Posts Tagged As: Alan Chambers
September 29th, 2015
Over the past few years, Alan Chambers, the former head of ex-gay umbrella group Exodus International, has made significant changes in the way in which he sees the world and his own spirituality. In his new book My Exodus: From Fear to Grace, he discusses how letting go of fear-based theology allowed him to see the image of God in places he once was afraid to see and in his book he encourages other Christians to do the same.
Although they are but a part of Alan’s transformation, the change in his views about sexuality are the most notable due to his past. Alan has not rejected his faith and it remains the center of his focus. But he has definitely changed the way in which he sees God and what is holy.
From Eliel Cruz’ interview with Alan in Religious News Service:
Where do you stand on same-sex relationships? Are you affirming of them?
I do believe that same-sex relationship can be holy. As a Christian, I think marriage is best. That is why I’m supportive of the Supreme Court decision for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. I think same-sex marriages can reflect, and often do, God’s image. Many people in the church either do not know of Christ-centered same-sex relationships or refuse to see them. Leslie and I have met so many individuals who have awesome stories and are doing amazing work. Their marriages absolutely reflect the image of God.
April 9th, 2015
The Obama Administration has announced it’s opposition to reparative therapy practiced on minor for the purpose of changing their sexual orientation.
The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm. As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.
Alan Chambers has written an opinion piece in the Religious News Service to support the act of the administration.
This ban is in no way an attempt to strip parents of their ability to be good parents or to keep them from helping their child to navigate the complexities of sex and sexuality. Nor is it an infringement on religious liberties.
Regardless of a person’s opinions on sexual morality, efforts to change someone’s primary sexual orientation are dangerous and always unsuccessful. Every adult should have the right to choose his or her own path. And if someone has a religious or moral objection to a particular sexual expression, then who are we to tell that person he or she must embrace a specific act or identity?
But this has nothing to do with that.
This is about protecting kids from unsubstantiated claims that sexual orientation can be changed. This is about protecting the mental health of kids by validating their worth as human beings who are loved by God. This is about reducing shame and stigma and providing an opportunity for them to grow into mature adults who make decisions based on reality, not fear.
I suspect many at the Religious News Service need to hear that message.
March 4th, 2015
By now you’ve probably heard the rantings of potential GOP presidential contender Ben Carson:
CUOMO: What if the people of the state vote for a law 100 to 0 that winds up infringing on the rights of a minority – like happened very often with slavery, like many would argue is happening now with people who are gay?
CARSON: AND our Constitution was followed and we corrected those things.
CUOMO: And isn’t that what’s happening now with same-sex marriage? It’s being corrected as a form of violation of equal protection.
CARSON: No. You can’t just say because it happened that way this time this is the same situation. It’s not the same situation.
CUOMO: Why not?
CARSON: Because people have no control over their race, for instance.
CUOMO: You think they have control over their sexuality?
CUOMO: You think being gay is a choice?
CUOMO: Why do you say that?
CARSON: Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight and when they come out they’re gay. So did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.
Carson has since backtracked, “apologized“, and gave the “there’s no proof anyone was born that way” lameass response.
But more interesting, and an indication of how far things have come in the past few years, Dr. Warren Throckmorton sought out an opinion from someone who had worked for years with those wishing to choose to be straight, former Exodus President Alan Chambers:
Any behavior is a choice. Sexual orientation, however, is not a choice. In 20+ years of working w/ gay and lesbian people I’ve never met one person who chose to be gay. At 43 years old, though faithfully and happily married to my wife for over 17 years and completely attracted to her, my own same-sex attractions have not diminished. Claiming orientation is a choice is archaic and causes great shame for the beautiful men, women, youth, and families who live this reality.
August 27th, 2013
Alan Chambers sat down with RELEVANT Magazine’s Eddie Kaufholz to talk about where Exodus went wrong. I think there are some very important nuggets here, particularly where he describes Exodus’s embrace of the “change is possible” message as being the only one that was acceptable to the church:
But it was the thing we found the most support in from the church. We’re a group of people who were ostracized and marginalized, mostly people from the church, who were looking for who were looking for support and affirmation and encouragement. And the support and the affirmation and the encouragement and the promotion that we got from the church was, “Change is possible. You run with that message and we’ll support you.”
It’s neat and it’s tidy so we ran with it. That’s not to say it wasn’t true in our lives. But the reason it didn’t work is because they promoted my story as the story. We promoted marriage and heterosexuality and “wholeness” and “change,” ambiguously, as the message of Exodus and the message of Jesus for gay people.
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.
June 19th, 2013
Exodus International president has issued a far-reaching apology moments ago:
Recently, I have begun thinking again about how to apologize to the people that have been hurt by Exodus International through an experience or by a message. I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope. In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me.
And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there. The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does. As my friends do. As God does.
Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.
Friends and critics alike have said it’s not enough to simply change our message or website. I agree. I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today. I understand why I am distrusted and why Exodus is hated.
Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.
More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.
I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them. I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.
You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours. I hope changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight regarding Exodus International, will bring resolution, and show I am serious in both my regret and offer of friendship. I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good..
Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing.
The bolding is original to the press release, which hints at a further announcement at tonight’s opening session of Exodus’ annual Freedom Conference being held at Concordia University in Irvine, California. I’ll be in attendance and will provide updates as soon as I can.
(In fact, I’m posting thus from my phone at a Subway just outside the campus before going in for registration. So please excuse any typos, autocorrect interventions and formatting problems. Also, if you’re in the area, give me a shout via Twitter at @jfburroway.)
