Ken Williams represents what some activists say is impossible: Previously gay, he’s now married to a woman and has kids. He says God has helped him change. Williams now works at a church and counsels people who face their own unwanted sexual attractions—but some say his work should be illegal. Read our interview, posted below, or listen on the podcast:
We also cover these stories:
- Democrats are beginning the process to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt.
- Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is proposing a national gun licensing program.
- Hillary Clinton is saying the 2016 election was “stolen” from her.
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Katrina Trinko: Joining us is Ken Williams, a Christian pastor from California, and a man who once lived a gay lifestyle, but now councils those who want to leave it. Ken, thanks for joining us.
Ken Williams: Thank you for having me.
Trinko: You once lived as a gay man. Can you tell us a bit about that lifestyle?
Williams: Actually, I didn’t actually live as a gay man. I was not out and publicly living that lifestyle. I just was struggling every hour of every day with same-sex attraction, which for me was unwanted. And then I had several different experiences and a relationship for a period of time that was homosexual.
Daniel Davis: And at what stage of your life was that? Around college or after? In your 20s?
Williams: No, that was teens and into college. Yes.
Trinko: So why did you decide to abandon that way of life?
Williams: I never wanted that way of life. I never wanted to have sex with men. That’s just the only people I was sexually attracted to. That probably doesn’t seem like it makes any sense. But that’s pretty common actually.
We don’t really plan our sexual desires. We find ourselves with our sexual desires. And when I found myself with mine at, I don’t know, 13 or 14 years old, I realized to my shock one day, “Wow, I’m not like the other boys. I’m sexually attracted to the boys. I feel like I’m more like one of the girls.”
Eventually, over time, I succumbed to some of my temptations. But that wasn’t in alignment with what I personally wanted. It wasn’t in alignment with my faith or my understanding of what I felt like God was calling me to. It’s just where I found myself.
Trinko: And it’s striking that you’ve mentioned a few times now that wasn’t something you wanted. And why did you not want it? You mentioned your faith, but obviously, a lot of people have decided that they have an understanding of Christianity that does allow it. So why do you think that didn’t change your mind?
Williams: I just had conviction. Whenever I would move in a direction or if I would undress a man with my eyes, or if I looked at porn or something like that, I felt I was violating my conscience. And I wanted to have the family scenario. I loved my family and was really close to them and so I wanted to one day have my own wife, have my own children, all of that.
It was just for multiple reasons I didn’t want that. I had this gaping hole inside for masculinity and, at least in my case, it felt like I was trying to fill what was missing in me with someone else.
I had a lot of self-hatred going on, so I just really wanted it to delete me and replace me with the better looking, more impressive male guy that I looked up to. So it was very co-dependent and really unhealthy.
Trinko: Ken, you mentioned that you are married, which I think probably surprises a lot of people. Can you tell us about how you met your wife and how she came to peace with your past?
Williams: Yeah, sure. I met my wife at the church that we were both going to in a group of young people that got together periodically. What had happened to me there, that had never happened to me before, was … well, I had respected plenty of women before, but this time it turned into, “Wow, I really kind of keep looking at you.”
She was sitting across the way. She had long hair, she was playing with her hair, and she had this sparkly belt on, and I kept needing to look at her. I realized, “Wait a minute, I’ve never done this before. What’s going on?”
I realized I profoundly respected her because I had known her for a year, and I loved how I felt when I was around her. But this time, it crossed the threshold of actually becoming more intense than just a friendship.
I thought, “Wow, OK.” I just started spending more time with her, and eventually just wanted to ask her out. I got up the gumption to ask her out by text message, very courageous.
Trinko: Oh, come on.
Williams: Yes, not the proudest part of my story. But anyway, she gave the multiple choice answer back that I wanted, and I took her out on a date.
I take her to this nice restaurant. As I sit down, she’s about to sit down, she says, “You know, I’m going to run to the restroom.” She walks over, taps my shoulder to say, “Hey, I’m going to the restroom.” I know it sounds weird, but she touched my shoulder and electricity shot from my shoulder down to my toes, back and forth a few times, and I was like, “What is going on?”
Basically, I just fell in love with her. I fell in love with her. I developed sexual attraction for her. In the early days, I had some attraction to men still as well, but nobody was captivating my heart, or my attention, like she was.
We got married within a year of that. I’ve never once, I’m just being graphic, but it’s real, I’ve never once fantasized about another man in our entire marriage. We have a great sex life. We have four children, twins. We had four kids in less than four years, which to the listening audience, please spread your kids out more than that because you could lose your mind.
But I love being a family man. I love my wife and my kids. I’m living, really, somebody else’s life is what it feels like, and I’m loving it. I have quite a few friends that share my same story.
