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‘Deliverance from homosexuality:’ How an anti-gay ministry changed my life

Friday, June 17, 2011

Listening to self-anointed “prophet” Damon Thompson preach now, it’s hard to recall why I ever considered him to be anything but a dangerous madman.

It’s not simply that he was the first preacher I ever heard use anti-gay slurs in a sermon or make the suggestion that it was possible to change one’s sexuality; it’s that he was the first preacher I ever heard sell homophobia and self-hatred so effectively.

Damon Thompson

His home venue, The Ramp, is a teen and young adult driven ministry in the small town of Hamilton, Alabama. Several times a year, hundreds of followers pack the building out to engage in fiery worship services as ministers rally the young troops of an emerging Christian army. In fact, The Ramp’s stated mission is “to awaken a generation out of spiritual death and religious complacency . . . as an offensive army imposing the kingdom of God.”

When I first heard of Thompson, I was in religious limbo; I was not ready to give up church completely, but staying in the oppressive world of the Fundamentalist Baptist Church I had spent my early teens in was no longer an option. At Lighthouse Baptist, tradition reigned and women were expected to remain silent in their big, smothering dresses while a well-groomed, seminary-schooled preacher led the stained glass masquerade.

So when I was introduced to The Ramp on a DVD during my senior year of high school, it seemed like the perfect antidote to the religious stagnation old-time religion had wrought. “Prophet” Damon preached unashamedly, not with his hair combed neatly to the side, but cascading in long, scraggly curtains on either side of his face.

He wore, not a suit and tie, but blue jeans and a short sleeve Dickie’s shirt that revealed the tattoos covering his right arm. The hundreds of kids who had gathered to hear him were jumping and screaming as the praise band played to his escalating shouts and descended with him into emotional euphoria.

It turned out that Damon regularly preached revival services at a local Church of God. In fact, I was elated to learn, he was scheduled to preach quite soon.

The first night I heard him preach at Trinity Heights in January 2008, I was just as enthralled with him as I expected to be; he was preaching of a God that was actively guiding my generation to a place of spiritual renewal that no generation had gone before.

I admit now that I was more enthralled with the idea that my generation might have a unique God-ordained purpose than I was with whatever that purpose was.

But when I heard Damon again mere months later at the same church, things had changed. I had already begun to lose hope that the promises he had made would ever manifest in reality and, this time, he was unable to stoke the flames and excitement within me as he had before. Even as he made proclamations of divine destiny, I found myself disenchanted. And then, when he started railing against “queers,” I lost all hope that he was any better than his suit-and-tie counterparts.

“Yeah, I said queer,” he reaffirmed. “It’s time we started calling sin for what it is and stop trying to make it sound nice!”

I knew that there were people in that sanctuary that very night who were gay. I knew that there were people there that very night who were lesbian. I knew that there was at least one person in the church that night who hurting from self-loathing.

But Damon didn’t, or if he did, he didn’t seem to care. There was no love in his heart for the ‘homosexual’ (as he otherwise called them). In some ways, hearing preachers like him constantly talk about ‘homosexuals’ was even worse than hearing him use the word ‘queer;’ while his enunciation of the word ‘queer’ truly dripped with disgust and revulsion, ‘homosexual’ just sounded cold. Scientific. Devoid of humanity.

And that’s exactly how preachers like Damon make gay youth feel — less than human.

I left the service that night with a far different opinion of Damon than I had held before.

That summer, I was invited to take a weekend trip to Hamilton to experience The Ramp for myself. Despite my misgivings about Damon, I went. I still held out hope that Damon might prove me wrong. But if nothing else, at least I could experience The Ramp firsthand.

Well, I certainly experienced it. The second morning service we attended that weekend was devoted entirely to ‘delivering’ attendees from the ‘sin’ of homosexuality.

“God has not nor will he ever coexisted [sic] with the devil,” Damon began. “And God’s not gonna come live in there with you and your homosexual devil.”

As soon as he said that, I knew where the service was going. I took several steps back to ensure that I was as far away from the altar as possible, fastening myself securely to a spot in the back of the room where I could watch the ensuing mayhem from afar.

Damon called upon those who were struggling with homosexual demons to come to the front and be “set free from sin.” He and members of The Ramp began to work the crowd into a frenzy as they labored to draw people out of the closet and onto the altar. At first, only a few guys and girls came forth. But, aided by music, the ministry leaders continued to pluck at the heartstrings of every struggling gay kid in the audience, promising that if they would only make themselves known, God would grant them the deliverance they so longed for.

