September 10th, 2012
Exodus International, the organization for individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction and who seek to live according to a conservative Christian sexual ethic, is going through a period of upheaval. For the past year, Exodus President Alan Chambers has challenged many of the organization’s presumptions and assertions and has made some public statements that have upset long time members and affiliates.
Although these shifted opinions have been evolving over time, the organization has been, until recently, able to keep a united front. But this was, I believe, mostly a public image that did not reflect reality.
For many years Exodus has existed as an organization whose members and leaders made statements of faith and testimonies that were out of sync with their own personal experiences. But the policy of “standing on faith” received a shock when an Exodus Board Member took their “Jesus can heal you” message into the political climate of Uganda and helped trigger a bill that called for the execution of some gays and lesbians and played a role in the murder of a gay activist.
Adding to that shock was the publication of a study of Exodus by Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, head of Regent University’s mental health department. Jones and Yarhouse set out to prove that prayer and devotion could lead to a change in orientation, but their results were far from supportive. Ultimately they came to realize that none of their participants ever became what Yarhouse refered to as “a typical hetero male”.
This led, I believe, to some real soul searching. And there appeared to be three responses.
Some like John Smid dropped out of the movement and went on to live their lives with greater wisdom and greater acceptance. Some joined Alan on his journey of discovery and were part of the decision to disassociate from The Day of Truth, to disavow reparative therapy and drop reorientation expectations, and to change focus to becoming a support group for same-sex attracted Christians. And some doubled-down on their anti-gay positions, left Exodus, and formed the Restored Hope Network, a sort of pre-epiphany Exodus but meaner and more strident.
And there are, I suspect, a good many who just ducked their heads and focused on their local ministry and will wait to see where the chips end up.
The changes led by Alan were not the sort that matter to secular gays. Alan and Exodus, along with their detractors, still agree on quite a bit. Homosexual behavior is sinful. Same-sex attracted people should strive to live a holy life. God can and does empower people to overcome their desires and temptations and live in accordance with His will.
In fact, the areas of disagreement are narrow and distinct and a bit difficult to understand if one does not have familiarity with evangelical Christian teaching. They go to the heart of the two Christian themes (grace and obedience) are demonstrated in how each answers the following two closely related questions (and really, the order in which they are answered):
Although the first of these sounds like a “no true Scotsman” logical fallacy, the question really is more about whether a person can live in a state of grace in a life pleasing to God and yet identify with sinfulness.
Some believe (as Exodus once did) that while the Bible only prohibit homosexual behaviors, homosexuality itself is “sinful”. And if one identifies as gay, this means that one endorses, promotes, condones, and celebrates sin. And surely if one celebrates a sin as grievous and heinous as homosexual behaviors, one cannot know the heart of Christ or be a child of God.
Which leads to the obvious answer to the second question: yes, you must seek to distance yourself from sinfulness. To please God you must denounce what he calls sin and to pursue that which he calls holy. And, besides, to many of these people, heterosexual sex is a mystical and holy act (when between spouses) which pleases God. God wants for each of his children to become one with their opposite sex spouse and as this is (as obviously demonstrated by nature, God’s naturally given desire, and Scripture) God’s Plan for each of our lives, to refuse to move in that direction is an affront to the Almighty and an attack on Him and His people.
Alan, however, found a mirror and looked in it. And then he looked around him at the people who were trying mightily to please God. And he discovered that if it was God’s Plan for each same-sex attracted person to become the heterosexual that God wanted them to be, He had a funny way of showing it. Cuz no one was turning straight.
And Alan started saying so.
That didn’t sit at all well with those who think that to admit that reorientation doesn’t work is to deny God’s power and to quench the hope that strugglers have. It turns people away from God’s will and could lead to the destruction of their soul.
This is a very big deal, in Christian terms. When declarations of faith run headlong into objectively observable reality, sparks fly. And fly they did.
As penned by Christendom’s resident hot-headed hater, the statements of belief for the Reformed Hope Network insist:
Jesus Christ provides hope for transformation to broken sexual sinners. Jesus coupled a heightened ethical demand with a loving outreach to violators to lead them to repentance (Luke 7:36-50; John 4:4-30; 8:1-12). The grace of God offered in Jesus Christ is not merely a pardon for one’s sins but also an empowerment by the Spirit of Christ to a new life lived for God (Rom 6:14; 7:5-6; 8:12-14; Gal 2:19-20; 5:18; 2 Pet 1:2-4). For some, this transformation may take shape as a significant reduction of unwanted sexual desires. For others, it may mean the grace to live in obedience in spite of ongoing urges to do what God forbids. Either way, Paul gives believers assurance that those who “walk in the Spirit will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16-17, 24-25). “These things some of you were” (1 Cor 6:11).
But the real anger, the real fury, is saved for how Alan answers the other question.
Working in the other direction, Alan realized that reorientation wasn’t happening. And so logically, it can’t be what God is expecting. Therefore, what is he to make of those who don’t shoot for reorientation?
