A changed Exodus
January 13th, 2012
In February 2009 we noticed that a conference was planned in Kampala, Uganda, which would address “the homosexual agenda.” Further, we noted that three Americans were planned presenters, Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, ex-gay “counselor” Caleb Brundidge, and Don Schmeirer, a board member of Exodus International, the ‘ex-gay’ umbrella organization.
Knowing that Uganda’s culture is particularly vehement in its opposition to homosexuality, and aware of recent pogroms against gay people that had occurred, we tried to convince Exodus’ leadership to back away from anything that could stir up the population. And considering that this event was featuring Scott Lively, we knew that it had the potential to be explosive.
Unfortunately, our efforts were not successful – Exodus ignored our pleas – and our worst fears were realized. The conference led to contact with the legislature, a proposed bill that would impose death on various categories of gay people, a newspaper campaign that called for execution, and eventually the murder of a prominent Ugandan gay activist.
But it also led to public awareness of American conservative evangelical involvement in foreign governments, heightened European criticism of human rights abuses in Africa, and eventually declarations by the White House and State Department that the way in which a nation treated its gay citizens would impact their relationship with the United States.
And it led to a number of religious leaders and organizations reevaluating the message that they were spreading. A number of alliances with some of the more homophobic African preachers were severed by a number of conservative American churches and individuals in influence took action to explain that their theological objection to engaging in specific acts did not equate to an invitation to abuse gay people. And quite a bit of rhetoric softened.
And in the process, Exodus did some soul searching. And has become, in my opinion, a very different organization.
And so this month when I approached Alan Chambers, President of Exodus, about an ad that had run in a newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago which seemed to speak for Exodus, he was quick to respond and to seek to distance the organization from both the implied message of the ad and from its intentions.
In short, Exodus stepped up and took responsibility not only for its name but for any confusion over its message. And, in the process, Alan took pains to explain the organization in terms that speak not about cultural dominance, nor about expectations of reorientation miracles, but in language of personal discipleship.
While I believe we share the same biblical worldview with regard to sexual expression, I do not believe we share the same philosophy on how to do public outreach or an identical message for those impacted by homosexuality. The mission and ministry of Exodus International is one focused on discipleship for those pursuing Christ amidst their same-sex attractions, support and encouragement for families impacted by same-sex attraction, restoration of marriages impacted by same-sex attraction and equipping the church to serve as an authentic community to all of the above as well as to those with whom they may disagree. We are not an organization that focuses on medical issues and we are increasingly careful with helping those we serve understand what change truly means in the context of living a human life where God gives us the ability to overcome amidst ongoing struggle.
I am encouraged that Alan clearly establishes that his organization is for those who are “amidst their same-sex attractions” and does not imply that they are seeking to become heterosexual. This is language that I believe is significantly different in both tone and implication than what we have seen in years past.
No doubt many in our community will be troubled by Exodus’ continued use of language such as “change” or “overcome” or “struggle”. But this is language that is a part of the Christian lexicon and has meaning within that context. Change is a theme within Scripture and is going to remain a theme in Christian ministries. We can choose to object or we can choose to understand, but it’s not going away.
Change, within Christianity is a change of heart, a change of priorities, and change of purpose. It does not mean a change in orientation, a change in politics, or a change in personality.
I do not agree with Alan’s biblical worldview with regard to sexual expression and he does not agree with my understanding of Leviticus and Romans in context of time, place, audience, and language selection. But we needn’t agree about theology. We need only to seek to understand and respect each other.
And in Exodus’s biblical worldview, sex outside of heterosexual marriage is offensive to God. Some of us will see this as inherently offensive. Some will think it discriminatory and bigoted. But if it helps any, the message that Exodus gives to its same-sex attracted participants is the same that it would give to any heterosexual that found him or herself unable to marry. Yes, for heterosexuals there is always the hope of a spouse, but- if we are very honest – we have to acknowledge that there are heterosexuals that are even less likely to ever be in a heterosexual marriage than I am. I sat next to one at lunch yesterday.
Yes, I agree that a message that seems to equate ones orientation with sinfulness can be a message that has a toxic effect on persons who have experienced a life of condemnation and rejection. It can reinforce feelings of desperation and worthlessness. And, in the past, Exodus has contributed to that toxicity.
But I believe that this is a different Exodus International than the Exodus that has appeared at political events or which has run ads suggesting that orientation “change is possible” or parading and promoting married members. I have seen a decrease in both that behavior and that attitude. Exodus no longer treats gay Christians as though they are Satan’s tools of deception nor does it lend its name to dominionists who exploit them for political gain.
I see change in Exodus. A change of heart, a change of priorities and a change of purpose. And I can understand and respect the Exodus that I believe they are striving to become.
The reality is that there will be – for quite some time – young people who grow up in families and communities which share Alan’s biblical worldview. And the reality is that they are not going to just joyously throw their faith out the window on their way to a Pride Parade. And as much as we may wish it to be so, they aren’t going to find themselves comfortable at the Hollywood United Methodist Church.
I believe that there is a place and purpose for an organization that can give these people a place and support. Maybe they will in time come to see God differently from Alan and move on. Maybe they will remain in a place of discipleship to a conservative Christian sexual ethic and find within Exodus a fellowship and brotherhood of support. Maybe they will reject theistic belief systems altogether.
But until they come to that decision, Exodus can serve to let them know that they are not intrinsically evil or an abomination. And while I do not think that the organization is completely healthy – yet – I do have hopes for a new and improved Exodus, one that offers ministry and care to those in need.