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Dissention Rises Within Exodus International

Jim Burroway

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.

Comments

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Hyhybt
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

If homosexuality is different than any sin, then logically, it must not be sin. Good news!

(Like those old orange juice commercials: ‘There’s nothing like it in the world’… and, to make matters worse, they actually stretched the word ‘it’ into two syllables to make it fit the music, meaning “There’s nothing else like it in the world” would not only have made more sense, but sounded better as well.)

Stephen
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

Makes me think of the old Communist party: public shaming; re-education; public retraction of heresies.

RavenBiker
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

“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.”

(in the voice of SNL’s Church Lady)
Re-e-eally? Ain’t that spe-e-ecial?

The word “enemy” is used when something or someone is feared. Is the emotion fear not base and weak? Do these guys want Christians to embody what is base and weak? Is THAT NOT WHAT CHRIST TAUGHT AGAINST?

How dare they pass themsleves of as Christian. They’re behavior is as bad as burning the Q’ran.

StraightGrandmother
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

Stephen, excellent comment!

TampaZeke
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

The use of the term “enemy” to describe happy, well-adjusted gay people is very telling.

We’re witnessing the last intense and desperate gasps of a dying industry. It can’t die quickly enough or painfully enough for my taste.

Timothy Kincaid
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

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.

Interesting selection.

The elders he mentions are True Believers in the change notion. (although after decades in the movement they surely must feel disappointed). But neither strikes me as particularly vicious.

They are nothing like the “friends” he mentions.

Nicolosi is the epitome of pig-headed self delusion. Despite a long history of former patients refuting his stories, he believes that he is doing good. He is convinced, notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary, that his methods work.

The real charmer here is Gagnon. If there is a personally less pleasant individual on the planet, I’ve not encountered them. And you know a few of the folk on my contacts list. Gagnon is arrogance in human form. This is a man who declared that his study reveals that the roman centurion in the bible who had concern for his beloved pais was actually a Jew concerned for his son while at the same time holding other verses to a stricter literalism than a Pentecostal store-front evangelist with an eight grade education. his declarations are to be never challenged and ive seen him devote dozens of pages to refute an offhand comment. He is a very strange, very angry man

Jack
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

So, apparently Comiskey is an expert on theology and is very confident that he is correct. Hmmmm…. He is now Catholic. He was also an expert when he was evangelical. Was he right then or is he right now?

Timothy Kincaid
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

A minor defense: in churchspeak “the enemy” is Satan. He’s speaking here of spiritual battle and means that if you admit reorientation doesn’t work then Satan can use that to cause you Togo in directions God doesn’t want you to go.

To understand his theology , all you need to do us read this sentence:

“To question… is weak theology”

Michael Bussee
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

Recently, Alan Chambers has complained that Exodus is a “big ship” that is very hard to steer. His admission that “99.9% don’t change their sexual orientation” may be the iceberg that finally dooms the boat.

cowboy
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

Alan Chambers is in a far better position to tell if someone has changed or if someone is just resisting a ‘temptation’.

Mike Goeke doesn’t understand. A homosexual will never love someone of the opposite sex like a heterosexual can.

TomTallis
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

@Zeke — We ARE the enemy. Our happy, well-adjusted, married lives are an affront to their evil and they feel they must wipe us out. These are not people of good will, and some (not I) would say that they’re not even Christians at all.

TampaZeke
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, with all due respect, I LIVED in the deepest depths of the evangelical fundamentalist movement for 25 years as the son of a Southern Baptist pastor in rural Mississippi. I know exactly what they’re speaking of when they speak of “the enemy”. It’s more than the entity of Satan. It’s intended to cast those on the other side of ANY of their debates AS Satan, one in the same, the Evil Empire so to speak. This is what allows them to treat human beings with such disregard, such hate, such fear and such conviction. You aren’t a person, a mother/father, a son/daughter, a friend or neighbor but “THE enemy” not even “an enemy”. When confronted they may then attempt to claim that they were only speaking of Satan, but take it from a person who lived and worked on the inside for many years, it’s no more real than those who claim to “love” homosexuals and be TOTALLY against discrimination of any kind but yet fight gay rights at each and every turn. What they say among friends is very different than what they say in public.