But if I can answer your secondary question, how was it for her? I tell people, too, it’s like, “Hey, people need to know in marriage what they’re buying.” Within a month of dating her, I felt like, “OK, we’ve been going out enough now that she needs to really know who I really am, and where I’ve been.”
We were spending a weekend together, Thanksgiving, at her parents’ house, but a few days prior to that we had taken a trip together. On the trip, I thought, “Oh, maybe this is the time.”
So I opened up to her and said, “Hey, FYI, I’ve dealt with this in my life, and here’s what it looked like.” And she said, “Oh, okay,” and she acted like it was no problem at all. She said, “Hey, can we pull over, I’m going to use the restroom.” Another restroom story.
She pops into the restroom, while I’m filling up with gas, and I didn’t know it, but she was having a full on panic attack in there. She was like, “Oh my gosh, God, what am I going to do?” She’s like, “God, help me, because I love this guy, but I don’t know what to do with this.”
She felt like, I don’t know what everybody’s faith journey is like here listening, but she felt like God very clearly just relayed to her, “Hey, don’t look at him that way, because I don’t.” Because I really wasn’t that person anymore. She thought, “Wow, OK.” So she endeavored to go that direction.
We had talks in the coming weeks about it, she needed to kind of process it. She’d say, “Well, what about this or what about that?” It kind of came down to, I said, “Hey listen, I’ve told you everything,” and I said, “Everything I just told you, there are five people in my life, close friends of mine, pastors of mine, they all know all of this story, and they all are present in my life.” So they’re aware of who I’m hanging out with, who I’m not.
I said, “You are welcome to talk to any of my friends,” that kind of thing. And I said, “You know, the reality is, any of us could fall to all kinds of temptations in life.”
And I said, “At the end of the day, you’re just taking a risk that I’m going to put God ahead of every other relationship, and I’m going to be true to my faith in God, which means that I would be faithful in marriage.” I said, “All I know to tell you is, I will endeavor to always put God first and you next, and at the end of day it’s a risk, but I hope you’ll choose me.”
She did, so that was 13 years ago in August.
Davis: Wow. … There’s so much hope there for people who might find themselves just trapped. There’s a category there that people today don’t seem to make room for, which is that you might develop a certain attraction. It seems like your attraction, maybe you can explain this—
Davis: … was for her specifically, not just for the female gender.
Williams: That’s true.
Davis: Is that the case?
Williams: It did start that way for sure, yeah.
As we’ve gone further through marriage, and I’ve continued to work on my own heart and being part of that men’s purity group, where I feel like I’m constantly getting better as a man and taking more responsibility for my life and just, I don’t know, continuing to grow.
Actually, my sexuality has as well, and I actually have some attraction now for other women as well, and it’s like I really am not trying to increase any, I don’t really need any, but that’s …
A lot of my friends that I know that share my similar experience, it becomes kind of fluid that way, as far as your understanding of yourself and of your sexual desires, they can shift. Even the APA will tell you that, that there can be a shift in sexual desires. So contrary to popular opinion, they can shift both ways.
Trinko: Actually, it’s funny you mention that because I was reading an advice column on Slate recently, where someone wrote in and said they had been a lesbian in their 20s and 30s, but now they were only attracted to men.
I don’t believe this person was religious, or they didn’t present themselves as religious, and they said, I feel really embarrassed to come out as straight. How do I do this?
Williams: Yes. My ministry partner, Elizabeth, at first was humiliated, she said, when she started having sexual desires for her husband because so much of her identity had been staked on being a lesbian feminist. She’s a brilliant lady, she had a master’s degree in theology and all this, and was an out and proud lesbian Christian. She was out in her seminary.
Her theology was such that she did not have any problem theologically, but she started having some experiences at church and with God that just led her away from that.
She was humiliated to one day discover, “I’m sexually attracted to this guy. What is going on here?” Because so much of her reputation was staked on her being a lesbian and a feminist. She had to figure out who she was all over again, and now she’s been married to that man for 14 years, and she’s no longer humiliated. She loves him.
Yeah, change is possible. If you’re a person of faith, it’s like all things are possible is in the Bible. I don’t know why we’ve removed this one area from being in reach of God.
Davis: You said you had a whole lack of sense of masculinity, or desire to be connected to other sorts of masculinity. Did you have that growing up? Were you close with your dad or another man who could kind of mentor you?
Williams: That was a challenge for me in my childhood. My dad loved me a time, but for whatever reason, we had trouble connecting deeply. He traveled quite a bit. My mom was more my same type of personality so she was easier to talk to.
I actually remember forming some judgments internally as a child, like, “Oh, women are better than men,” because when I would be at church, I would see the women stereotypically were standing around talking about God together, where the men were talking about football.
Not that there’s anything wrong with football and of course, that was a very short sighted, limited perspective as a child. I’m sure that the men had great faith as well, but I just drew some conclusions as a child that sent me in a way of saying, “I don’t really actually want men. I disapprove of masculinity.” But then I found myself, as I grew, craving masculinity because I had pushed it away.
Trinko: So you are now a pastor and you counsel, my understanding is, a lot of people in issues of sexuality. Can you tell us a little bit about how you approach that?
Williams: Yes. Really the only people that come to me for consulting are wanting to deal with same-sex attraction that’s unwanted or they are wanting to leave homosexuality behind. So I wouldn’t be qualified to help people that wanted to embrace it because I don’t have any experience with that.
But it’s interesting. There are all kinds of trigger points for people. I find that a very common characteristic is that there was some kind of a breakdown normally in childhood with their sense of intimacy, of love and belonging.
You heard some of that even in the story I told you about myself. I didn’t feel I was deeply valued or known really by anyone and certainly not by other males. So there can be all kinds of things. …
It’s not politically correct to say it, but it’s very common that sexual abuse is a part of the background of people who experience same-sex attraction. It’s definitely not 100% of the time, but it’s over 50% and that definitely bears out in the people that I minister to as well.
Davis: So if you have one individual who experiences these desires that they don’t want, how would you approach counseling them?
Williams: We try to ascertain, “OK, did something happen in your childhood? Let’s see if there was a moment. Do you remember when you first started experiencing these feelings?” Because that also happens for some adults as well, that’s a thing now.
I know a lady who didn’t deal with any same-sex attraction until she was in her 40s and then experienced it then.
So, “Did you have something traumatic happen? Did you form a judgment? Do you have any unforgiveness?” Can sometimes be a factor, which therefore kind of separated you from a person or people group. “Did you have a girlfriend or a boyfriend situation that went south on you and you were traumatized by that?”
There can be so many different different ways. We look for pain in there and we just try to connect them to a loving God that has grace for them exactly where they are. Loves them extravagantly right where they are, but also loves them enough to want to take them deeper into his presence and to an understanding of who they actually are.
Trinko: So would you consider what you do conversion therapy?
Williams: No. And I know over 100 people that have left homosexuality and I don’t know a single one of them that has ever experienced what people would say is conversion therapy, and they don’t know of anyone who has either.
It’s this term that gets used in culture that all of us with life experience, we don’t even know what you’re talking about. That didn’t happen to us. And in the movies that are out there, it’s very unfounded. So I have some things happen that were harmful to people. I’m sure that there are some cases out there, but I don’t personally know of any.
What’s so common though is people are confused about their identity or their sexuality. They go and they talk it out with a counselor, and the counselor helps them figure out what they want to go toward and leads them that direction … follows what they’re wanting to pursue and helps them go that direction.
So I know tons of people who have been so helped by things that could be labeled as conversion therapy that were merely a person talking with the counselor and figuring out, “Why do I feel the way that I do?”
Davis: There’s a bill in Congress here that you’ve been active in speaking on, the Equality Act, that would have a pretty sizable effect on the kinds of services that you offer, the counseling. Tell us about that.
Williams: If we’re going to call something the Equality Act, it sure would be great if it felt equal to all people. And so LGBTQ, the Q stands for queer or questioning. Well, questioning, OK, let’s take that. So if someone’s questioning their sexual identity, shouldn’t they be able to consider going down multiple paths if they’re questioning?
If we’re going to make it equal and fair, to remove from the table only the kind of therapy that would help a person walk away from homosexuality, how is that equal? How is that fair? How is that allowing someone to really question?
It’s basically elevating one viewpoint that says that all sexual fluidity must head in the direction of homosexuality. You’re not able to flow back another direction. And that’s just not fair. Any rational person can realize we must leave all of the options on the table if we’re going to be equal.
Trinko: Have you had any LGBT activists attack you for doing this kind of counseling? And if so, why do you think there’s such concern on the LGBT movement’s part that this counseling exists?
Williams: Yeah, great question. Yes, I’ve had death threats. I’ve had heinous things said. There’re a lot of really inappropriate things that definitely we’ve experienced, me and my ministry partner, Elizabeth Woning.
But I’ll tell you why I believe that exists out there. I think some of the responsibility does belong to culture and even to the church that for so long gay people were not loved well. I’m just being honest here.
For so long and in Christian circles it was this is the mandate, “Gay people are detestable. They’re going to hell. They’re terrible,” or whatever. And there wasn’t any offering for, “OK, wait a minute, God loves you and he wants to help you.”It was just, “You shouldn’t be who you are,” and that can’t be God first of all. And who wants to behave that way?
