The “ex-gay” Freedom March made its second trip to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, rallying what reports in Christian media say was about 200 self-proclaimed former LGBTQ people, friends, and supporters. Last year’s gathering drew about 60.
The two-hour rally, which preceded a march to the White House, alternated between worship music and the testimonies of people who described their paths to “liberation” from the LGBTQ community. Some touted new lives in heterosexual marriages with children. As is frequently true of “ex-gay” speakers, many described unhappy LGBT lives involving addiction, pornography, and histories of childhood sexual abuse and trauma. One speaker said that pornography taught him “a demonic sense of sexuality” that came from Satan himself.
Among the speakers were Angel Colon and Luis Ruiz, two survivors of the Pulse nightclub massacre who now run a ministry together called Fearless Identity. Ruiz said although he might face temptations every day, “I choose Jesus, because he’s the only man in my life. He’s the only man that didn’t sleep with my best friend … He’s been loyal to me … I choose Him over him.”
Ruiz described himself as a combat veteran who served 15 years in the Army, adding, “Today I go to war with a whole bunch of you guys” to call the nation back to Jesus. “This is a new day, baby, and we’re coming in love. We’re coming in relationship. We’re coming with Jesus. And we’re loving the crap out of you.”
Ruiz was not the only speaker who admitted to continuing struggles with “same-sex attraction.” One quoted from a written purity covenant he made with God, and which he said he signs every morning and night.
Another speaker, Jason Maxwell, said that after the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling, God told him to walk more than 300 miles across Arkansas, directing him through a vision to take a winding route through seven towns, in which he was to circle the towns’ courthouses and school board administrations seven times. God, who is apparently a fan of The Police, told Maxwell, “for every step you take, another bond I’ll break. For every step you take, another soul I’ll take. I’ll be watching you.” Maxwell said that God also instructed him to walk seven times around the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court when he arrived in Washington. Maxwell said God gave him a prophetic word and had him type it verbatim, but it was too long to read in the five minutes he was allotted, so he just gave rally attendees the gist: “I am raising up an army,” an army imbued with God’s power, strength, and authority, and whose obedience will cause God to “deliver your land.”
This year’s Freedom March gathering was emceed by Ken Williams and Elizabeth Woning, co-founders of Equipped to Love. Woning teaches at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, which is connected to the controversial charismatic Bethel megachurch in Redding, California that has a broad influence in Pentecostal Christianity through the visibility of senior pastors Bill and Beni Johnson and its music label and recording artists. The East Coast version of the supernatural ministry school is run out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania by Georgian and Winnie Banov, who hosted the “Shift America” gathering of dominionist speakers that took place in Washington, D.C. the weekend before the 2018 midterm elections. On the eve of the election, Banov told a story about a prophet he described as a friend of his and Bill Johnson’s, who he said dressed as a White House janitor in order to anoint every door in the White House at the request of President Donald Trump. While that story may or may not be true, there’s no doubt that the Trump White House has welcomed many of its “prophetic” supporters.
Back to the Freedom March. In her opening remarks, Woning told the audience on the grounds of the Washington monument and online that Jesus is “meeting us in the bars. He’s meeting us in the backrooms. He’s meeting us in our bedrooms at night when we are dreaming.”