An Older, Wiser Ex-Gay Movement
Exodus began in 1976. Frank Worthen, a San Francisco homosexual who found his life transformed by Christ in the early '70s, joined forces with Melodyland Church. The Southern California church had begun counseling homosexuals through two men in their early twenties, Michael Bussee and Jim Kaspar. Exodus was born at a weekend conference sponsored by the two groups. At a second conference a year later, Exodus attracted gay protestors. Within three years, Bussee had renounced the group's goals and recommenced a gay lifestyle, claiming that nobody ever really changes. Worthen, now in his seventies, has continued his ministry to homosexuals alongside his wife, Anita.
Exodus, at 31, has settled into adulthood. Its most prominent leadersAlan Chambers, Joe Dallas, Sy Rogers, Andy Comiskey, and Alan Medinger, among othershave been out of homosexuality and engaged in ministry for decades. Most are married with grown children. Scandals among leaders are far less common than in the early days, probably due to increased organizational accountability and growing awareness that those ministering in their area of temptation are vulnerable.
Perhaps nothing has brought Exodus into the mainstream of evangelicalism more than its embrace by James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Alan Medinger, the semi-retired founder of Regeneration (a sexual freedom ministry in Baltimore), remembers calling on Focus early on and finding the door completely shut. "I still don't know why," Medinger says. "When they swung around and began the Love Won Out conferences, it made a huge difference. They're a tremendous support to us now."
Focus's endorsement is an important seal of approval for conservative churches. Focus sponsors regular conferences for church leaders, drawing pastors who might never attend an ex-gay event. Growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality has also, paradoxically, helped Exodus in its relations with churches. Joe Dallas, founder and director of Genesis Counseling, notes that ex-gay leaders help churches "articulate a response to pro-gay theology. People in most denominations never thought they would have to address a biblical view of homosexuality, just as many parents never thought they would have to respond to a daughter who came home and said, 'I'm a lesbian.' " Not only that, but "the prevalence of Internet pornography has opened up an honest discussion [about many sexual issues] within the church," Dallas says. "More Christians are saying immorality is not just a cultural problem; we have a problem."
As churches and Christian colleges have opened their doors to ex-gay ministries, the ministries have in turn begun to rethink their approach. "We do need sexperts, counselors who can do things that small groups cannot," says Andy Comiskey of Desert Stream Ministries. "But for the church to say that help exists only outside our walls, that is not optimal. I think it has to be body life."
"If I were completely successful," says Exodus president Alan Chambers, "the church would take over. The traditional pattern within Exodus has been a stepping-stone or launching pad to leave the homosexual lifestyle or a life of secrecy, to find camaraderie with others facing the same struggles, and then to go on to embrace the church. What if a church was so dynamic that a Sunday school class could do the same thing? What if people in church could become transparent, and people in those Sunday school classes became comfortable to share their stuff as well?"