Dissention Rises Within Exodus International
April 20th, 2012
Last January, Exodus International president Alan Chambers appeared on a surprise panel at the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference in Orlando, and made the surprising admission that “The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.” At about that same time, it was noticed that Exodus International had removed several books on Reparative Therapy from their online bookstore.
[NOTE: Contrary to popular misconceptions, Reparative Therapy is not a generic term for sexual orientation change therapy. It is a term describing one particular form of therapy promoted by Joseph Nicolosi, co-founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Reparative Therapy derives its name on Nicolosi's theory of the so-called "reparative drive." Please see this for a more complete description.]
It quickly became apparent however that the rest of Exodus may not be fully behind Chambers’s overtures. Mike Goeke, an Exodus International board member and former vice-president, published an op-ed just two days later describing homosexuality as being different — and in its way, worse — than “any sin,” a position that is in marked contrast to Chambers’s discussion of homosexuality from a theological standpoint. Now Andrew Comiskey, who heads Desert Streams Ministries, opened the debate on the clinical front by issuing a letter expressing his “concern over Exodus distancing itself from reparative therapy” and calls for changes at Exodus over Chambers’s recent comments and actions.
The letter was posted briefly at Andrew Comiskey’s web site, but it was later removed. A copy has been uploaded at Ex-Gay Watch (PDF: 180KB/7 pages). In the letter, Comiskey takes issue with Alan Chambers’s statements indicating that Exodus would de-emphasize the possibility of sexual orientation change as part of its ministry. Saying that Desert Streams Ministry (DSM) employs “the most commonly employed ‘healing’ format in (Exodus International’s) network,” he adds:
Regarding sexual orientation change, we at DSM will continue to uphold change as a reasonable goal for Christians with SSA who are earnestly seeking Him and who are willing to do the hard work of resolving their gender disintegration through Christ and His healing community. (We realize that not all will graduate into a state of readiness for marriage. However, that should not preclude anyone from seeking full sexual restoration.)
Alan’s comments about change unwittingly played into the enemy’s hands. To question sexual orientation change on the basis of residual struggles is weak theology and psychology. Very few who have overcome destructive, life-dominating issues live without a trace of the problem. To then describe that ‘trace’ as a reason to tone down the idea of change makes no sense to us.
As for Exodus’s drawing back from promoting Reparative Therapy in particular:
We at DSM are only indebted to the good of reparative therapy and its underpinnings in developmental psychology. How else would we understand how we become disintegrated in our gender identities, as well as gain objective markers en route to wholeness?
We cannot afford to distance ourselves from the whole healing community, which must involve solid reparative therapists. They can do what we cannot in our ministries, and vice-versa. We need them! …We would like to know how Exodus plans on representing and integrating solid clinical insight on the Board and in its offerings.
Comiskey’s disagreement with Chambers is twofold. First is the disagreement over Reparative Therapy and the prospects for change in sexual orientation. The second disagreement however is theological, and Comiskey devotes several paragraphs over those theological points. Exodus International, like Chambers, has always been Evangelical in its underpinnings. And so has Comiskey, having come from the Vineyard movement which was the genesis of the dominant Christian-based ex-gay movement in the 1970s. But lately, Comiskey appears to be leaning much more toward Catholic theology, which would mean that if Chambers is making a departure from a clinical standpoint, Comiskey is making a similarly pronounced one from a theological point of view. Nevertheless, Comiskey charges that Chambers’s particular theological positions — some of which are perfectly at home in just about any Baptist setting, for example — places Exodus in danger of “cater(ing) to the culture.”
Comiskey closes with four “recommendations,” with the third recommendation just barely stopping short of calling for Chambers’s ejection from Exodus:
1 That a distinction be made between Alan’s calling and job description, and the needs of the member ministries. Alan is not equipped to handle all that he is currently trying to do. We perceive him as neither a theologian nor a healer but as an inspirer and evangelist, a bridge-builder in need of refinement. He is being chastened for making unfortunate comments. God bless him; haven’t we all? We trust that those he trusts will help him to stay low and clarify the way forward for his renewed season of service.
2. In order for DSM to remain a member ministry, we need to see a higher caliber of commitment to theological and clinical excellence from Exodus. Consider the courage of those with SSA who are seeking genuine integration. They deserve the best! The stakes are high—we are all experiencing the fall-out from a few misplaced, well-intentioned words. We must all do our part, and could draw upon expert friends of Exodus, e.g. Nicolosi and Gagnon, and Exodus elders like the Worthens and Joe Dallas.
3. The process of distinguishing Alan’s role and that of the member ministries must be done slowly and carefully, with Alan playing a reduced role (at best) in the process. We would suggest team leadership here, and sensitive protocol between these newly distinguished expressions of Exodus.
4. Pray more and facebook less. We could all repent of a little wounded self importance. Those overcoming same-sex attraction are inclined to narcissism and its wounds. We all need to get low and give this work back to Jesus. We at DSM hesitate to follow any one person’s lead. Jesus will make such things clear as we wait together.
Ex-Gay Watch’s David Roberts, who first reported on plans for a re-branding effort at Exodus International last November, saw Comiskey’s letter as “the first public shot in the coming insurrection at Exodus” among Exodus member ministries who are “hard line ‘change is possible’ and reparative therapy proponents.” Warren Throckmorton, similarly, wondered aloud whether the letter marks a “schism” at Exodus. Undoubtedly it sparked some interesting conversations behind the scenes, to say the least. Comiskey has since removed the letter from his web site. He has offered no explanation for its removal.