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A changed Exodus

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

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.

Comments

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TampaZeke
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Oh brother!

That is all.

Steve
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

You are giving him way, way too much credit. It’s just a corporate re-branding to keep the money rolling. Behind the facade, nothing has changed. Same bullshit, different wrapper

Priya Lynn
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy said “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.”.

This isn’t an either/or situation. I’ll do both, thankyou.

Jimi
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

I have never been “impacted” by homosexuality, whatever that means.

Rick Brentlinger
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy-

As I’ve observed Exodus over the years, I see little to no change in their basic position. Alan is adept at nuancing his message but the rancid heart of Exodus and the false teaching which undergirds their beliefs remains unchanged.

They continue to deceive the naive by offering false hope to hurting people. Will Exodus use your article and Alan’s recent appearance at the GCN Conference, where he punk’d Justin Lee, to show their supporters how successful their “new” message is? We should not assist the repackaging of Exodus’ deceitful message.

Craig L. Adams
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Thanks for this commentary, Timothy. I am also one that is hoping for positive *change in Exodus.

David Roberts
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Alan’s response this time around is different, I’ll grant you that. But where you see a change of heart, I see a desperate organization, scared of having another Uganda PR storm rage around them. No one said they can’t learn that the stove is hot.

Blake
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Well said Timothy. Exodus’ retreat is not perfect but at least its progress. Thank you for giving credit where credit’s due.

@Steve & Rick, how high are your expectations?

@Pryia: keep fighting the good fight. I found an excellent book I gave to my grandfather recently. It is called Sex & the Single Savior by Dale B. Martin. If you haven’t already read it I recommend it highly.

@david: Regardless of their motivation you agree that the change of direction demonstrated by Alan Chamber’s different response is a positive one, correct?

Darina
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

My poor secular mind is about to explode with trying to understand those people.

Rick Brentlinger
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Blake- The only thing that has changed at Exodus is, their 2012 PR machine is greatly improved. They are more nimble in nuancing the message, so much so, that even Jim and Timothy now believe Exodus is changing.

Unless Jim and Timothy have secret information from Alan which informs their opinion but which does not appear in their recent articles, I am at a loss to understand their exuberant optimism.

Alan and Exodus still believe:

1. Everyone is born heterosexual
2. No one is born gay or lesbian
3. Being gay is a sinful choice
4. Government should outlaw gay marriage
5. Government should outlaw gay adoption
6. Leaving gay couples without the 1200+ legal protections enjoyed by hetero couples is the “Christian” thing to do
7. Gays cannot pastor or teach Sunday School or be good Christians
8. Non-celibate gays are going to hell, 1 Cor 6:9

Exodus has not changed their views and will not change their views. If they change their views, Exodus will die as an organization. They have nuanced the honesty with which they present their views (the kindest description I can come up with to describe their lack of candor).

Alan punk’d Justin. I hope he isn’t punking Jim and Timothy too.

Meanwhile, Exodus gets a boost in the eyes of their tin-foil hat wearing supporters because they’ve convinced Justin Lee, The Gay Christian Network and apparently BTB that they are changing.

When organizations which once opposed Exodus provide such positive free publicity, we have proof positive the rebranded Exodus PR machine 2.0 is exceeding expectations.

David Roberts
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Regardless of their motivation you agree that the change of direction demonstrated by Alan Chamber’s different response is a positive one, correct?

In that in this instance Exodus’ own survival needs coincided with a good move for the rest of us, sure.  Do I think we will always be so lucky?  No.

Timothy Kincaid
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Rick,

I think that you are mistaken on several of your assertions. While they do reflect opinions that I’ve seen in the past, I do not think that the following accurately express the current positions of either Alan Chambers or Exodus in general:

1. Everyone is born heterosexual
2. No one is born gay or lesbian

I think that Exodus has to a large extent abandoned the battle over etiology as being either undetermined or irrelevant. Perhaps you have recent examples to show otherwise?

3. Being gay is a sinful choice

If by “being gay” you mean being same-sex attracted, you are completely wrong. If by “being gay” you mean pursuing same-sex relationships, then you are arguing theology. When it comes to identity, you are probably right that Exodus and us disagree strongly over what a “gay identity” means.

