June 19th, 2013
7:00: I’ve never live-blogged before, mostly because I really am not good at thinking on my feet. I’m the kind of person who needs to ruminate a bit. And ordinarily I wouldn’t consider it appropriate to do it at this setting, but since this is going out live via webcast for free, I’ll do it this one time. This will be the only time I live-blog this conference. Click here for my pre-conference impressions.
You can watch the live webcast here. It looks like you have to register, but the free code for tonight only is “TrueStory.”
By the way, my good friend Anthony Venn-Brown, of Australia’s ex-gay survival organization Freedom2B, is here, sitting in the pew next to me. It’s so good to see him again. You can read about him here.
All times Pacific.
7:09: Alan Chambers is doing a few introductory remarks — general announcements, introductions, things like that. He’s loose and funny, as usual. Hints at a “very important message tonight.”
7:15: A Contemporary Christian Music band is playing. Never mind the content, just as a matter of style CCM is just not my thing. But they seem like they’re having fun.
7:21: This is definitely a smaller crowd. In years past, the opening night had more of a major concert hall kind of a feel. Tonight, we’re in a chapel that’s about half the size of previous venues. It’s definitely more “churchy” and much less of a large scale production as before. I hear that attendance is now a little over 300, compared to I think somewhere like 700 or 800 last year.
7:25: “Shout it out and life up one voice, in worship.” They’re still singing.
7:35: They do like to sing. I think this will probably continue until about 8:00, if past experience is any guide. I will say, the drummer is pretty good.
7:46. “You’re going to hear some true stories this week, and they’re going to be good.” Chambers is welcoming the live-streamers and introducing Aaron Harris for his testimony. This is a standards feature of plenary sessions, and a common feature of Evangelical worship in general. He’s definitely gay, or, as the program says, “he uses his personal story and struggle with SSA (same-sex attractions) to address hard subjects like addiction and abuse in order to bring light into dark areas often ignored.” Was abused by someone “inside the church.”
The last thing I want to do is diminish what he’s telling the crowd. These are real people, after all, talking about some very tough, personal, intimate, frank, and humiliating things. It’s easy for those outside the evangelical culture to mock the institution of “testimony,” but it is more than just a powerful form of story-telling. It’s cathartic for many of those listening, as well as for some of the speakers.
8:00 “I still struggle. In the past three months have been the most intense struggle of my life.” But God is “using my story to help others.” This is not a typical testimony of ultimate triumph, but one that strikes me as humble and honest.
8:02: Also, “Is my goal to lead people to Christ, or is my goal to change them? If it’s to change them, then I need to step away.”
8:03: Alan Chambers is back at the podium, leading a prayer. From here on out, a paraphrase of his comments:
“We’re grateful that you take us as we are, that you love us as we are.” Prays that “we turn off the tapes that tell us things that are not true.”
8:06: Why are we here this week? Most of us here … are here as Christians with same-sex attractions, who believe that sexual expression is reserved for one man and one woman in marriage. … this will be a safe haven for us. We live in a messy reality. Everyone lives in a messy reality, but God would rather he had messy children than no children at all.
8:09: Our stories have not changed. But there are things that happening in current headlines that we need to address.
8:10: Exodus International’s website has announced that Exodus is shutting down.
Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus. “For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”
Chambers continued: “From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.”
For these reasons, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry. “This is a new season of ministry, to a new generation,” said Chambers. “Our goals are to reduce fear (reducefear.org), and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”
8:14: Chambers: For the past 18 months, I’ve been embroiled in scandal, but only because I am sharing things that I’ve never shared before. Never did I believe that the things that I’ve shared would have ripped our ministry apart the way it has. Therefore I am convinced that the “scandal” is of God’s making.
8:16: Eighteen months ago, I spoke at the Gay Christian Network conference, and that was the beginning of the scandals. What I said was that 99% of the people that I met continue to struggle with same-sex attractions. Those things don’t go away. People say I am a heretic for saying that, but it is the power of God that permits me to stand in that reality.
(The audience doesn’t know the announcement yet.)
8:18: No matter how we behave, we have a irrevocable relationship with Jesus Christ. They say I’ve given people a license to sin, as if I have that power.
8:20: Speaks of “fear that keeps us acting a certain way, living a certain way, living like a child of an angry God. I was living my life pretending I’m something I’m not because I was living in fear of the church. It has been the most amazing journey to come to the realization that my Father in heaven will never abandon me. There is nothing I did to earn his love. My relationship is secure. I long for the day for people to live their lives to live in a way that pleases God, not because they have to but because they can. And so they will live in all kinds of ways, in ways that you may not agree with. He alone will judge. He didn’t call us to be prosecutors, but witnesses.