May 1st, 2013
Jeremy Hooper was forwarded a lengthy email chain sent to over seventy social conservative anti-gay activists in advance of the National Organization for Marriage’s Ruth Institute’s conference at the end of May. Among those receiving the email chain was Exodus International Alan Chambers, who tired of the anti-gay rhetoric and, after asking to be removed from the chain, finally added Hooper’s email address to it. In one email response, Robert Gagnon called Chambers to task for “secretly adding the name of someone whose whole objective is to promote sexually immoral behavior and abuse those who uphold what Jesus and Scripture regarded as sacred.” Gagnon also went on to justify his use of the word “perverse” to describe gay people:
The verb “to pervert” is from the Latin meaning “to turn thoroughly,” i.e. away from the truth or right course of action. Applied to sexual practice, a perversion is “any of various means of obtaining sexual gratification that are generally regarded as being unnatural or abnormal.” Paul in Scripture makes a point of singling out homosexual practice as sexual behavior that is manifestly contrary to nature in that it is clear that a man and a woman are sexual complements or counterparts, not males with males or females with females. He als refers to such behavior as self-“dishonoring” (Atimazo / atimia) and as “indecent/shameful behavior” (askhemosune). The Levitical prohibitions and some Deuteronomical texts add the description of to’evah, something abominable or abhorrent to God. The latter (along with Revelation) adds the epithet of of “dogs” to men who actively emasculate their appearance to attract male sex partners in a cultic context, treating themselves as “sacred” (hence the Hebrew name qedeshim). Bestiality is an even more unnatural form of sexual practice since it is cross-species. Adult-consensual incest is also a particularly perverse form of sexual practice since it involves sex with someone who is too much of a familial same. But Scripture treats homosexual practice as even more severely unnatural because the male-female requirement for sexual relations is foundational for all that follows (so Genisis and Jesus) and because sex or gender is a more constituent feature of sexual behavior than kinship.
It is my contention that homosexual practice is a more serious violation of Scripture’s sexual norms than even incest, adultery, plural marriage, and divorce. (The reader will note that I did not mention bestiality because the evidence from ancient Israel and early Judaism suggests that bestiality is a worse offense than same-sex intercourse.) [Emphasis in the original]
I guess in the six years since then Gagnon’s sorted out God’s mind on bestiality and, unsurprisingly, Gagnon’s God now agrees with Gagnon that gays are worse.
In addition to Gagnon’s close association with the NOM, he is also a founding board member of Restored Hope Network, comprised of a group of break-away ex-gay ministries which left Exodus International after Exodus president Alan Chambers acknowledged 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.” Chambers also repudiated the particular type of counseling intended to change sexual orientation known as Reparative Therapy, and he has declared that Exodus will no longer take sides in the political debates surrounding gay rights, including marriage rights.
April 6th, 2013
Joe Dallas, who heads the Exodus International-affiliated Genesis Counseling in Tustin, California, appeared on The Steve Deace Show on Tuesday, where the topic was the growing acceptance of LGBT people in general and same-sex marriage in particular. Dallas blamed the Internet and its easy access to porn for the rise of “sexual immorality” in the culture. “Where you have high accessibility, you will have more consumer use,” Dallas told Deace (Second hour, 23:16):
Dallas: And that has not only in and of itself been a problem to have it and using porn, but it’s also a gateway to a number of other behaviors because through the Internet, people begin exploring options like hiring a prostitute or consider going to a massage parlor or hooking up anonymously with someone. And because all of that is so accessible now, we absolutely have a higher percentage of people who become literally dependent on these very hyper-stimulating experiences whether its the viewing of pornography or going to a strip club or hiring a prostitute. And that dependency absolutely disrupts many of their lives.
Of course, I certainly don’t think that everyone who is homosexual is sexually addicted and when we’re speaking about same-sex marriage I certainly don’t believe that because someone is attracted to the same sex that means they use pornography or engage in these types of behaviors. Those are really two different issues. But they both do get to the heart of on what we base as a nation our system of sexual ethics, and it seems that that base is shifting.
Beyond porn, Dallas also blamed the media — television, openly gay celebrities, etc — for increasing broader acceptance of LGBT people, and he argued that the increased visibility of LGBT people has meant that more people are “succumbing” to homosexuality. And when that increased visibility is combined with a forty-year movement, “a movement which has built for decades without as much public awareness as we have now, now that momentum has reached a critical mass.” At this point, Deace asked, “where does this end”? (31:11):
Deace: Joe, I wrote a piece for USA Today over the weekend asking, why not polygamy then? Why not polyamory? Why not everything? Why just draw the line here. We’ve got stories at CNN about six year old boys demanding that they’re actually girls and they are transgendered, they get to use the girls’ bathroom, and so we change all of social policy at a public school for a six year old. And where does this end ultimately? What happens to the individuals here that are struggling with their sexuality when we allow public policy to essentially say, “do whatever you want.” What ultimately will be the price they will pay?
Dallas: The individuals will be given a green light to express their desires as they see fit. Some will claim to find deep fulfillment in that, some will form relationships that they report as being very healthy and satisfying, others will find that their lives take directions that they didn’t expect and they’ll be deeply disappointed.
There’s really two ways I look at this: one is theologically and one is socially. Socially I think it will be one more step down the ladder towards a much lower standard of human behavior. Theologically, I think it will be a green light to engage in behaviors that bring the judgment of God. So either one looks pretty dismal to me.
I think that ultimately, this is just as you said: It’s not going to end just at homosexuality. I can’t think of too many logical arguments you can make polygamy if you are in favor of revising our norms to include homosexuality. And in fact, as you know Steve, I believe they call it the polyamorous movement is riding the coat tails of the push for same-sex marriage. And no doubt, if we legitimize same-sex marriage, we will see the legitimization of polygamy as well.
