Earlier this month, I wrote about the Seventh-day Adventist church’s early history with the sexual orientation change effort industry (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Quest Learning Center and Homosexuals Anonymous both formed during the same era as Exodus International, a sprawling evangelical organization that taught LGBT people, their families, and their churches that “change is possible.” SOCE groups like these continue today despite advances in science and psychology, law, theology, and social acceptance, and not all of them have responded to these advances by becoming kinder, gentler, or more accurate about their claims.
Exodus itself, however, held its final conference this week. Yesterday its director Alan Chambers apologized to the LGBT community and their parents. He also announced that Exodus International will close and a new ministry will emerge in its place. The website for the new ministry is not yet live and I see no substantive information about it anywhere yet. Even if Reduce Fear’s work with churches is conciliatory, based on Chambers’ comments in his apology yesterday, I expect the new ministry to maintain his core beliefs that LGBT sexuality is morally deficient and that unconditional LGBT acceptance contradicts Christianity.
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.
…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…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. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself. —Alan Chambers
Last night I scanned Twitter to get a sense of the reactions to Chambers’ apology and have discussed it briefly with friends. While some from the LGBT-hostile quadrant of the church immediately raised the “gay agenda” specter or smeared Exodus as “sellouts”, the majority of early comments ranged from cautious surprise to outright celebration. I didn’t see much anger or cutting cynicism from LGBT-supportive people—though it may be much too soon to expect people to have passed all the way through the grief/loss process. Questions about and closer readings of Chamber’s statements are now trickling out and SDA Kinship will be sharing some of these responses to Exodus’ closure from their Twitter feed today.
I looked at Exodus’ closure statement myself, and this paragraph jumped out at me:
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.”
Return of the Prodigal Son, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1667-1670) | via the Web Gallery of Art
For most Western evangelicals, Chambers’ claim that “we’re all prodigal sons and daughters” will be uncontroversial. The majority of the evangelical community’s doctrines assume that humans are sin-depraved and experience separation from God if not in conscious relationship with Christ. The parable of the lost boy, a story of grace and embrace in family despite error and failure, is an old cultural favorite. So when Chambers identifies Exodus as that “elder brother,” this rings true for many of those harmed by SOCE organizations, and I can only imagine how difficult it has been for him to acknowledge that role.
But the final turn—from being the older brother to “being the Father”—does not fit. I know that as an evangelical, Chambers does not believe in apotheosis. So “LGBT or not, we’re all God’s children; this is our created and redeemed nature; and our lives will be about being or becoming more like God” cannot be what he means here.
In the bible story, the younger brother returns his father planning to play the servant. His father rejects that effort and claims him as the son he is: this is part of his restoration: that he be the son he is. The older brother resents his brother and their father’s open-armed reception of him, and the story closes with the older brother still outside the party, not yet accepting or extending family grace. I’ve often rewritten this ending in my head, supplying an addendum in which the brother crosses the threshold quietly to thaw over fruit punch. My epilogue reads something like “It took time, but both brothers healed. Realizing what their father had been trying to teach them, the brothers worked on their relationship and the family home became known as a house of love.”
Wouldn’t that the best resolution? That the older brother re-enter the party as a brother, not an overlord? That he restore his relationship, not craft a new superior or inferior one for himself, nor impose a false superior or inferior role on his younger sibling?
So why does Alan Chambers represent Exodus’ role changing from brother and peer to “being God”? If Exodus has already lorded over LGBT people for more than 30 years, why, even now, isn’t it enough to simply be equal? The hardest thing for beneficiaries of artificial hierarchies may be to lay their status down and stop grasping for new and improved ways to pick it back up. For those trodden by hierarchies, the hardest thing may be to shed temptations to inferiority or counter-supremacy, and to accept that we too are our Father’s children.
Should Chambers choose this path, with others who abandoned him long ago because he wasn’t harsh or separatist enough for them, he and they’ll find me by the fruit punch. I promise to save them a cup.