Exodus International’s Alan Chambers: Bending History’s Arc
For more than a generation, the gay conversion organization known as Exodus International has been one of the most prominent Christian symbols of LGBT intolerance. They have practiced what is commonly called “reparative therapy” to supposedly remove the urges of same-sex attraction from those who seek to become straight. I have personally written at great length about the damage done by such religiously fueled zealotry, but never in my lifetime did I anticipate that the leader of this infamous anti-gay organization would concede as much to the public in the form of a confession.
What’s more, at their 38th annual convention, Exodus International’s director, Alan Chambers, announced plans to close the organization and cease its mission for good. You can read Mr. Chambers’ full of apology here, as well as the formal closure announcement here.
I’m not prone to emotional hyperbole, but I read these announcements and confessions with a nearly overwhelming admixture of shock, disbelief, compassion and hope. I also try not to fill my blog posts with too much content from other source, but this is one of those occasions when the original source material should be seen without adaptation. Following are several excerpts for Mr. Chambers’ open apology to the public, along with my thoughts:
“It is strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the church’s treatment of the LGBT community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt. Today it is as if I’ve just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church.”
It should be noted here that Chambers recently has admitted that he, too, has wrestled with what he calls “same-sex attraction.” Further, he confessed within his apology that, despite being the head of the largest reparative therapy organization in the world, he has failed to “overcome” his own struggles with his sexuality. As such, he has at least the potential for tremendous compassion for those you feel that the way they are is inherently wrong, broken or sinful. And though it has taken him a great deal of time to get there, Mr. Chambers finally seems to be at a place in his life and personal faith journey where he is willing to concede that we likely have little or no control over those to whom we are attracted. In light of this realization, Chambers realizes the depth and breadth of some of the pain caused by his organization’s ministry.
“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.”
The vulnerability of this man’s confession is nothing short of overwhelming. The bravery he demonstrates should stand as an example to all people, and in particular, all Christians. Although Chambers still believes that acting on same-sex attraction is contrary to Biblical teaching (a position with which I vocally disagree), he recognizes that the integrity and humanity of the people whose lives and families were compromised are more central to the commands of Gospel teaching than cherry-picking the sins of others and then placing ourselves in a position to be the arbiters of their moral restoration.
I was particularly struck by the fact that Chambers acknowledged the risk of profound alienation he faces in both the evangelical community and the LGBT community. On the one hand Chambers has shaken the foundation of the ideological house of cards upon which much of fundamentalist religious thought is based. On the other hand, although he has taken the great step of acknowledging that the nature of our sexual attraction is inherent in who we are cannot necessarily be changed, he falls short of allowing possibility that same-sex attraction is anything other than sinful. Never mind the theological conundrum of a God who would create someone, and then punish them for all eternity for being who they were created to be; this shift is both seismic and historic in the ongoing effort to bring all voices of faith into a more unified chorus, all calling for the affirmation, acceptance and unconditional love of all of God’s created.
In the past, I have drawn parallels between the Christian Church’s resistance to accept gay and lesbian people for who they are, and the historic resistance some evangelical churches had to the abolition of slavery. I still hold by this comparison and continue to urge those who cling to judgment been marginalization – and anything short of complete and all-consuming love – to find themselves on the right side of history before it is too late.
The arc of history is being shaped before us, and as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King foretold, it is bending toward justice. Not for some, but for all.
Thank God. And thank you, Alan Chambers.
Dear Mr. Chambers:
I am writing in regard to your apology yesterday for all the devastating things that your “ex-gay” organization, Exodus International, has done to LGBTQ people and their families over the past thirty-seven years. It’s so heartening when a person apologizes for how wrong they’ve been.
And congratulations on all the press coverage your apology is receiving! First you issued your I Am Sorry statement, right after that you announced, during your opening address at last night’s 38th Annual Exodus Freedom Conference, that Exodus was shutting down—and then, the very next day, you starred in a massively promoted tear-jerker of a TV show being broadcast on the Oprah Winfrey Network!
Why, it’s almost like you’ve been strategically planning your heartfelt apology for months! I’m sure you haven’t, of course: nobody is so low that they would turn a moment of piercing remorse brought on by the realization of how destructively wrong they’ve been into a manifestly self-serving, blatantly opportunistic, emotionally manipulative media event. But the timing of it all sure worked out well for you, didn’t it? Yesterday you were the head of a once powerful organization that had become utterly discredited, maligned, and irrelevant, because it was founded upon the life-ruining lie that God is righteously angered by any gay person who does not pray away their gay. And now, with all lights turned toward you, you’re launching Reduced Fear, the brand-new organization run by you and all your friends at Exodus International!
How great for you is all that? Way to go!
I have just a couple of quick questions, though. And since I know that you want to be as open and transparent as possible about everything you and Exodus are doing, I thought I’d go ahead and ask them.
Amongst the many conciliatory-sounding things you wrote in your apology are buried these words:
I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex …
and also these:
I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage.