4. Government should outlaw gay marriage
5. Government should outlaw gay adoption

Exodus no longer takes political positions. Some members probably believe this.

6. Leaving gay couples without the 1200+ legal protections enjoyed by hetero couples is the “Christian” thing to do

This is clearly contradictory to Alan’s statements as quoted by Jim in the companion commentary.

As for the theological differences, yes Exodus disagrees with you. As do the Mennonites. And Orthodox Jews. And American Muslims. I can tolerate the existence of all of the above.

Rob Tisinai
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

These small steps are important and heartening, and they often indicate much bigger changes boiling just under the surface. We can hope.

Rick Brentlinger
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy wrote: “Perhaps you have recent examples to show otherwise?”

Instead of asking me to sift through the nuanced messages of Exodus looking for a crumb of change, how about you presenting examples where Exodus has repudiated anything I listed?

I remember when Exodus said they’ve backed off from taking political positions yet that is nuance, not substantive change. To infer that Exodus is now politically neutral is to ignore reality.

They believe it would be godly for states and the federal government to outlaw gay marriage and gay adoption. They believe states which allow gay marriage have done something abominable and sinful. They have not changed their beliefs.

The change at Exodus is in their rebranding (a kinder gentler Exodus) and their slick new PR iniatives. That is not change any of us should believe in.

Timothy Kincaid
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Sorry, Rick, I don’t engage in “prove me wrong” arguments. If you wish to assert that Exodus still places emphasis on etiology, then it is upon you to support that claim not for me to somehow prove a negative.

And during argument, I have been informed of all sorts of thing that I believed – most I didn’t. So I seldom put much value in “they believe” statements that don’t tie to some substantiation.

I can understand and sympathize with you for not finding my commentary to be a reflection of your own perspective. You are not alone. Several others here have looked at the same things I’m sharing here and come to entirely different conclusions than those I’ve developed. I have no complaint about that.

But if you wish to elevate your argument from opinion and perspective to one in which you wish to dissuade others from believing my interpretation through the introduction of asserted facts about actual political activism and actual intentions and beliefs, then you need to provide evidence that your facts are correct.

Rick Brentlinger
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy- I do appreciate the work you and Jim do and it’s entirely possible I’ve missed something. The point I intended to make is that you’ve presented an opinion piece. You haven’t presented any substantive evidence (which you require from me) that the changes at Exodus are anything but window dressing.

Their basic beliefs are unchanged because they cannot change them without destroying their charter and alienating their supporters. Time will tell if substantive change is occurring at Exodus.

Michael Bussee
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy Kincaid sees a marked improvement in Exodus’ message and methods — and expresses “hopes for a new and improved Exodus.” I wish I could share that optimism. I don’t. I am more inclined to agree with David Roberts who remarked:

“Alan’s response this time around is different, I’ll grant you that. But where you see a change of heart, I see a desperate organization, scared of having another Uganda PR storm rage around them. No one said they can’t learn that the stove is hot.”

I also agree with Rick Brentlinger who commented: “Their basic beliefs are unchanged because they cannot change them without destroying their charter and alienating their supporters. Time will tell if substantive change is occurring at Exodus.”

Let’s see something close to an apology for misleading the public about “change” for the past 30+ years. Let’s see them express something close to genuine remorse for the harm done.

Let’s see them promise that they will stop fighting against equality for LGBT people — that they’ll support Hate Crime legislation and Anti-bullying programs in schools. Let’s see them sever all ties with NARTH.

Let’s see what Rick calls “substantive evidence that the changes at Exodus are anything but window dressing.”

TampaZeke
January 13th, 2012 | LINK

When it comes to understanding how Exodus works and how it’s leaders think I’ll go with Mr. Bussee over Timothy’s wishing and hoping and giving the benefit of the doubt.

Lynn David
January 14th, 2012 | LINK

Disavowing the Manhattan Declaration might be anotherfirst step for Exodus. Getting rid of Don Schmierer, who I am sure is in bed with the likes of Scott Lively (philosophically, that is) would be a good second step.

