PS: I’m so exited to have Alan Chambers on my blog! I’ve admired Alan from afar over the last few years and only recently connected with him on social media. For many of you, Alan needs no introduction. But for the rest of our audience, Alan, why don’t you give a brief introduction to your life, story, and how you got involved with Exodus International.
AC: I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, accepted Jesus as my Savior at age 6, and realized I had a gay orientation at puberty. I was fairly sure that last ingredient wasn’t one that was supposed to be in the recipe for a healthy Jesus follower. So, I literally prayed for years desperately begging God to, “fix me, cure me, heal me, give me amnesia, or kill me.”
In 1991, at the age of 19, I heard about Exodus International and began attending one of their local ministries in the Orlando area. At the time, I knew of no church or Christian group addressing LGBT issues with any degree of grace or compassion except Exodus. For me, as a college freshman looking to share my deepest darkest secret with anyone who would listen and not judge, Exodus was a lifesaver.
I ended up staying with Exodus for the next 22 years.
PS: Alan, I’m sure you’re probably sick of the question! But can you give us some insight into why you decided to shut down the Exodus ministry?
AC: In 2001 when I applied for the position of president I was asked an important question at the end of my interview. “What will success look like for you as the president of Exodus?” Quickly I stated, “Success for me will look like Exodus going out of business because the Church is doing its job.” When we shut down I modified the statement to, “So the Church can do its job.”
There were churches some churches who had become safer places for people to come out, but too many were more comfortable with the LGBT community far outside their walls. Exodus was the place where many in the Church sent their perceived LGBT messes—people and situations. Our job, it seemed, was to transform those messes and produce people with testimonies and lives the Church found acceptable, in other words to straighten out their behaviors. We thought we could and we were wrong.
There were other problems within Exodus. Division. Factions. Mini-kingdoms fighting for content control. Confused people. Wounded people. You name it. Problems swirled and gathered momentum. The organization collided with a greater understanding of God’s amazing grace and fell apart. Exodus had to close. For grace. For LGBT people – whether active or celibate. For the Gospel.
PS: I’d love to know if you still see any value in Reparative Therapy, or “ex-gay ministries”? Or more specifically, what would you say to our gay listeners/readers who are considering Reparative Therapy?
AC: Is there value in Reparative Therapy – in as far as it promises to make a gay person straight or straighter, no. I find it shaming and damaging. Reparative Therapy for homosexuality seeks to “cure” and “eradicate” gay orientation, desires, and temptations. It instills in lesbian and gay people that they are flawed, broken, and unworthy. There is nothing helpful or biblical about that.
Is there value in ex-Gay ministries – if they promise a similar outcome to Reparative Therapy through acts of Christian service or contrition, no. If they call themselves ex-gay ministries, no. In all of my years at Exodus, 22 to be exact, I never met an ex-gay. I met a lot of people trying to be ex-gay, many of whom hid in shame and fear of being found out that they weren’t all that ex-gay after all.
Don’t get me wrong. Counseling can be life giving to people who need help as they walk out their existence. People meeting together to support one another as they journey on similar chosen paths can be life giving as well. Both helped me immensely. But in my humble opinion, both are better when the journey leads to the vastness of God’s grace not to a change in orientation.
PS: We’ve never met, Alan, but as far as I can tell, you still hold to a traditional sexual ethic. That is, you believe that same-sex behavior is sin. If you’re willing, I’d love to hear your thoughts about why you still maintain this view.
AC: It’s funny you say that. I’ve lost hosts of friends who are convinced I don’t hold that opinion anymore. The debate within Christendom is divisive. Ugly. Fueled by pride and shame and fear. I’m aware it frustrates some of my brothers and sisters, but I have withdrawn from this fight.
There is biblical precedence for this stance of peace in Genesis. Adam and Eve, in the very beginning of the human story, are asked to stay away from fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It seems that God knew their limitations and didn’t want them pretending to be his equal. He is the only judge who sees and knows all. Focusing on “this is good” and “that is evil” does not proffer life but rather separation and death. Instead, he asked them to turn to The Tree of Life. Life breeds life. Jesus is life. I’m determined to focus on the Tree of Life and do what he explicitly asks us to do, to love him and to love others.
If pressed, you can squeeze out of me that I believe the story in Genesis 1-2 conveys that God’s creative intent for human sexual expression was one man and one woman for one lifetime, but we no longer live in that perfect place and that’s okay. So I’ve decided to follow another biblical precedent set by Jesus himself. I choose to not condemn my fellow humans (or myself) but to embrace them instead.
PS: I would imagine that you probably get a lot of criticism from conservatives and progressives. Is this accurate? And if so, how do you handle it?
