In contrast to the dogmatic clarity expressed by its lovers and haters, our story casts Exodus International as neither deliverer nor devil. As participants, former leaders, and observers of Exodus, we have a complex response to the organization's demise, founded in 1976 to support those who wanted freedom from unwanted same sex attraction due to their spiritual convictions.
Its expiration feels like the sudden death of a loved one with whom we've had a complicated history. Is there relief? Yes… but also consternation and wistfulness. Along with our mixed feelings, we suspect that Alan Chambers is now taking the rap for what the Christian church has been avoiding for decades.
From our vantage point, Exodus' failure starts with mistakes in leadership development and supervision, a point missing from Chambers's thorough apology. I (Christopher) witnessed first hand how leaders were often released too soon to become poster-boys and girls for something they hadn't fully experienced.
I helped to found an Exodus ministry in the mid-1980s when both the culture and the church largely neglected the gay community. I resigned only two years later when I realized I hadn't yet experienced the relational wholeness that I both longed for and promised to others. A co-leader simultaneously initiated a sexual relationship with one who had come to us for help. It was textbook bad leadership.
The promotion of immature, earnest leaders—who weren't held accountable for failing to embody what they preached—left a wake of destruction. Exodus didn't invent such duplicity; it simply followed the model of what happens every day in the church, in the boardroom, and in the hallways of power. This is not to indict all Exodus leaders as immature or underdeveloped, which we know is not the case; nor is it our intention to exonerate the ministry for this serious error.
Moreover, Exodus chose to focus solely on homosexuality, and as a result, they lacked meaningful engagement with the diverse Body of Christ. This mono-focus may have reinforced the message that their brokenness was somehow more egregious because participants failed to hear how similar their struggles were to other non-same sex attraction (SSA) members of the church. Furthermore, excessive moral pressure was placed on those with SSA to attain measurable outcomes of healing (i.e. marriage), none of which were expected for non-SSA Christians.
Actual sexual sobriety is not a priority in most Christian churches, and yet they demand it of any member of the LGBT community almost as soon as they shake hands with the greeters. Most evangelical churches are, and always have been, quick to judge LGBT folks even as they wink-wink at their heterosexual congregants and leaders for viewing sexually charged media or the occasional hookup. According to Proverbs 20:10, God considers such double-standards an abomination.
It is noteworthy to us that Chambers did not accuse the church as mutually culpable for the demise of his ministry, though he clearly could have. The men and women who looked to Exodus International and other such organizations for help did so because much of the church refused to talk openly about sexuality and gender or offer genuine support to those who were conflicted about it.
For this reason, it seems malicious how both the churched and unchurched have ganged up on Exodus and other similar ministries in recent years. In our experience, Exodus has been filled with vulnerable, well-meaning men and women who took up an impossible task without adequate support and were then shamed by their own kin for failing. Despised and rejected by both the church and the gay community, it's no wonder Exodus succumbed to this auto-immune attack.