Alan Chambers of Exodus International Apologizes to LGBT Community

Update: Exodus International announces it is shutting down

Wow. 

It takes a lot of guts to issue an apology as honest and as public as this one from Alan Chambers of Exodus International. 

An excerpt: 

Recently, I have begun thinking again about how to apologize to the people that have been hurt by Exodus International through an experience or by a message. I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope. In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me. 
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.
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.   
You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours. I hope the changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight regarding Exodus International, will bring resolution, and show that I am serious in both my regret and my offer of friendship. I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good.

You can read the letter in its entirety here

It sounds as though Exodus International will be making a big announcement tonight regarding its future. My prayer is that this will be a turning point in bringing an end to the evangelical “ex gay” movement, which I know from conversations with many of you, and with many other gay friends and their parents, has created a lot of trauma and pain. 

Much of this seems to have been prompted by a special report by Lisa Ling for OWN called “God & Gays,” which based on this clip, is going to be difficult to watch. (Hey, remember when Lisa was a reporter for Channel One – like the program you watched in high school in the morning?) 

Sneak Peek: Lisa Ling's Special Report - God & Gays

So much pain here.  

May this apology be a step toward justice and reconciliation. 

What do you think?  I’m especially interested in hearing from my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender readers. What does this apology mean to you? 

 
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Love Opens the Door: A Plea to American Churches Regarding Gay Scouts

'Door knobs, pillars and receding views' photo (c) 2009, Nagesh Jayaraman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

First, let me commend the Southern Baptist Convention for passing resolutions this week to raise awareness regarding the complexities of mental illness and to call on pastors and church leaders to enact better policies related to child abuse. There is still much to be done on both of these fronts, particularly in regard to the troubling support of Sovereign Grace Ministries by some SBC leaders in spite of the organization’s apparent systemic sex abuse cover-up. But these seem to be good steps made in good faith which I trust will be followed by concrete actions within individual church communities.  I’m sure it can be frustrating for folks who spend days at such conventions working and praying through these resolutions to face criticism afterward, so I want to say at the outset that I trust these decisions are made with the best of intentions. 

That said, I think members of the SBC made a serious error in judgment this week by passing a resolution to officially condemn the leadership of Boy Scouts of America for their recent decision to accept openly gay boys into membership.  While stopping short of recommending that Southern Baptists drop ties with the Scouts, the SBC encouraged churches that choose to sever the relationship to expand their Royal Ambassador ministry, a Southern Baptist version of the Boy Scouts that would presumably ban gay participants. 

[You can read the full resolution here.] 

I’m thankful that the SBC recognized the autonomy of its individual churches in making decisions on this matter. (This is what makes them Baptist, and it’s a good thing!) My comments should therefore be read as something of a plea to the members of churches from a variety of denominations who will, in the months to come, make decisions about whether to stop sponsoring Boy Scout troops as a result of the organization’s policies. I speak not as a Southern Baptist or a “gay activist,” but as a fellow Christian concerned about our witness to the world and our care for the most marginalized among us. 

While the resolution expresses “love in Christ for all young people regardless of their perceived sexual orientation,” its condemnation of the Scouts only serves to further alienate those outside the Church from the gospel and to perpetuate the already dysfunctional and unhealthy culture of secrecy, fear, and shame within the conservative evangelical church as it relates to homosexuality. 

The fact is, boy scouts are already forbidden from engaging in sexual activity—heterosexual or homosexual—and so the change in policy simply addresses sexual orientation. In other words, being attracted to the same sex does not automatically disqualify a boy from becoming a scout. 

Is this really a move to condemn? Would a Southern Baptist Church forbid a child from attending Sunday School based solely on his or her sexual orientation? Even among those who count homosexual behavior as a sin, there is usually at least some room in the fellowship for people attracted to the same sex. So why hold the Boy Scouts to more legalistic standards than many SBC churches? This resolution goes beyond the typical condemnation by the SBC of homosexual behavior to condemn homosexual orientation.

It also raises some important questions: Does the SBC plan to disassociate from any group that might have gay members? Will Alcoholics Anonymous be banned from meeting in the church basement because some of its members might be gay? Will children be asked about their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents before being enrolled in Vacation Bible School? Will churches drop all partnerships with community nonprofits that don't discriminate based on race, gender, or sexual orientation? 

