Alan Chambers: Exodus “Backing Out of Policy Issues”

Jim Burroway

March 5th, 2008

Last summer, we reported on Exodus International’s political lobbying activities, specifically the hiring of Amanda Banks as Exodus’ Director of Governmental Affairs. Ms. Banks spoke at the Exodus Freedom conference in Irvine about the many irons they had in the fire to try to make life more difficult for gays and lesbians who chose not to follow the ex-gay path.

There have been some rumblings that some Exodus-affiliated ministry leaders were dissatisfied with this latest move. Some felt that this political involvement was a unwelcome distraction to Exodus’ core mission as a ministry. And more to the point, a few worried that by maintaining such a public anti-gay posture, Exodus might actually interfere with a few of their member ministries’ efforts to engage in non-confrontational and non-judgmental outreach efforts.

Believe it or not, there are a few such ministries — perhaps a precious few, but they exist nonetheless — who really want to try to work in a less confrontational and judgmental manner. In fact, according to Exodus co-founder Michael Bussee, this was a key part of Exodus’ original vision.

More recently, Wendy Gritter, Executive Director of Toronto-based New Directions, gave a keynote address (MP3: 28.9MB/1:03:07) at an Exodus leadership conference in January. She urged her audience to put an end to its political lobbying, to stop emphasizing “change,” and to show genuine respect for those who are comfortable with their sexual orientation. She also joined several former ex-gay leaders with an apology of her own posted at Ex-Gay Watch:

I want to begin by saying I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the pain that some of those who follow this site have experienced from leaders like me and ministries like the one I lead. I’m sorry that some of you connected with this site who identify as Christian have had your faith questioned and judged. I’m sorry there is a felt need for a site like XGW. I’m sorry that it feels like legitimate concerns have not been listened to. I am sorry for the arrogance that can come across from leaders like me.

And now Exodus International president Alan Chambers talked with Ex-Gay Watch’s Dave Roberts and said that he has backtracked from his original decision to take Exodus in a more explicitly political direction. Last August, at about the same time we were reporting on Amanda Banks’ new job with Exodus, Alan “decided to back out of policy issues and our Director of Government Affairs took a position with another organization.”

But to the question of whether these changes were permanent, Alan replied:

One area that we found to be incredibly beneficial was simply sharing our stories with lawmakers. If and when there are opportunities to do that we will.

As for lobbying, promoting policies, etc., I don’t see us being involved in the near or distant future. Will we ever feel the need to get involved? Maybe — as a ministry we care about religious freedom and we are always watching to see how changes in policy might negatively impact our freedom.

They’ve used the “religious freedom” meme as an oft-repeated objection to hate crimes legislation — even though the proposed legislation only addresses violent crime and not speech, religion, or any other Constitutionally protected right.

It’s hard to know what all this means in the long run. But Beyond Ex-Gay co-founder Peterson Toscano is encouraged by some of this:

This is good news indeed and comes after much work on the part of folks both within and outside of Exodus to help the leadership to consider backing away from getting tangled in debates about LGBT rights.

Back in July during the Ex-Gay Survivor Initiative sponsored by Soulforce, ex-gay survivors shared their stories around the country with a recurring theme about harm, but also with a call to ex-gay leaders and church leaders to consider pastoral care and people’s lives before politics.

It’s not just former ex-gays who feel this way. While I was attending the Exodus conference in California last June, I ran into a few “strugglers” there who also disagreed with Exodus’ political activities. A few of them voiced to me some rather sharp of anti-gay statements made by prominent religious leaders, some of whom taped video welcome messages which were played at the start of the conference. There were a few names and faces which flashed on the screen which prompted scattered pangs of anguish and hisses among a very few members of the audience. And particular disgust was registered at those who were known for having used HIV/AIDS as a cudgel against the gay community in the past.

These changes at Exodus are long overdue and will be welcome by many both inside and outside the movement — assuming these changes are lasting and substantial. Whether that happens, only time will tell. I suppose we all will be putting together our own personal litmus tests over the next few months. Here’s mine: maybe this will mark the end of Alan’s appearances like his recent showing at the Family Impact Summit. That would be welcome news indeed.

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