‘Pray the gay away’ quote still lacks a named source

Nearly a year ago, GetReligion highlighted an Associated Press story reporting that Exodus International was no longer trying to “pray the gay away.”

That story prompted our esteemed head GetReligionista — tmatt — to note, “In all of my years covering ex-gays, I’ve never met anyone who actually claimed they could pray the gay away.”

Alas, easy headlines die hard.

Alan Chambers and Exodus International are back in the news, and so is that convenient catchphrase, albeit with the preposition in a slightly different location. In a “Perspectives” piece on its breaking news blog, The Los Angeles Times suggests:

It’s really worth watching the heartfelt speech that Alan Manning Chambers gave Wednesday as he announced the demise of Exodus International, the controversial Christian ministry founded 38 years ago in Anaheim to —  as one often hears — “pray away the gay.”

Chambers, who has led the Orlando, Fla.-based group for 11 years, said he thinks the church is becoming a more welcoming place for gays, and that Exodus, founded as a refuge for Christians battling their same-sex attractions, has simply done more harm than good.

“While there has been so much good at Exodus,” said Chambers, who credited the ministry for saving his life at 19 when he was a suicidal because he could not reconcile his sexuality with church teachings, “there have been people that we’ve hurt. There are horror stories.”

Still, he opened the Irvine conference by reminding people of whom Exodus International serves: “Most of us … are here as Christians with same-sex attractions. We’re believers, like me, who believe sexual expression is reserved for one man and one woman in marriage. Or we’re here as Christians with gay and lesbian loved ones who desperately want to love without conditions.”

I realize that the piece referenced is clearly marked as an opinion item. But again, it’s worth noting that no actual source is given for the  “pray away the gay” quote. Is that good journalism?

The Associated Press and Religion News Service provide more straightforward coverage. There’s quite a bit of interesting reaction material in the Baptist Press story, as well.

Reading Chambers’ statement posted online, I feel for reporters faced with boiling down exactly what he believes — and how his beliefs have changed or evolved — in relatively short news stories.

Beyond the meat of his apology, for example, this paragraph of his statement stood out to me:

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.

RNS handled the theological issue this way:

Chambers, who is married to his wife, Leslie, said his core beliefs about sexuality have not changed, and admitted he still wrestles with his own same-sex attraction.

Oh how I wish RNS had elaborated on those “core beliefs.” Of course, it is very possible that Chambers is simply refusing to answer those questions, at this point.

AP, meanwhile, quoted Chambers from an interview:

“I hold to a biblical view that the original intent for sexuality was designed for heterosexual marriage,” he said. “Yet I realize there are a lot of people who fall outside of that, gay and straight. … It’s time to find out how we can pursue the common good.”

Hmmm, I’m still confused about what he believes. Please see my earlier statement about the difficulty of covering this topic and specifically Chambers.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Brett Falkenbergski

    Exactly. Does he feel Matt. 10:16 or is he sincere? Time will tell.

  • Kodos

    Without exception every article on this story I’ve read in the MSM has used the word “controversial” to describe Exodus International — which means: “controversial” in a cultural, political, and scientific sense.

    But therein lurks a huge ghost. What’s missing from this description is that Exodus (or specifically, Alan Chambers) is controversial on a theological level. Discussions about Chambers’ theology have been going on in the religious press for quite some time and shouldn’t have been hard to find for a reporter who is capable of doing a perfunctory Google search. And this theologically controversial aspect of Chambers/Exodus should have been mentioned in the press reports we’re getting today.

    The controversial aspects of Chambers’ theology are clearly reflected in the rather muddled statement he made at the Exodus conference, but the internal contradictions in his speech have gone unnoticed by the MSM.

    The journalistic result has been a spectacularly shallow narrative of this story: Because he held to a traditional sexual ethic, Chambers admits that he and other Christians at Exodus were being hurtful towards gay people, but now he’s changed his mind and is going to be more tolerant and welcoming to LGBTQ people. Thus Exodus International will be closed.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      I don’t see the term “controversial” in either the AP or the RNS story to which this post linked.

      • Kodos

        I was looking at CBS, the LA Times, the NY Times, and the Huffington Post. I had thought NPR used the word “controversial” but they said “contentious” instead. :)
        But you’re right. AP didn’t use it.

  • Dave Patchin

    I’m not sure why Chambers statements are confusing. He is clear that he believes the Bible limits human sexual expression to the context of heterosexual marriage, but will no longer seek to impose that view on other gays.


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