Alan Chambers began changing Exodus International’s direction more than a year ago by acknowledging 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.” He repudiated the particular from of conversion therapy known as “reparative therapy,” he swiftly responded with a statement opposing criminalization soon after a board member spoke in Jamaica in support of its anti-gay laws (that board member quickly resigned), he condemned the Family Research Council for honoring a pastor who called gays “worse than maggots” and that God had an “urban renewal plan for Sodom and Gomorrah,” and declined to oppose a California law that bans sexual orientation change efforts for minors. More generally, Exodus has refused to take political positions on hot-button topics, with Chambers recently posting videos saying that Exodus no longer has an official position on same-sex marriage, and encouraging students to cooperate with rather than confront gay-straight alliances in the schools.
Those changes within Exodus has prompted other prominent ex-gay leaders to publicly denounce Exodus’ change in direction, and a number of ministries have left the organization. Many of those ministries have joined up to form a rival organization called the Restored Hope Network. Dallas was a founding member of RHN and was a no-show at Exodus International’s annual conference in St. Paul, MN in 2012 (his wife was there to present a couple of workshops), but he retained his ties to Exodus in an attempt to be a member in good standing with both groups. But with this week’s statements on Deace’s radio program, I don’t see how Dallas’s continued association with Exodus is tenable.
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.
September 7th, 2012
I have long understood that the issue for those who are so infuriated about homosexuality is not really what one is doing with one’s body parts. Their primary contention is not who one boinks, but whether one feels guilty about it. If you come on bended knee to repent of last night’s orgy with four men and a pit bull, God is gracious and loving and quick to forgive. And though he may admonish you, the anti-gay will forgive you too (and pat himself on the back for doing so).
But if you say that you believe that God honors and respects your loving relationship with your legally married spouse to whom you have been faithful for decades, well then you are “shaking your fist at God”.
But now they’ve taken it a step further.
Now it seems that one need not ever have had sex at all with anyone, anywhere, in order to be the enemy of Christ. Simply believing that God could honor a same-sex relationship is indication of perversion and a reprobate mind. And proving that point is an exchange between Janet Mefferd, a conservative Christian radio host, and Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International.
Mefferd had called for Chambers’ resignation after he said that one could be gay and be Christian. Chambers had met with the Gay Christian Network and had some of his assumptions challenged. Consequently, although Alan believes homosexuality to be sinful, he was leaving it up to the Holy Spirit, not the holier than thou, to convict of sin and inspire one to live a more holy life.
But Alan’s “leave that between you and God” attitude wasn’t flying with Mefferd. (Christian Post)
Mefferd: If you believe that you have to turn from your sin and turn to Christ … how can you simultaneously hold that somebody who is an unrepentant homosexual can go to heaven?
Chambers: I don’t think you know Justin Lee (founder of the Gay Christian Network). Justin is someone who identifies as gay.
Mefferd: But has he repented of his homosexuality?
Chambers: He is not involved in homosexual relationships. He is a celibate man.
Mefferd: But has he repented of his homosexuality?
Chambers: It depends on what you mean by repenting of homosexuality. He’s not involved in homosexuality.
Mefferd: OK. But he is not repentant about homosexuality being a sin? In other words, by your definition of repentance, he has not agreed with God on what God says about homosexuality.
Chambers: Right … What I think the crux of the issue is … I can’t tell someone that they do know Christ or that they don’t know Christ. What I believe about Justin, having had numerous conversations with him is that he knows Jesus, is that he has a relationship with Jesus Christ. I don’t know what people do with Scripture on issues related to homosexuality or anything else where so clearly they are living differently than Scripture teaches. I can’t say to Justin, you don’t know Jesus.
Mefferd: Why not?
Chambers: Because I don’t know that he doesn’t know Jesus.
Mefferd: You could talk to him; you could probe what he believes. The fact that he is living … a celibate life is immaterial because if he says homosexuality is not sinful and something to be repented of and instead something to be celebrated so much so that he found something called the Gay Christian Network, that would indicate that he does not agree with God about homosexuality being sinful.
In other words, if Justin Lee disagrees with Mefferd’s take on scripture, then he doesn’t know Jesus. But therein lies a problem (other than the obvious one that Janet Mefferd isn’t God).
A good many Christians disagree with Mefferd. Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and even some Baptists, Mormons and Catholics. A good many Christians have taken a look at Scripture and searched the oldest texts and considered culture and context and came up with a different conclusion.
Some support committed relationships, and some may only believe in celibacy, but they all find that homosexuality itself – the condition of being same-sex attracted and acknowledging that fact – is not sinful. Some of these people otherwise agree entirely with Mefferd’s theology and are as orthodox in belief as she could ask for. Which raises an interesting question.
When others Christians disagree with Mefferd over the meaning of Scriptural passages that may relate to homosexuality, is that clear indication that they too do not know Jesus?
Or is that an observation that is reserved for those who are gay?
July 24th, 2012
Last winter, Exodus International began the process of erasins all references to NARTH and Reparative from its web site with the removal of RT books from its online book store. In June, Exodus issued a formal statement saying, “As an organization, we do not subscribe to therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal.” Since then, Exodus president Alan Chambers has explained that he was moving Exodus away from RT because, as he briefly explained during the opening night plenary sessions, “I feel like so often in that line of work or in that field of work, we have said, this is what causes homosexuality, this is how you deal with it, and this is what your outcome will be if you do everything right. And I don’t think that’s fair.”