Now, my guess is that, with everything going on, you got so busy that you simply forgot to edit out of your apology those two statements. I figure that must be the case; otherwise, one is forced to conclude that you haven’t in the slightest changed your belief that gay people can and should pray away their gay. And if you still believe that the Bible proscribes, denounces, and condemns homosexuality, then … well, then what exactly are you apologizing for? About what are you feeling remorseful that matters?
Then, as far as I can tell, the only thing that you can be actually saying is that you regret not what Exodus was, but only how Exodus went about being what it was.
And if that’s the case, then of course you’re not really apologizing at all. Then you’re no different from the guy saying, “I apologize for being the leader of a group of white-hooded KKK guys who burned a cross on your lawn. That was wrong. You niggers still need to go, of course. But we’re gonna stop with the hoods and the cross burnings. People just don’t get behind that the way they used to. So we’re gonna regroup, lose the name ‘KKK,’ and come up with a more acceptable way of promoting what we believe. Isn’t that great?!”
So … isn’t that message pretty wholly the opposite of reducing fear? I think it is.
Assuming that you had only made an editing mistake or two in your I Am Sorry, I next listened very carefully to your speech opening the Exodus conference, in which you announced the closing of Exodus International and the opening of Reduced Fear (the website for which, btw—and contrary to what you indicate in your talk—is not, as of this writing, up). To the members of your audience, most if not all of whom still believe that if they only become strong enough Christians they can stop being gay, you said:
[The shutting down of Exodus] doesn’t mean I believe anything differently than I did a decade ago, when my message was different from it is today. … I’m not saying that we abandon what we believe.
So may I ask: Would you please take another look at my questions above?
You concluded your speech with these words:
My board and leadership and I want to see reconciliation and restoration in the church. And we believe the time is now for the church to open its door, and allow the marginalized in … so that they, along with us, can experience mutual transformation.
During times of crises, like natural disasters, we don’t stop and ask people who need help whether they’re gay or straight, or anything else. We see someone in need, and we help them. And it’s time for the church to get back into the business of serving and loving people in need. …
In the midst of this message tonight, and in the midst of this scary reality of what in the world do we do about this community [of Exodus International members]: Christ died to give you peace. The King is on the throne. And you can trust Him. …
We [the members of Exodus International/Reduced Fear] are to serve as missionaries in this culture. … We must be a beacon of hope. …
While [the closing of Exodus] is a painful thing … something better is coming. There is more. This doesn’t negate our stories. It doesn’t negate what God is calling you to do. It’s just simply a new time. [Alan: it was awesome the way, right after you said that, you froze in place, and for a full eight and one-half seconds I (I timed it!) silently stared directly into the camera you’d been ignoring for the whole previous hour! Boy. Way to use your super-handsomeness to drive home the point that you and Exodus are like a phoenix on the rise!]
My prayer for us this week is that we have an amazing last Exodus conference … that we celebrate the amazing things that have happened over the last thirty-eight conferences and thirty-seven years. …
We are the church. Amen? And we have good news to share. And it’s time that we share the good news of Jesus Christ.
So, as I say, I’m just a tad confused. Not once in your speech—which I’ll be the first to say was veritably jammed with talk about God and forgiveness and healing and welcoming and redemption and reconciliation and peace and love and joy and salvation—did I hear you express regret for you and Exodus having spent over three decades helping to destroy the lives of gay people and their families through your peddling and capitalizing upon the message that God’s greatest desire for every gay person is that they cease to be gay.
I heard you say that you regret the way in which Exodus communicated that message. I heard you say that you regret the way in which people now think of Exodus. I heard you say how proud you are of Exodus. And I definitely heard you repeatedly say that it’s high time for the church to start welcoming gay people, and all others who are marginalized and “in need.”
But (as opposed to them being “in need”) I never heard you say that it’s okay for people to be gay. You didn’t come close to saying anything like it. What you said—though one must resolutely gaze into the haze of the great many other things you said before this critical message of yours clearly emerges—is that your new house, Reducing Fear, will be built upon the same dark foundation upon which the ruins of Exodus now sit.
Throughout your talk, you were definitely feeling unabashedly enthused and proud about Reducing Fear becoming, as you put it any number of times, the “father” of the church. (“[Exodus] is the older brother [of the church]. And it’s time we became the father.”)
I assume you’re aware of this, but just in case: acute remorse usually engenders a sense of profound humility. A lot of people find heart-wrenching regret incompatible with pride and ambition. I must admit that I am one such person. When I feel the full weight of something egregiously immoral that I have done, the last thing I want to do is go wading amongst the very people whom I’ve damaged, and start telling them about all my new plans for championing their best interests. But maybe that’s just me.
You, Mr. Chambers, are a master communicator. So I am certain that in short order you will make clear that you do, in fact, feel truly remorseful, and that the closing of Exodus International, and the launching in its place of Reducing Fear, is something more than what just now I’m afraid it can only appear to be, which is an appallingly arrogant, cruelly exploitative, and shamelessly self-serving expression of a cynicism so absolute it borders on the sublime.
Not altogether unrelated: As Alan “Pray Away the Gay” Chambers ties his tongue in a knot and What today’s evangelicals are telling gay people.