Exodus International, the infamous Christian organization that offered to “fix” people struggling with “same-sex attraction” announced it will be closing its doors. This decision came out less than a day after president, Alan Chambers issued an apology to the LGBTQ community for advocating that there is a cure for homosexuality rooted in prayer, a deep relationship with God, and “reparative” therapy.
Chambers apologized specifically for the pain, hurt, guilt, and shame that Exodus caused the LGBT community by promoting “reparative theories about sexual orientation.” While he went on to say that he still holds his convictions regarding homosexuality as a sin, he says he has no intention of fighting people on the rights they seek and will never allow his view of homosexuality to dominant God’s greatest commandments: to love the Lord and to love people. To read his full apology, click here.
The end of Exodus is noteworthy as this organization has played a large role in the discourse surrounding homosexuality and the Church. For 37 years they claimed to be a ministry to gay and lesbian Christians who struggled with their identity in Christ; but what that did was use harmful reparative therapies to attempt to change their orientation. They used a rhetoric of “struggling with same sex attraction” versus “identifying as gay or lesbian” because they viewed homosexuality as a temptation that can be taken away by God as opposed to a stagnant sexual orientation that cannot be changed.
This obviously is an extremely unhealthy view of homosexuality as it perpetuates it as a pathological mental illness that needs to be “fixed” as opposed to the normal sexual expression it is. While there are cases of people being able to alter their sexual desires and even claim that they are “ex-gay,” Chambers himself admitted last year that more than 99.9% of conversion therapy patients experienced no change. He even admitted that it is in fact harmful – a sentiment every major medical and psychological association has been saying for years. It seems like the natural flow from admitting that conversation therapy is harmful is to shut down. I think it’s the right move as Exodus will always be associated with an ex-gay movement.
Overall, I do wanna say that while he has made horrible decisions that have caused extremely negative effects for gay people, I highly respect Chambers for his courage in admitting his mistakes, humility in being broken by the grave harm he and Exodus have done, and grace for realizing that the most important thing a Christian can do is love and serve his neighbor- not isolate them from the love of God for whatever perceived sin we might see. His apology is even more tangible as he realized that Exodus needs to be shut down. I think what you have here is a man who passionately loves Christ, saw the sin he was committing and the harm it was doing, and is repenting for his actions while being rooted in Christ’s love.
I think this comes as such a pivotal time in America with gay marriage under revision in the Supreme Court. I think this shows conservative Christianity at large that gay people shouldn’t be taught to speak of their orientation in fluid terms and see it as something God will change. Could He if He wanted to? Sure, God can do anything; but He doesn’t typically play against his own rules – and as we have seen time and time again, sexual orientation is for all intents and purposes impossible to change.
I will say though, I am not pleased that from the fresh ashes of Exodus’ end, Chambers and his Board of Directors are already building a new ministry called reduce fear. I think their intentions are good and they genuinely want to start changing the heart of the church to welcome whoever is at their doorstep. The major problem however, and this can be seen with Evangelical Christianity as a whole, is that we are so quick to want to minister to people, we forget to listen to the people we are talking to. We are so focused on telling them about Jesus that we forget to that an actual person is across from us; a person with scars and pain and a story. Christians need to see that it is good to tell people of the love of Christ, but when we get obsessed with a missionary mentality that gets in the way of a real human connection, there is a massive problem. Christians need to stop talking, and we need to start listening. Jesus can come in and fix any problem we have, usually in ways we aren’t expecting, but if we aren’t even listening to those hurting, what’s the point?
In this light, I think Chambers and the rest of the BOD should take a step back from ministry and really engage with the LGBT community. Find out what they say they need from churches. I sincerely believe that Chambers wants to help the LGBT community see that they are loved by God as much as any pastor out there, but unless we center the LGBT community and listen to their stories, I am afraid the Church is never going to fully become a place where they are welcome. Because we still won’t really understand what we have done wrong.
All in all, the end of Exodus International marks a huge step for the church in realizing that we shouldn’t try to “fix” gay people. That is harmful, heteronormative, and simply disgusting. We as the Church need to move towards an orientation of love, an orientation that accepts everyone regardless of who they are and what they struggle with. That is what Jesus did and that is what we need to do.
For more information on building bridges between the LGBT community and the Church, please visit The Marin Foundation.
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