Yesterday I gave the emotional response to Exodus International closing up shop, now here’s the logical one. I want to preface this by saying that I do think that Alan Chambers is sincere. Also, after watching the video of his comments (skip to the 19 minute mark) to the Exodus conference telling the attendees that Exodus was ceasing to exist, I came away with the feeling that he spoke from the heart and was vulnerable.
I have no doubt he wants to do the right thing and is feeling immense pressure from the conservative Christian world to stick with the old path. I know that a lot of right wing activists have had it out for him ever since he went to the Gay Christian Network conference the December before last and told the truth, that 99.9% of people don’t change (I’d say it’s 100% but I’m not going to quibble over the decimal here). He’s taken great personal and professional risk because the evangelical world largely rejects even those LGBT people who remain single and celibate–just admitting non-heterosexuality doesn’t go over well. Looking at the way that anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera flipped his shit on twitter last night after the announcement should show how this is more than just cosmetic.
Further, in listening to his speech from last night, it’s important to remember that Chambers’ audience wasn’t you and me, he was speaking to the people in the room that night. That is, he was speaking to the people who have bought into Exodus’ message. They’re the ones who came to Exodus because they believed the message that they could change. They’re people who are there because they are still struggling to accept who they are, who are fighting and hoping to someday be different. We know that’s impossible, in the last 18 months Alan Chambers has been acknowledging that it’s impossible, but that’s where these people are at. It’s a very conservative, religious audience, an audience who is hurting, and not just because of the ex-gay stuff. They’re hurting because of the churches and families they grew up in, and they were relying on Exodus for support. Chambers couldn’t just pull the rug out from under those people without hurting them even more. The reality is those people do need help and support. Not help to change, but help and support because they sure as hell aren’t getting it from their churches or their families. To have announced they were closing up shop and abruptly left the people who relied on them hanging would have driven a lot of them to the even nastier part of the ex-gay world. Exodus helped create this mess, and I think the leaders have a moral responsibility to help fix the mess they created.
Here’s where my concern lies. Alan Chambers talked about working to make churches a safe place, something that is definitely needed. American Evangelical churches are not at all a safe place for LGBT people. However, and this is a very big however, if Chambers and co. are only going to be working to make the church a safe place for LGBT people who remain committed to either celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage to someone of the opposite sex, the church is not going to be a safe place. It just isn’t.
Until all LGBT people are welcomed and accepted and the church is a safe space for everyone, LGBT people will always be seen as the broken, lesser ones whose lives are constant struggle–and that’s just the celibate ones. It’s not going to be a safe place for kids to question or to come out because they’ll know that they’ll always be relegated to the “other” category and that they’re going to be in hot water if they ever decide to date. It’s definitely not going to be a safe place for LGBT people who don’t believe that celibacy is required.
One of the things that precipitated my “Stop Telling Us To Read Wesley Hill” post from a few months back was an email conversation with my former assistant pastor where he shut off all discussion by telling me I should read Washed and Waiting. Granted, that’s an improvement over when he used to write favorably about ex-gay ministries on his blog or the time my church invited the Harvest USA dude to speak in Sunday School, but it does nothing to make church a safe place for me. There’s no way I’m going to be darkening the door of his new church plant. Even though he’s moved away from advocating ex-gay ministries, pushing celibacy as the only option and refusing to consider that good Christians can disagree means that church will never be a safe space for me or any other non-hetero Christian.
I sincerely hope that in talking about making the church a safe place, Alan Chambers puts aside his own personal beliefs on the issue and advocates for a church that is safe for everyone. Unless and until that happens, then there will still be no place in the Evangelical world for an awful lot of us. As long as that remains true, then gay people will continue to be hurt by the church. In another three and a half decades, we’ll be seeing a repeat of yesterday, with whoever is leading the new group having to apologize for the hurt and the harms they’ve caused by only making the church a safe place for those committed to celibacy.
And so I ask of Alan Chambers and the other leaders of the soon-to-be-defunct Exodus, please, when you work towards making the church a safe space, work to make it a safe place for all of us. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the thing that will most glorify Christ and his kingdom.