tennessee teen held at Love In Action’s “ex-gay” camp (includes a portion of one of the Child Abuse reports filed with the state by House Blender Paul Chirumbolo, a licensed Marriage and Family therapist.)

Love In Action International Inc.
4780 Yale Road – Memphis, TN 38128
(901) 751-2468
The Love In Action team:

Thanks to House Blender Nathan for the pointer.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding