With a commentary
January 13th, 2012
I don’t think Timothy is alone in detecting a change at Exodus, nor do I think he’s off in the weeds. There are plenty of encouraging signs for those who are willing to acknowledge them. I’m cautiously optimistic myself about the potential for Exodus president Alan Chambers’s personal evolution. But while I acknowledge that he has made some positive changes at Exodus over the years, I find myself considerably less sanguine about Exodus’s potential as an organization for the kind of change that would be meaningful to gay people — a people that even now Chambers identifies as those who are “impacted by homosexuality.” The reason is that for years, I think we’ve seen plenty of evidence for a conflict between where Chambers would like to take Exodus and where the ministries which make up Exodus are willing to go. And if Alan takes Exodus too far from its base — the people who pay the bills and keep the lights on — then those lights would go off. I do not believe those lights will go off without a fight.
I can find few items which better exemplify the entrenchment that would take place should Alan try to change Exodus’ position too far than a recent op-ed written by Mike Goeke. He was Exodus’s vice president under Alan Chambers until 2006 and he remains on the Exodus Board of Directors. He also heads the Midland, Texas-based Cross Power Ministries, one of many Exodus member organizations which provide Exodus with their bread and butter. In an op-ed published by the Baptist Press on Wednesday, Goeke reiterates the oft-repeated Exodus position that “homosexual behavior is no different than any sin” before going on to explain why homosexuality is different from “any sin.”
…It is different, however, in that no other sin (or, better said, an identity based primarily on sinful behavior) has impacted, or is likely to impact, culture in the dramatic way that homosexuality has done and will do.
Homosexuality is the only sinful behavior that has a cultural identity and movement surrounding it. What other sin is encouraged to be celebrated? What other sin has a “pride” movement attached to it? What other sin are people so quick to identify their lives by and to adopt as the defining characteristic of their lives? There are not greed pride parades, or people proclaiming on magazine covers “Yes, I’m a gossip.” There are not gluttony neighborhoods or bars where liars openly gather. Men and women don’t proudly self-identify as promiscuous. There are many people who are pro-choice and many who admit to having an abortion, but there are few who celebrate the fact that they had abortions. In fact, if you exclude random individuals like Charlie Sheen, few people would want their sin attached to their name and fewer would proudly boast in their sinful activity.
Homosexuality is also the only sinful behavior that has a growing, accepted theology built around it. Sure, there are fringe “religious” movements for odd things, but within the realm of Christianity there is no other revisionist theological movement based on identity primarily defined by sinful behavior. Denominations are crumbling and fracturing over how to deal with the issue of homosexuality and how to integrate people openly identified as gay or openly practicing homosexual behavior.
To Goeke, homosexuality’s threat is two-fold: it’s a threat to society and culture, and its a threat to the church. I needn’t remind you that to most Evangelicals’ minds, that’s the sum total of what makes up a civilization. And Goeke takes pains to point out that he sees no other “sin” which poses that kind of a threat. I can’t say that he speaks for most Evangelicals on that particular point (others may point to abortion, the media or the Obama administration, for example), but I do think it’s likely that he speaks for substantial numbers of Evangelicals who make up the Exodus church and member ministry networks.
In contrast, Chambers penned an op-ed for Evangelism.net in which he asks some serious questions about how to approach a hypothetical gay couple with children who join a (presumably) Evangelical church:
The question I ask myself a lot these days is, “What would Jesus do?” followed by, “What would He have me do?” They are not always one in the same. The fact is we are not Jesus. We have no power to heal or change anyone. We can point to His life and ministry through the Bible and our own experiences, but we aren’t Him. We are His representatives. Sometimes I think we are actually guilty of trying to be Him, or at least the Holy Spirit. It isn’t our job to bring conviction or judge. We fail to trust the Holy Spirit to do His job well when we attempt to usurp that role. So, in the context of a situation like the one in my dream, what are we to do?
…What if the best thing for a gay couple with children isn’t to immediately end their relationship and split their family and confuse their kids?
A very provocative question. I haven’t seen Chambers ask that question before, and it’s one that Goeke, and most churches and ministries that Exodus has cultivated over the years are not prepared to answer. If they have an answer, it would be, as Goeke puts it, to “hold firm to truth as we navigate the waters of culture.”
If Exodus is merely trying to re-brand themselves, you can see how that effort is doomed to failure. As GM demonstrated in the 1990s, it’ll take more than a shiny chrome grill up front and new wood trim on the dashboard to convince people that there’s something significantly different under the hood. But if Alan is really trying to effect change at Exodus (and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now), you need look no further than to his fellow board member to see the outlines of the looming conflict. The wildcard is whether Chambers has the stomach and wherewithal for that fight. John Smid found that he had to leave his ex-gay ministry Love In Action before he could undergo his metamorphosis. Meanwhile Love In Action, which remains an Exodus member ministry, marches on without him.
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Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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