The chairman of the country's best-known ex-gay ministry has been sacked over a public slip that has deeply embarrassed the "change" movement that maintains people can be set free from their homosexual past.

The board of Exodus North America (ENA) has voted out chairman John Paulk, a Focus on the Family leader who became the poster boy for ex-gay ministries when he appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1998.

Paulk's removal follows his visit to a gay bar while on a business trip to Washington, D.C., last month. He initially said that he had not known the place catered to gays and was looking for a restroom, but later admitted that he had known what Mr. P's was when he went in.

Gay media reports quoted eyewitnesses saying Paulk spent 40 minutes in the bar socializing with a number of men, including "speaking intimately with one man." He told one man he was gay, and left hurriedly when someone who recognized him started taking photographs, they added.

ENA director Bob Davies said that Paulk had told the board he had "no sinful intentions" in going into the bar. "However, he did engage in behavior which has negatively impacted the credibility of Exodus. He was guilty of a serious lapse of judgment, and we feel that his behavior warrants some type of disciplinary action."

Although removed as chairman, Paulk has been retained as an ENA board member on probation. That status will be reviewed after three months, during which time he has to follow guidelines intended to give "appropriate accountability and support as he moves through a period of restoration."

After years as a homosexual activist, Paulk left the gay scene after becoming a Christian. Through ENA he met and married a former lesbian. They now have two children, and their dramatic story was featured in the Newsweek cover story on the ex-gay movement. Paulk is manager of Focus' homosexuality and gender division, and a speaker at the ministry's Love Won Out conferences that address teens and homosexuality.

In a July letter to Focus supporters, Paulk wrote about his passion for "those who are still trapped in the sordid world we left," and how pro-gay groups were trying to silence the "message of hope" that people could turn from homosexuality.

Davies said that it was "very unfortunate" that Paulk had initially been "so fearful that he hid the truth" about his visit to Mr. P's. "He told me later that he was more ashamed of how he handled that than his initial decision to enter the bar." But "[his] unwillingness to tell the truth from the beginning was most unfortunate, as it has further undermined his public credibility."

In a letter to ENA leaders, Davies said that Paulk had demonstrated "genuine remorse" and was deeply committed to his family, and to seeking godly counsel to analyze "what brought him to this point." ENA's actions were intended to balance "compassion and justice."

Tom Minnery, vice president of Focus on the Family's public policy division, said today that he supported ENA's actions. He said that he was "not at liberty to discuss what disciplinary actions [Focus] has taken," but expected Paulk to "eventually" resume his role in future Love Won Out events.

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