exodus_closesI realize this is not breaking news, but given the importance of this event, I still want to comment on it despite the fact that my hectic schedule (as of late) has prevented me from doing so until now.

Exodus International, the most well-known ministry for gay men and women, announced on June 19 that it was closing up shop under its current name, and reopening under a new name with a new focus and new mission.  Just hours before that bombshell announcement, Exodus International president, Alan Chambers, issued an unexpected apology to those who his organization has hurt over the years (sexual misconduct, false expectations, etc.), as well as to the gay community in general for Exodus’ past teaching that one’s sexual orientation can change…among other things.

Contrary to some headlines and rumors, Exodus International has not moved to a position of “acceptance” of homosexuality.  Chambers himself said he still believes “sexual expression is reserved for one man and one woman in marriage.”  What Chambers no longer believes is that a homosexual orientation can be changed into a fully heterosexual orientation – or at least that it is so rare that one is better off not trying.  Though he himself is married, he admits that he, and most others that have come through Exodus, continue to struggle with same-sex attraction: “99% of the people that I have met [at Exodus] continue to struggle with or have same-sex attractions. For the majority of people, those things don’t go away.”  While this is a critically important point, and has huge ramifications for those who proclaim that every gay person can be healed of their “gayness,” it needs to be made clear that such an admission does not undermine the value or importance of gay ministries.  There is no reason to adopt an all-or-nothing approach.  While “gay-to-straight conversions” might be the exception rather than the norm, gay ministries are still needed to help those struggling with same-sex attraction to deal with their attractions, and the data is pretty clear that they are successful in helping many people diminish and/or better manage their same-sex attractions.  Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence[1] that some people do change their sexual orientation.  While it is important to set proper expectations for those seeking reparative therapy, the fact that the majority do not become fully heterosexual is no reason to abandon reparative therapy altogether.  To do so is to abandon the small percentage that do experience genuine change, and to abandon an even larger percentage who experience diminished levels of same-sex attraction as a result. 

What does victory look like?

Chambers has made a related point that I think is often missed by both gay and straight Christians alike: victory over homosexuality should not be measured in terms of changed desires, but changed behavior.  Similarly, the goal of gay ministries should not necessarily be to make a gay person straight (i.e. experience opposite-sex attraction), but to help him/her submit their sexuality to Christ.  In Chambers’ own words: “Christians in the body of Christ…have overemphasized complete resolution and complete change for this issue [same-sex attraction] but not for others … and I don’t think we’re telling anybody else with any other type of struggle that they have to … never be tempted in that area again in order to be a good Christian.”  While overcoming same-sex attraction is a laudable goal, it is not the measure of success, nor the measure of being a good Christian.  Virtuous behavior is the benchmark of Christian morality.  Success is measured by maintaining our virtue despite being tempted to sin, not the absence of temptation to sin.  As Robert Gagnon has written, “No commandment of God is predicated on the eradication of innate desires to do otherwise.”  Many married men continue to be tempted to have sexual relations with women who are not their wives, and yet no one would consider them to be bad Christians merely for experiencing that temptation.  What is morally significant is the fact that they do not act on these, arguably, natural impulses and desires.  All of us are tempted to do evil in one area or another.  What is important is that we resist that temptation; not that we cease to experience temptation.  I see no reason why the goal post should be moved in the case of same-sex attraction.

Causes for concern

Despite these areas of agreement, there are also causes for concern.  For example, Chambers has written: “I believe we’ve come to a time in the church when it’s time to lay our weapons down. We’ve fought the culture, and we’ve lost. But I think we’ve lost for a good reason.”  What exactly does it mean to lay our weapons down?  The culture has succeeded in convincing the majority of people that homosexuality is morally benign, so what does it mean for us to lay our weapons down?  Does that mean that we stop proclaiming homosexuality to be a sin?  It’s not clear.  Indeed, the ambiguity of it all is a little disturbing.

