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Exodus’ dissenters latch onto Gagnon’s sad theology

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

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 Problem

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.

Comments

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David Roberts
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

Concerning obedience, he would probably throw John 14:15-24 at you, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” and so on. 

If you try to limit “what I command” to just the red letters, then you will get references explaining that Jesus was the Word incarnate. 

And if you try to claim the OT is, well “old” the you will get 2 Tim 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”

You know how this works, there is a reference for everything, and you won’t get far arguing that obedience is not a sign of a believer. 

I agree with you in large part, but coming from your background, you must know how this works. They’ve had thousands of years to learn how to beat people over the head with this stuff.

Ben In Oakland
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

“inconceivable”.

I almost couldn’t finish the article.

I don’t think that word means what they think it means.

manheart
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

Wonderfully and passionately written.

MCB
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

I know you said you don’t know Greek, so let me be nitpicky and throw out that the word for witchcraft is “pharmakeia,” or “the administration of drugs,” from which we get “pharmacy.” Back then, most medication was either magical potions or complete quackery (as opposed to the physicians who did sensible things like drain your blood; science marches on).

So while some of the potions might have been love potions or the like intended to manipulate people, it might be better to interpret “witchcraft” not as “manipulation” but as medical quackery, promising false cures.

Which I think has some relevance here.

revchicoucc
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

I am a theologian, a practicing one, meaning I am a local church pastor who deals daily with real people struggling with real journeys. Perhaps Dr. Gagnon has his all figured out, but most of the folks I encounter don’t.

Anyway, I don’t know any of the original languages. I rely on scholars who do. I am prone to dismiss scholars who use their knowledge to insist on a single interpretation or translation. I don’t ignore them, I just trust others more.

Timothy, your exegesis and intrepretation of the cited texts is completely sound.

revchicoucc
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

@David Roberts. Citing 2 Tim 3:16 to claim the New Testament is “God-breathed” is an error and a misuse of this verse. I know it is used that way by many Christians and I know you are pointing out the impossibility of arguing with a conservative Christian over the authority of the Bible.

But I am a liberal, progressive Christian who has different views.

The writer of 2 Tim — purportedly the Apostle Paul — cannot possibly be saying “what I am writing now is the inspired word of God.” We may find Paul’s tone arrogant, but his attitude towards God seems to be humble and grateful. He often claimed to have some insights, but rarely claimed to be writing sacred text.

As the New Testament canon was not finalized by the church until the end of the second century / beginning of the third century (or later), all 33 references in the NRSV translaton of the New Testament to “the Scriptures”/ “as it is written” are referring to the Hebrew / Jewish sacred text, including this one.

It is simply incorrect to think that Paul believed his own writings had the same status has the Hebrew / Jewish scriptures.

Colin Smith
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

I agree in general with your commentary, especially the emphasis on loving, or not harming, other people. This is one of the main points of the Gay and Christian website.

It is possible for homosexuality (sex between men or sex between women) to be no more harmful than sex between a man and a woman. If no harm is caused, then same-sex intercourse passes the no-harm test, based on Romans 13:9-10, and can be legitimately practiced by Christians. Details about the no-harm test are on http://www.gaysandslaves.com/noharm_test.html

David L Rattigan
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

Exodus Vice President Jeff Buchanan hasn’t given up hope that gays will become straight. On the contrary, they should continue to hope, and reject the “gay” label to make it easier:

While some who suffer receive immediate explanations from God, others are challenged to wait. In the midst of waiting, we must always have hope. An identity rooted in same-sex attractions serves as an anchor that keeps us docked in our present circumstance. We have accepted our lot in life, and experience now becomes our identity. Should a person ever develop a desire to explore a heterosexual relationship, he or she will find it difficult to overcome the label that can deter interested parties.

Lindoro Almaviva
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

I wonder how many pages this will be worth in the Gagnon scale. Any one would like to take a guess? Any bets? I am going to say 7-10.

William
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

7-10 pages, Lindoro Almaviva? That would be far too terse for Gagnon. 20 at a minimum, I’d say.

revchicoucc
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

Galatians is only 8 pages in my Bible. My Gagnon scale guess is 16 – 24, 2 to 3 times the length of the book.

By the way, the main issue in Galatians is whether or not a Greek person, meaning ethnically non-Jewish, had to become religiously Jewish before he could become a Christian.

Meaning: must a man be circumcised as the Law requires in order to be a Christian?

Paul’s conclusion: No. What your penis looks like is not all that important to God. This is not snark. It is a central point in interpreting Galatians. “Obedience to the Law” can be understood as meaning circumsion.

Timothy Kincaid
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

David,

Yes I do know how that game is played and I know John 14. But I also know that it is the lead in to John 15:


If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

It is mirrored in Galatians.

