This could be possibly the most important 60 minutes or so of audio around the whole Conservative Christian response to homosexuality that you have listened to for decades.
Alan Chambers was part of a panel at the Gay Christian Network Conference two nights ago and answered questions about his view on human sexuality and the current emphases of Exodus International. It’s remarkable piece as he outlines a shift in the emphasis of Exodus. The two parts of the session are below. Part One is an introduction to the four panellists and Part Two is the main interaction with Chambers (and others). I strongly recommend you take the time to listen to at least Part Two.
Some of the reporting of this event has slightly missed the point. Here for example is the quote of Chambers referenced at Episcopal Cafe.
The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction. I think there is a gender issue there, there are some women who have challenged me and said that my orientation or my attractions have changed completely. Those have been few and far between. The vast majority of people that I know will experience some level of same-sex attraction.
The Cafe have taken that to mean that Chambers is saying that no-one ever sees a shift in their orientation, but that is not what Chambers actually means. Rather he is saying that most of the people who attend an Exodus affiliate programme do not come out “100% straight”. That however is not the same as saying that nobody ever sees any change in their sexual attractions and identity. As the ongoing Jones and Yarhouse study clearly shows, some people do experience some form of change, but that is normally a move to some degree of heterosexual attraction rather than a complete switch to “straight”.
Does this signal a shift in Exodus’ emphasis? I think it does. What has been happening for the past few years (and this blog has been a constructive part of that movement) is that those of us with any integrity writing and ministering in this area have realised that we need to say something different to describe what we actually see and experience in this work. In some senses, what Alan shared at the GCN conference is part of a movement towards a conservative Christian position that I think will look something like this.
- More openness to the fact that for those of us who have seen some form of shift in orientation, that shift is simply along the sexuality spectrum and almost certainly not to the point which is “Kinsey 0” (exclusively heterosexual). Such a move almost never happens. If there is more openness about what our sexual attractions actually are then we can move away from the idea that “gay = bad”. There is still, like it or not, plenty of “homophobia” in some conservative churches and this needs to be addressed. We need to have safe spaces where people can say “I’m gay” without people running a mile, taking folks off children’s’ church rotas and instantly trying to cast out demons or book them onto a course that will “fix them”.
- This means that ministries like Exodus will seek less to “change orientation” but rather will simply strive to help those who have same-sex attraction and who want to live lives inalignment with the traditional sexual moral to do so. This might mean at times opportunities to undertake courses like Living Waters, but it should never be suggested that such a course will “fix” someone. Indeed, we need to be honest about where people will probably end up (either still with exclusive homosexual attraction or “bisexual”). We need to be very clear that courses will not fix people (if “fix” means 100% straight) and that the real fix is to surrender a life to God, regardless of “becoming straight” or not. That is not to say that some courses cannot help with minimising and disabling the power of some sexual attractions, but they cannot guarantee “healing”.
- Part of the above means accepting that some of the things done in the past by some ministries were wrong. This is going to be very painful.
- The ministry emphasis will move towards sexual identity as a key. This was one of the findings of the Jones and Yarhouse study, that whilst the participants who saw change in orientation saw on average a shift of one point on the Kinsey scale, almost the more significant thing that happened was a change in their understanding of themselves. Interestingly, this was the emphasis of a new publication by Andrew Goddard and Glynn Harrison (not available online yet unfortunately) for the Christian Medical Fellowship. It basically argues this very point, that whilst there is some evidence of some orientation change amongst some people, the real pastoral work that succeeds is helping people to integrate their sexual desire with their conservative moral framework.
- Finally, that this will be VERY hard to communicate and many people will, deliberately or accidentally, not understand what is being communicated.
Needless to say I am very excited about this because it fits exactly into what I have been trying to articulate with the language of “post-gay”. If you want to get some idea of what my position is, read this, this and this.
Over to you. Is this the start of something new for Exodus, something better, a learning from the past few decades? If so, what does the future hold? Can a coherent Conservative pastoral response by formulated that doesn’t make promises that can’t be kept but does offer hope to those with same-sex attraction who seek to live a chaste life?