Exodus in the Wilderness
Exodus International, for many years the leading evangelical organization promoting "freedom from homosexuality," is closing its doors, reorganizing itself as "ReduceFear.org."
How should traditionalist Christians who have been supportive of and encouraged by the ministry, as well as the witness of Exodus, understand what has transpired? I have no special inside track to the inner workings of Exodus; I am not and have never been a member of the Exodus board of trustees or its leadership. But I have studied carefully the organization and some of its outcomes, and I have considered myself a collaborator for several decades.
Exodus explains its rationale by saying that "a new generation of Christians is looking for change"; that Exodus has "ceased to be a living, breathing organism [because it has been] imprisoned in a worldview that's neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical"; and because "God is calling us to … welcome everyone, to love unhindered." Exodus International president Alan Chambers also has issued a wide-ranging apology of his own and on behalf of Exodus.
Chambers's impassioned apology reflects many elements of appropriate maturation in the theological and practical vision of Exodus. But while apologies can reflect godly repentance, even well-meaning apologies sometimes can go awry. We can misjudge or overshoot in our apologies. As such, Chambers's statement reflects aspects of theological drift and a capitulation to a prevailing culture that is unbecoming to an organization grounded in scriptural truths.
What's right about Chambers's apology? Most importantly, Chambers apologizes on behalf of Exodus that some individuals have been hurt by the actions and unprofessionalism of its leaders and affiliated ministries. An apology here is appropriate. Exodus, a loose affiliation of independent ministries united by a basic commitment to orthodox Christianity and to seeking "freedom from homosexuality," has struggled with leaders revealed to be hypocritically involved in sexual immorality and/or who have engaged in predatory, abusive, or other forms of unprofessional and victimizing behavior toward some who have come to them for help. Exodus—perhaps out of fear of alienating its donor base—has been too timid in acknowledging, repudiating, and responding to such actions.
Chambers also apologizes for a failure to acknowledge the pain inflicted by the church upon members of the gay and lesbian community, including not standing up to name-calling against vulnerable people, stigmatizing parents of gay and lesbian individuals for causing the experience of their children, and for callously celebrating the painful, heart-rending end of same-sex relationships as individuals "left the lifestyle" in pursuit of transformed lives.
These are complex matters, and Chambers's apologies in these areas contain valid elements. For instance, Chambers apologizes for being "part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated" the hurt inflicted by the church upon the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. What is valid about this apology is that Exodus sometimes, in its constant search for donor funding and referrals, perpetuated harsh and ignorant views of homosexuality to which the conservative church is prone, many of which I have challenged in my own writings. The complications come with other elements of the traditionalist beliefs, such as the belief that homosexual conduct is immoral and that change is possible for some. The LGBT community regards these positions as harsh or ignorant, while they are in fact neither and are integral to our biblical vision of persons. The Bible teaches that homosexual conduct is immoral, and both the testimony of Scripture itself, and empirical research and credible personal testimony suggest change is possible for some.