Jarred
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy: While your minor defense is technically correct, I’d argue that an alarming number of Christians who use “spiritual warfare speak” — especially in the political arena — tend to blur the “Satan as enemy” vs. “people who see things differently as enemy” line. Alisa Harris discusses this in her book “Raised Right: How I Untangled my Faith from Politics” and talks about how she and her friends went from talking about how she found it comforting when she traded in the nebulous “spiritual enemies” for the “flesh and blood enemies” she fought against as she became more politically active.

StraightGrandmother
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

I’ll go with TampaZeke on this one. He would surely know.

Timothy Kincaid
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

Zeke,

I’m not challenging your credentials. While Comiskey is not a rural Mississippi Southern Baptist (he’s a California charismatic), you are more than capable of translating churchspeak.

(a side note to StraightGrandmother: You may be unaware, but I was raised in the parsonage of a Pentecostal Church of God pastor. We believed that while the people at the Assembly of God were a bit too lienient and liberal, they were better than the downright worldly Southern Baptists. While Zeke “would surely know”, I think credentials hold up pretty well.)

And I don’t think we are saying different things. I’m not disagreeing with your interpretation – just with how others will read your interpretation.

You and I know that this is not a personal form of animus like racism in which someone might hate a person on sight due to their race. Rather it’s more like an opposition to socialism or to liberalism.

But that might not be clear to others.

The form of homophobia that hates homosexuals and would like to see them “wiped out” exists. That’s not what Comiskey is.

Rather, he’s the type that “loves you” (it’s how he would see it) and wants to talk you out of your sinful way. True he doesn’t see you as a friend or neighbor, but it isn’t exactly the same as the secular idea of enemy. He sees us more as a mission field, some person to be converted. If we don’t choose to convert, we might become willful sinners rejecting God and doing the will of our father Satan.

But he doesn’t see us as enemies in the sense that the secular use of that word generally conveys. He would never want us physically hurt or (so he would believe) mistreated or (again, what he would believe) to be denied “the same rights every other individual has including the right to marry someone of the opposite sex”.

I think that we have to be careful not to think in cartoon bubbles, or else we only end up denying ourselves the wisdom and perspective we need to win.

Timothy Kincaid
April 20th, 2012 | LINK

Jarred,

Valid point. Hating ideas isn’t nearly as viscerally rewarding as hating people. Let it go and you reach the stage where you delight when someone is hurt. We’ve seen people celebrating in the streets in other countries because gay people were beaten to death.

But we need to be careful that we don’t also transfer our hatred for homophobia and intolerance and arrogance onto people. If we start hating people like Comiskey then we turn into monsters.

It starts when we begin to believe that those who disagree with us are monsters.

I’m sure you have seen that at BTB it’s one of our themes that we try very hard not to assign those who disagree a monster suit – though we do expose those who have already had one tailer made.

StraightGrandmother
April 21st, 2012 | LINK

Okay Timothy, you convinced me of your Fundamentalist knowledge. Thank God you survived.

Donny D.
April 21st, 2012 | LINK

Timothy wrote,

I think that we have to be careful not to think in cartoon bubbles, or else we only end up denying ourselves the wisdom and perspective we need to win.

I agree very strong with this statement. Many TBGL people and many liberal and leftwing ones are so angry toward anti-gay people and the right that they aren’t able to think in anything but broadbrush terms. Some are so far gone that they will attack you if you attempt to critize their broadbrush thinking.

The anger from broadbrush thinking may give people the energy to be politically active, but the thinking itself can lead to false analyses of the situation, and useless or harmful activism.

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