I increasingly view the phenomenon of “ex-gay” as a diagnosable syndrome: It affects people so damaged by the church that they are unable to live productive and happy lives as openly gay men and women. It seems the only way they can integrate their broader lives with their sexuality is through support and  years of intensive psychotherapy with a qualified therapist.

Unfortunately, this is a world full of sharks with no shortage of misguided ideologues and heartless con artists lining up to take advantage of such desperate and vulnerable people. The latest victim is a poor man named Jeremy Bishop who belongs to New Spring cult church in South Carolina. In a pitiable blog post, “I was a gay activist — Jeremy Bishop’s Story,” he claims that he and his partner broke up after hearing an anti-gay sermon at the southern sect. According to the article:

I was in a relationship with a man for 10 years and we were very committed to each other. We were even planning on getting married in Vermont. The truth is, it was a really dark time. I was bitter and jaded about everything. I was so angry at the church and church people in general that it took any possibility of joy or tenderness completely out of me.

Jeremy Bishop should know that he was never a gay activist. To be a gay activist, one has to be largely, if not completely, free of the childhood guilt and shame instilled by society. Shedding such feelings and promoting love, acceptance, and legal equality is what defines an activist — not simply attending a gay event or two. If Bishop was about to be married and still calling his life “a really dark time” and still so “angry” at the church that it “took any possibility of joy or tenderness completely out of me” then he was not an activist. He was nothing more than a victim of his childhood who was stuck in a rut and could not escape without the help of a mental health professional. Instead of receiving such assistance to reduce guilt and shame — he ran back to the abuser.

Eventually, my partner and I decided to settle down in Greenville, S.C., where we had family. It was my personal trainer who invited me to New Spring, and we felt welcomed by everyone around us, even with an uncondoned lifestyle. Jesus changed our perspective forever during a message on sexual purity during the Revelation series in 2011. Pastor Perry Noble said, “Homosexuality is not God’s best for your life.” Every time I’d heard a preacher teach on homosexuality, it was a condemning, harsh and defeating sermon. I would walk away feeling judged, struggling with the issue, and no real way to take a next step. But this time, my heart heard the truth and was encouraged. God did have something better for me!

Right then, my partner and I walked up front and said, “We have to change.” We ended our relationship, and since then, we have both lived sexually pure. Pastor Perry and NewSpring staff welcomed us with Christian love, care and concern without judgment, and they supported us as we pursued God’s perfect plan for us. We are now NewSpring owners and regularly attending home groups. I serve on the care team, and he serves with guest services and the prayer team.

Bishop’s incoherent account makes no logical sense. He claims that “we felt welcomed by everyone around us” and there was “concern without judgment.” But, in the next breath he knew that his his fellow church members saw his gay relationship as “an uncondoned lifestyle.” Then he says that the pastor preached that, “Homosexuality is not God’s best for your life.” This hardly sounds like a loving and nurturing environment for a gay man who acknowledges the struggle he had in his childhood reconciling his religion and sexual orientation. Bishop asserts that “Jesus changed our perspective forever.”

Is he sure it was Jesus? It  sure seems more like the bigots in the church used the Bible to browbeat this already abused couple into submission.

This is not a hopeful or inspiring story, as Bishop intended it to be. Instead, it offers a powerful snapshot of the intense pressure gay couples often face to conform in stifling fundamentalist dominated communities. We can only hope that other gay people suffering from guilt and shame will get real help, instead of running back to the abusers who ruined their lives in the first place.

We wish Bishop and his partner much luck in the future, when they finally shed the shackles of the past that they can’t seem to break free from. I just hope they don’t throw away too much of their lives until they inevitably figure out the truth: they are gay and fine just the way they are.