But none of that is going to change. Exodus may be more sympathetic thru Chambers to items which it has found to be injurious to its reputation; but it is still there in policy and politics in opposition to the gays it attempts to ‘change.’ Alan Chambers is not Exodus. He disavowed his prior pronouncement of a few years ago which appeared in the LA Times; he can just as well disavow what he said at the GCN meeting as well. And he’d have done it for the same reason because of pressure from the more virulently anti-gay people who supply Exodus with their moneys. Barring that, Alan Chambers can also be removed from the presidency of Exodus.

Brian
January 14th, 2012 | LINK

I will never, ever give Exodus or Chambers credit for any shifts. The credit belongs to the LGBT community for the pushback and refusal to accept hateful theology lying down.

We fought back, changed the public discourse, and now they have to make concessions. I can thank God for that, but Exodus will receive no praise from me–even if they completely transform a la Courage UK and New Direction, Canada. They’ve lost the culture war and now they want to test the waters to see what bits and pieces of their bad theology they can salvage. The fact that they are even doing that makes me angry.

Will Chambers’ “good cop” routine win the day? Or will the “bad cop” routine of people like Don Schmeirer or Mike Goeke be more effective? Or perhaps the winning PR strategy will be some incoherent combination of the two?

The impatience expressed by Rick, Dave, Michael, Lynn and others is appropriate. They’ve done too much damage for anyone to demand that we be patient with them.

Priya Lynn
January 14th, 2012 | LINK

Maybe Exodus is becoming a little less virulent but at the end of the day this is a minor change at best. Their whole reason for being is destructive and evil, Exodus will never be a good thing until it’s gone entirely.

Regan DuCasse
January 14th, 2012 | LINK

Some of what I was thinking has already been expressed here. I can understand if SOME shift, or degree of expression coming from Exodus is noted and for some, appreciated.
But it seems to me like being grateful for when a bully finally lets up on hitting you. Mostly from his own fatigue, and not because it’s been wrong to bully and misrepresent themselves and you.

Exodus and their history of serving their own interests to a serious detriment to others, won’t go away from an extremely SUBTLE shift.
They have a LOT to answer to, and I know it’s mostly being charitable, perhaps on Jim and Tim’s part (because they are more compassionate and principled to begin with)to express respect and gratitude for this shift.

But some changes can come too little and too late, and to me, Chambers and his ilk don’t really have any courage, nor character enough to do anything strong and decisive.
I mean what’s so wrong with finding another line of work?
Do they have so little imagination but for making being anti/ex gay an industry for themselves?
There ARE professions that will withstand the cultural change in accepting gay people. It’s not saying much about them when their entire reason for being is the need to disqualify someone else’s right to be.

Steve
January 14th, 2012 | LINK

As Friends, we believe that love is the unifying force in human relations. Let us understand what brotherly love is and what it is not. Love is not self-seeking; it is self-giving. Love does not try to make up a deficiency in that of God in another from an overabundance of divinity in ourselves; it opens us to the divine Light in him and rejoices in it. Love does not mean agreeing on all questions of belief, values, or rules of conduct; it means accepting with humility and forbearance such differences as cannot be resolved by open and patient give and take. Love does not recreate our brother in our image; it recreates us both in relation to each other, united like limbs of one body yet each distinctly himself.
-PYM 1969, Faith and Practice

Thank you Timothy for recognizing and celebrating the small wins & gradual changes as the leaders in this conflict speak with more respect for one another, it reflects an openness and points the path to a middle ground where people with such deep differences can have better peace & understanding. Thank you also for treating the Exodus team with respect and trust, I believe that is the route to bringing light to the hearts of everyone in this conflict.

ohplease
January 14th, 2012 | LINK

Exodus is the enemy. That is the one and only point of their existence. They will always be the enemy until they cease to exist, which will be the only evidence of any actual “change of heart”.

Obviously, Michael Bussee’s voice is the only one worth listening to on this subject. Of course he’s correct. Shame on this site for turning against its own community and believing the blatantly obvious PR lies of those whose livelihoods depend on their greed-driven and amoral persecution of us.

