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.
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.