The “Exodus” of Exodus: What does this mean?

exodus-shut-down-what-now

In an address to the annual Exodus conference yesterday and in a news release, Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, has announced that the organization will shut down. Exodus is the oldest and largest “ex-gay” organization—an umbrella for a variety of groups throughout the country who believe that a person’s sexual orientation can be changed.

I have always been clear that I oppose this organization. And while I like Alan as an individual, I have often suggested that he seek a new line of work since his beliefs had evolved in recent years concerning the validity of changing sexual orientation. As a result, the organization seemed to lose direction, and some of the more hardcore affiliates broke away to form a different group, the Restored Hope Network.

The announcement came a few hours after Alan also released an “apology” to the gay and lesbian community for the damage that had been done by reparative therapy. And both the apology and the news release come one day before a special program, God and Gays, airs on the OWN network. In this program, former “ex-gays” confront Alan about the harm they’d experienced as a result of Exodus ministries.

Update 6/17/14: I'm including a link to the full program here. I highly recommend taking the time to view the entire program; it's one of the most powerful and emotional exchanges I've ever seen, and the first time such a conversation even occurred on national TV.

Yesterday’s announcement is getting lots of coverage in the LGBT media. Some are asking if this is the “end of the ex-gay movement?”

I’m tempted to just rejoice in this news (and I do, for sure), chalking it up as a victory (It is, clearly!)  and also proclaiming the end of the “ex-gay” movement. But I am hesitant…a bit skeptical… for at least three reasons.

1. The existence of Restored Hope Network. This is the organization that broke away from Exodus because they felt Alan was compromising biblical truth. Alan confessed that 99.9 percent of those who came to Exodus probably didn’t experience a change in their sexual orientation. (I think even that estimation is exaggerated.) He also said he believed that gay and lesbian Christians would be in heaven. This didn’t sit well with those who preach eternal damnation for the sin of homosexual and promise a change in orientation…and make their money on this two-edged message. This new (extreme) group is growing, and now with the “exodus” of Exodus from the “ex-gay” playground, I suspect they will receive new support from conservative churches who want (need!) a solution that fits their narrow theology about gay people.

Update 6/17/14: RHN is still around. They are not a large organization (less than 2,000 "Likes" on their Facebook page, if that's an accurate indicator), but their rhetoric is persistent, virulent and vicious, perpetuating all the harmful images of gay people as sinful, anti-God, and living some hedonistic "lifestyle."  They work tirelessly against LGBT protections and equality. Their leader, and one of the founders, is Anne Paulk, the ex-wife of John Paulk. Together, they once appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine as living "proof" that the "ex-gay" message was real....and worked. John has since renounced that message, apologized for the damage his work caused, and is living as an openly gay, Christian man.
In this, John joins others who have apologized after they came to the realization that "ex-gay" treatments do not work, and are harmful.

2. The wording of the news release indicates that while Exodus (in name) will cease to exist, they will still be around, just using a different name: ReduceFear.  So "shutting down" might be an overstatement. And while Alan has apologized for the harm and damage that’s been done, the underlying message is still present and clear: gays are damaged, broken and “prodigals” (They used that word in the release). The condemnation is now less about eternal damnation, taking a more subtle tone.  The words are softer, but the rejection is evident. We can “be” gay, but to “act” on those desires is against God’s design; one must choose a life of celibacy instead.  Gay is still seen as “less than” God’s best.

UPDATE 6/17/14: Nothing seems to have come from this new "organization." (Thank God!) There's a Facebook page, but it's not actively updated. Alan still travels the country, speaking to groups, but he has not re-organized at this point. He maintains his belief that sexual orientation cannot be changed, and that many were harmed by Exodus. However, he still hold that homosexual behavior is sinful, so he promotes a life of holy celibacy as the option for the gay Christian who desires to live consistent with that understanding of the Bible. He talks of writing a book about his experiences.

3. Years of monitoring this groups and their leaders make me skeptical. Even cynical.  At least for now. These folks don’t have a history of honesty. They use common words, but twist the meaning. They inflate or invent success statistics. Even in the release, there are words and phrases that cause red flags for me. For example, the news release begins by talking about all the good that Exodus has done over the years. How is that compatible with the apology? How is that consistent with admitting to harm and damage?

Time will tell if my caution is merited.

But make no mistake--this is important. Historic even. Along with many others, I've been working for years to expose the lies and the harm of this organization. There is a sense of relief...and accomplishment in this announcement.

The fight is not over...but a huge battle has been won.

UPDATE: I originally provided the link to the Exodus news release, but it has since been removed.

I’m including the full text of Alan’s apology below.

To Members of the LGBTQ Community:

In 1993 I caused a four-car pileup.  In a hurry to get to a friend’s house, I was driving when a bee started buzzing around the inside of my windshield. I hit the bee and it fell on the dashboard. A minute later it started buzzing again with a fury. Trying to swat it again I completely missed the fact that a city bus had stopped three cars in front of me.  I also missed that those three cars were stopping, as well.  Going 40 miles an hour I slammed into the car in front of me causing a chain reaction. I was injured and so were several others.  I never intended for the accident to happen. I would never have knowingly hurt anyone. But I did. And it was my fault. In my rush to get to my destination, fear of being stung by a silly bee, and selfish distraction, I injured others.

I have no idea if any of the people injured in that accident have suffered long term effects. While I did not mean to hurt them, I did. The fact that my heart wasn’t malicious did not lessen their pain or their suffering. I am very sorry that I chose to be distracted that fall afternoon, and that I caused so much damage to people and property.  If I could take it all back I absolutely would. But I cannot. I pray that everyone involved in the crash has been restored to health.

Recently, I have begun thinking again about how to apologize to the people that have been hurt by Exodus International through an experience or by a message. I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope. In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me. 

And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there. The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does. As my friends do. As God does.

Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.

Friends and critics alike have said it’s not enough to simply change our message or website. I agree. I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today. I understand why I am distrusted and why Exodus is hated. 

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.

I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.   

You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours. I hope the changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight regarding Exodus International, will bring resolution, and show that I am serious in both my regret and my offer of friendship. I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good.

Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing.