2016-06-30
COLORADO SPRINGS, Sept. 26 (RNS)--John Paulk, who gained national attention for saying he abandoned homosexuality for Christianity and then became a husband and father, is facing criticism from both gay activists and his colleagues after he was spotted on Sept. 19 at a gay bar in Washington D.C.

The head of Exodus International North America, an evangelical Christian ministry that is spearheading a movement that advocates that gays can "change," said the group's board of directors is seriously considering whether Paulk should continue as chairman of the board, a volunteer post.

Paulk works for Focus on the Family, the influential Colorado Springs-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's DuPont Circle neighborhood as proof that he's still gay, Paulk said that's not true.

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

"The thing I'm most concerned about is my reputation for the past 13 or 14 years will be damaged, and I have committed no sexual improprieties of 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 the Washington, D.C.-based gay and lesbian political group Human Rights Campaign not been in the bar and recognized Paulk. The activist called a colleague who confronted Paulk and snapped his picture.

Paulk, 37, is probably the most recognizable face in a controversial Christian movement that portrays homosexuality as a lifestyle that can be left. He was pictured in 1998 with his wife, a former lesbian, on the cover of Newsweek. Paulk worked for Exodus International affiliates in the San Francisco area and Portland, Ore., before taking a job in 1998 at Focus on the Family.

Paulk said he was in Washington for a "pro-family" meeting about gay issues. He ate dinner at an Italian restaurant, got lost, and wandered into Mr. P's to use the bathroom, he said. He said he soon figured out it was a gay 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, said that story isn't believable. He said there are many other places nearby, including hotels and a coffee shop, where Paulk could have found a restroom.

"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 hurting people 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 is on vacation for the next week and a half. The ministry said Paulk remains in charge of its homosexual issues department but has declined to say whether 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 his organization's board did not find any reason to immediately remove Paulk from 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're not careful, you can do damage to our credibility by engaging in behavior that opens up public speculation."

About a dozen Exodus affiliates have been shut down because their leaders have returned to homosexuality, according to news reports. Two of the organization's founders left their wives for each other in the late 1970s.

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