AC: We do have critics – some who are vocal. We’ve either gone too far or not far enough. We are accused of disseminating either hate or hyper-grace. We’re either to be pitied or bound and gagged.We have great empathy for hurting and angry people. We have a very strong sense of who we are. With nothing to prove, it’s easier to let people say what they need to say and feel how they need to feel. We listen and evaluate knowing we can always do better. But, if we get sucked into criticism or fight back, we lose. We laugh a lot, have priceless friendships, and know when we’ve had enough. We also have two great kids who constantly remind us of our value.
This is our life. We speak imperfectly and love imperfectly. But, we know God has called us to both speak and love and so we do. Life could be harder. We know it is for many, but God has given us this life and we are full of gratitude.
PS: What do you think the “non-affirming” evangelical church needs to know as it thinks through its posture toward the unchurched LGBTQ community?
AC: In the last few verses of Acts, we’re told about Paul’s final days on earth. He lived in his own rented apartment and welcomed all who came to him. Because his heart and home were open, because there was no hindrance to his hospitality, he was able to talk about the man he encountered on the road to Damascus. A man whom Paul knew he could not be separated from. A man who is grace and who causes all things to work together for good. I think we should examine ourselves. Am I a hindrance to the gospel? Is there anything I fear? Am I trying to be the Savior – by saving the lost? The Holy Spirit – by convicting sinners? God Almighty – by proclaiming judgment?
A few chapters earlier, another story of Paul is told. While he was preaching, a man first fell asleep and then out of a window to his death. Everyone but Paul stood there believing the man deserved it. Out of love, Paul threw himself on top of the dead man trusting in the goodness of life, which was restored. It’s a great picture for all of us who believe we have something to say. We may bore people to death with our preaching but when we love, when we risk our reputations – because let’s face it, Paul must have looked crazy lying on top of a dead man – life just might be restored.
PS: Similarly, what do pastors other Christian leaders need to know as they try to do a better job of ministering to their people who experience same-sex attraction?
AC: I know it sounds redundant, but my advice is to love people. Don’t place your expectations on them. Allow people to find their own way—encourage, serve, help, and enjoy them. Do your best to not put behavioral conditions on their relationship with your church or with God. Speak less and listen more.
PS: Okay, so I have to ask: If a gay couple came into your church, accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, and then wanted to meet with you, what would you tell them?
I’d say, “I am SO glad you’re here. Tell me how I can serve you.” And if they express an interest in serving, I’d ask, “How do you want to serve?” But let’s be honest, there are a lot of LGBT people who are already in the Church or waiting to come back to the Church who already know Jesus as their Savior. I am looking forward to the day when they are acknowledged and treated as members of the Body in the way that you and I are.
PS: Alan, you’ve written a book that came out last week. I’ve received an advanced copy of the book (it helps to share the same publisher ☺) and I’m so excited to dig into it. Can you tell our audience what the books is all about and what compelled you to write it?
AC: The day after we closed Exodus in 2013 I received a dozen or so offers to speak with publishers about a potential book. By the end of summer I had heard from a dozen more. We finally wrote a proposal at the beginning of 2014 and sent it around. We signed with Zondervan and spent several months writing in a format we were used to – one in which we endeavored to share our opinion on many topics. Our wise Zondervan acquisitions editor, Carolyn McCready arranged for us to meet a brilliant editor named Nicci Jordan-Hubert. Sitting in a swanky Manhattan bar, Nicci said, “This is good and you can write. But, I found myself skipping pages looking for the story. Nobody wants your opinion at this point. I think you should start over and just tell your story.”
That’s just what we did. This is simply our story. We talk about our childhoods, our coming of age, Exodus, and the absolute goodness of our Father God.
PS: Thanks so much for taking the time to dialogue with us on my blog! I really appreciate it. I’d love to give you the final word. Are there any other thoughts you’d love to challenge evangelical Christians with? Feel free to encourage, preach, confront, and convict. The floor is yours….
AC: As one who once wore evangelical proudly and who now proclaims to be a simple-minded Jesus lover, I’ll share how I challenge myself. When I reflect on life and God, I often ask myself if I truly believe he is a Good Father. I meditate on what makes a human a good mom or dad, then multiply it by eternity and fill it up with perfect love. I think about how he must love me – his son. I realize I don’t know or understand everything and that’s okay for a son. He’s the Father. He knows and understands and I trust him. Then I consider the question I often find myself asking my two 10-year-old children. Are you treating others the way you would want to be treated? Formulated within his great love, it’s a life-altering question.
I think God is calling us, like he did Peter, to trust him, get out of our vessels, and walk on water. Live, as Andy Crouch once said, joyfully immersed in the world. Do not be afraid. Choose peace and rest. If your goal is to be compelling, that ought to do it.