Beliefnet
COLORADO SPRINGS, Sept. 26 (RNS)--John Paulk, who gained national attention for saying he abandoned homosexuality for Christianity and then became a husband andfather, is facing criticism from both gay activists and his colleaguesafter he was spotted on Sept. 19 at a gay bar in Washington D.C.

The head of Exodus International North America, an evangelicalChristian ministry that is spearheading a movement that advocates thatgays can "change," said the group's board of directors is seriouslyconsidering whether Paulk should continue as chairman of the board, avolunteer post.

Paulk works for Focus on the Family, the influential ColoradoSprings-based radio and media ministry headed by evangelical leader James Dobson.

While gay activists portray Paulk's visit to Mr. P's bar in Washington'sDuPont Circle neighborhood as proof that he's still gay, Paulk said that'snot true.

Paulk said he was only looking for a bathroom and didn't know itwas a gay bar initially. He said he stayed because he hadn't been in a gaybar for 15 years and was curious to see whether things had changed, adecision he now calls a mistake.

"The thing I'm most concerned about is my reputation for the past 13or 14 years will be damaged, and I have committed no sexual improprietiesof any kind," Paulk said in an interview. "My intentions were innocent,but my actions were unwise."

The visit probably would have gone unnoticed had an activist for theWashington, D.C.-based gay and lesbian political group Human RightsCampaign not been in the bar and recognized Paulk. The activist called acolleague who confronted Paulk and snapped his picture.

Paulk, 37, is probably the most recognizable face in a controversialChristian movement that portrays homosexuality as a lifestyle that can beleft. He was pictured in 1998 with his wife, a former lesbian, on thecover of Newsweek. Paulk worked for Exodus International affiliates in theSan Francisco area and Portland, Ore., before taking a job in 1998 atFocus on the Family.

Paulk said he was in Washington for a "pro-family" meeting about gayissues. He ate dinner at an Italian restaurant, got lost, and wandered intoMr. P's to use the bathroom, he said. He said he soon figured out it was agay bar. Paulk said he stayed and struck up a conversation with a man who,like him, was wearing a wedding band.

Wayne Basen, the HRC spokesman who confronted Paulk at the bar, saidthat story isn't believable. He said there are many other places nearby,including hotels and a coffee shop, where Paulk could have found arestroom.

"He's been a one-man industry for anti-gay propaganda," Besen said."We urge him to come out of the closet and help people instead of hurtingpeople as he is now in this double life."

Paulk said the gay community was trying to use the incident to undermine his work.

A Focus on the Family spokeswoman said Monday that Paulk ison vacation for the next week and a half. The ministry said Paulk remainsin charge of its homosexual issues department but has declined to saywhether Paulk faces discipline because of the controversy.

Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for Focus on the Family,said Paulk used "extraordinarily bad judgment."

Bob Davies, president of Exodus International North America, said hisorganization's board did not find any reason to immediately remove Paulkfrom his chairmanship, but would make a final decision within two weeks.

He also criticized Paulk.

"People are already suspect of our claims," Davies said. "If you'renot careful, you can do damage to our credibility by engaging in behaviorthat opens up public speculation."

About a dozen Exodus affiliates have been shut down because theirleaders have returned to homosexuality, according to news reports. Two ofthe organization's founders left their wives for each other in the late1970s.

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