And when Alan actually met some of them, it was eye opening. They weren’t “trying to make up excuses for their sin” or “shaking their fists at God”. Some of them had a deep faith, a genuine devotion, and a life that reflected Christ. If Jesus said that we could detect those who followed him by their love, and if the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness, well some of these people who identified as gay Christians seemed to be closer to the right path than some who revile them.
This led Alan to realize that if there are people who identify as gay but who also show a true righteous love and possess the fruits of the Spirit, then ipso facto there really must be gay Christians. He met some. And as for what they do about the Biblical prohibitions on sexuality, well that wasn’t Alan’s job to decide (and it didn’t hurt that some of them were living celibately).
And all hell broke loose.
The never measured Dr. Robert Gagnon trotted this out:
Far from Alan’s beliefs rising above the fray of competing theological versions, they are mired in an extreme, cult-like variation of “once saved, always saved” view. For Alan there are no immoral behaviors of any magnitude, number, or frequency that can call into question the veracity of someone’s claim to be a Christian, let alone justify a warning about possible loss of salvation. He has declared that “while behavior matters,” the lifestyles that we choose—including unrepentant, lifelong homosexual practice—”don’t interrupt someone’s relationship with Christ.” Christians don’t even need to confess their ongoing sins to God any longer. Indeed, to do so would be a big waste of time because we have already been forgiven by Jesus for every sin that we will ever commit.
While that isn’t too far from my own theology (having been set free from the Law of Sin and Consequences, I don’t have much use for lamenting my divergence from its minutia), as a description of Alan’s views, it’s simplistic at best.
Those familiar with Scripture might enjoy trotting down Gagnon’s road a while, just for the laugh. Truly, this man lifts verses out of their setting to give them a meaning that is often the very opposite of what message was trying to be conveyed by their authors (an accusation he, ironically, flings at Chambers).
But the point of contention is the “real” interpretation of the doctrine of eternal security.
To Alan, eternal security is a bit like this: If one accepts Christ as savior and has a relationship with Christ, he doesn’t lose the security of his salvation due to behaviors that might fall outside God’s will. God’s love is unconditional. If that person has a relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will convict of that sin or error and draw the person back into line with God’s plan for their life.
To Gagnon, eternal security is this: God’s love most definitely does have conditions – lots of them – and if a person is a homosexual, that proves that he NEVER EVER had a real relationship with Christ. End of story, burn in hell.
Not exactly compatible theology. So, in a 35 page rant, Gagnon declared that Alan should be ousted from leadership (Oddly, Dr. Gagnon has never explained just why it is that he’s completely obsessed with homosexuality or why he speaks for ex-gay ministries…).
The response to Dr. Gagnon was penned by John Warren, the Treasurer of Exodus, who very sweetly and in a gentle way chides Gagnon for the attack:
Clearly Dr. Gagnon’s position on eternal security in Christ differs sharply from the views of Alan, Clark, and many others of us who believe that we are kept by the same grace of God that saves us. This doctrinal difference is important, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker or a reason to separate. The propagation of heresy is a reason to separate, and neither Alan nor Dr. Gagnon is guilty of espousing heretical positions of essential matters of the Christian faith. Dr. Gagnon is right to hate sin as God does. He is right to warn that the habitual, unrepentant practice of egregious sin is indicative of an unregenerate soul. But he is wrong in his accusation that Alan Chambers and Clark Whitten treat sin lightly or even excuse it because of their recent references to the beauty of God’s grace. For some reason he has decided to attempt to publicly call out these two men because he feels that they are soft on sin and its impact. I know these men personally, I have read Clark Whitten’s books, and I have listened carefully to Alan Chamber’s talks. I can assure Dr. Gagnon and anyone who shares his concerns that these men have a biblical view of sin and repentance, and they have each invested many years teaching a hurting world to turn from their sin in humble trust of Jesus Christ our Lord for salvation.
Gagnon, as he does with those whom he argues theology rather than scholarship, slapped back with a ad hominem attack piece on Alan, a Paulite defense of his works-based interpretation of security, and his usual Gagnonism.
But today we hear news that is a bit surprising. John Warren, Alan’s defender, has resigned over comments Alan made on Janet Mefferd’s radio show. As we discussed yesterday, Mefferd was insisting that a gay Christian is an absolute impossibility (and with tone and attitude that possessed no reflection of Christ whatsoever). (Christian Post)
It was just three weeks ago when John Warren, who stepped down Thursday as treasurer of the Exodus International Board of Directors, defended Chambers for his biblical view of sin and repentance. But he became troubled after a radio interview where Chambers was asked tough questions about his views on salvation and repentance.
“I believe that Alan Chambers is a good man with good intentions. It is his messaging that concerned me recently and prompted me to resign,” Warren told The Christian Post in an email Saturday. “Specifically, his interview this week on Janet Mefferd’s show concerned me deeply.”
Change is difficult. Challenges to long-held theological beliefs are especially difficult. Seeing your enemy in the Culture Was as a brother in Christ can be impossible for some. And when you have believed in the inherent evil of those who identify as gay for such a long time, even someone as amiable as Warren can find it shocking when they finally realize that you really do mean what you say, when you say that you’re leaving the salvation of others up to God.
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