The Common Good

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

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 sources, 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, Jr., foretold, it is bending toward justice. Not for some, but for all.

Thank God. And thank you, Alan Chambers.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of "Banned Questions About The Bible" and "Banned Questions About Jesus." His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called "PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date."

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