Over a period of forty minutes, kids approached the altar one-by-one — some admitting to same-sex attraction for the first time in their lives. Some fell to their knees in brokenness, rocking back and forth as they prayed for absolution; others stood with their arms spread out as tears spilled from their eyes. By the end of the morning, dozens had approached the altar hoping to lay their burden down.

The Ramp leaders onstage rejoiced at the turnout, their music and shouts escalating ever louder as they began to wail repetitious phrases like, “Thank you Jesus, for a mind that is free, a mind that is free, a mind that is free!”

Every person in the room was spellbound by the spectacle. Every single one of them seemed to believe that these kids had truly been ‘delivered from homosexuality.’ Every person but me.

As I stood by watching as if from a distant land, I knew in my heart that these kids would only hate themselves even more a week later when they caught themselves still averting their glance from a member of the same-sex. I knew then that my days of giving any credence to the world of charismania (as I like to call the Christian charismatic movement) were long over.

I bought a DVD of the service as I was leaving, knowing that one day I would want to revisit that morning.

This past week, almost exactly three years later, I did revisit it. I uploaded a shortened version of the video to YouTube (above) and showed my friends and family. All were horrified at the blatant psychological abuse on display, especially my mom, who expressed regret for not doing more to dissuade me from immersing myself in that culture when I was only eighteen.

But for certain, the video horrifies me more than anyone. Under the right conditions, I could just as easily have been one of those kids at that altar. Now, I can only watch on a computer screen their tears that once fell to the same floor upon which I was standing. Now, I can only hear through a small speaker their cries that once filled the same room as my horrified gasps.

But I wonder — who are they today, three years later in their lives? Are they still struggling with their identity? Do they still seek solace in religious extremism? God forbid, have any of them succumbed to such desperation that they chose suicide over hell on earth? Or did they find a better way? Did they ever learn to love and accept themselves? I earnestly pray that they broke free and did just that.

I’ll probably never know what became of them. But I thank God that I escaped that world; not only was I ready to leave charismania behind, but I was ready to leave organized religion behind as well — along with all the rules, regulations, and intellectual roadblocks it entailed. These days, “my mind is my own church,” as Thomas Paine once wrote.

“Thank you Jesus,” indeed, “for a mind that is free.”

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45 more reader comments:

  1. LOL – what a cretin.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 9:56am

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 9:58am
  3. It’s a very comfortable living. “Fear the Queer” is still MAJOR box office.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:03am
  4. This guy also suffers from a serious case of Dyslexia. I guess he really hates himself.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:04am
  5. THAT is just scary!

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:12am
  6. That preacher, or whatever he is, was harshly misguided at some point in his life. I hope that, at some point, he is able to realize the damage he has done, and I hope he knows remorse.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:14am
  7. he looks pos·sessed … to have that much “hate ” for a human for the natural love they feel … wow … Ban together guys it’s getting worse for our friends and families and ourselves be it g-l-b-t-. we have to stick togther but we have to one up them and not show hate back KIND is always the answer ;)

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:17am
  8. Here here, Ryder. I’ve always liked the idea of fighting fire with water.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:21am
  9. I truly believe that anyone who professes such rabid hatred and fear of sexuality and uses cherry-picking of scripture to validate his/her feelings and opinions is indeed mentally ill and consumed with self-loathing. The fact that they are allowed to abuse and injure spitually vunerable members of our community should be criminal.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:49am
  10. That just breaks my heart for those children. And the next generation that is being brought up in the same way will be no better.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 12:20pm
  11. When I read that kind of stories, I can only feel sadness, pain, for all the youth who are misguided by that brand of dangerous lunatics.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 1:51pm
  12. A mind that is free??? No, a mind that is led to believe that you are bad for being the way you are. It’s hard to believe this kind of stuff is still listened to.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 2:36pm
  13. Braindead zombies. ICK.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 3:37pm
  14. I went to that conference, I didnt go up there lol me and my friends were making a joke out of the whole thing…but they really seem more like a cult, definately not christian….

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 6:25pm
  15. you can never change who you really are…

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 6:32pm
  16. This is crazy…

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 6:40pm
  17. Scary..

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 6:42pm
  18. Look at the bright side we are all happy on what we ARE, HIM, I hope he is happy on what he was doing

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 6:43pm
  19. Beautifully written!! I was once in the same shoes as the author, and can relate very well to it!!!

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 6:48pm
  20. “The Black Church” Always does this nonsense tey even tried to brainwash me in to thinking I don’t have Autism but I was diesgonsed with Autism

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 6:55pm
  21. how can peoples believe in this stuff? you cant change. I SO wish I could change. But I cant. Its not possible.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 7:07pm
  22. This is messed up beyond compare, I am SO glad I got out of “Christian” fundamentalism and came to love myself just as I am. Jesus loves his gays, for who they are! =)

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 7:13pm
  23. Somebody needs to start a deliverance from religion program

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 7:15pm
  24. this makes my heart hurt. I’m a Christian… 100% …then….why do I feel so much pain?… either they are wrong or I am.
    Just for the record I’m not gay, I’m just another Heterosexual Christian Girl who understand what they do in their church….believe it or not I respect their view….but I just cannot agree with them. I’m happy with the Christian I am.

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 7:17pm
  25. -cringes- This man is horrible… How can he do this?

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 7:19pm
  26. Where is this? I wanna go. Can I go? I wanna make a scene. Mwahahahaha~

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 7:26pm
  27. people should be happy for who they are…if the Christians believe that God gave us a life plan, then maybe the life plan for some is to be gay so that they can learn love others….He also gave us a free soul so that we can make something of it, not what others want it to be

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 7:40pm
  28. @Erik Thats what I am talking about church is famous for that sh** it is too much just becuase they are pastors doesn’t them the right to have charge an authority over us

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 7:56pm
  29. How depressing the constant evil these wayward preachers release upon the world… THEY are the sign of the Beast, if anything is!

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 8:12pm
  30. Yeah, he’s gay himself, one of those kids once….. :-( Oh well, he’ll be judged by God for false religion, false profit, and false everything!!!!!

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 8:13pm
  31. It is people like that preacher who helped make me walk away from Christianity. It’s sermons like his that helped push me to feeling that suicide was the only option. Thankfully, I was saved from that torment, by the Goddess. It’s taken years, but I don’t hate God any more, I don’t blame him for what was done to me, we’ve just agreed to see different people, and as far as I know, we’re on good terms. God knows what’s in my heart and where I stand, so I’m not worried. :-)

    Posted on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 8:56pm
  32. The worst kind of spiritual abuse is to call ones natural orientation not only a sin and abomination but to say it is a demonic spirit. Over 40 years ago that was me as a young person crying out to God for deliverance believing the lie that I was not loved as I was. 28 years later (after exorcisms, ex-gay programs and 16 years of marriage) I finally realised my morality and faith are choices but my sexual orientation isn’t. My hope is that these lovely young people will be set free of the lies being told about themselves and this kind of abuse eradicated.

    Posted on Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 12:46am
  33. My favourite response to people like this preacher is that according to his own Scripture, which he uses and abuses so well, God made no mistakes, and I and all 6.5 billion other people on this planet are in his image. That means that gay, straight, black, white, yellow, red, man, woman, transgendered etc are all here in HIS/HER divine image, so he should follow another verse from his “Holy” book and remember that “He who is without sin, cast the first stone!” He has no right to judge….

    Posted on Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 4:30am
  34. He’ll be real embarrassed when he comes out.

    Posted on Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 11:33am
  35. Does anyone know what happened to those kids that “answered the call”? I’m confused about when this clip was first put on the internet, but it it was less that 5 years ago, it shouldn’t have been posted at all. It’s totally irresponsible to out people in this manner, especially teens who may not have anywhere to go if their parents don’t support them.

    Posted on Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 8:12pm
  36. This honestly scares me to think there are people out there who are praying on young kids’s natural fear of the world and saying that his god can take all the pain away. This guy is just exploiting these kids in the name of “the lord” Sickening. Equality For All!!

    Posted on Monday, June 20, 2011 at 1:01am
  37. I can identify with the author’s mom for the misgivings (aka “guilt”) she feels for not rescuing her son from such an awful church environment.