This is his main objection to RT, but it’s not the only one. During a Q&A session at the 2012 conference in St. Paul, Chambers disclosed, briefly, that Nicolosi, who had been a regular speaker at previous Exodus conferences, wanted to present a workshop in which he would discuss the use of pornographic materials to lessen same-sex attraction through a controversial therapy known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). As Chambers explained, recommending the use of porn was a line that Exodus, an explicitly Evangelical Christian organization, would not cross. Exodus refused to accept Nicolosi’s workshop proposal for 2010. Warren Throckmorton obtained a copy of that proposal:
Gay Pornography as a Therapeutic Tool
Reparative Therapists have recently developed a therapeutic technique utilizing gay pornographic images to expose deeper emotional needs beneath mere sexual arousal. While many clients have been told that their homosexuality is a defense against emotional needs, this technique offers “experiential knowing” resulting from personal experience. The result is a diminishment of pornographic appeal and movement toward resolving deeper conflicts.
For men and leaders.
Despite Exodus refusal of that proposed workshop, Nicolosi conducted two other workshops at the 2010 conference, “Preceding Scenario to Homosexual Enactment,” and “Identifying your Shame Based Self Statement.” Throckmorton obtained audio from one of those workshops (he doesn’t say which one), in which Nicolosi, despite Exodus’s ban, recommends using gay porn as part of EMDR therapy:
Chambers briefly mentioned this during a recent interview on MSNBC’s Hardball, but the guest host failed to pick up and follow through on it. Nicolosi had written a letter to Chambers (it’s now posted on Facebook) denying that he recommended using porn, but this audio supports Chambers’s version of events. Nicolosi did not appear at the 2011 or 2012 conference, and I noticed that his books were not available at the conference bookstore in 2012.
July 22nd, 2012
Michael Bussee this morning alerted me to a new group that is forming to challenge Exodus International as the dominant ex-gay organization in Evangelical Christianity. Restored Hope Network has announced via Facebook and an Eventbrite page that there will be a weekend gathering in the Sacramento, California, area for a short conference called “Restoring Hope: Healing for the Sexually and Relationally Broken” on September 21 and 22. Three announced speakers include Robert Gagnon, Frank Worthen, and Andrew Comiskey, and the entire event is being billed as the “inaugural conference” for the nascent group. The conference is taking place at Sunrise Community Church, which sponsors HIS Ministry, one of eleven ex-gay ministries which has left Exodus International over the past few months.
The Facebook page, which indicates the group was founded on May 2, lists several important name as founding members of Restored Hope:
With the election of the forming committee in early May, the work to begin this new network began. The forming committee consists of Frank Worthen, Anne Paulk, Andy and Annette Comiskey, Dr. Robert Gagnon, Joe Dallas, Stephen Black, David Kyle Foster, and Michael Newman.
These names include some of the most prominent names of the ex-gay movement, and many of them have long historic ties to Exodus:
Frank Worthen’s New Hope Ministry was one of the founding ministries of Exodus International back in 1976. Worthen also founded Love In Action, a residential ex-gay ministry which eventually became an independent organization and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where it now operates as Restoration Path.
Anne Pauk, an ex-lesbian and wife of former ex-gay spokesman John Paulk, is a prominent author and speaker in the ex-gay movement. She and John were a featured couple in a massive national publicity campaign in 1998 on behalf of the ex-gay movement, a campaign that landed them on the cover of Newsweek. John Paulk was serving as chairman of the board of Exodus International from 1995 to 2000 when he was photographed by Wayne Besen while leaving a gay bar in Washington, D.C. Despite the scandal, John Paul remained active in the ex-gay movement until 2003, when he left Focus On the Family and the couple resettled in Portland, Oregon and John started a catering business. Anne has continued to write books and lecture as an “ex-lesbian.” Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen has been told that the Paulks may have separated.
Andrew Comiskey has been a major player in Exodus International from its earliest days as an outgrowth of an early Southern California church movement known as the Vineyard. He once served as president at Exodus International, and his Desert Stream Ministries has been among the largest and most prominent ministries in the Exodus International network, and its popular Living Waters program is used by many ex-gay ministries throughout the world. In April, Comiskey issued a letter to Exodus president Alan Chambers calling on him to “continue to uphold change as a reasonable goal for Christians with (same-sex attraction).” Citing Chambers’s comments before the Gay Christian Network, Comiskey worried that “Alan’s comments about change unwittingly played into the enemy’s hands.”
Robert Gagnon’s association with the ex-gay movement has been somewhat less extensive, mainly focused in providing theological support. He spoke at a Wednesday morning plenary session at a 2009 Exodus annual conference in Wheaton, Illinois. He also provided two workshops at that conference, the first on homosexuality and the Bible, and the second on the church’s response to homosexuality. In late June,Gagnon wrote an exhausting 35-page response to Alan Chambers’s recent changes at Exodus, and he has emerged as one of the sharpest and loudest critics in the popular media of Chambers’s change of direction.
Joe Dallas may be the most surprising founding member of Restored Hope, although I suspected something was up when he was nowhere to be found at the Exodus conference this year in Minneapolis. (His wife, Rene Dallas, was there to provide workshops for spouses of “strugglers.”) He served as Exodus International president from 1991 to 1993. Dallas has spoken at every Exodus conference for the last five years that I’m able to track down, including during plenary sessions in 2011, 2010 and 2007. Dallas has also been a longtime speaker at the Love Won Out conferences. Dallas’s Genesis Counseling is still listed as an Exodus member ministry.
Stephen Black is the founder of Oklahoma City-based First Stone Ministry, another of the founding ministries of Exodus International in 1976. Has also been highly active in Exodus, including providing a workshop at Exodus’s annual conferences from 2008 to 2011. Black announced that his ministry officially resigned from Exodus in April, which is at about the same time of Comisky’s letter to Chambers. Further signs of Black and Comisky joining forces arose when Black announced that Comisky would be speaking at a church outside of Oklahoma City in an event sponsored and promoted by First Stone.
David Kyle Foster operates Mastering Life Ministries, the television ministry behind Pure Passion, a television program broadcast on the internet and several Christian television channels. Foster does not describe himself as ex-gay in particular, but instead points to his struggle “with a serious bondage to pornography and other sexually addictive behaviors” as his link to the ex-gay movement.
