A Colossal Shift

Exodus International has been known for rescuing gays and lesbians, healing them, and reordering their sexual lives toward heterosexuality. They have not made overly extravagant claims for success but if anyone group has this reputation it is Exodus International.

Until now.

I consider this news to be evidence of a colossal shift with Exodus International. No doubt, some will say they have a long way to go while others will see them caving in. Here’s the AP report by Patrick Condon:

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The president of the country’s best-known Christian ministry dedicated to helping people repress same-sex attraction through prayer is trying to distance the group from the idea that gay people’s sexual orientation can be permanently changed or “cured.”

That’s a significant shift for Exodus International, the 36-year-old Orlando-based group that boasts 260 member ministries around the U.S. and world. For decades, it has offered to help conflicted Christians rid themselves of unwanted homosexual inclinations through counseling and prayer, infuriating gay rights activists in the process.

This week, 600 Exodus ministers and followers are gathering for the group’s annual conference, held this year in a Minneapolis suburb. The group’s president, Alan Chambers, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the conference would highlight his efforts to dissociate the group from the controversial practice usually called ex-gay, reparative or conversion therapy.

“I do not believe that cure is a word that is applicable to really any struggle, homosexuality included,” said Chambers, who is married to a woman and has children, but speaks openly about his own sexual attraction to men. “For someone to put out a shingle and say, ‘I can cure homosexuality’ – that to me is as bizarre as someone saying they can cure any other common temptation or struggle that anyone faces on Planet Earth.”

Chambers has cleared books endorsing ex-gay therapy from the Exodus online bookstore in recent months. He said he’s also worked to stop member ministries from espousing it.

Chambers said the ministry’s emphasis should be simply helping Christians who want to reconcile their own particular religious beliefs with sexual feelings they consider an affront to scripture. For some that might mean celibacy; for others, like Chambers, it meant finding an understanding opposite-sex partner.

“I consider myself fortunate to be in the best marriage I know,” Chambers said. “It’s an amazing thing, yet I do have same-sex attractions. Those things don’t overwhelm me or my marriage; they are something that informs me like any other struggle I might bring to the table.”

Exodus has seen its influence wane in recent decades, as mainstream associations representing psychiatrists and psychologists have relegated reparative therapy to crackpot status. But Exodus and groups like it continue to influence many evangelicals and fundamentalists, and gay rights activists said the damage they inflict on individuals can be deep and lasting….

While Exodus has officially shied away from reparative therapy, the practice still has adherents….

Chambers acknowledged some Exodus affiliates might still offer reparative therapy. But he said “99.9 percent” of people he’s encountered in two decades with Exodus were not able to completely rid themselves of same-sex attraction. He believes the organization must be honest about that when people come looking for help….

“For those that don’t hold to the same Biblical ethic that I do, I think there’s room for further discussion without a culture war that has really served no one,” Chambers said. “I think it’s time for us in the church to move on from that fight.”

___

Patrick Condon can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pcondonap

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • phil_style

    Exodus International has been known for rescuing gays and lesbians, healing them, and reordering their sexual lives toward heterosexuality.

    Are these your words Scot, or is this a summary of the organisations goals/ intentions?

  • http://superrustyfly.wordpress.com Russell Purvis

    Hello Scott,

    Good catch here. I do want to say that this has been the case for a little while now and that the AP is a little slow on the draw. I had the ipod app before it was removed by Apple and they said the same thing that Chambers is saying now. Just wanted to shoot you a heads up. Thanks for sharing though. Many might be surprised at this news still.

  • http://www.RandyBuist.com Randy Buist

    Finding our way forward in the kingdom is a good thing. The goodness, kindness, hope, and love of God does win as evidenced through this shift.

  • http://biglifecc.org Geoffrey Mitchell

    Looks as if there has been a collision of Exodus and the reality that gay evangelicals face daily. If nothing else, their honesty needs to be celebrated.

  • Joe Canner

    I’m glad that Exodus acknowledges that it is nearly impossible to “cure” people of same-sex attraction, as there are plenty of people who still think that the attractions themselves are sinful.

    However, it’s not clear what role Exodus can have going forward. Chambers says that there are two options “celibacy” or “finding an understanding opposite-sex partner.” The former, if even possible, is only going to work with day-by-day support from friends, family and the local church, not an international organization. The latter is going to be significant challenge, especially now that the cat is out of the bag that same-sex attraction is not curable. Starting off a marriage knowing that your husband prefers men to women and that this is not likely to change sounds like a recipe for disaster. How many women will take that chance?

  • Albion

    The former, if even possible, is only going to work with day-by-day support from friends, family and the local church, not an international organization.

    Singleness is the default status for Christians. Why that should be considered a disability of some sort that requires support mystifies me. The burden is on those wanting to marry to show that their marriage will benefit the body of Christ. It’s that calculation that may have been in play when Mr. Chambers and his wife married. I can’t begin to understand what those conversations must have been like.

  • Holly

    Joe, I don’t mean this offensively – it is an honest question.

    Why is celibacy not an option for a SSA Christian?

    Celibacy is possible and expected for an unmarried hetero Christian, or someone who is widowed, or who has a sick spouse. S*xuality is not the totality of who we are – it is only a part. We are Christians first – women, men, husbands, wives, parents, Americans, Protestants, Catholics – well, everything else, after that. Christian first, submitting all other things under that heading to the Kingship of Christ in our lives.

    According to the concept that we must live “true” to our s*xual nature – if my husband suffers an injury and cannot be intimate with me, I have divine favor to fulfill myself at all costs, and would be justified in seeking out further relationships. I genuinely don’t understand the premise of that concept at all. I think that s*xual expression is a gift – but just like parenthood it’s not one that everyone is able to biologically express. S*xual expression is often, even within marriage, to be suppressed (think some stages of pregnancy or childbirth or illness or extreme old age) and in that to be offered back to God. S*x, quite honestly, isn’t “everything.” It’s an amazing thing – but it’s not everything. We don’t “have” to express it to be “true” to ourselves as Christians. The Christian life is filled with concepts of sacrifice – why would it be different in the areas of relationship and s*xuality?

    (Had to revise with asterisks to keep the comment box happy. Ha Ha.)

    P.S. I think this was a good move by Exodus.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    This is good from what I understand and have picked up from good people.

  • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com John Thomson

    @Joe
    ‘I’m glad that Exodus acknowledges that it is nearly impossible to “cure” people of same-sex attraction, as there are plenty of people who still think that the attractions themselves are sinful.’

    Joe, the attractions/temptations ARE sinful though they are not sin; they are wrong in themselves but only wrong for the individual if they are entertained.

    What Exodus says seems to be correct. We all have temptations, some stronger and more lasting than others. I assume the sexual temptation/drive/attraction is a strong one in most people. If it is homosexually inclined the likelihood is it will continue, however, like every other temptation it can be resisted and so reduced. Holly makes good points here.

  • Steve Burdan

    Great comments and discussion! I concur with those who don’t see celibacy and singleness as a handicap or disability – it is fully doable and always has been – with the transforming power of Christ – him being the best example of single devotion.

    For EI to recalibrate their goals and claims is good, as sinful behavior of any type, including hetero/homo sexual sin, is not “curable” in the sense that a Christian can become “sinless” in their real-life behavior this side of heaven, pace our perfectionist brethern. It seems that large parts of the American Evan. church are waking up more and realizing how much the “American” way of thinking has distorted our faith expressions in language, action and expectations…

  • Larry

    Holly –

    The “celibacy” demanded from gays is above and beyond celibacy demanded from straights.

    It means more than no intercourse. It means no holding hands, no cuddling on the couch, no trading playful glances across a room. It means no appreciating sexual attractiveness in potential mates, no dating, no looking for love. It means finding that glimmer of hope inside yourself that you’ll find someone to share the rest of your life with, and crushing it.

    Larry
    (ex-gay therapy survivor)

  • Kenton

    Starting off a marriage knowing that your husband prefers men to women and that this is not likely to change sounds like a recipe for disaster. How many women will take that chance?

    Is that any harder than for a woman to marry a man when she knows he still finds – and will continue to find – other women attractive?

  • Kenton

    BTW, that question is not meant to be rhetorical (#12). I don’t know the answer and am just throwing it out there.

  • Joe Canner

    Albion: God said “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and it is a well documented fact that married people experience better physical and emotional health than singles. However, I do not at all mean to imply that this is a disability, just that singles (of whatever orientation) need a support network to meet the physical and emotional needs that would normally be met through marriage, as well as to provide accountability. Moreover, these needs can only be met on a local level, not by an international organization.

    Holly: Good question. I did not mean to imply that celibacy was not an option for SSA Christians, just that it is difficult and that they need local support, as noted above in response to Albion.

