Exodus International, a Christian ministry that for over three decades promised to fix gay people and make them straight in the name of Jesus, has closed its doors. Alan Chambers, the precariously ex-gay ex-president of Exodus, has said, “We fought the culture wars, and we lost.” Many Christians view the closing of Exodus as a direct surrender to Satan. Many gays, on the other hand, think that Chambers’ decision to shut Exodus down cannot erase the pain caused by the ex-gay ministry racket.
Based on recent life events, I have strong feelings on this subject. I have some comments regarding my own experience both as an observer of the ex-gay ministry in action and as a straight spouse.
1. Alan Chambers Has Balls of Steel
I don’t think people outside of evangelical Christianity can appreciate how much courage Alan and his board have displayed by closing Exodus. Certainly, those who were abused and made to feel inferior by Exodus and its ex-gay affiliates deserve to be angry. However, Alan has made some very courageous decisions. First, he’s stopped viewing himself as inferior in the eyes of God, and he’s stopped viewing himself as someone who’s a failure because he’s still attracted to men. Angry ex-gay community members need to appreciate that Alan has overcome years of brainwashing. He has accepted himself and those in the church who are like him and has stopped trying to force them to change.
Second, Alan has essentially given the finger to Focus on the Family (in a Christ and the moneychangers way, of course) as well as to other staunchly anti-gay organizations within the church. These are organizations with intense political power, and they hold sway over the minds of so many evangelical Christians. He has paid a personal price—how many of his so-called friends are returning his phone calls? He has also paid a professional price—how is this man going to earn a living in the future? Instead of criticizing him, the ex-gay community needs to show some mercy. He may not have made the leap that you want him to make, but the man has made substantial progress.
2. Alan Chambers Is Right About the Culture Wars: You Lost
I can’t help but think of Mary McDonnell, playing President Laura Roslin, in Battlestar Galactica. Near the end of the miniseries, she looks at Edward James Olmos and says, “The war is over, and we lost.” The church has sought political power, and it has sought to squash “immorality” like a piece of roadkill. However, Chambers is right: The church has lost the culture wars.
I could mention numerous statistics, which show that most young evangelicals have no problem with homosexuality and marriage equality. However, I’d like to make some non-mathematical points instead:
- For people who hate sexual immorality, fundamentalist Christians have gotten themselves into bed with some nasty characters. Jerry Falwell. Pat Robertson. James Dobson. Tony Perkins. Rick Perry. George W. Bush. John Hagee. These are just a few of the sleazy characters that have become the faces of Christianity. As an unbeliever, I can tell you that the outside world views these people as power-hungry, ignorant and loathsome. To sit at the table of power, many fundamentalist Christians have supported some narrowminded and nasty people.
- Even if you think your cultural battle plans are biblical, they aren’t meeting their objectives. The objective of shining your light before men is to cause non-believers to glorify your Father in heaven. Unfortunately, if your heavenly Father is anything like many evangelicals, then he’s not a character that unbelievers want to know. He’s judgmental, self-righteous, arrogant and anti-intellectual. You may think that you’re shining your light, but frankly, it isn’t working. The Father isn’t getting glory. He’s getting bad PR.
- You’ve lost hearts and minds. If you’re convinced that you’re getting extra credit for being “persecuted” for your righteous stances, then obviously you don’t care what outsiders think. However, if you have a sincere desire to win people to Christ, then you need to accept that your “family values” aren’t getting the job done.
3. Salt and Light Are Supposed to Be Good Things
Have you ever eaten a dish at a restaurant or family gathering that had too much salt in it? It’s gross. It’s unpalatable. And that’s what the church has become. Salt and light are desirable commodities. However, no one wants salt thrown in his or her eye, and no one wants the fluorescent light of an interrogation room. Salt is meant to be flavorful, and light is meant to be a beacon of hope.
Now, we can argue about what Christ meant in Matthew 5:13-14 about what characterizes “saltiness” and what characterizes “giving light.” I ask again: Is the church meeting her objectives? Does saltiness via sin-bashing and light-giving by being a righteous prick convince people that Jesus is someone they want to get to know?
4. Face It: You Pick and Choose the Parts of the Bible That You Like
Many people say that they believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. So how do you dismiss things like “women should keep silent in the church” and “women should keep their heads covered” and other tenets like not eating shellfish and sticking menstruating women in tents? You say things like, “The culture has changed.” How many times have you told yourself that, heard it in a sermon or said it to someone else? The culture has changed—as long as that rule is not something you want to defend. You don’t believe the Bible literally. That’s a lie, and to say so is intellectually dishonest. You pick the parts of the Bible that you want to fight about.
The fact is, Christians pick and choose the hills that they want to die on. They’ve chosen homosexuality, abortion, submission to husbands and non-separation of church and state as the hills upon which to lay down their lives. How many gay men and women have been encouraged to marry straight people of the opposite sex? How many of them have been told that if they will just be faithful to God, they’ll receive the magical heterosexual gift? How many straight people have wanted to kill themselves because of the inevitable breakups of their sham marriages? And how many gay people have wished they were dead because you told them that Jesus found them inferior?
To families, friends and parents of gay people:
When you decide that you are going to fight to death against homosexuality, the only person you’re hurting is yourself. Do you really think that God wants you to spend your life in self-righteous judgment of the people you are supposed to love? Do you honestly think that God wants you to grieve day and night about who has sex with whom? What would happen if you opened your heart to love instead of to judgment? What if being salt and light actually made people want to know something about Jesus?
In Genesis, the rainbow, which the gay community has commandeered as its signature symbol, was meant as a sign of hope. It was a promise that God would no longer wipe out the human race for their sins by sending floods and drowning everyone. Christians, stop trying to flood the Earth with your super-righteous hypocrisy. God changed His mind. Can’t you do the same?
I am grateful for the courage of Alan Chambers. At the same time, I would advise his wife to start saving for a divorce lawyer and a good therapist.