Friday, June 21, 2013

Exodus International and The Silent Church

On Wednesday night, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, delivered the following message in blog post:
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 [sic] relationship with almighty God.
And then came the following announcement:
“Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus. “For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.” 
Chambers continued: “From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.” 
For these reasons, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a **separate ministry (emphasis mine).
 It should go without saying that this is enormous news for the LGBT community, and the closing of Exodus International - formerly the world's largest conglomeration of reparative therapy, or ex-gay, ministries - signals a new direction for the dialogue that the Church must have on LGBT issues. Certain sectors of Twitter and Facebook blew up on Wednesday night as the news made the social media rounds, and I found three responses.
  1. Members of the LGBT community and its allies said, "It's about damn time this happened." And a friend posted on Facebook, "This should have happened years ago." 
  2. People who had been harmed by ministries that fell under the umbrella of Exodus Internationals wrote publicly to work out their feelings.
  3. People from either extremely conservative churches or ex-gay Christians who believed that Exodus International was a right, good, and effective ministry bemoaned the loss of the 37 year old organization. They predictably called it another casualty in the culture wars. Go to Gay Christian Movement Watch's website for more on this perspective.
But by and large, the largest response was...silence. "What is Exodus International?" asked my seminarian roommate. This worries me deeply. The reaction of the LGBT community is telling enough; the Church is lagging behind on issues that matter to our gay friends and neighbors. Sadly, the Church is either too ill informed or too scared to say anything in response.

Silence is deadly. A tacit Church cannot validate the narratives and feelings of the men and women who underwent treatment at reparative therapy clinics, and this is a time for our gay Christian brothers and sisters to receive some pastoral care. The Church's silence regarding the disbanding of Exodus International is indicative of a larger disconnect between the Church and the LGBT community. If our stories can't even merit the slightest of head nods from church leadership, then we have no cause to feel welcome or included in the life of your congregation. And I think it's safe to say that most gay people believe that the Church has absolutely no interest in LGBT affairs.

So what is the Church to do? Some pastors I know are afraid to tread these tricky cultural waters because of how controversial and inflammatory LGBT affairs are for churches. I met with a group of Evangelical pastors yesterday, and one of them said that within his church, he has members who believe that it's not a sin for two men or two women to be in a covenant, monogamous relationship; he also has members who believe, beyond a shadow of any doubt, that all homosexual relationships are sinful. How do you even begin to teach on reconciliation between the Church and her LGBT neighbors if you can't get your own flock to see eye to eye on the matter? And another concern is doctrine; pastors do feel a need to maintain and teach a doctrine. The problem of homosexuality is that our sexual identity seems to confound and subvert traditional Christian ethics of identity and sexuality. So it's best not to speak on the issue, and let's just speak about grace instead

Yet according to a recent study released by the Pew Research Center,  nearly half of gay Americans don't belong to any religious affiliation. The Church is perceived as either judgemental, na├»ve, or irrelevant. I think that most gay Americans expect Christians to lead out a conversation on Christian sexual ethics in this manner: "Straight people are normal. Gay people need to change and repent of their desires." Actually, I think most gay Americans don't expect Christians to lead out on much of anything; I think most gay Americans expect Christians to remain barricaded behind their fortified ecclesiastical walls.

Last fall, a faith-based organization in Memphis ran a full-page ad in our local newspaper, and that ad was a blatant, hateful, fearful attack on the Mid-South gay community. A friend of mine wrote an apology to the director of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, saying we don't agree with what this ad says. And the director of the MGLCC simply wrote back (and I paraphrase), "You know, I appreciate what you have to say, but it would be so much more meaningful if you would say that in a public forum." I can't think of any Memphis church that publicly came out against that ad. Again, the Church was too detached from LGBT affairs, too preoccupied with trumpeting a proper sexual ethic to even acknowledge, let alone validate, our fears and concerns over this ad.

So Church! Alan Chambers has given us a golden opportunity to speak directly to the affairs of the LGBT community, of which I am a part. Gay Americans don't expect Christians to change their theologies - though they may hope that Christians might repent of certain beliefs - but our gay friends and neighbors would take notice if a Christian pastor came out to say something, anything about the end of Exodus International that was more than a polemical lament that the Kingdom of God has suffered another casualty in the culture wars. Because if we stay silent for much longer, our already weakened voice will be removed from the public arena and not easily given back. Look at Jesus! Look at Paul! Look at Peter! These men were not afraid to proclaim reconciliation, grace, and redemption in the public square; those messages came long before any teaching on a proper sexual ethic.

May we find our voice soon.

Until next time,
** I'm not entirely sure what is meant by separate ministry, but it goes by the name of "Reduce Fear." Only time will tell what the purpose of this ministry will be.


Sheila said...

Hey, Jimmy. While looking for a way to contact you this morning, I discovered your blog, and, of all things, this post caught my eye. I'm glad it did, because in case you didn't see this in the CA last year, written by a friend of mine, I thought you'd want to.

I appreciate what you're doing and the time you put into writing here. God bless you.

Jimmy said...

Sheila, thanks for sharing!

Hope you're staying warm and dry today.

Alan Chambers said...

Just reading this post 8 months later. Thanks for your thoughtful post.