There are other statements Chambers made in his apology that are equally troubling.  For example, he writes, “I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.”  Here, he seems to be denying a long-held and well-substantiated theory regarding one sociological origin of same-sex attraction.  While I agree that we should not blame parents for causing same-sex attraction (as if it was something they intended to do), and while it is true that same-sex attraction is not always the result of the failings of one or both parents, the fact remains that there is good reason to think the actions of parents contribute to same-sex attraction in many cases.  It does no good to deny this simply because some parents will feel guilty for the part they played.  I also have to wonder if Chambers now thinks same-sex attraction is biological in nature, and that is why reparative therapy is pointless.

Chambers also wrote, “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 have two concerns with this statement.  The first is factual, while the second is moral.  My first concern is that the data is pretty clear that children reared by same-sex couples do not fare as well as children raised by a mom and dad.  Is Chambers denying these findings?  If so, on what basis?  On the basis that there are some exceptions to the rule?

My second concern is moral.  Implicit in Chambers’ statement is an endorsement of same-sex relationships.  How else could it be that gays and lesbians are raising children together if they are not in an ongoing relationship?  Perhaps he only means to say that single gay and lesbian parents can be as good as single heterosexual parents.  If so, then I would agree.  But even then, we know children raised in single-parent homes do not fare as well as children raised in a stable, two parent home.  The ideal remains a biological mother and father.  That is the best environment for children to flourish.  Given what he says next, however, it seems to me that he doesn’t have single gay or lesbian parents in mind.

Chambers goes on to say, “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.”  If he had not written the second sentence, I might be able to agree with the first.  Taken alone, his first statement has a lot of merit to it.  Surely it must be difficult for someone to willingly break off a relationship with a person they love because they know the relationship is wrong (although this is not a uniquely homosexual experience; heterosexuals who come to Christ often have to make the same decision).  While we can and should celebrate their decision to submit their desires to Christ’s will, we should also be considerate of the emotions they are experiencing as a result of that decision and offer our moral and emotional support.  But when Chambers says he is sorry that he has communicated to gays that their families are less than his family, this seems to be a tacit endorsement of same-sex relationships.  How can someone who claims to believe that “sexual expression is reserved for one man and one woman in marriage” not think that same-sex families are morally inferior to nuclear families?  And if he has function rather than morality in mind, the same problem arises.  Does he believe same-sex relationships function in the same way as heterosexual ones?  If so, then why does God forbid same-sex relationships?  While God values all human beings equally – whether gay or straight – it doesn’t seem to me that God sees both relationships as equal.  Same-sex relationships are morally wrong and go against God’s created order, whereas opposite-sex relationships are morally right because they are in line with God’s created order and design for human sexuality.

The next chapter

While Exodus International is closing shop, they have opened up a new shop under a new name: Speak. Love. Their new organization can be found at http://wespeaklove.org. Their mission statement is “We serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about faith, gender, and sexuality; and partnering with others to establish trust, reduce fear, and inspire hope.” He told The Atlantic that the new organization “won’t have anything to do with the issue of ex-gay.”  Given the fact that the ministry will involve people like retired homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson, and the pro-homosexual blogger, Rachel Held Evans, and given some of Chambers’ public statements as quoted above, one has to wonder what direction the new ministry is taking.  Perhaps time will tell.

L.A. Times
Huffington Post
Christianity Today
Christian Post

[1] See James E. Phelan, Neil Whitehead, and Phillip M. Sutton, “What Research Shows: NARTH’s Response to the APA Claims on Homosexuality” in the Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol 1, 2009, available from http://www.scribd.com/doc/115507777/Journal-of-Human-Sexuality-Vol-1; Internet; accessed 22 August 2013. Greg Koukl and Alan Shlemon have a nice summary of the scientific data in “Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture,” Solid Ground, July/August 2013, pp 8-9; available from http://www.str.org/Media/Default/Publications/2013-07%20Enhanced%20Solid%20Ground-Nature%20or%20Nurture-1.pdf; Internet; accessed 10 August 2013.