8:23: Exodus was formed in 1976 as a safe haven for gay people in a church where it wasn’t safe. I believe it was the work of God. It saved my life when I joined in 1991. I needed a place to take my mask off. But over time, like the church, Exodus has become entrenched in rules. Rather than being the father standing at the gate waiting for the son to come home. While there has been so much good at Exodus,there has also been bad. There have been people that we’ve hurt. There are horror stories. In 37 years we haven’t done anything right. We’ve helped people, but we’ve hurt people. One of the scandalous things that we’ve done is acknowledge that.
8:27: He’s talk about the show tomorrow night on Lisa Ling, where Chambers was confronted by ex-gay survivors and offer an apology. “It was excruciating. They told their true stories in a way that I will never forget. They told stories of abuse, pain, missed opportunities, from the church and even from Exodus.
8:30: I can’t just take responsibility for the good things. I have to take responsibility for the bad as well. (Speaking of the apology) And I’ve already heard from people that won’t be my friend anymore because of the things that I said.
8:31: When I was hired, I was asked What will like like success for Exodus. I said success for me will look like Exodus going out of business because the church is doing it’s job. In January 2012, after spending a lot of time with other leaders, we got together for a leadership conference and came with an agenda. We’re at a crossroads. We have only 4 options:
1. Stay the same. For us that wasn’t an option.
2. Rebrand, which is common. Let’s put lipstick on the pig. Wasn’t an option. When they changed Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC, they still sold fried chicken.
3. Modify, the goal we tried. But to completely modify, it’s risky and potentially deadly. Exodus has suffered, been ridiculed, maligned, scorned. Life has been incredibly difficult. I begged God to let me be a decorator. He said no.
4. What we realized was that God does not want us to modify Exodus further. We are at option 4, to shut down. I knew this option would come to pass. It’s the fulfillment of what I was hired to do.
(The crowd is very still.)
8:36. This will leave a void, one that I hope will be filled by nothing but the church. I long for the day when the best place a kid can call is the church. Exodus was created in a void. There has been good that’s come out, but God is calling us home to the church, the imperfect, messy, sometimes mean church.
8:38: We’re going to leave a void. What do we do with all of you? We’re not abandoning you. We wouldn’t do that. My hope is you will do what I did, share the reality that we shared. Be change for the church. Bring change to the church. That is what God is calling us to do. If we don’t do that, we will fail to live up to what God has called us to be: Jesus with skin on to a lost and dying world. To a church that says, I don’t care what you wear or what you’re doing, just come home. We want at all costs for everyone and anyone to come home to the church.
8:41. We’re not going to control people anymore. We’re not going to tell them how to live. I am not the Holy Spirit. We are called to proclaim the truth of who God is. My beliefs haven’t changed, but there is nothing more important than winning people to Christ with the love of Christ.
8:43: Exodus became something it wasn’t intended to be. Exodus’s major failure is that it became a religious institution focused on rules of behavior, and not focused on what we believe. It’s time our message changed to be one of hope and love and grace. For these reasons that we believe it’s time for Exodus to close.
(He is now reading this statement. The room is utterly silent.)
(They have announced a new web site: Reducefear.org.)
8:48: Exodus has been like the ring in Lord of the Rings. While we have all been friends, there is something about Exodus that needs to be put to rest.
8:50: We fought the culture, and we’ve lost. But I think we lost for a good reason. It’s time for peace. We are the culture. Culture doesn’t exist without people. God doesn’t want us to fight people anymore. We believe it’s time for the church to open its doors and let the marginalized in. Let the spiritual refugees find a home in the church.
8:52: Ends with John 16:33.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Christ died to give you peace. The King is on the throne and you can trust him. We need to learn the serve. We must be a beacon of hope, and we must be different.
While this is a painful thing, something better is coming. There is more. This doesn’t negate our stories or what God is calling you to do. It’s just simply a new time. My prayer is that we have an amazing last Exodus conference. We have good news to share, and it’s time we shared the good news.
8:55. He’s now offering a closing prayer. It’s been one of the most remarkable, humble talks I’ve ever heard him give. This talk had none of the swagger of prior conference talks, but it was a confident one. At least that how it came across to me.
But make no mistake about it. This is the end of an era, and major milestone in the history of the ex-gay movement. I imaging we’re going to hear a lot of reactions over the next several days to come, but tonight, Exodus has come to a quiet and — dare I say it — a very dignified end.
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