God and Gays and the end of Exodus International

A lot has been written in the last week about Alan Chambers and the end of Exodus International. Exodus is (or was) a “ministry” (and I put ministry in quotes because I don’t think it did anyone any good, ever) that claimed to rid people of their same-sex attractions. The “pray away the gay” method, if you will. When they first started, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness but a lot has changed and both science and society have caught up and evolved. Leaders of Exodus claimed to have been rescued from their homosexuality and gone on to marry people of the opposite sex and have lots of children, as if they had something to prove. However, over the last decade or so, the true damage of this so-called “reparative therapy” has come more out into the open and we’ve learned how many people were damaged by it and how many people chose to end their life because of it. Exodus has moved from saying (publicly) that they were curing people, to helping people deal, to helping people deal with UNWANTED same-sex attraction, to saying there will be gay people in heaven to shutting down. It seems an inevitable conclusion.

The amount of damage done by Exodus and similar organizations is incalculable. I will never know what it is to be told that I am damaged and some sort of creative reject and therefore must be alone for the rest of my life. I’ve had friends who’ve attempted this kind of therapy and they have pretty much left the church and/or all religion altogether. They’re still gay, though. Most of them in loving, long-term relationships.

I’ve always felt drawn to the gay community, especially compelled to show them that not all Christians are hostile toward them. I once heard Phillip Yancy speak in Berkeley and he said that he finds it interesting that the 2 issues that most concern conservatives are abortion and homosexuality. They both existed in Jesus’ time in much more egregious forms than we have today, and yet Jesus didn’t say a thing about it.

Anyway, Exodus. Alan Chambers has been their Executive Director for the past few years, and more recently he’s begun to make public statements that have angered his base and caused some of his more conservative supporters to drop their affiliation with Exodus. This week was the big bombshell when Chambers issued a long, honest, and seemingly heartfelt apology for the damage done by Exodus during its time. Later that evening he announced that Exodus as it exists will be disbanded and will re-form into a new organization that is focused on helping churches become safe places for gay people seeking God. I am hopeful, but mildly skeptical of the role and intent of the new organization. If you still think that gay people have to be celibate, then you’re still condemning them to a life of being alone, whether they want that or not.

Chambers is on an apology tour, starting with Lisa Ling’s special on OWN last week and Anderson Cooper. I’m really impressed with how he’s handling all this. He was confronted by some really angry people on the Lisa Ling show and he handled it well. He mostly just listened and he read his apology to them. Actually, he said he sees it as his job to listen and hear their stories. Some of them didn’t accept it but that’s going to be part of their journey. Chambers has been gracious and honest and I believe has taken on the weight of being the face of all of the reparative therapists who have wounded the gay community. This has to be really hard on him and on his wife. Say what you want about the fact that he’s married to a woman, his wife loves him and it’s got to be hard for her to see so many people focus their anger on him.

Chambers has said that he’s ready to start over if need be, scrap everything, maybe plant a church. You can certainly see that he’s a gifted speaker and has a pastoral heart. But dude, when you giggle about how great you are at decorating…

Here is part of Chambers’ apology. You can read the entire statement here.

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.   

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