What disassociation from the Scouts would communicate to a community, (perhaps inadvertently), is that people with same-sex attraction are under no circumstances welcome in a Southern Baptist church, even if it’s through a separate community organization like the Boy Scouts. Churches that choose to break from the Scouts simply because there may be gay boys among them will send a clear message to their respective communities that LGBT folks—even teenagers— are not welcome anywhere near their churches; the doors are officially closed to them. 

If that’s the message you want your church to send, then send it. But if it’s not, please reconsider embracing this resolution or disassociating from the Scouts. 

Furthermore, what all of this communicates to kids already in the church is that if they find themselves attracted to the same sex, (or in falling in any way outside sexual “norms”), they better keep their attractions, thoughts, and feelings a secret or else they will be ostracized, maybe even kicked out. 

In response to the Scouts’ decision, the SBC has been promoting its Royal Ambassadors program, a sort of Christianized version of the Boy Scouts that provides the classic “retreat” option for those interested in “protecting” their families from the outside world.  But what happens to the kid in Royal Ambassadors who is gay? What happens to the boy who finally musters the courage to tell his parents or a trusted church leader he is attracted to other guys? Will he be kicked out of Royal Ambassadors? Will he be kicked out of the church? 

I once met a young man at a Christian college who told me that to be gay in a Southern Baptist Church is like living every day in hell. He told me he woke up every morning and went to bed every night with a heavy, palpable fear in his chest. He was burdened by the shame of carrying around a secret he knew he could never tell anyone. As a kid, he was teased by the other boys, and little was done to stop it. The church, he said, was the worst place in the world to be gay, the last place he would ever choose to come out. As soon as he got the chance, he ran as far away from that unreachable white steeple as his legs would carry him. The fact that he remains a committed follower of Jesus, despite the hateful response he has received from many Christians because of his sexuality, astounds and challenges me. 

His is not an unusual story. 

It’s the story of thousands of young people who are both Christian and gay. They are told they have to choose between the two, and when they can’t, they often leave the church or, tragically, choose to leave this earth for good. We cannot continue down this path. It has created too many atheists, too many grave markers, too many grieving families, too many broken hearts.

Our churches should be the safest places in which to come out, not the most dangerous. 

My guess is that most Southern Baptists would agree with me. My guess is that most just haven’t thought through the implications of this resolution, the implications of potentially disassociating from the Boy Scout troops in their community, or the implications of consistently fighting this culture war against homosexuality. 

So if your church is in the process of making such a decision, I encourage you think about it, pray about it, talk with your fellow church members about it, and talk with your gay friends, neighbors, and relatives about it. I also recommend checking out the book Torn by Justin Lee, a young man who was raised in a Southern Baptist church and who is gay. 

Torn-book.jpeg

Regardless of where one stands on the politics of gay marriage, or even the morality of same sex relationships, the message that a person has to become straight before becoming a part of the Kingdom is dangerous, untrue, and contrary to the Gospel. 

When God wrapped himself in flesh, strapped on sandals, and set up his tabernacle among us, he made a beeline for the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the despised, the sinners, the misfits, and the minorities. He ate with them and drank with them, and despite warnings from the religious leaders, he made them his disciples and friends.  

(And before someone jumps in with a friendly reminder that Jesus told those he healed to “go and sin no more,” let’s remember that no one actually went and sinned no more—not the first disciples, not us, not anybody. We aren't welcomed into the Kingdom on account of our worthiness, but on account of Christ’s worthiness.)

When we demand that people conform to a list of requirements before welcoming them into our churches we effectively “shut the door to the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces,” just as Jesus warned against. 

In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if what makes the Gospel offensive is not who it keeps out, but who it lets in.   Samaritans. Gentiles. Women. Tax collectors. Prostitutes. The poor. The merciful. Peacemakers. Drunks. Addicts. The sick. The uneducated. The persecuted. Slaves. Prisoners. The naked. The hungry. The marginalized. The troublemakers. The oppressed. The misfits. The powerless. Children. A self-important, undisciplined cynic like me.  An ethnic and sexual minority who, though the BIble forbade him from even entering a temple on account of his sexuality, turned to Philip and said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”  

Though Philip's mind may have raced - "you're a Gentile! you're a eunuch! you know very little about Jesus! - he responded only by following the Ethiopian eunuch to the water and baptizing him in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Look, here is water: The Church is water. The whole world is water. 

