Exodus’ dissenters latch onto Gagnon’s sad theology
August 2nd, 2012
The Restored Hope Network is a collection of ex-gay ministries that broke from Exodus International over it’s less strident, more truthful new approach. The new theology at Exodus is not only contrary to their past path, it’s unacceptable to some of the largest and oldest member ministries.
The primary points of contention that the defectors have are:
- it is inconceivable that a person can simultaneously acknowledge that one is gay and also be a follower of Christ; and
- same-sex attracted people can be healed of their same-sex attraction and become opposite-sex attracted in precisely the same way that heterosexuals are.
I phrase these differently than they might because I want to illustrate their distinction from Exodus.
For example, a member of New Hope Network would likely say that God can work miracles; Exodus would agree. RHN might claim that immediate overnight change was never the goal; Exodus would agree. RHN might say that small changes are evident and that temptation can reduce over time; Exodus would agree. RHN could insist that a change in attitude can impact a person’s life and that an identity which is focused on Christ rather than on sexual attraction makes one a new creature and old things are passed away; Exodus would shout hallelujah and not detract from a single word.
But the real distinction is in what RHN will not put in words. Behind discussions of “hope” and “restoration” and “holiness” is one difference: Exodus no longer holds to any expectation that it’s members will become straight. And New Hope Network refuses to give up what they call the “hope” that they will.
And, to be very blunt, RHN knows full well that they aren’t becoming straight. That doesn’t take a seven year study by evangelical university professors; just a mirror. But that’s beside the point.
What RHN refuses to give up is the theological assumption that they must. In other words, while reality illustrates that no RHN members are now heterosexual, they believe that Scripture requires that they be so. And while failure to live up to Scripture is a given in Christian circles (and is, indeed, the notion behind “Grace”), failure to try is sinful.
But Exodus has not only given up trying to be straight, they have stated that there is no Biblical demand that they do so. They no longer see the mere act of existing as a same-sex attracted person to be contrary to God’s Will – provided that one live according to Scriptural demands about sexual expression. To RHN, that is heresy.
The Defectors and their Hero
Interestingly, the break is not necessarily along factional lines or even degree of animosity towards “the homosexual agenda”. These are not necessarily the ministries that have been the most hostile to gay people in the past.
For example, at the beginnings of the Uganda situation, I corresponded with Jason Thompson and he was willing (briefly and in a limited way) to try and intervene. He also clearly expressed that he had no interest in any anti-gay political efforts and seemed (at the time) to be supportive of change in Exodus. But, as he is the latest to leave Exodus, it’s clear that the change he sought was not in theology.
But, for me, the post perplexing of this shift is whom the defectors have latched onto as their voice on matters of faith: Robert Gagnon.
Those who read here regularly know that Gagnon is a man with an inflated ego (perhaps the single most arrogant person I’ve ever encountered), a fiery temper, a unquenchable thirst for demeaning others, and some beliefs that cause a sane person to scratch their head. He is so convinced of his conclusions that he is sloppy, inconsistent, and downright comical about getting there. He is the sort of Christian who finds Christ inconvenient and would prefer that it be Paul’s message that is paramount (except when Paul gets too soft on sinners at which point he simply creates a new meaning for the texts).
But despite his history of temper tantrums, name calling, and behavior that is anything but Christlike, it is to Rob Gagnon to whom the Restored Hope Network has turned. Actually, it is to Gagnon that they have given control.
The Board of Directors of this group consists of Stephen Black, Andrew and Annette Comiskey, Joe Dallas, David Kyle Foster, Michael Newman, Anne Paulk, Frank Worthen, and Dr. Robert Gagnon. The Board, in the future, will be elected by the members. Aaaaannnd, to be a member you must be unanimously voted in by the Board. Every year. That’s after you turn in a comprehensive application proving that you support the teachings of
Gagnon, um, er, the Network.
Rather an exclusive group. Just like their theology.
A Sad Theology
I don’t pretend to be a theologian. I neither speak nor read Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, or any of the early languages in which doctrine was debated.
But I’m not absolutely devoid of any basic understanding of Christian teaching and I am capable of reading comparative translations enough to know when a claim is diametrically opposed to both the language and the spirit of Scripture. And, frankly, with Gagnon it really isn’t all that difficult. The absurdity of his positions never occur to him, and the Restored Hope theology is no exception.
Take for example, this opening declaration in the organization’s Statement of Basic Beliefs:
Salvation is a gift that cannot be merited by human deeds (Gal 2:21; Rom 3:24-25; 5:15-16; 6:23; Eph 2:8-9) but naturally and progressively produces obedience as a fruit of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit (Matt 7:16-27; John 15:1-8; Gal 5:22-23). When believers succumb to sin, the kindness of God calls them to confession of sin and repentance (Luke 15:20; 17:3-4; Rom 2:4; 2 Cor 12:21; 1 John 1:8-10; Rev 2:5, 16).