So I feel some of what we’re experiencing today is a reaction from a society that was holding expectations of people without helping loving them into what that expectation might be.
I so regret that that happened, but the way to fix it now is for all of us to be loving of people without necessarily agreeing. I mean, I don’t agree with my wife 100% but I love her.
We’ve got to now have a culture that allows people to make decisions for themselves. Still has standards for the truth, but we love people no matter where they are. And that’s got to work on both sides.
Davis: So there have been some notable ex-gays who have … done counseling and left the lifestyle but then returned to it. And sort of in the media that’s kind of looked at as, “Well, obviously, this counseling doesn’t work.” How would you respond to those claims?
Williams: I’m sure that with any area of counseling or people dealing with any life situation, there’s a desistance or however you would say it. There’re people that revert back to a previous way of living. There again that should be their right.
Of course, from my personal viewpoint, that’s sad for me because I feel they were probably on a direction, a pathway that was going to be very fulfilling for them. But something happened or it could be a lot of things happen in our lives. I don’t know what actually happened to cause them to go back in a previous direction, but we only tend to hear about the fantastic stories, don’t we?
What you don’t hear is all of the other stories of, “Well, I didn’t return back to that.” Those people just kind of go off into their lives and they maybe have a family and grow old together. Those aren’t as fantastic as the, “Oh, look, somebody that it didn’t work for them.” Like, “Yeah, OK. It didn’t for a percentage, but what about all the other people that it did?”
Trinko: You briefly mentioned pornography and I was wondering what do you think about the role of pornography in our current culture?
We know that there’re a lot of Americans who regularly view it, but we don’t really know that much about how it affects people. Do you see pornography playing a role in the kind of work that you do and affecting people?
Williams: Oh my goodness, absolutely. I know what it’s like to be addicted to pornography. I was addicted to gay porn for whole seasons of time and I have not dealt with porn at all in 15 years. So thank God that is no longer a part of my life.
It is very damaging. It’s damaging to culture in general, at a very basal level. Because what it does is it steals your voice. It steals your passion. It puts men in particular into passivity because you’re basically medicating … Very often people addicted to porn are medicating emotional wounds, disappointments. They’re not dealing with life head-on anymore.
Instead, they’re going to a quick hit of chemicals across their brain to make themselves feel better and they get very disempowered, very passive, not leading their families any longer. The fallout from porn we haven’t even been able to completely grapple with yet. But it’s immense.
I know this for one reason because I’ve been one of the leaders of a men’s purity group at my church for 10 years. We have 200 to 250 men every Monday night that gather and porn is just an issue for most of them. And if you can get them off of porn for three weeks, they come back, it’s like their present. They can think more clearly. They start leading their families again. They feel so good about themselves. I could talk about this for a long time. I feel very strongly.
Davis: Wow. We’re coming up on the month of June pretty soon, which the LGBT movement considers to be Pride Month. As we approach June, what would you say are the most helpful ways for us to engage those in that movement?
Williams: Yeah, thanks. We need to consider our relational capital that we have with another person before we speak. So if it’s somebody I don’t even know, I have no business going up and telling them how to raise their children or whether they should be smoking or not or what I think about their sexuality. That just doesn’t work well when you just do a drive-by comment.
So people that are in our lives though that we might actually have a conversation with I say, “Hey, in my experience of homosexuality, so often it’s a search for self, self-love,” and a search to just to be known and valued, like I shared earlier.
So I encourage people, “Hey, before you try to have any kind of conversation about whether they should quit alcohol addiction or anything else really, put more deposits into the person, then you’re taking withdrawals, a lot more. And really try to find common ground with them. Try to be the person in their life that they feel knows them more deeply than anybody else.” Strive for that.
Let them be heard, seen, valued, so that now you have relational capital and then maybe you will have an opportunity at some point to say, “Hey, tell me,”—questions, first of all, are great instead of commands. Who wants to be told what to do?
So questions about, “Hey, so let’s talk. We haven’t talked in a while. So you’re in a relationship with another woman. Tell me about that. How have you always felt that way?” … That’s just a good counselor.
Any counselor or even a consultant would come in with questions instead of their own expectations. So I think we really should do the same. Just be really loving and relational and then maybe you’d have an opportunity to share whatever’s on your heart for the person.
Trinko: OK. Well, Ken Williams, thanks so much for being on with us.
Williams: Thank you. It’s an honor. I appreciate it.
Trinko: And is there anywhere that people can find your work or reach out to you?
Williams: Yeah, absolutely. You can go to equippedtolove.com for our ministry. And then also if you just want to track along with all of the people who have left homosexuality and are having different testimonies there, you can follow us on Instagram at changedmvmt.
Trinko: OK. Thanks so much.
Williams: Thank you.