    I should also add that, IMO, this is an option that should be chosen by the person themselves (just like it is for everyone else), as led by the Holy Spirit, and not dictated by those who are not personally invested in the situation. The Bible speaks of those who choose celibacy for the Kingdom, and there are many who have chosen that route. There are others who did not choose to be celibate but who have remained celibate all of their lives because of circumstances. However, I don’t see much warrant for mandating celibacy.

  • Joe Canner

    John Thomson: “the attractions/temptations ARE sinful though they are not sin; they are wrong in themselves but only wrong for the individual if they are entertained.”

    Can you explain this? (Is there a “not” missing somewhere?) Are you saying there is a distinction between sexual attraction and “entertaining” sexual attraction (i.e., lust)?

    In any case, I think there are still people out there who believe that same-sex attraction, even if it does not cross the line to lust, is still a sin.

  • Larry

    Kenton –

    In a straight marriage the wife can at least know her husband is physically attracted to her (even if he’s also attracted to others). In a mixed-orientation marriage the wife will know her husband is *not* physically attracted to her. And she’ll never be intimate with a man who feels that way about her.

    Larry

  • Joe Canner

    Kenton #12: “Is that any harder than for a woman to marry a man when she knows he still finds – and will continue to find – other women attractive?”

    I wondered this as well as I was composing my original comment. I think we should probably let the women answer this. I suppose for the rare woman who goes into a marriage knowing that her husband has a history of same-sex attraction it would be no different.

    In times past, it has been very shameful and embarrassing for a women to be jilted for another man, more so than to be jilted for another woman, which is not terribly surprising. However, perhaps this is no longer the case. Logically, a woman might realize that it wasn’t her fault that her husband wasn’t attracted to her. But I shouldn’t be speaking for them….

  • phil_style

    @Larry, thank you for your posts.

  • Patrick

    Larry,

    A straight believer who was successfully celibate for a spiritual cause would also be giving up the unique things you detailed wouldn’t they? I’m not belitting how difficult this would be, just asking.

  • Holly

    Thanks Larry, Thanks Joe, for your thoughtful responses.

  • Larry

    Patrick –

    If you’re talking about Roman Catholic priestly celibacy, yes, that would be required of them. And some people *are* capable of that without damaging themselves. But it’s has to be a vocation, not a mandate. You can’t *impose* Catholic priestly celibacy on someone who doesn’t have that calling.

    And if it’s not Catholic celibacy — if it’s staying celibate for the sake of doing God’s work in some way — it’s still not the same. If a missionary chooses to be celibate, but then meets someone amazing while on mission, they have a choice: continue dong God’s work as they have been, or explore the possibility that God is leading them toward a God-glorifying intimate relationship. The church will even celebrate *both* choices as good things.

    But if a gay person submits to a celibacy requirement, and then meets someone amazing, ex-gay ministries teach that there is no choice: there is only celibacy or sin. It is not at all possible in their paradigm that God could be leading them toward a God-glorifying relationship. Any hope or spark of romance must be smothered. You have to walk away.

    I tried doing that for years, and it felt like drowning.

  • Holly

    Question for anyone:

    How do faith-based communities of any sort (church, parachurch) offer support for celibacy if they are not allowed (either by societal pressure without or theological conviction within) to say that God desires celibacy in some situations?

    The situation seems to be that the only answer “acceptable” from many quarters is that there “are no boundaries.”

  • TJJ

    To me this reflects a more informed and mature understanding and approach to SSA. That is good and positive. The name of the ministry should probably change too. I hope this can be an example and path for other ministries and churches in how to effectively minister and love gay and lesbians without compromising Scripture.

  • Kenton

    Larry (#16)-

    I think your answer is based on some presuppositions I would call into question. You seem to understand sexuality as a switch that is turned one way or the other. That’s totally understandable based on your experience(s). Others might say it’s a spectrum: that some might fall more towards one side or the other. Those who take a spectrum approach might have an easier time with the idea that their spouse deals with SSA than those who see sexuality as a switch.

    Also, there are plenty of opposite-sex couples where the wife has struggles to believe that the husband is sexually attracted to her. It’s a fairly common situation.

  • Tom

    First, the spouse could also be someone with that same struggles and they can work it out. Second, I’m not so sure that those are the only two answers. There are so many other things we tend to situationalize (like divorce) that I think we are overly harsh when it comes to this issue. Homosexuality back then was not the same as it is today. It was exploitive and many were made into sex servants. We need to stop being more judgemental on this issue than we are on others. Give these folks a chance to work out their own salvation without us standing over them in judgement. Some of them might decide it is wrong and some will not. Let them answer to God to the best of their ability. We are called to love the homosexual as much as we need to love others.

