By now, you may have heard of Christian ex-gay group Exodus International and its letter of apology and subsequent shut-down and regrouping. If you knew this group as the preeminent Evangelical “ministry” dealing with homosexual and bisexual Evangelicals with the goal of making those gay, lesbian and bi- believers ex-gay, lesbian and bi- believers, then you probably reacted as I did, with a sigh or shout of relief. That is, unless you were among the former Exodus* members and supporters who felt the organization was getting too conciliatory with LGB groups, and left to found other ex- or anti-gay groups. (I intentionally do not mention Trans* people or Trans-aggression here because there is no evidence that attitudes towards trans* people have or will shift anytime soon, unfortunately.)
Read his apology here. Excerpts following:
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 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… 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.
.. 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…
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.
This all seems wonderful and hopeful and inspiring. And it’s a pretty dramatic change. “I’m sorry for the pain I have caused. I am sorry that we didn’t formally acknowledge the horrible things we’ve done. I apologize for other conservative Christians and their blatant homoaggression.” He even seems to accept himself as a gay or bisexual man without shame.
And yes, this is pretty good.
But, let’s not fool ourselves. I have been a Christian for a long time and much of my history tracked alongside some of the Conservative Church’s most hostile movements against LGB people and their “agenda”. The language and rhetoric have changed much, but out of public shaming. Most Religious Right groups outside of Family Research Council won’t refer to the horribles of the gays or whatever just as most racists will never admit that they are racist. Yet, being in a committed, life-long same sex relationship is still more sinful for most of conservative Christianity than promiscuous heterosexuality is. (Although they’ll still shame the “promiscuous” woman any chance they get. The man, especially if a prominent pastor, was just tempted by the devil, etc. Seems a very far cry from Jesus’ own dealings with the outcasted woman at the well in Samaria.) The fact that Chambers refers to “the good we have done” suggests that acting on same sex attraction is bad and impure in itself. But let’s let Mr. Chambers finish:
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….
The “deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries… surrounding sex” and marriage have not changed, and the use of terms like “biblical” and “scripture” super-duper reinforce them. They are immutable, he suggests. Same sex attraction is not to be acted upon, for it is “sinful.” And sex is only to be performed between a husband and wife – regardless of the sexual attraction of the participants. That is the fundamental, driving philosophy of Exodus International and its new rebranding.
Here Tope Charlton has revealing, insightful, and incisive words:
I’ve heard a lot of conservative Christians claim that Fred Phelps doesn’t speak for them, that they don’t agree with him, that his church preaches a God of hate, while “true” Christianity – their version of Christianity – preaches a God of “love.” And ok, there are some differences in belief, but these distinctions aren’t terribly impressive, unless one believes that cookies should be handed out for not yelling at people who are mourning their dead.
In it’s essence, what “mainstream” conservative Christians believe about LGB people is no different from what Fred Phelps believes about them. I don’t know… anyone from my old fundamentalist life who would walk around with a sign stating that a brutally murdered gay man is in hell, much less openly gloat about it. But apart from a very small handful of people, everyone I know from my former churches certainly believes that Matthew Shepard is in hell, along with anyone who died while living a “homosexual lifestyle.” The fact that they don’t walk around with signs declaring this doesn’t make their beliefs any less hateful.
I grew up around these folks. Many of the Christians I knew were willing to state openly their beliefs that homosexuality should be a capital crime, that LGB people are child molesters or rapists given the opportunity, or that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuality. This wasn’t so long ago… These beliefs have never been explicitly retracted or condemned in any of the communities I was part of.
A few isolated people – even some relatively prominent ones – have “repented” of being ignorant and fearful of LGB people, of being deceitful in their representation of them, and have even admitted to sinning in how they responded to the emergence of AIDS. And many prominent evangelical pastors today are downright skittish when it comes to the once ubiquitous rhetoric of “perversion” and divine punishment, favoring instead phrases like “sexual confusion” and “struggling with same sex attraction,” and talking about how homosexuals need “compassion” and “truth spoken in love” from Christians.
I want to remind the reader that this post was written two and a half years ago. Please read the whole piece.
I’m tired of having the conversation be centered around straight people and their theological issues and experiences. There is so much beauty and amazing theological insights in the lives of queer theologians and people of faith if you would just listen for once… We don’t need a new conversation unless it starts with: being queer is holy and good and has something to teach straight people… And so we straight and cis people are going to listen as you all tell us about your amazing lives. I have lived in and survived the evangelical world and I know all of the ways that we code our language to not appear hateful while still teaching theology that makes you hate your life and your body. I’m not just being cranky and angry, this pain has been written on my body.
The scariest part about all of this isn’t just the deception. Not even that it’s from a group that’s supposed to be about the pursuit of Truth. It’s not just the cynicism, though the fact that they expect us all to buy into their repentance is sad and telling in a world where the institutional Christian church is run much like other markets, with a heavy emphasis on branding.
No, it’s the last paragraph of the Exodus apology:
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.
“We will serve… by hosting” what they interpret to be “thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality”. If nothing else, the words here are thoughtful. They seem inspiring and hopeful and positive. Yet, positive for who? Inspiring for who? For straight Christians who want to be better people without thoroughly challenging their “deeply held biblical” assumptions?
The key word is “hosting.” Not “listening to,” not “coming alongside,” not “turning over our mics to” gay, lesbian and bisexual (heaven forbid trans*) people who have suffered under repressive Christian sexual theology and practice. No. Their job, ironically enough, is to set the agenda.
The KindaSortaWasStillIsEx-Ex-Gay Agenda.
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