Michael Bussee
January 14th, 2012 | LINK

Here’s what former Exodus VP, Randy Thomas thinks:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Alan does some clarifying in the near future. And don’t forget, he is on the record for years … I honestly believe he has not changed his underlying opinions and core convictions.”

Neither do I. He may “tweak” the language a bit to paint Exodus in a better light, but they will still teach that LGBT people are “broken” and in need of “repair”. They will still fight against equality for LGBT people. They will still overlook and minimize the pain they have caused by their dishonest claims of “change”.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”t: he more that changes, the more it’s the same thing.

Richard Rush
January 14th, 2012 | LINK

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Alan does some clarifying in the near future.”
. . . Randy Thomas

The definition of clarify in the magic dictionary of our adversaries is:
“to obfuscate” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/obfuscate)

David Medina
January 14th, 2012 | LINK

Don’t be fooled! Exodus is still (1) leading many to suicide; (2) others away from a relationship with God; and (3) fooling Christians to thinking gay people can change.

At the recent Gay Christian Network conference, Alan Chambers, himself, admitted that 99.9% of Exodus participants NEVER experience a re-orientation (but that he is one of the .1%.

With a dismal failure rate like that – why is Exodus still in business? Oh yeah… because they are a business! Alan probably makes $120K a year – would you give up a $120K job so easily?

I met Alan face-to-face and told him my story in 30 seconds. He thanked me and I promised that I was committed to praying for him.

But who’s praying for the millions of gay teens who struggle with acceptance? Or those that ultimately commit suicide like I once tried to do 20+ years ago.

The Bible says Satan is a wolf in sheep’s clothing! Don’t pretend Exodus is not the same!

Timothy Kincaid
January 14th, 2012 | LINK

David Medina,

I don’t think Alan considers himself to have changed from homosexual to heterosexual orientation.

John in the Bay Area
January 15th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy,

Alan Chambers stated unequivocally to Terry Gross on the NPR radio show “Fresh Air” “I am completely heterosexual!”

I think that Alan Chambers knew that he was lying when he said that, but it doesn’t change the fact that he said it.

Perhaps if he honestly confessed that he lied to Terry Gross (and oh so many others over the years) about becoming heterosexual, I could take his current babbling a bit more seriously.

Emily K
January 15th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, take a glance at the FAQ on Exodus’ website. They absolutely believe the things Rick posted. If they didn’t, they would have scrapped them from their site. THey haven’t. In fact they’ve been there for at least a year.

Timothy Kincaid
January 15th, 2012 | LINK

John, I believe that taped in 2006.

Emily K
January 15th, 2012 | LINK

So he lied in 2006. And hasn’t owned up to it yet. That makes him a liar with years of lies to own up to. Which he hasn’t. Not even a little.

Michael Bussee
January 17th, 2012 | LINK

When Lisa Ling asked Alan Chambers if his orientation had changed, he paused for a moment and answered: “I don’t know.”

That’s quite a bit different than his 2006 statement to NPR that he was “completely heterosexual”.

He told NARTH in 2004 that he was one of “tens of thousands” who had successfully change their sexual orientation.

But last week told GCN that less than 99% do. He changes his answers depending on the audience and who’s asking the question.

Timothy Kincaid
January 18th, 2012 | LINK

Michael,

In 2004 Alan was one of tens of thousand
In 2006 he was 100% heterosexual
Last March he didn’t know
And now he says basically that no one changed orientation.

Yes, the answer changed. But is it possible that the change had less to do with who was the listener and perhaps some to do with alan’s own evolution?

I don’t like everything Alan says. But if our response is always to criticize for historical faults, why would he bother trying?

Let me ask this as a brother: If there is never room for forgiveness, no place for growth, no possibility for redemption for Alan, then how do we approach God? I don’t know about you but my own failings far outweigh any time I’ve been sinned against.

Jarred
January 18th, 2012 | LINK

Yes, the answer changed. But is it possible that the change had less to do with who was the listener and perhaps some to do with alan’s own evolution?

Sure, and I’ll be more inclined to believe that’s what is actually going on when Alan Chambers writes an article in Christianity Today in which he states that 99.9% of the gay/same-sex attracted people he knows have not changed sexual orientation.

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