Frank Worthen was well-known in Charismatic, ex-gay circles, and probably would have be a bit puzzled at being eulogized in a blog that stands for Reformed Theology. Or maybe amused, now that I think about it. Inconsistencies often amused him. Actually, many things amused him, which was a big part of his charm, if you ask me.
Frank, an associate pastor at Church of the Open Door in San Rafael, California, was my pastor. As founding director of Love In Action (the ex-gay ministry I worked for), he was also my employer. In the past 20 years, he was simply my friend. I say “was” because things changed this past Saturday.
Frank went Home to Jesus Saturday morning, February 11, 2017 after a fairly brief battle with cancer. He would have turned 88 on February 24.
Other bloggers, who knew Frank better than I, have already written about his courageous founding of the ex-gay ministry model, and this tribute by Joe Dallas is arguably the most definitive. He characterized Frank as a hero for offering hope to men and women trapped in homosexual sin. Frank himself had escaped the homosexual lifestyle after 25 years of it, and dedicated the rest of his life to ministering to others with that struggle.
Joe’s essay does a wonderful job of celebrating Frank’s accomplishments in ex-gay ministry, and I’d be wrongfully intruding if I tried to add to his words on that topic. I instead want to make a couple comments on Frank’s marriage to Anita and on his sense of humor. Those two very human aspects about him, as prevalent as they were, haven’t been mentioned much this week, as people have focused on his ministry, yet those two things epitomized him as a man.
Frank enjoyed life well enough as a bachelor, investing himself in Love In Action. But when the Lord brought Anita into his life, he absolutely blossomed! Since their wedding in late 1984, his smile rarely left his face.
He immediately put Anita to work in the Love In Action office. I know he did so partly because he liked being with her 24/7, but he did it mostly because she fell in love with the ministry. Sometimes he’d joke that she loved the ministry more than she loved him. He adored her, obviously doing anything in his power to please her.
He happily accepted the new entity of “Frank and Anita” as leaders of Love In Action, though she clearly submitted to his leadership. Once, with a characteristic twinkle in his eye and chuckle in his voice, he told me, “Whatever Anita wants, Anita gets.” Yet I knew these weren’t the words of a henpecked husband. He gave willingly to his wife out of joy. He saw her as the asset to his ministry that she truly was.
In short, he deeply loved and treasured his wife. Without her, he still would have had a powerful testimony, reaching thousands with his message of freedom from homosexuality. But she added a dimension of joy to his life that enhanced his work. I love Anita for many reasons, but I’m especially grateful that the Lord brought Frank such delight through their marriage.
Frank, being mild-mannered, had a dry, subtle wit. Curiously, he could also be a little outrageous. I remember, for example, the 1985 Exodus Conference in San Francisco. A group of gay activists had threatened a protest on Wednesday night, making several of us apprehensive. Some of us gathered at the site where they’d scheduled the protest, waiting for them. After 30 minutes, it became evident that they’d changed their minds. While most of us sighed with relief, Frank was visibly disappointed. “I wanted to see the show,” he explained (again with that characteristic chuckle). He was serious!
My theological differences with Frank in no way diminish my respect for him. He loved the Lord, and he spent most of his life proclaiming the truth that Jesus Christ offers freedom from all sin, including the sin of homosexuality. Quite properly, everybody is remembering him for that message right now. But I hope they’ll also remember his joyous marriage and his wonderful sense of humor. Those two things are what endeared him to me.