  • Patrick

    Larry,

    I would agree it’s a calling or a gift.

    Tom,

    I concur with the view we should not be judgmental about this and we are called to love the homosexual as much as we need to love others. To Christ we’re all the same, sinners in need of Him.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I have to at least state what I feel. We should allow and bless same sex unions and that solves many of these problems. If someone feels that they sinning then people can offer celebicy or whatever else is available, but as a Christian I feel the thing to do is bless SS unions.

    Having said that, it is good that this organization is admitting what it has learned. The probably have more experience with SSA people than just about anyone else so it is good to know that they recognize that they don’t cure.

  • Joel

    Interestingly, CNN just published an editorial (from a secular sexual libertine perspective, as far as I can tell) about “s*xual fluidity” in men and how maybe men shouldn’t be forced to identify as either gay or straight. I would post a link, but the spam filter won’t let me.
    http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/29/are-men-sexually-fluid/

    There are a lot of false polarities in this debate – “homose*uality is a choice and can be cured”, “homos*xuality is genetically determined and absolutely immutable”, etc. It seems to me that sometimes opposite-s*x attraction can be developed (without necessarily eliminating same-s*x attraction), but we shouldn’t say that is a definite solution for everyone.

  • Joel

    Well, I ended up getting the link through the spam filter, but I had to censor “s*x.”

  • Tom F.

    Holly, interesting question as to celibacy, however, Paul also said it was better to marry than to burn with passion. That is, celibacy is not good if one is “burning with passion”. If heterosexuals can marry so that they don’t “burn”, than what is that the Bible has to say to homosexuals who are also in this state?

    Therefore, the recommendation to celibacy does not seem helpful in this case, as it isn’t celibacy itself that is really the issue, but rather what homosexual individuals are to do with their s-exual energies. To heteros-xual single people who have these energies, there is an outlet- marriage, and there is a clear statement by Paul that says that it will be necessary for some to NOT pursue celibacy and instead pursue marriage. But individuals with same-s-x attraction can not pursue marriage. So are they left simply to “burn with passion” then?

    I get where your question is coming from, and it would be a mistake to push things so that the choice of a single life is no longer an option, but I want to ask a question as well- is the choice of celibacy to be determined by the object of one’s desires (hetero or homo) or is it to be determined by calling and vocation (Jesus’ suggestion that it is a gift, Paul’s vision of it as determined by the imminent coming of Christ).

    It seems to me unlikely that experiencing homos-xual feelings will, in any and all cases, coincide with the gift of celibacy, and therefore, I repeat my question: what is the alternative for individuals experiencing same-s-x attraction if they feel that celibacy is not an option?

  • Holly

    Ah, fascinating discussion – and of course we won’t solve it. Deeper thinkers than I are yet to come to satisfactory conclusions! :) I think, to be quite honest with you, that as with so many other things in this life there is much that we do not know on this subject. I think as we go forward science and understanding will be able to help us make better and more fair decisions. (A la Mark Regnerus’ recently published research, however – I think we have to be willing to look at ALL of the research, not simply that which says what we like to hear.) I think that we must be loving and non-judgmental regardless while we wait – love is always right. What that love looks like might be disputable, but to love the person and to tell them of their worth is always indisputable.

    Maybe not a direct answer, Tom F., but an observation: If churches and organizations lose the right to request celibacy from SSA people, they also lose the right to expect it from anyone – teens, young adults, church leaders, monogamy within marriage, etc. If you drop all boundaries for one group, you must drop them for all people. Yes, young hetero people can choose marriage if they find a compatible mate, but that doesn’t happen for all. Marriage isn’t a right, having children isn’t a right. Churches have to be able to set loving boundaries for s-exual ethics and relationships; otherwise they have no grounds for anything. I think I am getting a better picture through all of this (current, global debate/discussion) of so much of the New Testament and Paul’s words regarding women, marriage, gender roles, s-xual boundaries: He was speaking to Christians who lived in an s-exually unboundaried society. He was saying, “Yes, I know that this is how everyone else lived. But this is how I want you to live, in order to show that you are under a different kingship. Yes, all have sinned, but not all continue to sin. I want you to live Holy, dedicated, submitted lives – to better reflect what the current and coming Kingdom of God looks like.” It wasn’t as much about rules as it was about reflecting God. Science may tell us that human s-exuality is fluid – and the Church has to recognize what science indeed tells us – but it must always look ahead and say, “Yes, this is true, but this way of living is what God calls us to.” The church has to always be loving, but still retain the right to call people to a different way of living. (And no, that way of living is not to be angry, harsh, isolating, or hurtful. As with any type of celibacy – the support needs to be there on a local level. I have a 20 year old son. I expect him to remain celibate, and so does his church. If he never marries, the church is right to still expect that from him. While difficult – his need to be loved should be met by his family and by his church family. He would also have greater good to offer a church body, as he would be unencumbered by the demands of wife or children. I’m not talking about a priesthood – I’m talking about a single, unmarried, individual. .)

