The lies of Exodus were a bearing wall for evangelicalism

Alan Chambers, ex-leader of ex-ex-gay “ministry” Exodus International, concluded his blunt apology yesterday with what seems to be a pledge to redeem himself and to help heal the people, and the church, he and Exodus have wounded:

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.

Chambers, a former pastor at a large Assembly of God church, is an evangelical Christian who is here using evangelical language — the language of conversion, of Amazing Grace, of “I once was lost … I once was blind.”

That’s important. Evangelical Christianity is at its best when it speaks of “a wretch like me.” For decades, Exodus International has been a pillar of evangelical Christianity at its worst — the politicized, culture-warrior faith that speaks of a wretch like you or of a wretch like Them.

So what follows conversion? Will this be a Zacchaeus moment for Alan Chambers? What would it mean for him to say, like the redeemed oppressor in the Gospels, that he will repay those he has defrauded “four times as much”?

And, if he does that, will any of Exodus’ former supporters in American evangelicalism follow that example? Will the culture-warriors of the religious right and the tribal gatekeepers at Christianity Today also repent of the fraudulent cruelty of “ministries” like Exodus after praising them and supporting them for so many years?

But again, this is about repentance and conversion. That doesn’t mean cosmetic changes in tone or a tweaking in strategy, it means a transformation of identity. Alan Chambers seems to be a man whose sense of identity has been shaken and, if we can take him at his word, a man who is seeking to leave behind who he has been in order to become someone new.

I don’t see the culture-warriors and gatekeepers being willing to do that.

Exodus collapsed because it was based on lies. Lies about human sexuality. Lies about the Bible. Nothing based on lies can last.

But the lies Exodus represented and promoted were critically important for the white evangelical “worldview” here in America. Evangelicals’ treatment of LGBT people could only be defended by the false claim that such people were making a “lifestyle choice” — that they were willful sinners choosing sin who therefore deserved to be shunned, deserved to be denied full participation in the church, deserved to be denied full legal equality and civil rights. Without that lie, all that remains is transparent malice, a naked refusal to love our neighbors, and an unseemly eagerness to puff ourselves up by stomping down on those we can outnumber and overpower.

Exodus International is no more. But for American evangelicalism, Exodus was a bearing wall — a vital support column. It propped up the illusion that evangelical culture-warriors have any claim to the moral high ground. And, even more fundamentally, it propped up an otherwise unsustainable proof-texting hermeneutic. Without the support of Exodus’ lie, evangelicals would need to, in Tim Keller’s words, “Completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible. Completely disassemble their whole approach to authority.”

Actually, Keller isn’t quite right there. Evangelicals won’t have to “completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible.” It won’t need to be disassembled because it’s already falling apart on its own. It’s an unsustainable structure, a house built on shifting sand. All evangelicals would need to do is abandon the exhausting project of desperately trying to prop it up with bad science, bad-faith arguments, and false witness borne against our neighbors.

And Keller was completely wrong to suggest that this would involve evangelicals having “to completely kick their entire faith out the door.” Abandoning a failed hermeneutic for one that can be reconciled with reality and with the Golden Rule hardly constitutes apostasy or the rejection of faith. Does Keller mean to suggest that Steve Chalke is no longer a Christian? (If not, then what is the point of such hysterics? Keller seems to be confusing the boundaries of tribal gatekeepers with actual theology. Or perhaps engaging in a question-begging argument in which Chalke’s assessment of the anti-gay clobber verses can be pre-emptively dismissed because Chalke comes to tribally unacceptable conclusions and is, therefore, not really an evangelical and therefore can be ignored.)

The lie of “reparative therapy” and of “ex-gay ministry” was unsustainable. A clobber-verse hermeneutic built on top of that lie is also unsustainable. Evangelical Christians who are shocked or startled by Alan Chambers’ apology and shuttering of Exodus don’t yet seem to fully realize that they will — sooner rather than later — face the same decision, the same kairos and crossroads, that Chambers faced.

It will be very, very interesting to see what they decide to do.


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  • Thank you for saying it.

    “Saved a wretch like me” was written by a slave trader. He was a wretch. I hate seeing other people applying it to themselves. The vast majority of people are not wretches. This philosophical idea that is present to greater or lesser ideas in all Christianity that I’ve seen, that human beings are wretches, is appalling.