What will we let stand in the way? 

Love need not agree or understand or have it all figured out. 

But love always opens the door. 

I pray my brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist Church will not shut it in any more faces. 

###

Be sure to check out Torn: Rescuing Christians From the Gays vs. Christians Debate by Justin Lee. You can also check out his Web site here

If you are a Christian and gay, check out the Gay Christian Network.  

And for scout troops looking for a new home, The United Methodist Church has opened its doors to those dropped by SBC churches

See also:  

How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation

"All right then, I'll go to hell" 

Is abolition biblical? 

 

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Are we there yet?

does-jesus.JPG

Today I am pleased to introduce you to Jeff Chu.  Jeff is the author of Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in Americaa fantastic book that is part-memoir, part investigative analysis. The book, which just released last week, explores the intersection of faith, politics, and sexuality in America in a way that is thought-provoking, well-researched, colorful, and deeply personal without being indulgent. I highly recommend checking it out. 

Over his eclectic journalistic career, Jeff Chu has interviewed presidents and paupers, corporate execs and preachers, Britney Spears and Ben Kingsley. As a writer and editor for Time, Conde Nast Portfolio, and Fast Company, he has compiled a portfolio that includes stories on megahit-making Swedish songwriters (a piece for which he went clubbing in Stockholm); James Bond (for which he stood on a Spanish beach and watched Halle Berry emerge from the waves over and over and over); undercover missionaries in the Arab world (he traveled to North Africa and went to church); and the decline of Christianity in Europe (he prayed). On the wall of his New York office, you'll find a quote from former Senator John Warner, who once told Jeff: "You're a good little interviewer!"  A California native, Jeff went to high school at Miami's Westminster Christian, where he sat behind Alex Rodriguez in Mr. Warner's world history class. A graduate of Princeton and the London School of Economics, Jeff has received fellowships from the Phillips Foundation and the French-American Foundation, and in 2012, was part of the Seminar on Debates in Religion and Sexuality at Harvard Divinity School.  The nephew and grandson of Baptist preachers, he is an elder at Old First Reformed Church in Brooklyn, New York. He loves the San Francisco 49ers, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and clementines. And he detests marzipan more than he can explain in words.

I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did. 

JeffChu_Headshot.jpg

Are we there yet? 

By Jeff Chu

 “Jesus will not accept you, because of your hard heart and hate for him.”

“We must treat homosexuals like those suffering a mental disorder, because that is exactly what it is. If anything, we should have pity on these people.” 

“You need a good ex-gay therapist.”

Last week, messages like these filled comments sections of websites where my writing was being discussed. On Facebook, I was informed that I was clearly not saved. My inbox brought warnings that I needed to repent. 

I interviewed more than 300 people for my book, but intertwined with their stories is my own. I’ve never written about my life or my faith before, and naively, perhaps, I didn’t expect this onslaught. The night before my book came out, I sat at my desk in my office and did something that I haven’t done in years: I wept. 

For almost an hour, the tears rained down my face. I held my head in my hands, and I shook. Then, inside, I heard the softest echoes of my beloved late grandmother’s warbly voice, speaking to me in Cantonese as she had when I was 8: “You’re a big boy. Don’t cry. Big boys don’t cry. Crying doesn’t do anything.” 

Well, this big boy does cry—and on that day, it did do something. These were, at first, tears for fears—fears of being judged, fears of being condemned, fears of what might happen when the world saw me, through my book, for who I was and no longer for who I’ve long tried to be.

Then they became tears of grief. In some ways, I felt as if I were being excommunicated from my church—these messages all came from people who would place themselves in the evangelical part of the church that I grew up in. But in truth, they couldn’t kick me out. In soul and spirit, I’d already left those precincts of the church, and I was belatedly mourning that departure. I was also weeping for the loss of certainty—or at least the illusion of it that I once worked so hard to maintain. 

***

When I was a young journalist, I was taught to “kill your darlings.” Sometimes we writers will concoct a pun or a phrase that we just fall in love with. Applaud your own unparalleled cleverness, your unmistakable wit, I was told. Then cut what you just wrote. Your infatuation is also often the enemy of clarity—and sometimes truth.

