More Thoughts on the Closing of Exodus International

Yesterday I posted Sarah Jones’ thoughts on the closing of Exodus International and Alan Chambers’ apology to the LGBTQ community. Today I want to add a few more thoughts of my own.

As a kid, I grew up in the shadow of Exodus International. I did not then identify as anything but stick straight, but Exodus shaped my perceptions of and understanding of the LGBTQ community. It was from Exodus, and the evangelical organizations that shed its message, that I learned that guys became gay as a result of having absent fathers, that the “gay lifestyle” was unfulfilling and unhealthy, and that gay individuals could, through therapy, become straight. All of this and more I—and the evangelicals who surrounded me—believed.

Today, the LGBTQ rights movement is winning the messaging war. Even so, Exodus International and its Love Wins Out conferences served as something evangelicals could point to as a counterpoint, as “evidence” that gays and lesbians could become straight and could lead “fulfilling” heterosexual Christian lives. Scores of evangelical parents of LGBTQ individuals have turned to—and were still turning to—Exodus International for help and questions.

Yes, I think what Alan Chambers is doing boils down to a shift in messaging—but not in core beliefs—in an attempt to retain the disillusioned Millennials who have been fleeing an evangelicalism they increasingly see as negative, backward, and bigoted. But for the evangelicals who were still in Exodus International’s thrall, Chambers’ announcement and apology are huge. Many of them will continue to parrot the beliefs Exodus fed them, but that giant is gone.

It’s not Chambers’ continued insistence that LGBTQ individuals acting on their same sex attractions is wrong is just fine and dandy—it’s most certainly not—but his move away from efforts to “cure” gays and his admission that the evangelical approach to this issue has caused untold harm is a sight lot better in practical terms than what came before. While Alan Chambers has not changed his core beliefs, and those beliefs remain a problem, his speaking out against evangelicals’ most blatant displays of homophobia, his decision to stop opposing LGBTQ rights, and his affirming before his fellow evangelicals that LGBTQ individuals can be just as good parents as straight individuals are all good things. Indeed, the end of Exodus’ efforts to “cure” gays means that future LGBTQ individuals growing up in evangelical homes will be saved from a particularly painful form of hell.

But.

Evangelicalism is at a crossroads. It must either reform its position on LGBTQ individuals and their rights, or it will slip into obscurity and become a religious movement of the old and the bigoted. Alan Chamber has realized that and is working to reform that position. That is a good thing, and other evangelicals will follow. I am glad this transition has begun, because it has the potential to bring about a reduction in anti-gay bigotry at both a national and a personal level.

I do have a concern about this gradual transition away from bigotry, though. I worry that open-minded young evangelicals fed up with the anti-gay bigotry of the evangelical church may be duped by Alan Chambers and others like him into embracing a position that is not actually so loving or harmless as thy may think it. I worry that they may stop at this halfway point rather than going all the way and leaving behind bigotry entirely. And that is why I think we need to balance patting Alan Chambers on the back for making progress on this issue (something I will not do but others have) with pointing out the problems that continue to beset his new position. Being only half a bigot is better than being a whole bigot, that is true, but it’s still bigotry.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Gillianren

    Love will win out, all right. We’ll overcome bigotry. Eventually.

  • Stev84

    In some ways I hope that they stick with their positions and die out. That’s the better alternative than a movement that has changed a bit, but still has political and social power.

  • JoannaDW

    As a bisexual, I accept his apology without reservation. I also grew up with the shadow of Exodus. It was my first exposure to attempts to cure gays and it’s a bittersweet moment to see one of the boogeymen of my youth finally close down.

  • http://kathrynbrightbill.com/ KB

    As I wrote about on my own blog (http://kathrynbrightbill.com/post/53470377642/a-few-more-thoughts-on-exodus-shutting-down), and I know I’m in the minority with this opinion, I’m inclined to think that it’s a good thing that Chambers is doing a new organization *for now* at least. The problem right now is that if Exodus goes away completely, the people who were involved with them aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and decide that they accept themselves, and even as conservative as it is, they aren’t going to find their way to Gay Christian Network. We know how completely messed up the whole ex-gay world is, but for people who were involved with Exodus, pulling the rug out from under them without anything else in place is going to send a lot of them over to much, much worse Restored Hope Network. So yes, it is a shift in messaging, but since it’s a shift in the right direction, if it moves people on the path towards accepting themselves and keeps them away from the people who are even crazier than Exodus then that’s good. That’s especially so because the reality is that for a lot of LGBT people from evangelical backgrounds, “I accept that I’m gay but I’ll just be celibate” is a step along the path to actually accepting themselves completely.

    In any case, looking at this from a legal standpoint, the real purpose of ex-gay organizations was to bolster the argument that sexual orientation is not immutable and thus gay people don’t deserve the higher levels of constitutional scrutiny that other minorities with a history of discrimination get. No matter what kinder, gentler organization Exodus morphs into, by conceding the immutability argument the religious right has no use for them any more.

  • Mariana

    It’s also pretty ironic that homosexuality _is_ actually destroying the evangelical movement.

    Exodus etc. created a self-fulfilling prophecy, where in order to prevent the Evil Gays from taking over, they had to demonize them and take away their rights. Except the gay agenda turned out to be more likable than the evangelical agenda to mainstream culture, and their bigotry made the evangelicals look like terrible people. If they hadn’t picked on homosexuality as their #1 issue, it wouldn’t have been their downfall.

    It it didn’t cause so much pain to so many people, it’d be funny.

  • LadyCricket

    I may not have strictly heard of Exodus International before now, but my parents and my neighborhood were conservative enough.

    I used to believe a lot of weird things about the “gay agenda”; that gay men were basically men that thought they were women, that lesbians were basically women who thought they were men, that gay people were somehow automatically perverse and hypersexual, that someone could wake up one morning and not be gay anymore… I used to wonder a lot about what it was like to be gay and why someone would choose it when CLEARLY God wants us all to marry the opposite gender.

    Now the layers of bullshit are all shedding away, and I’ve realized that homosexuality is much more simple than I ever thought it was. Forget the stereotypes of lisps and drag queens and weird sex acts, and think of it this way. A gay man… is a man… who fell in love with a man.


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