Michael Newman, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, is founder of the Houston-based Christian Coalition for Reconciliation, “an educational, support, and discipling ministry for those struggling with homosexuality.” It is another former Exodus member ministry that withdrew from the network earlier this year.
The entire “Restoring Hope” theme of the new network is an apparent jab at Exodus International’s changes in message and focus over the last several months, beginning with Alan Chambers’s acknowledgment last January 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.” His later repudiation of the particular type of counseling intended to change sexual orientation known as Reparative Therapy led to a further break from Exodus’s past. It also led to a break between Exodus and nearly a dozen member ministries in Exodus’s network, notably including Comiskey’s Desert Streams Ministries and Worthen’s New Hope Ministries.
July 20th, 2012
Five years ago when Exodus International was on the front lines of the culture war, I travelled to the Family Impact Summit in Tampa Florida where I heard, among many other things, Exodus president Alan Chambers give a talk on the homosexual agenda, which he described as an “evil agenda.” The talk, as I recall, was a classic one, one that many others gave in other venues, claiming that Marshall Kirk’s and Erastes Pill’s 1987 article “The Overhauling of Straight America” was a blueprint for gays taking over America, more or less. It was a talk which, if I recall, is very similar to this article which appeared on Charisma Magazine’s web site earlier this morning.
Similar, I say, but not identical. While the Charismapiece does not include the “evil agenda” phrase, it is nevertheless more incendiary than what I remember from that conference. But more to the point, its tone and message runs completely counter to anything we’ve seen from Exodus over the past few years and more specifically in the past eight months. With one minor exception from a relatively unkown workshop speaker, I heard very little of what would be characterized as anything close to being “culture war” rhetoric at the Exodus conference in St. Paul, and none of that came from Chambers. I’m trying to find out what the story is behind this piece suddenly being prominently featured on the front page of Charisma website. I’ll let you know what I find out as soon as I hear anything definitive.
Update: This piece was originally published by Charisma magazine in October, 2004. It’s unclear why it is showing up on Charisma’s website with today’s date and featured prominently on the front page. I’m still looking into it. I’ve updated the headline to this post accordingly (it used to read “Charisma Publishes Culture War Article by Alan Chambers”)
Update: David Roberts at Ex-Gay Watch also notices that the article first appeared in Charisma in 2004. I share his suspicion:
I do wonder why Charisma has republished it today, however. Is someone at the conservative Christian publication trying to sabotage him by bringing up his past words?
Update: BTB commentertristram notices:
If the article was originally published in 2004, it has been edited or updated by someone. It states “Six states, plus Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriage . . . . ” That was certainly not the case in 2004.
That rules out any sort of technical glitch at Charisma.
Update: I just got off the phone with a nice lady at Charisma who didn’t want to give her name. She did say that they had gotten a couple of calls about the article and were “looking into it.” She also appeared to be aware that the 2004 article had been updated to include the status of marriage equality in “six states, plus Washington, D.C.” since 2004. She only said they were “looking into that also.”
Update:Alan Chambers has responded: I am on the beach, literally, with my family enjoying the dog days of summer. I have no idea why Charisma decided to reach so deep, edit and republish an 8 year old article that I am embarrassed that I ever wrote. Our PR team has asked them to remove the article and not to repost it. When I am back in town I will contact them, as well.
Update:And it’s down, with narry an explanation as to what happened. It seems to me that what happened at Charismawas very deliberate. If they had simply re-published, unaltered, an eight year old commentary, they might have been able to explain it away by citing some kind of a technical glitch or errlr. Not that such an explanation would be believable, but it would have an air of deniability about it. But as we know, that 2004 article was updated with information that wasn’t true in 2004 — that six states and Washington, D.C. now provide marriage equality. Which means that this article’s revision and appearance was deliberate. There is simply no other way to read this. Charisma owes everyone, but especially its readers and Alan Chambers an explanation. A very detailed, thorough, and unequivocal explanation. Something very sinister and underhanded happened at Charisma. That we know. What we don’t know is what Charisma will do to address it.
July 9th, 2012
With the conclusion of Exodus International’s annual Freedom Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota during the last week of June, thirty-seven Exodus Conferences have now come and gone. This is only the second conference I’ve been to, but I think it is safe to say that this conference was probably like no other in Exodus’s history. I’m glad I was there to witness it. My point of reference was the 2007 conference that I attended in Irvine, California. The differences between the two conferences weren’t quite night and day, but Exodus is undeniably a very different organization now than it was then, and the two conferences reflect those differences.
My approach to this year’s conference was a bit different from five years ago. In 2007, I went more or less undercover. Not really undercover — I registered under my own name and wore my name badge everywhere I went, but I didn’t talk about myself or reveal that I was a pro-gay blogger. This time was different. I began all substantive conversations I engaged in by introducing myself and disclosing that I was a pro-gay blogger. It turns out that most of the people I encountered never heard of me and didn’t know anything about this blog. Fortunately, my ego is far too resilient to let a thing like that bother me. (It turns out few had heard of me; when I good-naturedly accused one young woman of just being nice when she said she was a BTB regular, she pulled out her smart phone and showed me that BTB was loaded up her RSS reader.) We had some good conversations, and on a couple of occasions a few hard questions were directed my way, but nothing really at all nasty or confrontational. I was, without exception, made to feel welcome, and I really appreciate those who allowed me to get a glimpse into why they were there and what they hoped to get out of the conference.
I would however add that I did not introduce myself to workshop speakers beforehand. I didn’t want my presence to cause them to modify their remarks. I think I was mostly successful toward that end. The only person who recognized me before his workshop was Mike Goeke (Hi Mike!), but based on the content of his talk, I don’t think he changed anything just because I was there tapping out notes on my laptop.
