Exodus Sharpens Its Political Presence
New Director of Governmental Affairs and "ExodusRoots" grassroots campaign means Exodus is focused on politics
August 6th, 2007
Attending the Exodus Freedom Conference last June in Irvine, California, was an eye-opening experience for me. For one, it blew away many of my stereotypes, which is always a good thing. But I also learned a few new, disturbing things that had escaped my attention before. And one of the things that dismayed me was how increasingly political Exodus had become.
While I was dismayed, I can’t say I was surprised. Exodus under Alan Chambers has always had a political edge to many of their activities. Last fall, Alan Chambers told Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” that he was proud of political direction he has brought to Exodus:
And so as the President of Exodus, I have brought a new dynamic to the ministry in reaching out and dealing with these very sensitive policy issues and that’s something that I believe will continue to be a part of the life of the ministry of Exodus.
I got to see that firsthand on Wednesday June 30, the second day of the Exodus conference, when Amanda Banks, Exodus’s brand new Director of Governmental Affairs held an informal talk called “Revolutionizing the Public Square.” Playing on the “Revolution” theme of the conference, she talked about the unique role Exodus is playing in “bringing about a revolution, to affect a radical change in” the larger culture — more specifically, in public policy.
The Focus-Exodus Connection
Unlike most employees at Exodus, Amanda Banks is not a “former homosexual,” although she said she has a family member “affected by homosexuality.” She graduated with honors in public policy from Indiana University, and joined Focus on the Family to spend four years as Focus’s chief liaison to Congress working as a federal policy analyst.
It just so happened that her cubicle at Focus’s Colorado Springs headquarters was located next to Melissa Fryrear’s, a prominent Love Won Out speaker. Through Banks’s day-to-day association with Fryrear, she got to know Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas and their “growing desire to be relevant to the culture” — in other words, to make Exodus a more explicitly political organization. She and her husband moved to back to their home state of Indiana and she was hired by Exodus last March. She works from her home in Indiana.
But Amanda Banks still retains extensive ties with Focus on the Family. In addition to her position with Exodus, she is also vice-president of The Wabash Group, a public affairs firm dedicated to conservative political candidates and causes. Her husband Jim Banks is President. He is also a former Focus on the Family organizer for their Family Policy Councils, and the Wabash Group list Focus on the Family at the very top of their list of clients and employers.
During her remarks at the Exodus conference, Banks repeated Exodus’s mission statement: “Mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality.” She noted that when most people discuss the mission statement, they focus on the last part of the statement: “a world impacted by homosexuality.” But she said that her job at Exodus was a little different, emphasizing the first part: “mobilizing the Body of Christ.”
To Exodus, “mobilizing the Body of Christ” specifically means political engagement. Banks cited the “radical impact of the gay lobby” and lamented that there was no “alternative voice,” a void that she said Exodus is uniquely qualified to fill by acting as “a door to our stories and our truth.” And by way of example, she described the political lobbying trip that Alan Chambers, Randy Thomas and others took to Washington, D.C. last April.
The Look On Their Faces
Everyone in Washington had met gay activists — she claims that the Congressional majority “is in the pockets” of the Human Rights Campaign — but according to Banks almost nobody is aware of the existence of ex-gays. And so several Senators and Representative were visibly surprised to meet and talk to Thomas and Chambers who said they had “changed.” (She didn’t say which definition of “change” Chambers used.) This was a new concept to them, and she said their presence and testimony served as a power example to those they met.
And this gets to the heart of Exodus’s involvement in the political arena. By presenting examples of people who claimed to have changed — even if they really hadn’t — it drives home the message that because they could change, sexuality in general was changeable and not deserving of recognition of any sort in Federal law.
Banks later added that the April trip was not limited to Exodus staff. There were fifty Exodus members and friends representing five like-minded groups. They held fifty-five meetings and dozens of drop-offs when they couldn’t meet with Senators or Representatives personally.
Since then, her role with Exodus has been to perform coalition leadership activities, direct lobbying, and provide talking points to like-minded politicians. On that last point, she claimed success in helping politicians talk about issues affecting the gay community without sounding like a bigot. She also said that one Senator regularly consults with Exodus to formulate his messages and fine-tune his speeches.
Choosing the Issues
Banks described the process they go through in deciding which political issues to get involved in. The chief consideration was “policy proposals that would infringe on the ministry that we do.” And in deciding whether to get involved, she said they ask themselves two questions: 1) Does the issue affect our ministries or members, and 2) Do we have an opportunity to offer a unique perspective and opportunity to influence? And on this second point, the role of Exodus’s “door to our stories” becomes very clear: if “change is possible” then laws granting equality and protections for gays and lesbians are unnecessary.
She talked about a couple of specific examples, starting with hate crime legislation. She repeated the same lies that we’ve heard before (it elevates one group of victims above another, it threatens pastors ability to preach the gospel, gays aren’t economically disadvantaged and therefore aren’t oppressed, it creates a category of “thought crimes”). And for good measure she threw in a few more, saying that hate crimes legislation would include other “orientations” such as pedophilia and polygamy — a charge that comes straight out the Traditional Values Coalition’s playbook, and one that I haven’t heard any Exodus official use before.
Banks also talked about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which she falsely claims would require religious organizations to hire people who would threaten their mission. In fact, section six of the bill specifically exempts religious organizations from the act.
Building a grass-roots organization.
Banks then announced the creation of ExodusRoots, a grass roots initiative which sends out email alerts (like the one you see here — click to see the full size version) to members urging them to contact their representatives on various issues. She urged her audience to call their Congressional representatives rather than using email or mail, saying that phone calls are more effective at the federal level. But at the state and local level, she said that emails are much more effective because staffs are either much smaller or nonexistent, and the officeholder is much more likely to receive the email directly.
And speaking of the state and local level, future plans for Exodus’s political activity includes expansion to state and local politics. She noted that Chambers and Thomas both testified in Massachusetts against same-sex marriage, and lobbied against domestic partnership benefits in Orlando.
With Banks’s new position dedicated solely to political lobbying, Exodus under Alan Chambers’s leadership is now locked and loaded to take on all fronts in the culture wars. Exodus has moved far beyond its original mission of being a non-political ministry dedicated solely to helping men and women who are dissatisfied with their sexuality. Exodus’s previous protestations that they only want to “reach out” have now fallen by the wayside.
Now they are committing valuable resources to fight against gays and lesbians who are perfectly satisfied with who they are, with the intended result of making their lives as difficult as possible. Exodus is spending the money it raises from its member ministries to raise the political stakes ever higher. But it’s hard to imagine how their latest efforts will serve their clients and make their lives any better — unless it’s to make sound alternatives to the ex-gay “lifestyle” as untenable as possible.