How will History Remember the End of Exodus International?Posted: June 20, 2013
In mid 2013, the president of Exodus International announced that the ministry was closing down. The website of the organisation offered an explanation, noting that their “Board of Directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International …”. Exodus International was an umbrella organisation for Christian ministries that sought to support those who wanted to reject their same-sex attraction. The organisation ran for over 30 years, becoming what was probably the most prominent Christian ministry to homosexuals, in the entire world.
The closure came after months of heightened controversy, perhaps most notably in regards to an alleged statement by the head of the organisation, that active homosexuals still go to heaven (contradicting 1 Corinthians 6). Conservatives had increasingly accusing the president of going overboard in his new theology of grace (ref. Jude 4), and the controversy lead to many (some say more than half of the) members abandoning the organisation and joining a splinter group. Another part of the increased controversy, was increasing recognition at the organisation, that a change in sexual orientation from essentially homosexual to essentially heterosexual, is statistically very unlikely, even for the most devout Christian. This newer position on the issue, is in harmony with the general long-term experience of same-sex attracted Christians, and in accordance with unbiased professional studies into it. But the new position was met with great concern and rejection by sincere yet under-experienced Christians who find it illogical and offensive to believe that an omniscient and omnipotent god would allow people to bear a fundamental predisposition towards sin, that they they cannot shake off. The new position was basically an admission that the organisation had mistakenly been promoting a falsehood for decades; that same-sex attracted people could in general become opposite-sex attracted. And of course, the closure comes at a time that has been described as a tipping point in American culture, where polls suggest that around half the US population now support homosexual relationships as becoming regarded as legally equivalent to heterosexual relationships, and around half now believe that homosexual orientation is congenital.
So how will history record this end of an institution? Will history record it as happened with accounts of the American Psychological Association reclassifying homosexuality from being a mental illness? IE decades later, different people recounting the event in deeply contradictory ways, some infused with allegations of conspiracy and corruption under activist pressure? Will it be difficult for those in the future, to know which angle on the story is a balanced and accurate account of what took place?
Right from the point of closure there has been one-sided reporting. Im not apportioning blame for this though – I dont know if it is due to a one-sided press release, or due to biased news outlets. The closure of Exodus International came with an apology from its president, to those who had been harmed. Randy Thomas, vice president, clarified that Exodus “had to be very specific about what we need to apologize for …”. But on facebook, I see comments that seem to reflect a mistaken belief by the public, that Exodus has renounced and apologised for everything it stood for. And if you read this account or this one, or even this one in a mainstream newspaper, you can easily get the impression that the organisation changed from regarding homosexual sex as sinful, to likely supporting it as valid. This perception contrasts with other reports such as this one, this one and this one, and with a message put out by the president of the organisation the same day, where he refers to “boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex”, probably inferring there is a line at which point Biblical principles on sexual expression, are contravened. Feedback elsewhere showed that many homosexuals interpreted that sentence to echo the long-held position of the organisation; that homosexual sex is basically sinful. Confusion and misunderstanding abounds and at least some of the Exodus faithful are gob-smacked too. And the conspiracy theories about why the organisation shut down, began quickly, as illustrated by the feedback under the article on this page.
Many reports have talked of “harm caused by Exodus International”, but few have referred to the helpful elements, or to comments such as when Chambers said that after Exodus shut down, some went off the rails.
But it’s early days as yet. It will be interesting to read accounts in decades to come, to see how the books… I mean e-books, record this remarkable end of an era.
So what do I think about the end of Exodus International? Well, I think it’s odd. It doesnt entirely make sense to me, despite now having listened to the president’s speech about it, several times over. And I would expect to understand. I think Im familiar enough with the vernacular and modes of thinking of both conservative Christendom and of GLBT culture, to be able to grasp what someone in his position says.