I wanted to attend this particular conference because we have been noting that Exodus International has made some very substantial changes in its messaging over the past several months. I wanted to see first-hand what those changes would look like on the inside. But before I begin discussing the conference itself, a review of that journey is in order. The first tangible sign of those changes surfaced last January, when Chambers appeared on a surprise panel at the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference in Orlando with the revelation 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.” This was a remarkably clear statement from a man who headed an organization with the motto, “Change Is Possible.” On prior occasions, depending on the particular audience he was speaking to, he had mentioned that he personally struggled with same-sex attractions, but this was the first time he acknowledged publicly the reality that people really don’t experience a change in their sexual orientation as a result of entering into the ex-gay movement. With this statement at GCN, he publicly acknowledged what few would only admit privately, if at all. It was a remarkably clear departure from pervious statements.
The reason I removed RT books from Exodus Books is because I don’t agree with using this research as a means to say that “this” is how homosexuality always develops, “this” is the primary means in which to deal with it and this is “the” outcome you can expect. Too, Exodus, as a whole, is not a scientific or psychological organization…we are a discipleship ministry and that is where I think our strength is and energy should be focused.
This, too, was an important development. Reparative Therapy and the particular developmental theories that underlie it have been an important framework for much of what Exodus promoted through the years. It was one of the primary avenues in which change was supposedly possible. Chambers’s decision to distance his organization from RT signaled a break from the National Organization for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), many of whose leaders had been prominent speakers at previous Exodus conferences. Chambers’s move against RT didn’t go unnoticed at NARTH.
Changes at Exodus didn’t end there. Under Chambers’s leadership the organization began to alter its approach to the gay community as well. Just to show you what that difference looks like, it was only a little over a year ago, May 4 to be exact, when Chambers criticized a Google Chrome ad which portrayed ordinary people using YouTube, a Google-owned service, to post videos as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign. Chambers was irked because Woody, a character from “Toy Story,” appeared for about two and a half seconds to say “You’ll be fine, partner.” But after considerable criticism for coming out against the anti-bullying campaign, he retracted that reaction — five months later — saying “I have to admit that I was wrong to question their marketing strategy without expressing my full support for what is the heart of their campaign – encouraging LGBT teens to choose life.”
This year, Exodus has been considerably more pro-active and responsive. They took the initiative last May to condemn the Family Research Council’s awarding its 2012 Watchman Award to Winston-Salem, NC pastor Ron Baity, who compared gays to murderers, said they were “worse than maggots,” and that God had “an urban renewal plan for Sodom and Gomorrah.” And when Exodus board member Dennis Jernigan traveled to Jamaica at the invitation of local anti-gay extremists fighting to preserve that nation’s criminal code defining homosexuality as a felony, Exodus reacted quickly to that controversy with an announcement that Jernigan had resigned from the board. It also reaffirmed its opposition to laws criminalizing homosexuality.
And finally, when a bill began making its way though the California legislature which would ban licensed therapists from providing Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) to minors, Exodus issued a statement which, without addressing the bill directly, re-affirmed Exodus’s position that “we do not subscribe to therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal.” It’s not difficult to imagine that a year ago they would have probably been allied with NARTH’s effort to defeat the measure.
All of this taken together represents tremendous changes for Exodus in a remarkably short amount of time. And those changes have not been without cost or controversy within the ex-gay movement. In April, Andrew Comiskey, who heads Desert Stream Ministry, one of the more prominent member ministries in the Exodus network, wrote a letter to Chambers calling on him to “continue to uphold change as a reasonable goal for Christians with (same-sex attraction).” Citing Chambers’s comments before the Gay Christian Network, Comiskey worried that “Alan’s comments about change unwittingly played into the enemy’s hands.” Comiskey stopped short of calling for Chambers’s resignation, but he did call for a “reduced role (at best)” and suggested that Chambers should “pray more and facebook less.” By June, we would learn that eleven member ministries had left Exodus’s network, including Comiskey’s DSM and Frank Worthen’s New Hope Ministries in San Rafael, California. New Hope’s exit is particularly noteworthy because it is one of the surviving granddaddies of the ex-gay movement, having been one of the founding ministries of Exodus International back in 1976.
Exodus, Then and Now
Regular readers at BTB are likely bored with this lengthy recital, but I thought that before diving into what I observed at Exodus’s annual Freedom Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, it was important to remind ourselves how we got to where we are today. Exodus is behaving very differently from Exodus of past years, and I can confirm that many of those differences were reflected in this year’s conference on several levels. What follows are a few thumbnail observations of the differences I saw at Exodus 2012 when compared to Exodus 2007. For example:
Reparative Therapy: In 2007, Reparative Therapists were prominently featured in conference workshops and plenary sessions. Dr. Julie Harren — she is now Julie Harren Hamilton, NARTH’s most recent past president — spoke at the Saturday morning plenary session, and Reparative Therapists Joseph Nicolosi and Janelle Hallman provided workshops. As recently as 2010, Nicolosi offered two workshops, and he was a featured plenary speaker in 2009.
But in 2012, there was not a single Reparative Therapist in the line-up, either in the plenary sessions or in any of the workshops. But while RT may be gone, its underlying theories remain operative assumptions to explain why people are gay. And for some reason, those explanations are still important at Exodus, where they were the focus of the first two workshops listed for Thursday morning. It’s probably unreasonable to expect everything about RT to be banished overnight. It has, after all, been a huge part of the ex-gay movement for decades. But it seems to me that holding onto those unproven developmental theories no longer provides the utility they once did. This deserves a more thorough discussion, and will be the focus of an upcoming post in this series.
