When I start talking about churches becoming safe places for LGBT people to connect with Jesus, I get the question, “But where do we draw the line?” It can be a legitimate question. However, that question can be asked with different motives and I would invite us all to examine those motives because “where do we draw the line?” can also be asked with the intention of wanting to keep a hierarchical distance between straight & gay people in the church. To be more pointed, it can say, “you can’t truly belong until…..”. So let’s examine our motives and then ask questions that posture our hearts to receive LGBT people warmly…
I think it’s definitely odd that we’ve raised several generations of people, especially boys, that will refuse to engage in things they are good at (or talk about things they like) simply because it might signal something about their sexuality. As I’ve walked with God, I believe I’ve found a new freedom to really own my giftings, talents, and abilities, to disregard the shame others may imply, or the attachment to a sexual orientation those things might signal. An identity label doesn’t give me permission to enjoy things I’m good at, God does. One thing my church did well when I decided to steward my sexuality towards a more traditional ethic, was that they made room for my gifts rather than just tolerating them.
A number of people have asked what I think about the recent announcement of Exodus International to close its doors. For those of you who are not familiar with the ministry of Exodus, it is a 38 year old ministry dedicated to the often forgotten about population of those who experience same-sex attraction. Many have viewed this as a defeat for Christianity in this area and a number have expressed, quite explicitly, how disappointed and angry they are that Exodus has “given up”. Some have even assumed that the leaders at this ministry have caved in to cultural pressure and have joined the gay movement. There is no lack of opinion on this issue and the church has ranged from being confused to crying “heresy!”
I should preface with the acknowledgment that I do not know Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus, personally. I don’t claim to speak for him or the ministry or to know his heart or every facet of his belief system. So I’ll give you my opinion, which is just that - an opinion. Having been on both sides of the issue certainly gives me insight, but it doesn’t make me right on all things homosexual. So before we get worked up over this issue (again) and assume the end is near, let me give you my perspective and some things that are in my heart regarding the end of this longstanding ministry.
When I left the gay lifestyle in 2005, Exodus was an incredible resource for me. Although the church I started to attend was incredibly loving and accepting of my past and current struggles, it is probably impossible for one church to take away the internal conflict I faced daily regarding my newfound faith and persistent same-sex attraction (SSA). Exodus showed me I was not the only person that wanted to live in line with Christian sexuality despite the reality of SSA. Although I vaguely remember some claiming to be “100% straight”, I remember vividly the men and women who wanted to build a life beyond their sexuality and attractions. I remember the feeling of community and belonging among this group of people that can only be likened to the feeling I had when I entered the gay community. When the thing you feel is wrong with you is suddenly the normal experience, a powerful shift takes place from shame to acceptance of yourself. It’s powerful and life-giving. The ministry of Exodus and the resources they promoted, in my experience, really helped me to understand my own sexuality, how it develops and is still developing. To say everyone is harmed by Exodus would not be true. However, to say that no one has been harmed by the ministry of Exodus and its affiliates would not be true either.
The crux of this issue seems to be the fact that Exodus has, in the past, promoted that change is possible. This was translated by many (and I think sometimes promoted by Exodus) that change meant going from exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual attractions. And I think it is this claim that has caused so much harm. I’m not saying this could never be someone’s experience, however it seems this isn’t the case for many and it has not been mine either. When someone comes to Christ and we promise something He never promised, we set God up to look like He’s not real, doesn’t care, and/or isn’t faithful. In reality, God is intensely real, cares more than we could imagine, and is more faithful than the sunrise. Those struggling with SSA or a gay identity are left in confusion and internalize shame simply because they can’t get rid of feelings they never asked for in the first place.
So Alan Chambers has issued an apology to the gay community for the harm this organization has done and the promises it was never authorized to promise. Please read his apology HERE. It is one of the most heartfelt apologies I have ever read. His honesty is intense and his courage is astounding and admirable. To say “I’m sorry for my wrong against you” without any qualifier to save face takes more humility than most people have. An “I’m sorry, but....” is not an apology. An “I’m sorry, however....” means you are not really sorry and are still concerned with being right. Chambers only offered an “I’m sorry for how I hurt you”. I think we could all take a lesson from this. I know it challenges me to the core and if I were in his position, I don’t think I would have the character to do as he did. And for that, I respect and admire him as a brother and Christ follower. If we ever want to effectively love the gay community and have a voice in their lives, I think an apology is and was incredibly necessary.
In an interview, Alan was asked what was to become of Exodus. He responded,
“Twelve years ago I said I hoped someday we’d shut down Exodus because the Church was doing its job. Today, we want to shut down Exodus so the Church can do its job. The whole world has gone stark-raving mad over this one ministry, and this one issue, and it's too much for one organization to own, and it's too much for one man or one group of leaders to own. It's time for the Church at large to own it. It's not too big an issue for the Church to deal with. For years Exodus has been this resource for the Church—and I'm glad we have, because it saved my life. But we've also been the scapegoat. We've been the people and organization the Church sent people to because they didn't want the mess in their office. It's time for the church to realize, this is your issue. This is something you need to own and deal with, these people need you. So we're all too glad to give it back to the churches, where it should have been in the first place.”
The entirety of that interview/article can be found HERE
Exodus was a place where people who dealt with this issue could come as they are, be honest about their struggle, and get prayer and support among other imperfect people who had the same goal: Christ-likeness. The need for Exodus was produced because the church could not (or would not) offer this very basic element for those with SSA. Instead of lamenting the past and pointing fingers, let’s repent. Let’s apologize to those that have been wronged and resolve to love like Christ. Let’s resolve to be a place where hurting people can know they are welcomed regardless of whether their wounds are self-inflicted or inflicted by others. I think one of the best things for me was that people in my church didn’t shove me towards a gay support group or an ex-gay community – they invited me in to a Christian community and made room at the table for a young man who needed Jesus just as much as they did.
So although I’m sad that Exodus has decided to close its doors, I’m very much excited for the potential and opportunity this has made for the church as a whole to rise to the occasion and move far past the largely ineffective ministry it has done previously for those with issues in sexuality and gender. The world and the gay community are expecting the church to retaliate with more hate and less Christ-likeness. Let’s offer love without an agenda or qualifiers. Let’s surprise them and offer an invitation to know our Savior instead.
As for Alan Chambers and the ministry of Exodus, we really need to realize how incredibly tough being in this position has been and continues to be. He has continually been in the crossfire between people on both sides demanding he conform to their ideology and blasting him when he refuses to. I don’t know everything about him, but if I had to make a list of people whose shoes I do not want to walk in, Alan Chambers would be in the top 5. But if I had to make another list of people whose character I admire, respect, and see Christ-likeness in, Alan Chambers would be in that list also. So let’s pray for him and give him the grace we would want ourselves.
Here are a few links that were included above
^^This is a link to Alan Chambers’ opening session at this year’s Exodus Freedom Conference.