Exodus International’s Alan Chambers: Bending History’s Arc

Exodus International’s Alan Chambers: Bending History’s Arc June 20, 2013
Alan Chambers, head of Exodus International

For more than a generation, the gay conversion organization known as Exodus International has been one of the most prominent Christian symbols of LGBT intolerance.  They have practiced what is commonly called “reparative therapy” to supposedly remove the urges of same-sex attraction from those who seek to become straight. I have personally written at great length about the damage done by such religiously fueled zealotry, but never in my lifetime did I anticipate that the leader of this infamous anti-gay organization would concede as much to the public in the form of a confession.

What’s more, at their 38th annual convention, Exodus International’s director, Alan Chambers, announced plans to close the organization and cease its mission for good.  You can read Mr. Chambers’ full of apology HERE, as well as the formal closure announcement HERE.

I’m not prone to emotional hyperbole, but I read these announcements and confessions with a nearly overwhelming admixture of shock, disbelief, compassion and hope.  I also try not to fill my blog posts with too much content from other source, but this is one of those occasions when the original source material should be seen without adaptation.  Following are several excerpts for Mr. Chambers’ open apology to the public, along with my thoughts:

It is strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the church’s treatment of the LGBT community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt. Today it is as if I’ve just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church.

It should be noted here that Chambers recently has admitted that he, too, has wrestled with what he calls “same-sex attraction.”  Further, he confessed within his apology that, despite being the head of the largest reparative therapy organization in the world, he has failed to “overcome” his own struggles with his sexuality. As such, he has at least the potential for tremendous compassion for those who feel that the way they are is inherently wrong, broken or sinful.  And though it has taken him a great deal of time to get there, Mr. Chambers finally seems to be at a place in his life and personal faith journey where he is willing to concede that we likely have little or no control over those to whom we are attracted.  In light of this realization, Chambers realizes the depth and breadth of some of the pain caused by his organization’s ministry.

Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.

More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. 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.

The vulnerability of this man’s confession is nothing short of overwhelming.  The bravery he demonstrates should stand as an example to all people, and in particular, all Christians. Although Chambers still believes that acting on same-sex attraction is contrary to Biblical teaching (a position with which I vocally disagree),  he recognizes that the integrity and humanity of the people whose lives and families were compromised are more central to the commands of Gospel teaching than cherry picking the sins of others and then placing ourselves in a position to be the arbiters of their moral restoration.

I was particularly struck by the fact that Chambers acknowledged the risk of profound alienation he faces  in both the evangelical community and the LGBT community.   On the one hand Chambers  has shaken the foundation of the ideological house of cards upon which much of  fundamentalist religious thought is based.  On the other hand, although he has taken the great step of acknowledging that the nature of our sexual attraction is inherent in who we are cannot necessarily be changed, he falls short of allowing possibility that same-sex attraction is anything other than sinful. Never mind the theological conundrum of a God who would create someone,  and then punish them for all eternity for being who they were created to be; this shift is both seismic and historic in the ongoing effort to bring all voices of faith into a more unified chorus, all calling for the affirmation, acceptance and unconditional love of all of God’s created.

In the past, I have drawn parallels between the Christian Church’s resistance to accept gay and lesbian people for who they are, and the historic resistance some evangelical churches had to the abolition of slavery. I still hold by this comparison and continue to urge those who cling to judgment been marginalization – and anything short of complete and all-consuming love – to find themselves on the right side of history before it is too late.

The arc of history is being shaped before us, and as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King foretold, it is bending toward justice. Not for some, but for all.

Thank God. And thank you, Alan Chambers.

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  • Keith A. Needham

    I am afraid that you post overlooks a major Christian doctrine, and that is the doctrine of the fall. The Christian teaching is that the world is not now as God created it, that it has been fundamentally altered by sin, and that sin has insidiously infiltrated itself into the very fabric of the created order so that all that is currently in the created order is marred thereby, humanity included. Therefore, God did not directly and specially create a same-sex attracted individual. That they exist goes without saying, but the fact of their existence manifests the sinfulness of the creation, in the same way that an intrinsically selfish, or arrogant, or greedy, or sexually immoral person manifests that sinfulness.

    • Al Cruise

      There are many leaders {high profile} in the Christian community today who are intrinsically selfish, arrogant, greedy, and sexually immoral who barely, if ever get even a slap on the hand by people like you. In fact you let them control the conversation about all things spiritual, and how their beliefs should apply to “everyone”. As soon as the topic of same sex attraction comes up, your all out in force, condemning for all your worth.