Nevertheless, I think this particular change is the mark of growing maturity in the ex-gay movement, and it has its parallels in the history of the gay community. If you were to go to the library and look up old copies of the Mattachine Review, The Ladder or ONE magazine from the 1950s, you will find tons of articles by psychologists and other professionals telling their gay audiences that homosexuality was a psychological disturbance and that they had the means to cure it. And gays and lesbians at that time, while conflicted over those pronouncements, were willing to give those professionals their respect as “experts.” That changed in the early 1960s when pioneering gay rights activist Frank Kameny boldly stood up and declared that gay people were their own experts and it was the (mostly straight) professional community who needed to learn from them. Kameny’s uncompromising brashness is not in Exodus’s genes, but in many ways I can see Exodus International beginning to take a few steps along a familiar path within the ex-gay movement, with politically-motivated anti-gay organiations, and within the Evangelical Church.
On Change: Because Reparative Therapy is no longer supported at Exodus, the expectation that sexual orientation can be changed has also been largely eliminated. Mostly. There are still a few recalcitrant exceptions. But Alan Chambers devoted his entire opening night talk on this subject and it set the tone for the whole conference. The most notable feature of that talk — and the part that everyone was talking about afterwards — was his reading of the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from Daniel 3:16-18 who defiantly told King Nebuchadnezza that “we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” He then went on to say, “I think we’ve made a golden idol out of change.”
He said much more than that, and I will go deeper into it in the next post in this series. But suffice it to say that his opening night talk set a clear benchmark for the rest of the conference. According to several conversations I’ve had, this looks like the most positive change that Exodus has undertaken, as it now appears to me that many attendees no longer feel the pressure to prove that they’ve changed or are in the process of changing their sexual attractions. While its possible that some may feel disillusioned about what they hoped to find at Exodus, I got the sense that the larger overall feeling was one of tenuous relief. And I use the word tenuous to describe that relief because I think a different, more realistic message has sunk in, that they will almost certainly remain “same-sex attracted” for the rest of their lives. That is an undoubtedly daunting prospect. And what Exodus is now offering instead of change is the promise of just “showing up” and supporting them in their daily walk. I sensed a widespread agreement that this was a much more honest and realistic message.
Marriage vs. Celibacy: In 2007, marriage was still the golden idol for many participants at the Exodus Conference. It was evident in many of the testimonies presented during the plenary sessions, and it was assumed to be a desired outcome for many who were there — even if that outcome would be many years down the road. I remember that on arriving at that conference, a local news crew was interviewing an ex-gay attendee who — and I am not making this up — looked like a bleached-blond Rod Stewart clone. The newsperson asked him if his sexual orientation changed, upon which pseudo-Rod shrieked, “Of course! And if you don’t believe me, you can ask my wife!” (My thought was probably the same as yours: “Oh, honey!”) Alan Chambers tried to inject a note of realism on his opening night talk that night where, at one point, he challenged his audience to imagine what their lives might be like if they don’t experience a change in their sexual orientation. But compared to his talk in 2012, that was a relatively minor detour.
But what a difference five years makes. It’s hard to make celibacy an attractive option, but Exodus appears committed to elevating living a single life to an equal footing with married life. This will be a very difficult task in Evangelical culture, where churches routinely operate singles ministries for the purpose of getting members matched up. But I think this time there is a greater commitment to providing encouragement and resources for living a single, celibate life. It was the focus of one of the plenary talks by Jonathan Barry, who also presented a popular workshop on the subject. Christopher Yuan’s plenary reinforced that message, and Exodus vice president Jeff Buchanon called for more emphasis on singleness as a blessing in his workshop on discipleship. It will obviously be a hard sell, but it is at least a much more realistic one.
The Culture War: In 2007, Exodus announced that they had hired Amanda Banks, whose sole job it was to represent Exodus in lobbying against pro-gay measures on Capitol Hill. She gave a detailed talk at that conference on Exodus’s plans for anti-gay lobbying. That was only one example of Exodus’s engagement in the culture wars. Focus On the Family was represented by Mike Haley and Melissa Fryrear, while Michael Brown and Ken Hutcherson provided some rather entertaining culture-war material for the plenary sessions. The conference opened with a special video in which several prominent anti-gay political and religious leaders welcoming participants to that conference. I witnessed first hand the distress that video caused at least one conference participant. At one workshop on the culture war (yes, that was part of the workshop’s title), he angrily denounced several leaders who appeared in that video for their untruthful attacks against the gay community and asked why Exodus would feature such hateful people (his words) whose rhetoric he felt to be so personally harmful. He then broke down in tears, bringing that workshop to an abrupt end. It was a poignant reminder that those who attend these Exodus conferences really are gay people in many respects. It also illustrated how the allure of politics allowed Exodus to lose sight of those they claimed to serve.
In 2012, references to the culture wars was remarkably attenuated. Nobody from Focus On the Family was there that I noticed, nor were there any other notable culture war speakers. Culture war references weren’t completely absent; I noticed that old habits die hard among a few of the more obscure workshop presenters. But this time, I saw several instances when speakers had an opening to go into politics or cultural issues but refrained from doing so. Even among topics that one would expect to be uncontroversial within the setting of an Exodus conference, people generally just didn’t want to “go there.” In fact, I would say that there was, if anything, a general weariness over the whole thing.
Outreach to the Gay Community: This was a relatively new one. Previously, speakers would mention interacting with the gay community, but most of those mentions were more or less in passing. But now, with Exodus’s exit from politics, there were some discussions about engaging gay people directly and what that might look like. One of the best workshops I attended was by Katie Brown, who talked about why the Millennial generation was turning away from anti-gay rhetoric (and, by extension, the Evangelical Church) in droves. I thought her observations were very perceptive, and not necessarily limited to Millennials. Goeke’s talk on reaching out to the gay community was also mostly constructive.
