Several years ago I was with some friends who were recounting to me the horrors they had experienced in the years spent in ex-gay ministry, specifically, those affiliated with Exodus International. I was the outsider in this situation, a straight Christian, and I listened quietly and respectfully, saddened by the growing number of horror stories I had heard from those who had attempted to turn straight. The men I was with tossed cynical jokes back and forth about Exodus for some time and I listened, sorrowfully, wondering what could be done to right these wrongs. The level and types of abuses were staggering. A lull in the conversation rolled in, the participants quiet in reflection, and I tentatively asked the question I already knew the answer to. “Was there anything redemptive or helpful at all about what you experienced with Exodus?” Before I could even finish the question, two of them said, “NO!” One or two others remained silent, and the fifth member of our group tentatively said, “The only thing that was redemptive for me was finally realizing that I had done everything I could and nothing was ever going to help me be straight. My experiences with Exodus, though terrible, showed me that I really was gay and there was no changing it. And that, in a strange way, was freeing in the end.”
I have been praying for Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, since 2008 when I first began laying the groundwork of LOVEboldly. Most of my prayers included pleas that God would give him wisdom and strength to be the leader in the conversation on faith and sexuality that the LGBT community and the church desperately needed. Conversations like the ones I had with my friends were a reminder that the prayers were still necessary – for both the victimized as well as for Exodus. Listening to Alan’s public speaking over the years, and in conversations with him since, I have sensed the day was coming when Alan would finally step out in boldness and truth about the work of Exodus, his personal story, and the lives of those Exodus has reached over the years. That day has come.
Yesterday, Alan Chambers issued a lengthy apology to those who had been hurt by Exodus International, repenting for pain and hurt that had resulted from the work and messages of Exodus saying,
“I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced….You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours.”
Hours later, Alan followed up his apology with an announcement that Exodus International would be closing its doors. In his announcement on stage at the final Exodus Conference, Alan said,
“Exodus must go out of business…so that the church can do its job….I long for the day when a gay or a lesbian kid feels like the first place, the best place to call or go for help is the church…we’ve got to apologize for what we’ve done wrong and then do something about it.”
Hearing the news that Exodus International is closing reminds me of the stories of my friends. It reminds me of the hurt and pain I’ve seen in the eyes of those who have encountered church people who will only love them if they pretend to be straight. It also reminds me though, of the hope I’ve seen in the eyes of those who have been able to say the word “gay” for the first time, or who found in Exodus a community which kept them from giving up on life. Each person’s story matters and our responses to the news may be different. There will be those who are relieved at the news, and those who will be deeply disappointed. That’s okay. There is room for you both in our community.
At LOVEboldly, we celebrate the honesty which seems to be characterizing the recent conversation on sexuality and faith by Exodus leaders, and we pray it continues. We rejoice at the prospect of an end to the era which has proclaimed that you are less valuable, worthy, or desirable to God if you don’t experience heterosexual attraction. We are glad reparative therapy is no longer being championed as the most faithful Christian response to LGBT individuals. We are thankful for words we have needed to hear, cautious to trust again in those who have betrayed us, and open to God working in hearts and lives when brokenness is too big for us to overcome on our own. We are aware that words mean little and actions mean far more. We are reminded that our hope is not in our abusers making things right, but in God alone, who restores and redeems all things.
We offer our friendship to those of you who have had your painful experiences redeemed and restored, and those of you who have not. We are a safe place to reconcile your spirituality and your sexuality in a non-judgmental environment which offers you the space and time you need to process things through in your own way, and in the context of community and friendship. We know the road has been incredibly hard on many of you and we want to help.
You are loved, each and every one of you, no matter where you find yourself. I invite you to share your stories below about reactions to Exodus’ announcement. Let’s talk.