    Our adult son is gay and held that secret inside for all of his teenage years, exposed to religious bigotry and mean teachings similar to those in this video/article. What is the worst of all to me (his mom) is that I never realized that our son was gay and struggling with all this conflict, guilt, unhappiness, judgement, fear….and lots of other emotions. I was sometimes aware of his angst, confusion and faith struggles but totally unaware of his sexuality struggles. He came out to us a few years ago and what a release for us. Left all this kind of crazy religion behind for a better life of acceptance, love, understanding and living guilt-free. Our adult son is a great example of being the person you were created to be, is fully functioning as a contributing member of society and now lives with his partner. Exposing these kinds of ministry can only be welcomed by this mom.

    Posted on Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 9:10am
  38. In fact, The Ramp’s stated mission is “to awaken a generation out of spiritual death and religious complacency . . . as an offensive army imposing the kingdom of God.”

    This ain’t the first time Christian hucksters have used that message, and it won’t be the last. For CENTURIES, they’ve used that message to suck money out of another generation of moronic people who believe they’re worms.

    Posted on Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 5:20pm
  39. It is prechers of hate like him that have caused great harm emotionally, sometimes physically, and most grievously, sprirtually to our LGBT family members and friends. That is not the church Jesus would want to represent Him.

    They seem to have forgotten how scandalous Peter’s vision and subsequent preaching was to include gentiles (that would be us) into the early church? After his vision, Peter speaks to a large gathering and says, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:28) Has not the Church benefitted from our inclusion in it? More importantly, have not “we” benefitted by being included in the grace of God’s love through Jesus Christ? This change was not the destruction of the church but the inclusion of diverse people which resulted in growth and innumerable blessings.
    A few chapters before Peter’s vision (Acts 8), tells the fascinating story of the conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. A eunuch is a castrated man (man-made) or man who is impotent with women (“a eunuch from birth”). He is said to be the first gentile believer. I invite you all to read this significant scripture. The Holy Spirit could have chosen anyone to be the first Gentile convert, but the Holy Spirit chose a black, African, sexual minority who showed faith. At the time of his conversion, the Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah. How appropriate these verses from Isaiah 56, “Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ And let not any eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.” The passage goes on with God’s promise of blessings to those who love him. The religious commentator Nancy Wilson believes that the conversion fo the Ethiopian eunuch represents “the most clear and complete fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 56, that God’s house would become a ‘house of prayer for all people.’”

    The Church was once a place that did not welcome people of color, and who prevented woman and divorced members form assuming leadership positions. We have since been led by the Holy Spirit to understand the error of that mindset and the church has been blessed by their full inclusion. Throughout the Gospels, Christ, time and time again, challenges us to increase our circle of love. The Holy Spirit continued that challenge throughout the New Testament and continues to do so today in our churches and in our hearts.

    Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Why is the Church so often the taillights, rather than the headlights on matters of social justice?” Let the love of God permeate our Churches so we can love others as we are called to do. Amen,

    Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 8:32pm
  40. “In fact, The Ramp’s stated mission is “to awaken a generation out of spiritual death and religious complacency . . . as an offensive army imposing the kingdom of God.” ”

    They nailed the “offensive” part.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 3:29pm
  41. Powerful and moving.

    Posted on Monday, July 4, 2011 at 9:52am
  42. I can’t find words to express adequately my utter abhorrence of this kind of spiritual and psychological abuse. Everything possible must be done to expose it for what it is.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 10:14am
  43. Thank you Jesus for men like Damon that won’t compromise on the truth about Your holiness.

    Posted on Friday, July 8, 2011 at 2:23pm
  44. This is truly depressing and sad, for these poor kids to be manipulated into denying themselves who they are. I am not gay, but I have experienced the Christian indoctrination of zealots like Damon. From the age of 8 to 10 I was in a Pentacostal Christian orphanage. Each day at 9 AM we had chapel, and each night at 9:30 nightly devotions. Lots of reading the bible and school classes at midday were about reading more of the bible. The whole thing was about teaching the kids to save the souls of strangers, spread the gospel they said. Not complying meant physical abuse and outright beatings about the face and head. So, as it was, I resisted and was punished severely on a daily basis, it was really a terrible situation, not much different from the psychological abuse that was included. So I feel for these kids, having been in a similar situation of coersion and degradation. And these people were Christians, I have yet to meet anyone as hateful as they.

    Posted on Thursday, July 14, 2011 at 6:05am
  45. The biblical god was against tattoos as well.

    I don’t see him preaching about that.

    Posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 10:00am