This commentary reflects those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
June 8th, 2010
In March 2009, a member of the Board of Directors for Exodus International, Don Schmierer, travelled to Uganda with holocaust revisionist Scott Lively to conduct what has since become a notorious anti-gay conference whose repercussions — including the drafting of a proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill to add the death penalty for gay people under certain circumstances — continue to reverberate in that country today. Today, more than fifteen months later, Exodus International President Alan Chambers released an unusually frank statement acknowledging his failure to advice Schmierer to cancel his appearance at the conference.
The statement, posted on Exodus International’s blog, in my view constitutes a fairly comprehensive acknowledgment of Chambers personal failings over his handling of the Uganda debacle. While the statement does not use the word “apology” specifically, he provides a detailed self-examination of his mistakes along some of the motives for making them and expresses regret for them. If there’s one thing I gained from my Catholic education, it’s that I think I can recognize a genuine act of contrition when I see one. This statement goes far beyond anything I had ever expected to see.
In the statement, Chambers acknowledges receiving prior warnings from BTB’s Timothy Kincaid, as well as Ex-Gay Watch’s David Roberts and Grove City College professor Warren Throckmorton, but says that he didn’t give the warnings the attention they deserved. What’s more, he acknowledges that the reason he didn’t heed them was “due to who was issuing them.”
My initial belief was that their major concern was over Caleb Lee Brundidges association with Richard Cohen. Again, no excuses, I was negligent in digging deeper and heeding their warnings. While I did share my concerns with Don Schmierer prior to the event, he was on the ground in Uganda and I saw this as an issue that didn’t warrant him canceling his appearance there—after all, in my mind, Don was simply sharing his normal talk on parenting. I do realize that his mere presence there, even as a private citizen, did give the appearance that Exodus was endorsing the conference and eventually the horrific political position that was fueled by that event.
As I have stated in less trafficked public settings, I am disappointed that some of my reasons for not heeding warnings was due to who was issuing them. I believe that probably works both ways, but in this case my error was grave. I cannot undo my initial lack of, then delayed, response or the harm that it caused, but I have learned from that terrible mistake and tried to make amends by condemning the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009 and by standing with a cross-spectrum group of people to see that the measure is, itself, killed. Exodus and I will continue to do that with regard to the Uganda measure or any other similar law or proposed law in other nations. We will also seek to condemn that which is condemnable more swiftly; not to do so finds us breech in our responsibility as an organization people look to for biblical wisdom.
I have no doubt that I will be pilloried by fellow LGBT advocates for saying this, but while I find the statement’s tardiness indefensible (as Chambers acknowledges near the beginning of his statement), I also find it to be a complete and heartfelt acknowledgement of virtually all of our criticisms concerning Exodus’ connections with the events in Uganda. Sure, our larger differences over the political goals and therapeutically-questionable methods of the ex-gay movement remain intractable. And Exodus’ ongoing efforts to export the culture war to foreign lands where they may not necessarily appreciate the cultural nuances of the host country remain a source of deep concern. But with regard to Exodus’ connection with this particular debacle in Uganda, this is much, much closer to the kind of statement that I wish they had released earlier.
I do, however, believe that Schmierer owes the world a similar act of self-examination. Aside from a few defensive and self-serving comments, his continued silence remains perhaps the most critical missing voice in all of this.
As Timothy Kincaid has already reported, this statement addresses another critical shortcoming that I and others have called on them to address from the beginning. At the conclusion of this statement, Chambers announced that Exodus has drafted a new policy statement against criminalization of homosexuality. While this isn’t the first time Exodus or Chambers have spoken against criminalization, it is the first time Exodus has placed such a statement directly on their main web site in a permanent location where it will be easy for everyone to find.
This statement is ridiculously overdue, but I heartily welcome it nonetheless. And I hope that it will serve as an example for other Evangelical groups with ties to Uganda and elsewhere around the world.
Addendum: A genuine act of contrition calls on the penitent to make amends. Chambers says that they “will continue to [condemn] the Uganda measure or any other similar law or proposed law in other nations.” For this to be effective, it must be pro-active, not reactive. Responding because their opponents are calling them to account comes across as weak and, as Scott Lively put it, “effeminate”. Time will tell whether that particular message has sunk in.
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