    • Guglielmo Marinaro

      “The Christian teaching is that the world is not now as God created it, that it has been fundamentally altered by sin, and that sin has insidiously infiltrated itself into the very fabric of the created order so that all that is currently in the created order is marred thereby…”

      What a rum idea! Where did it come from? There is certainly no evidence for it.

      • Quid

        No evidence but, you know, the problem of evil.

        • Guglielmo Marinaro

          Yes, indeed, but the problem of evil is neither resolved nor elucidated by nonsense like that.

  • 2TrakMind

    I haven’t been around long, but I wonder if you could bring me up to speed. When you say “a position with which I vocally disagree” to Chamber’s belief that acting on same sex attraction is contrary to Biblical teaching; what do you base your disagreement on? I’m honestly not looking for a debate; just trying to understand.

  • Good summary, and far more heartfelt than a lot of responses I’ve seen to this. It’s a start.

  • Wondering

    Totally awesome. Thanks Christian for continuing to speak out on this issue. Thankful as well for the recent steps of Alan Chambers and Exodus International.

  • As Christians we are called to be intolerant of homosexuality because it is sin. It is a sin that is committed against one’s own body, which was created to be the temple of the Holy Ghost. How dare you refer to Exodus International as notoriously evil? We most certainly do have plenty of control over to whom we are attracted. How absurd and untrue to say otherwise. Chambers has demonstrated no bravery. He most assuredly has NOT in any shape or form shaken the foundational belief that fundamentalist Christians have in the literal interpretation of God’s Holy Written Word. For you to suggest such a lie is preposterously prideful, and for you, supposedly a Christian, to be glorying in this news about Exodus is diabolical. God does NOT create homosexuals. Yes, God loves His children, those whom have surrendered their allegiance to His beloved Son Jesus, for they are the co-heirs with Jesus. You and all others who proclaim to be part of the liberal church, basically the church of the state, are on the wrong side of history, and need to stop pretending to be true believing disciples of Jesus. You are teaching another gospel. God is not pleased for His holiness will not allow Him to wink at sin. His love is insignificant if not illuminated with His Truth which is Jesus.


    • Quid

      Notice how the liberal church’s moral teaching change with the flow of the culture, while the traditional church’s moral teachings have always remained the same. I wonder which one possesses the truth?

      • garlicclove

        I don’t know. Does the traditional church still believe that arranged marriages for teenagers, slavery, and the stoning to death of disobedient children God’s true plan? Last I checked even the most conservative churches gave those up, All of these things are biblical but somewhere along the way, the church decided that they were not moral.

      • That’s an entirely dishonest argument.

        The “traditional church” has changed a whole bunch of teachings. And unless your church is calling for the divine right of kings, segregated worship services, and the like then you’re not even in keeping with teachings from the past couple of centuries, much less the whole history of christendom.

  • Y. A. Warren

    So much of sin in the bible was for the promotion of childbearing within nuclear families of the same “tribe.” This was never meant to include all people, all over the world, for all time. For my part, I reject all leadership through threats. They can kill me or keep me, but I will not surrender to fear.

    • gimpi1

      Commanding through fear is never a good thing. Good on you for rejecting it.

      I have also wondered if many of the Biblical rules were about the fact that the ancient Hebrews were in essentially a breeding-war with other tribes. Much of the society was focused on making more people to out-breed the competition. In that kind of war, a gay person, or for that matter, a celibate or sterile person just isn’t pulling their weight.

      However, it’s not the bronze age, we aren’t tribal, and humans are in no way an endangered species. Perhaps it’s time to think about the why of some of these rules. Perhaps some of them are as obsolete as prohibitions about shellfish, or making prisoners of war slaves.

      • Y. A. Warren

        I believe the the Bible is an historical account given through the eyes, ears, minds, and spirits of the writers. (All history is based on the viewpoint of the teller.) As the human ability to understand has grown, so did scripture. At Pentecost, we were all told that we no longer need intermediaries to “hear” The Sacred Spirit, but this openness to approach such Awesomeness without a hand to hold is frightening to many.

        The tragedy is that there are so many who continue to look backward to what is broken rather than forward to the gifts we have for fixing our earth. (On earth as it is in heaven) There are many who take advantage of fear to take control of the “animal” natures underneath all of our human Special Spirit. IF Jesus is truly a person’s “Christ,” following the path that he laid out with his example and accessing The Sacred Spirit that he infused into a “new” earth is the only way to truly honor him.

