I was walking home from work this evening when I checked my Twitter feed and saw that Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, the biggest and oldest ex-gay organization, had issued an apology to the LGBTQ community for the way that Exodus had hurt people. The apology came with a promise that an announcement would be made later this evening. Just a few minutes ago, after announcing it at the Exodus conference, Alan Chambers tweeted a link to the official statement. Exodus International is closing up shop.
As Alan Chambers has been making overtures over the last year or so, people have been saying that the only way to show that it’s for real is to apologize and shut down Exodus. Today that happened.
There is still work to be done and reason to be wary, they’re launching a new thing at reducefear.org (site is under construction) that apparently is going to work with churches to be more welcoming. I have my opinions on bridge building and on the idea that the only non-sinful way to live as an LGBTQ person is celibacy, and if that’s what this Reduce Fear thing is going to be doing, I’m going to take it with a whole shaker of salt, but let’s pause for a moment and reflect.
For thirty-seven years, Exodus International has been selling the lie that it’s possible to change your sexual orientation. For thirty-seven years, they have heaped guilt, shame, and condemnation on LGBTQ people, guilt that they aren’t spiritual enough to change, guilt for the feelings they have, shame for not being straight, condemnation for not changing. They’ve heaped guilt on parents who were led to believe that it’s their fault their children aren’t straight. It’s destroyed lives, it’s destroyed families, and it’s been used as a weapon in the religious right political movement to fight against full civil rights for LGBTQ people. Exodus’ very existence claiming change is possible was a tool in making the case that gay rights court cases shouldn’t be subjected to heightened standards of scrutiny–something that the current Prop 8 and DOMA cases may very well hinge on. Exodus caused immeasurable harm, and now it’s over. Never again will right wing political activists be able to play the change card and be believable, not when the oldest and largest group apologized, admitted change isn’t possible, and closed its doors. The tide is turning.
Here is an excerpt from Alan Chamber’s apology:
And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. 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.
Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. 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.
Friends and critics alike have said it’s not enough to simply change our message or website. I agree. I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today. 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.
More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.
There are things that I don’t agree with in Chambers’ post, but I can’t deny that it’s heartfelt, and he followed it up with the only action that could prove his sincerity. Closing down Exodus for good was the right thing to do.
Speaking personally for a moment, I didn’t expect the mix of emotions that I’m feeling now. I never had any personal experience with Exodus or the ex-gay movement. I never went through the kinds of soul sucking experiences that people who went down the ex-gay path have to find a way to cope with. Growing up in the evangelical world, that message was always part of the background noise of Christian culture, though. As a kid, I read the articles about John and Anne Paulk in Focus on the Family Magazine (John Paulk, who, incidentally, also issued an apology and recanted recently). I’m ashamed of the fact that when my church brought in a speaker from Harvest USA, another ex-gay organization, to speak in Sunday School, I sat there silently fuming while he spread lies because I didn’t have the guts to cause a scene by either speaking up or walking out–and yet the real problem was the speaker being there saying what he said in the first place.
Even if you don’t believe the message and think it’s bunk, when you grow up and live in the evangelical world it bombards you from every side. It’s part of the background radiation. It’s what keeps those niggling little thoughts way back in the farthest reaches of your brain, giving you the constant feeling that you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop but you’re not quite sure what that shoe is. When you’re queer and grow up hearing that message, it means that when it finally comes time where you’re ready to deal with your issues, one of the things you have to grapple with is the knowledge that all of your family and friends heard the same thing. And even if you concluded it was bunk, you have no way of knowing for certain whether being honest about your truth means that you’re going to face a frontal assault from everyone you know having bought into the ex-gay lies.
Once the logic portion of my brain kicked in and I started analyzing Alan Chambers’ apology, I found all sorts of things that I could take issue with. When I first read it though, walking home from the metro through the streets of DC, I got choked up. Choked up because Exodus was finally acknowledging and apologizing for the way their actions hurt people and drove them from the church. I may not have been directly hurt by them, but the role they played in the evangelical world I grew up in still hurt me.
And so even though the logic side of my brain can start picking apart the whole thing already, right now I’ve got so many emotions swirling in my head. In the next few days, this is going to be overshadowed by however the Supreme Court rules in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases (and perhaps the timing is fitting, in a grand, poetic way), but for now let us reflect. Thirty-seven years. Thirty-seven years and now Exodus is no more. The world is a better place now that they’re gone.