But arguing Scripture with gagnon is like arguing bone ownership with a dog. It’s not worth the bother.

The point of my essay isn’t to debate Scriptural interpretation. Rather, it’s to point out that Gagnon is so extreme that he feels no shame in claiming that obedience is a fruit of the Spirit in direct contradiction to the Apostle.

Gagnon isn’t just a horrible scholar, he doesn’t just interpret with blinders, but he’s so warped by his animus that if it’s not on the page, he just makes it up.

TampaZeke
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

The Buddha avoided so much of this controversy by being very, very clear in his teachings, leaving almost no wiggle room for interpretation.

In Buddhism the third precept is to refrain from sexual misconduct. The BUDDHA defined sexual misconduct very clearly. If sexual conduct is non-violent, does not take what is not freely given, does not deceive, does not manipulate, does not act out of delusive and irresponsible mind state, is not obsessive to the point of distraction and does not break a vow it doesn’t violate the third precept in any way.

It is VERY clear that Buddhism has no restriction on homosexuality as long as the parties follow the third precept like everyone else.

Of course Monks and Nuns have additional precepts that require that they refrain from ALL sex, heterosexual and homosexual.

Priya Lynn
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

Colin Smith said “If no harm is caused, then same-sex intercourse passes the no-harm test, based on Romans 13:9-10, and can be legitimately practiced by Christians. Details about the no-harm test are on http://www.gaysandslaves.com/noharm_test.html“.

Thank you very much Colin. Whenever I argue morality with people I always approach it from the perspective that anything which does not harm others is moral. This biblical reference to that idea will come in very handy as I sometimes have people claim to be astounded, or disbelieving that I would suggest morality is all about not harming others.

Priya Lynn
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

Timothy said “If you live according to your own selfishness (the flesh), you will exhibit hatred, manipulation (“witchcraft”)…”.

MCB said “I know you said you don’t know Greek, so let me be nitpicky and throw out that the word for witchcraft is “pharmakeia,” or “the administration of drugs,” from which we get “pharmacy.” Back then, most medication was either magical potions or complete quackery (as opposed to the physicians who did sensible things like drain your blood; science marches on).

So while some of the potions might have been love potions or the like intended to manipulate people, it might be better to interpret “witchcraft” not as “manipulation” but as medical quackery, promising false cures.”.

No, back in that time they didn’t think such potions were quackery, people back then (and those who wrote the bible) actually believed such potions were effective, that magic was real so the term “wichcraft” was meant literally as in the practice of dark magic.

J Chervaux
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

The crux of all of Gagnon’s ranting boils down to one point of his poisoned mind and the minds of all religions who think the same: “take up your cross and suffer like Jesus did” (insert most religions here).

Is this what is on his mind and on the minds of all people who celebrate Christianity and the like? I think so.

There is NOTHING good about human suffering. Nothing!!! Why is Gagnon latched into this? Self hatred?

I celebrate being gay every day of my life, bad things and good things. I love men!

Click on this link to see how fantastic we are:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6PeJjcP-nQ

J Chervaux
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

By way, my parents loved and adored me from the first day they knew me.

My parent’s only suffering was my mistreatment by other other humans.

Dan Savage does good things. We need to be at war with those who narrowly define us: Gagnon!!

David Roberts
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

Gagnon isn’t just a horrible scholar, he doesn’t just interpret with blinders, but he’s so warped by his animus that if it’s not on the page, he just makes it up.

I agree entirely.  My point is that he has a lot of company because scripture lends itself to such interpretation should the interpretor wish it.  This is why we have so many sects under the Christian banner.

MCB
August 3rd, 2012 | LINK

@Priya Lynn
I’m maybe bending things a little to fit within a modern perspective. Though I might add two things: first, “dark magic” doesn’t work for a religion (Hellenistic) that didn’t actually believe in demons; the potions consulted gods, and there was was significant debate within early Christianity over whether the gods were just fakes or demons in disguise. Second, there was significant contempt among the upper classes for “pharmaceuticals” in favor of physicians who offered bone-setting, lifestyle changes, and bloodletting. Given that Paul’s list of the “works of the flesh” are essentially a typical example of the usual list of vices presented in non-Christian moral texts of the time (hence why he says this should be “obvious”), there’s a possibility it meant both “medical quackery of the lower classes” as well as “magical power from non-Christian gods.”

Eric in Oakland
August 4th, 2012 | LINK

@MCB and Priya Lynn:

Considering the context, wouldn’t drug abuse be closer to the original intent for the term “witchcraft”?

Priya Lynn
August 4th, 2012 | LINK

Eric, given all the other references to witchcraft and magic in the bible I don’t think so. Think of the story of Pharoah and Moses, pharoah had magic that didn’t come from the god character, magic was believed to be as real as their god was.

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