An Open Letter to Alan Chambers
December 3rd, 2011
Box Turtle Bulletin and Exodus have not always seen eye to eye on a number of issues. But that is not, as might be assumed, because homosexuals are afraid to hear the truth that change is possible. Nor is it because homosexual militant activists hate God and the church.
Rather, BTB has objected to specific messages, failure to own Exodus’ mistakes, and participation in efforts to deny or remove rights granted civilly. And to be honest, we didn’t much like the mean things that Exodus said about our community. (But I do want to take the opportunity to thank you for pulling Exodus out of the political arena.)
Word has reached us that Exodus International will be revisiting its purpose and positions in an effort to retool the organization into a viable and financially stable organization. As you consider changes, I’d like to propose a few recommendations.
Stop spinning about results. It isn’t fair to our community nor to your own.
It may be true that there is some tiny number of people who have changed their fundamental sexual attractions from persons of the same sex to persons of the opposite sex. But they are certainly rare, and one cannot base responsible policy on the achievements of the very few.
Surely you would not go about the country telling people about Mount Everest and the success that Sir Edmund Hillary had in conquering the mountain and encourage them to fly right off to Nepal and start climbing. That would be cruel and irresponsible and result in disappointment, wounded bodies and disillusioned spirits.
Yet Exodus has for many years testified of the reported success of some people who have struggled with unwanted same-sex attraction in terms that suggested that this could also be reality for those listening. It has been a cruel and irresponsible behavior and has resulted in disappointment, wounded souls and disillusioned spirits. It needs to stop.
Accept the discoveries, terms and language of our culture in discussing homosexuality.
Most people have come to an understanding that each of us have a sexual orientation, a direction towards which our attractions point. Furthermore, an increasing number of churches – including conservative evangelical churches – are reaching the conclusion that ones sexual orientation is not, in and of itself sinful or wrong or flawed or even intrinsically disordered.
It’s time for Exodus to join the rest of the world. Continuing to paint a homosexual orientation as though it were a moral failure (as “the opposite of holiness”) only places Exodus in the position of using language in such a way that it appears to either be delusional, dishonest, or theologically absurd.
Stop trashing my community.
At some point, when all one sees or says about a group of people is their negative attributes, when one feels pity for someone for no reason other than that they are part of that group, eventually it becomes clear to everyone else that you’re operating out of malice and prejudice.
It would be ridiculous and offensive to tearfully lament a poor soul “trapped in an Asian American lifestyle.” And you would feel petty for doing so.
It is no less offensive or illogical to talk about being “trapped in a homosexual lifestyle”. There isn’t such a thing. And using language such as “trapped” implies that one can “change” into a heterosexual lifestyle. It shames and demeans a person for what they are. It’s “sissy boy” and “look at that pansy” and “why are you so girly” all over again, just repackaged as “Christian concern”.
The gay community and Exodus need not be at war. We all know heterosexuals who have decided on celibacy until they marry and even though that prospect seems fleeting with each passing year we do not insist that they change their beliefs. We know those whose spouse may not be sexually compatible but who stay together and committed due to love for each other. Thats endearing.
And, contrary to the regular anti-gay meme, generally gay people have no problem with those who choose not to engage in sex – there are more than a few we know and love for whom this is a reality whether or not they want it to be.
Just don’t imply that the gay man ogling the hot guy is in any way more sinful than the straight man obling the hot gal. It isn’t Scriptural and it isn’t right.
Own the damage youve caused
While I appreciate that you no longer advocate for political mistreatment of gay people (thank you), that isn’t enough. Harm was done. And, more importantly, harm continues.
Invariably, whenever a politician or preacher calls for policies that harm the lives of gay people they justify it by saying that people can change. Sometimes they use Exodus by name.
To let this happen without objection is to endorse their positions. If you change nothing else, you have a moral obligation to clarify that that Expdus does not make the claims that these politicians and preachers use as their basis for discrimination and abuse.
Let go of insistence that homosexuality is in some way chosen.
When Exodus repeatedly denies the evidence in favor of the biological origins of homosexuality, it places your organization further in enmity to the mind. It build a dichotomy in which objective study, scientific research, and thoughtful analysis are pitted against unsubstantiated dogma and “faith”.
It is unnecessary and even blasphemous to insist that faith – real faith – needs to denounces the senses God gave us and to ignore what is evident. And, ultimately, it isn’t a battle that Exodus can win.
Currently, the best research we have suggests that for at least some gay men (there is less study about women), genetics contributes to their eventual orientation. Further, other factors may be biological in origin (though not genetic) or possibly other environmental factors possibly including experiences (though there is no evidence to support this). Most likely the path to each one’s orientation is unique to the individual.
Equally false – and equally offensive – is declaring that rape or early sexualization are responsible for “turning someone gay”. That one not only is absent of any evidence, it is clearly an attempt to give homosexuality a sheen of horror.
Regardless of the set of contributors, most have an orientation that is set – and often predictable – long before they are capable on conceptualizing morality or sexuality.
Let go of “change” as an expected result, a desired result, a hinted result, or even a possible result.
Exodus has strugglers. They struggle and struggle and struggle on decade after decade.
But very very few have any success in materially changing their orientation. They may change the language they use or what behavioral expectations they place upon themselves, but as the Jones and Yarhouse study showed, there just aren’t many (if any) gay men becoming straight men.
Alan, you know this. I do not doubt at all that you love your wife. I do not doubt at all that your sex life is meaningful and that your emotional connection is rewarding. I believe that you are content in your marriage and that it provides everything that you hoped – except for one thing. You remain a homosexually oriented man married to a woman.
And I have no problem with that.
But for God’s sake – and the sake of your participants – just stop struggling already. There is nothing anymore pleasing to God about trying to change one’s orientation than in trying to change any other attribute God gave you.
And furthermore, the fact that Exodus isn’t turning any strugglers straight doesn’t mean that Exodus has no purpose.
Exodus members should just accept their orientation and get on with finding out what to do about it.
So, in closing, I’d advise you to give Exodus a purpose that is theologically consistent, demonstrably possible, and which celebrates the Exodus member without trashing others. And just as important during this current problem, find a reason that potential donors are not going to have their children mock at dinner time.
Perhaps restructure Exodus into a Christian ministry that supports homosexually oriented Christian individuals to live according to their code of sexual ethics. I’m not suggesting that you change what you believe about the moral acceptability of same-sex behavior (though it wouldn’t hurt to be open to revelation). But if your faith says “no sex ever with anyone ever” to same-sex attracted people, then a reasonable and responsible role for Exodus might be to say “and here we are to help you with some tools that make this possible.”
Not every Christian kid is going to hear the message of “we can’t change you” and decide that they want to pursue eternal celibacy. But that’s a choice each must make before God, and seeking to influence that choice through false hope and empty implied promises is not an admirable goal for anyone.
But if you have real achievable goals for Conservative Christians who share your code of sexual ethics, then that – and not all the foolishness – may appeal to donors.
I hope you take this advice as sincerely meant and in the best of intentions.