    I think that one thing I find interesting in this broader discussion is the thought that the SSA drive is stronger than any other drive. Would that be true? The assumption seems to be that there is no denying or submitting a SS attraction. I’m not unsympathetic, I had just not heard that side of the story before, but now it seems to be an issue. (?)

    Regarding Paul’s “It’s better to marry to burn,” that seems to be proof-texting based upon a single scripture from Paul. In what other situation in this discussion of equality (women, slaves, SSA) do we take one verse as written by Paul as prescriptive? A fascinating scripture which I recently read was from Isaiah 56 and regards eunichs. God seems to promise some fabulous things to those who either from physical reasons or by choice submits their s-exuality to him. He seems to have a greater good in mind. Sometimes God’s requests seem upside down – think of the Beatitudes. Some of those seem so unattainable, yet we are still meant to strive toward them because they show us what life in God’s kingdom is supposed to look like.

    Look – I don’t have an agenda here. I think we should love and accept everyone, encourage everyone to seek God themselves and find their fulfillment in him. This discussion is on an ideological level only. God is indeed bigger than all of our problems, and there is room in his family for everyone who comes to him. I’m no fundamentalist. And yet – I still think that celibacy should not be shot down nor taken off the table for some, nor should churches or organizations who request it be considered judgemental and narrow minded. (And if we remove as part of our theology that God expects celibacy from those with SSA then who would ever choose it? If you don’t believe God asks it of anyone then there is no point in it.)

    Warmly – and with much charity – Holly

  • Holly

    Okay, Tom F.,

    As to your question – what is the option, then?

    I’ll admit, I don’t know! :)

    But I’m not sure the answer will be much different than that for the hetero man who feels that one woman doesn’t satisfy his needs. Interestingly enough – I have a Muslim friend (in Saudi Arabia) in that express situation. She does not meet her husband’s physical needs (she admits this…she is available to him but he wants much more,) so within their religion his only allowed recourse is to take more wives. So, every once in awhile they consider adding another wife to the marriage. So far, over several years, she has shot down every potential candidate – but it’s still on their table as an option.

    Not sure the argument is different, really. Sometimes, as tough as it is, we are asked to submit our natural desires. Somehow, God uses our sacrifices for his glory in this life and the life to come.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    For those who think psychotherapy and/or abstinence is OK, why not castration?

  • AKH

    I feel like focus of discussion is based too much upon the act of sex. How does love, genuine love, between two people of the same sex play a role in this discussion?

  • Kristin

    Having friends involved with this ministry, my understanding is that the current rhetoric is not freedom from SSA per se, but freedom in Christ to pursue holiness in the midst of SSA.

    Specifically the phrase “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, it’s holiness.”

  • C

    Karen Spears Zacharias linked to a very interesting post recently by a Mormon gay man (his words) who is happily married, to a woman (and has a great sex life).

    http://www.joshweed.com/2012/06/club-unicorn-in-which-i-come-out-of.html It’s really worth reading in full, but the most relevant point is this:

    Essentially, sexual attraction/orientation is about nothing more than what “turns you on.” Good marriage–and good sex–isn’t about being “turned on;” it’s about connecting with another human being on every level.

  • Chris

    The point is that sexual attraction is a very deep level behavior. If you are of the opinion that homosexuality is a deviant behavior and wrong then it would fall into the same category as other addictive type behaviors. This change in understanding by this group is simply embracing the reality of how a person deals with and conquers and addiction. As with other addictions it is now understood by most that one “conquers” it by understanding that you cannot eliminate it. You can however, control it.

    Basically they are switching to better model that is more like those used by alcoholics to manage their addiction.

    Truth be told…no matter what your opinion on homosexuality from a moral standpoint…if their are homosexual people who are going to seek help to eliminate it for whatever reason then this is a far more healthy way for a group to go about treating them.


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