I acknowledge that Exodus International has copped a lot of criticism, and that some of that criticism has been a knew-jerk reaction or has been otherwise unfair, EG. But I also recognise that the organisation in past years was deluded about the likelihood of change in a Christian’s sexual orientation. So the status quo was certainly not a good path for the organisation to continue to follow. The president says in his speech that initially the Exodus board decided to modify Exodus, for the purpose of improvement. But he says that to completely modify an organisation is risky, and that “Exodus has suffered.” He explains that “Many have left …” and “we have realised [that] God doesnt want us to modify Exodus any further.” But there were good changes and bad changes at Exodus during its last 18 months. Maybe a key reason that many left, is over the bad changes, eg the hyper grace claims – that active homosexuals still receive salvation?
When the president talked of whether to shut Exodus International down, he said in his speech;
“In 2001… when I was being hired as the president as Exodus, the hiring committee asked me …; “What will success look like for you at Exodus?” Without hesitation … I said success for me will look like Exodus going out of business because the Church is doing it’s job. Every single day at Exodus … I have thought of little else than putting Exodus out of business. Because the church was finally a place that welcomed people in – all people – rather than turned them away. That is what we have spent more than a decade now doing – building relationships with churches, doing conferences, reaching out.” [Shutting Exodus down] “is the fulfilment of what I was hired to do. But my board and my leadership and I believe that Exodus must go out of business not necessarily because the Church is doing its job. Not saying it isnt. But we believe God is calling us to go out of business so that the church can do it’s job. And this will leave a void. One that I hope will not be filled by anything else but the Church. That doesnt mean that I think that the ministries that are a part of Exodus should go out of business …”
So to paraphrase, he seems to be saying that he isnt taking a position on whether the wider church is welcoming of same-sex attracted people or not, despite that having been the long-term goal. And he seems to be saying that irrespective of whether the wider church has met that goal, Exodus International needed to close, so that the wider church does then welcome same-sex attracted people. But wasnt Exodus a part of the wider church? And with Exodus gone, where to church leaders go to for doctrinal advice on homosexuality? How does this closure possibly contribute to enabling the wider church? Doesnt the loss of Exodus International make it harder for the wider church to handle this issue, and hasnt the president acknowledged this in the preceding months? And isnt the void likely to result in the wider church being under-resourced, until another organisation takes the place of Exodus International? Yea, his explanation doesnt make sense to me. It feels like the president has had his eye on closure since he started, and he wants to close up for the reason of providing appearance of deliberate fulfilment of mission, rather than the closure actually being a logical fit from the point of view of purpose of mission and of supporting the wider Church. An interview here sheds a bit more light on this question, and apparently in his book, the president says that God told him to close it. But still doesnt make full sense of the situation to me. And anyway, since when was a key goal of Exodus International been to make churches welcoming? Wasnt the tag line “[sexuality] change is possible”? I dont recall it being anything like “promoting understanding” or “bridging the divide” – certainly not back in 2001!
The key instigator in Chamber’s televised Exodus apology, was M. Busse, who has suggested that the real reason that Exodus shut down was that churches had largely ceased to fund the organisation after its message appeared to drift from a conservative theological position. Some have said that the president and board were reversing their position from evangelical to liberal to a point where Alan seemed to express that homosexual relations are not even sinful. And yes the presidents book later was noted for not containing a single Bible verse, which seems to confirm the liberal approach. I wouldnt be surprised if this defunding was a major component in the decision to close, especially in combination with the apparent radical change/reversal of mission.
Am I being too tough – attributing motivations to the president when I shouldnt? Maybe. But he spoke about the context and reasons for closure, for around an hour. Surely within an hour he could convey a good explanation? The explanation he did provide, just didnt make full sense to me. Others have previously claimed that this president speaks in “smoke and mirrors”, IE appearing to say one thing but meaning another, sometimes wording things ambiguously so that it’s hard to know what he means. Was this just the final example of what had been a long term approach at Exodus?
An equivalent Christian ministry in Australia, reportedly likewise closed the following year, and several US states banned reparative therapy for minors around the same time, but impetus for such legal bans reportedly began to taper off in 2014.