Where they talked about reaching out to the gay community, the talk centered mostly on what to do (and, more importantly, what not to do). But what I didn’t see fleshed out was a sense of what they thought they had to offer that we didn’t already have. One answer I imagine they would supply might be Jesus, but we already have gay-affirming churches and their numbers are growing every day. Goeke pointed out that the Evangelical Church should have been the first to step up with an anti-bullying campaign, but instead offered little but resistance to even addressing the problem. I would add that the church also should have been the first to provide comprehensive help during the height of the AIDS crisis, but was instead a source of condemnation to the gay community for incurring “God’s wrath.” That is something that I don’t think can ever be forgotten.
I would also point out that because of those failures on behalf of the Evangelical church (and religous institutions as a whole), the gay community had to respond with its own version of “ministries” — community based organizations to address the many specific needs of our communities. We had to learn the hard way how to minister to ourselves in the face of unrelenting tragedy and overwhelming adversity. And so we’ve already established the kinds of ministries, if you will, that they should have established. If Exodus members are serious about reaching out, they might consider showing up at some of the many volunteer organizations that already exist in their communities and getting to know gay people on a more personal level. And then, maybe, decide whether they really have anything constructive to offer. And to allow members of the gay community to decide whether they want to buy whatever it is they’re offering.
The Big Picture
But overall, I’d have to say that the biggest difference I saw in 2012 when compared to five years ago is that Exodus 2012 was characterized by a greater humility. In 2007, the married and the “changed” were triumphant, and the strugglers were, well, still struggling. Also, speakers at that conference were the “experts” and the attendees the students. And as in many student/teacher situations, I found several instances when conference participants either snickered at what they heard or (in the case of John Smid’s workshop on masturbation) muttered “this is bullshit!” when they encountered, well, bullshit. In 2007, I was surprised more often than I thought I would be by the frequency at which conference attendees voiced disagreement among themselves over some of the things they heard.
This time, I think there was a greater appreciation for Alan Chamber’s transparency in admitting that he still has same-sex attractions and that sometimes those feelings can be pretty strong. This blurred the divide between the “experts” and the “students” on Day One, and the leaders were made much more human in the eyes of those in the seats. And compared to 2007, there were somewhat more hard questions and somewhat fewer easy answers. I think that this change is something that we haven’t had a chance to see before, and it was unquestionably a positive one in my mind.
Most of the changes that I’ve described can be scored in the positive column, for those inclined toward keeping score. What I haven’t gotten to yet is those areas where Exodus has not changed and probably will never change. Exodus is not, by any means, becoming a pro-gay organization, but they seem to be interested in becoming a less overtly anti-gay one. That will be very difficult for them, mainly because I don’t think the gay community will be willing to see them that way given their theological stance. But what I find fascinating is that some of the ways where Exodus isn’t changing may also wind up presenting a serious challenge to the Evangelical Church as a whole. That, too, will be the subject of a future post. Stay tuned. We’re just getting started.
Part 1: Then vs. Now, Or What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been
Part 2: “We’ve Made a Golden Idol of Change” (Coming soon)
Part 3: The Long Shadow of Reparative Therapy (Coming soon)
Part 4: Sin and Salvation, and the Challenge to the Evangelical Church (Coming soon)
Part 5: Final Thoughts (Coming soon.)
UPDATE: All sorts of events intervened — personal stuff, health stuff, family stuff, work stuff, dental stuff (percocet!) — which got in the way of completing this series. By the time I was ready to resume, Exodus had become such a moving target that much of what I wanted to talk about was no longer relevant. I do hope to touch on a number of these topics in future posts as they become more immediately relevant.
July 7th, 2012
The New York Times describes the ex-gay movement as being convulsed by Exodus International president Alan Chambers turning away from Reparative Therapy and other forms of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE). You can see some of those “convulsions” from NARTH’s David Pickup, who claims that “my homosexual feelings began to dissipate and attractions for women grew” as a result of Reparative Therapy. PFOX’s Greg Quinlan plays armchair psychologist and says, “I think Mr. Chambers is tired of his own personal struggles, so he’s making excuses for them by making sweeping generalizations about others.”
And from a theological standpoint, Robert Gagnon has come forward to denounce Chambers’s move. And you can always tell when Gagnon gets upset that others don’t recognize the sheer genius of his theological insights. (Right Timothy?) He countered Chambers’s move with a 35-page response (PDF: 729KB/35 pages!). I’ll let you read it. Chambers himself hasn’t responded, but in the broken-clock-is-still-right-twice-a-day category, I’ll suggest you look at how Exodus former VP Randy Thomas reacts. I’ve had plenty of disagreements with Thomas on a number of things, but I’ve always enjoyed his wit. He’s in fine form today.
Gagnon’s irritation with Exodus is not insignificant. It was only a year ago when Gagnon gave a Wednesday morning plenary talk at the Exodus conference in Ridgecrest, North Carolina, followed by two workshops. It was his first time spelling at Exodus, and I’m guessing it will probably be his last.
NPR’s All Things Considered also featured a story in Exodus International yesterday. You can find audio and a write-up here. In this interview, Chambers talks about another of the many reasons for his change in emphasis: “I believe we’ve been hypocritical. I believe that we have looked at the issue of same-sex attraction differently than we look at anything else.” He expanded on this theme during his opening night plenary talk at the Exodus Conference, and it became an interesting topic for an informal Q&A the next day, which I will talk more about next week.
My very short take-away from my own first-hand experience at the conference is this: There really are significant changes afoot at Exodus. And having looked around and engaged in some rather significant conversations in St. Paul, I have come to the conclusion that change is possible at Exodus. But it has been neither instantaneous nor complete. And if it does come about, it will only be after a very long struggle.
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