        M. Scott Peck says in “A World Waiting to Be Born,” that all systems are based on “masks” that we wear to seem like we are all in agreement. He says further that we cannot create change without taking off our masks. (This is something the scared and the power hungry dare not do.) I consider this the most hopeful book I’ve read on the future of humanity

        M. Scott Peck further says that, when things begin to change, chaos ensues, which causes fear. (I think we are now at that point in humanity.) With chaos comes fear of the unfamiliar. At this point, many revert to their masks rather than face the unknown.

        It is time for humanity to stop worrying about what our ancestors did to keep themselves surrounded by only like-minded individuals, and time for us each to connect to our most responsibly compassionate selves. This is the gift of humanity’s direct access to The Sacred Spirit.

        In my experience, all who have an ember of this Spirit can bring it to flames that will give new warmth to the earth by connecting with this same spirit in each other. I run, don’t walk from gurus who all have ways to hypnotize or scare us into believing they have closer connection to The Sacred Spirit than do any of us.

        Fear and awe feel much the same, but are very different. Imagine if we stopped talking about “fear” of God and started talking about the awesomeness of all the many manifestations on earth of the Indescribable Spiritual Power, of which humans have access AT WILL. Sadly, we seem to fill our minds with all kinds of things to avoid facing The Awesome.

        I believe that Sacred Scripture is still being put into the hearts and spirits of everyday, average humans; we simply have stopped looking for it or even being open to it.

        • gimpi1

          This is fascinating. I certainly understand the whole idea that times of change generate fear. Sometimes, what seems to be chaos is just the birth pangs of a new idea, but that birth is almost always painful and frightening. Hiding behind a familiar mask seems easier than not taking cover, but you risk never understanding the change taking place.

          The concept of the fear of God has always disturbed me. What kind of divine being wants to be feared? I like your reference to awe much better.

          I’m pretty much still on the outside looking in, but your statements make the inside look much less stuffy and closed in. Well said.

          • Y. A. Warren

            There’s plenty more where that came from on my blog: OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com
            I wish for peace for your Sacred Spirit..
            Why gimpi?

          • gimpi1

            I have a fairly aggressive form of rheumatoid arthritis. It’s given me a bit of a limp, more pronounced in wet weather. And I live in Seattle. Whoops!

            When I started to get a bit stiff, I would warn my husband that I wasn’t very comfortable and might be a bit grouchy by saying I was “gimped up” or “gimpy.” It stuck as a nickname. I changed the spelling for the classic internet reason, Gimpy was taken.

          • Y. A. Warren

            We’ve only been to Seattle once, but we enjoyed our short stay. My paternal grandmother has the same condition. It seemed that laughter was her best medicine. She was Cajun and used to ask, in times of tragedy and pain, “Do you want to laugh or do you want to cry?” It sounds like you gave a pretty good sense of humor yourself. Laugh on!

          • gimpi1

            I’ll check out your blog. Thanks.

  • Tim

    What if the Apostle Paul was gay? I mean, I don’t have any real proof, just thinking out loud about how the data we have might apply.

    We know that at one point, Paul mentions that he wishes that everyone could be as he is for the sake of the gospel/ kingdom, but that he recognized that it’s not for everyone. We know from this that he at least meant celibate/ unmarried. But we also know that Paul had a thorn in the flesh, a “messenger of satan” given him by God; which he asked God to remove three times. God’s final answer was, “no Paul; my grace is sufficient for you”. No one really knows what this “thorn” was, although a number of theories have been put forth over the years. Obviously Paul struggled as we all do with things that are OUR personal weaknesses, things that often have a concurrent strength, ironically.

    Given the fact that Paul condemns at least certain homosexual acts, and the fact that neither Paul nor Jesus outright condemned homosexuality itself, and given the fact that consistently across the board, about 6% of the population is homosexual, it makes me wonder; Is the corrupting influence of the fall (or whatever mechanism in place that drives us toward sin) what causes homosexual individuals to act inappropriately on what otherwise would be considered an intentional gift of God; to be set apart for the work of the kingdom without distractions? It’s hard to say for sure with the data that we have at our disposal, biblical or otherwise.

    I do think it’s safe to say that homosexual activity in general, IF it is in fact opposed in scripture, is no worse from a sin perspective than acting on any other weakness any of us might be prone to, and that at the very least, we should not view homosexual people any differently than anyone else simply because of their homosexuality. Judge not, lest you also be judged…