  • Gregory Peterson

    Here’s what I wrote on the Baptist Press Facebook page about an article by Erin Roach, “Exodus Int’l closes after Chambers’ apology”

    “Exodus International, a decades-old ministry of helping people overcome homosexual behavior…”

    It wasn’t about helping people overcome homosexual behavior, it was about
    helping people become invisible and silent about their unjust

  • The only times I’ve ever seen anyone bring out the “we’re all flawed” argument, they’re defending horrible people, or defending their own indefensible actions. Yes, I got some parking tickets. I’ve said some nasty things. I’ve been unjust in some arguments with my husband. The idea that I should therefore feel I’m the same as someone who killed or raped or systematically lied in a way that harmed people is just not on.

    Most of us are basically okay, and I don’t think the “everyone’s flawed” argument works in most contexts. I’ve had it used against me by an emotional abuser, and this is actually very, very common.

  • FearlessSon

    I seem to remember similar statements from politicians last year, when various states were passing laws to limit abortions and shame women for seeking one, like the infamous Virginia mandatory ultrasound law. When voters or reporters or interest groups would protest the bills, the early response was some form of “Why are you asking about that? The polls say the voters want to focus on the economy, so why should anyone care that we’re voting on abortions?”

    Which always made me wonder, “If these are such unimportant issues compared to the economy as a whole, and you want everyone opposing them to drop their opposition as such, then why are you putting so much effort into implementing culture-war policies instead of economic ones?”

  • And I’m seeing more and more people saying that okay, people have homosexual feelings, but it’s acting on them that’s the problem. It is true that people could choose to be celibate, and I expect that will be the next attempt at abuse to be heaped on those who aren’t straight. There will be comparisons to pedophiles, of course, and to other kinds of rape, and to other things that either really aren’t acceptable or that our society finds unacceptable.

    This is going to be a tougher thing to fight, and I think it might cause more harm, if it’s allowed to fester.

  • Gregory Peterson

    Here’s an interesting, related article.

    Ex-Gay Christian Groups Will Continue After Exodus As Religious LGBT Support Grows

  • Gregory Peterson

    I like the comparisons of “homosexuality” with alcoholism…as if people can’t safely operate heavy machinery while under the influence of Gay.

  • FearlessSon

    Wrong Shepard. This Shepard would kill us with a precision orbital strike.

  • I’ve always found it vaguely annoying that goat herders are goatherds, but sheep herders lose one of their vowels and become shepherds.

    What the hell is a shep?

  • The_L1985

    Really? I’ve always used it as a reason for myself not to judge people who aren’t hurting anyone.

  • The_L1985

    “I’m sorry, but I can’t come to work today. See, I had gay sex last night, so I’m not in good condition to drive.”

  • phantomreader42

    “Do not resume sexual activity while operating heavy machinery without contacting your physician” ;)

  • Alix

    Welcome to the English language, where we screw with you just for the lulz.

    Fire to fiery gives me the same fits.

  • phantomreader42

    “Precision Orbital Sheep” sounds like a good name for a band. :P

  • FearlessSon

    Are you trolling for corrections?

  • I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the person who got me thinking about it this way is bi.

  • dpolicar

    Well, if it’s done right… :-)

  • The_L1985

    No, somehow I had it in my head that Mass Effect had the wrong spelling. Mea culpa.

  • The_L1985

    You are only making me regret having never participated in a Devil’s Threesome.

  • Kristin Rawls

    Oh indeed, the legacy of this will go on for generations, at least.

  • Kristin Rawls

    So, this is the open letter I wrote to Chambers. At xoJane, which I know doesn’t reach the audience that will necessarily be responding to this, so I want to post it here. A link and a quick excerpt below:

    “The ex-gay movement has the blood of LGBT children on its hands. I hope you will honor them by learning their names and coming to terms with what this movement –- and what Exodus –- has stolen from this world. I hope you will listen and learn for a while.

    I don’t trust that you understand it now. If you did, I think you’d see how insensitive and cruel it is for you to go on lauding the “life-saving” accomplishments of Exodus. You need to see these things for yourself. Offer to meet with parents or loved ones who are willing so you can look them in the eye and apologize. Take steps to confront the magnitude of what has been lost. Weep with those who weep.”

  • I’ve long felt the same way, although I must admit I first came at it from an appeal to consequences point of view. After all, science (done right) is always open to falsification, refinement, and finding that what we had thought just ain’t so. So, there’s some small but finite chance that future research might establish (as nearly as it can) that it turns out to be a choice after all, and then that whole line of argument would go right down the drain. But once I started thinking about it, I realized the reasons for it on the principles you talk about were much better, anyway.

  • Looks like some game developers have been watching Babylon 5, “Into the Fire” in particular.

  • FearlessSon

    A “Devil’s Threesome”? Is that somehow more sinful than any other given arrangement of threesome?

  • The_L1985

    No, but that’s just what a lot of people call a threesome with 2 men and 1 woman. It’s a handy shorthand.