One thing I had to mourn last week was the killing of perhaps my greatest darling: the persona of the Good Christian I long maintained, under the theory that it could somehow help preserve my faith.

This is, of course, a fallacy: Sometimes we speak as if our faith—and the faith—is unchanging. God may not change, but our beliefs and our understanding of Him do. Faith can’t be preserved, as if it were strawberries in jam or an unlucky beetle in ancient amber. It’s dynamic. It struggles and stumbles, waxing and waning, colored by circumstance, shifted by our spirits, and shaped (we hope) by the Spirit. I think, for instance, of Roman Catholicism, and how the Virgin Mary officially became retroactively and posthumously sin-free in the 19th century. And I think of the denomination I grew up, the Southern Baptist Convention, whose own less-than-immaculate conception was rooted in unfortunate disagreements with their northern brethren over slavery. 

For a long time, I resisted change. Though I felt alienated from the church and culture of my childhood, I played the image game well. I was treasurer of my college evangelical-fellowship group. I mentored younger students, my mouth saying things with far more surety than my heart ever felt. I even had a (shortish) string of long-term girlfriends—wonderful, godly women who, thank God, found much more suitable men to marry.

My semblance of pious normality reflected a Sunday-best mentality spilling over into the rest of the week. I thought that if, perhaps, I did a goody-goody-enough job with the façade, maybe it would percolate into the rest of me, preserving my faith. On some level, I guess I naively thought that I might even be able to fool God. 

I had to kill that person, that darling. I had to stop lying. And when I cried, I guess some of the tears were for that old Jeff. That costume, more comfortable than I’d like to admit even now, was a great hiding place, a cocoon that I convinced myself was safe. It was a big game of pretend, and I was pretty good at it, except that all games get old—or maybe you just get too old to play them.

***

A church of costumes and hiding places isn’t a place I want to be.

What we need, more than ever, is a church where we can shed the pretenses, and bring our doubts, our big questions, and our bigger fears. I don’t think I’m alone in desiring that. What I suspect many of us crave is a church where we can be our whole, ugly-beautiful selves.

This is who I really am: I am not an issue. I am a follower of Jesus. I love my husband like you love your husband. Sometimes I daydream during church, which I feel especially guilty about now that I am an elder. I am afraid to go to India because I don’t know if I am man enough to handle that much poverty in my face. I like to load the washer, but I’m terrible at unloading the dryer. I am really judgmental. I use the F-word a little too much. Sometimes, if I find a very old French fry, I will be tempted to eat it. (I will neither confirm nor deny that I ever have.) I love the Bible, and I believe that sin is a real thing, but I wish I understood better what God meant by it. I went to a Taylor Swift concert last week—for my job—and enjoyed it more than I’d like to admit. I need a good editor.

And who are you? Maybe you laugh too loudly. Or you cry too much. You love, even though you’re not always sure how to show it. You belch when you think nobody is listening. You love justice, but you’re not always sure what it looks like. You question your pastor. You watch too much Honey Boo Boo (which is to say, you watch it at all). You lie awake in bed some nights wondering whether God is as real as you want Him to be. You eat too many meals in your car. You say, “Bless her heart,” when you have no intention of blessing any part of her. 

Can we be these people in church? We must be—and the church that I’m talking about is not a building but the collection of the people who are trying their best to walk with Jesus. It does not end at 12:15 on Sundays. It’s wherever we and our hopes and our complicated, messy lives are. It’s a place where we aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know.” 

Our church is a place where we’re unafraid to acknowledge that we’re always in beta. I was thinking about this during church this past Sunday. In his Easter sermon, my beloved pastor, Daniel Meeter, encouraged us to imagine “the life of the world to come … Imagine always trusting other people, without having to be careful, always being open and candid about yourself without having your guard up, and even knowing yourself with clarity and honesty and peace,” he said. “Well, you are not there yet.”

Indeed. 

Maybe I’ll end up in hell. Maybe I do have a mental disorder. Maybe their Jesus won’t accept me. But I still cling to a Jesus who will meet me—and will meet us all—where I am now. Can we build a church that welcomes our mutual strengths but also allows—and even embraces—our confessions of weakness? Can we be that community? Will you join me on this journey?

***

You can follow Jeff Chu on Twitter. And be sure to check out Does Jesus Really Love Me? which released last week! 



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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.