The bracketing statements, while clearly representing the “God’s Gunna Get Ya” approach to the faith, are fairly standard positions of Christianity. But it’s that middle part that is something which is foreign to me. And I was raised with a whole heap of “God’s Gunna Get Ya”.
Taken as a whole, this reads like, “yeah, yeah, I know the Scripture says you can’t work your way to heaven, but if you are actually on your way to heaven then it will be evident in your strict obedience to the Law.” That’s not the new part. Where Gagnon leaps is in assigning to “obedience [to the Law]” the role of being a fruit of the Spirit.
But the “fruits of the Spirit” – the physical attributes that can be seen in the life of a person who is living in harmony with the Spirit of God – are already listed. And the list doesn’t include “obedience”. In fact, they are pretty much the opposite of “obeying a list of rules”. Galations 5 says:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
What the author of this section is saying – and saying without ambiguity – is that obeying the Law is not the point. You are free from the Law if you follow one commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. Not free to abuse each other, but free from a set of rules and laws because “love each other” handles every situation, even the ones not in the rulebook.
If you live according to your own selfishness (the flesh), you will exhibit hatred, manipulation (“witchcraft”), jealousy, rage, excesses, and an out of control life. But if you are living by the Spirit and loving your neighbor you will exhibit these fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (I dare say that if Christianity exhibited those seven attributes with regularity, few would have anything bad to say about the faith).
If you read that list again, you’ll notice that “obedience” isn’t there. One doesn’t live decently towards each other because the Law said to. Rather one lives decently towards each other because if you love then you don’t need the Law. It’s completed, it’s fulfilled, it’s superseded by love.
This is a beautiful passage for those who believe in love as the sole commandment. But anti-gays who ignore themes and leap at words are also fond of Galations. Lookie, it says that those who exhibit “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery” will not inherit the kingdom of God. And since they know (cuz they know, ya know?) that this means Teh HomoSEXshulls (see, it has the word “sex”, see? see?), they dance with glee that you, you degenerate, are gunna burn! And they can’t wait!
But if we approach the Scripture to see how it applies in our own life – not in how to use it as a tool against others – and we recognize that this phrase is presented as counter to “loving your neighbor”, then it ceases to be controversial or a weapon. We can all agree that sexuality that is abusive and manipulative and debauches ourselves and others is inappropriate and wrong. Whether using Christian morality or an atheist’s ethical code to “do no harm”, that’s not in debate. If we see the theme (love) and don’t focus on a few select words, it’s impossible to see this passage as a call to obey Levitical codes of social conduct.
There’s more – much more. His reference to John 15 is an example of exactly the same thing: if you follow Christ, others will know it because of your love, all distorted by Gagnon to mean “obey the rules in Leviticus”. But I don’t really need to take it on.
What Gagnon Contributes
This is enough to give a flavor of what Gagnon contributes to the organization: a basic underlying belief that actions and behaviors matter more than attitudes or how we treat each other. And nothing could be clearer than a deliberate misunderstanding of one of the strongest endorsements for a faith that rejects the codebook and the rigidity of Leviticus for a life of love and compassion for others. Gagnon erases the freedom found in the fulfillment of the Law into one law: “love each other”, and sees in its place a call to obedience to the minutia and dictates of a rulebook.
Perhaps, after all, it’s not that surprising that this is the theology that the ex-Exodans have adopted. If we all are free to seek morality and holiness in our lives in accordance with something so vague as “loving others”, that’s frightening. If, like Exodus, you find a sexual ethic that disallows same-sex behavior in your own life but you ever allow that others may find a different call, then how do you know you’re right?
And what if you’re wrong? What if you let someone believe that they can marry someone of the same sex and you don’t tell them that Gods Gunna Get Them? It’s not love to let them go to hell, you know. Love means convicting them of their sin and denouncing their heresy and condemning them of perversion and refusing to appease their desires to be treated like everyone else. (Ooop, scratch that last part, it’s too close to “love your neighbor as yourself” so I’m not going to think about this now. La la la la la, I have my fingers in my ears. And besides, IF I was an evil vile homosexual like you – which I’m not because I’m a struggler not a sinner – I’d WANT someone to take away my children and fire me from my job and throw me in jail and disrespect my marriage. And I’ll just keep telling myself that over and over, even though it is absurdly and obviously false.)
And what, even worse, if you begin to question just how loving your own faith is? OH NO!!! You might be so tempted to put love as more important than the details of Leviticus that YOU sin! And don’t know it! And then YOU burn forever because you loved too much!!
What a sad burdened theology. The freedom that the author of the letter to Galatians spoke about is the furthest from their faith. Freedom has too much responsibility: don’t tell me to love people, tell me what to do. In detail.
It’s a sad, bound up, restricted theology that treats its adherents as children, too immature to know how to behave in love so you have to give them rules.
It’s a religion for bureaucrats. Give me a rulebook. That way I don’t have to think, I don’t have to adapt, I don’t have to respond to circumstances but can just hide behind a rule.
And most of all, I don’t have to care.