Alan Chambers Signals a Shift at Exodus

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.

Part One

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?

23 Comments on “Alan Chambers Signals a Shift at Exodus

  1. The essential problem in communication is that so many glbt persons feel wounded and lied to by Exodus, sensing a certain bait and switch that happens over the years. I remember hearing, only a few years ago, how, on one hand, their only goal is to minister to people with “unwanted” same sex attraction. But, on the other hand, they spend time in DC lobbying against people with “wanted” same sex attraction.

    What this demonstrated to me was that they will say one thing but do another.

    I would like to believe they have learned their lesson. But, I will remain cautious and wary.

  2. As a celibate Christian who stuggles with same-sex temptations, I have always found Exodus and like minded ministries to underemphasize the gospel and the process of sanctification.

    Jesus Christ died to save sinners and reconcile us to God. We have been completely freed from the penalty of sin, partially freed from the power of sin and will ultimately be freed from the presence of sin. We seem always to overlook the power and presence of residual sin in the lives of true believers.

    God does miraculously change transform some while leaving others to remain in the state wherein which He called them. All for His own purpose and glory. Perhaps, we should focus less on the sin remaining in our lives and focus more on the Savior and Lord. Perhaps,we should focus more on who we are in Christ Jesus rather than any self-described orientation (to whatever sin to which we are predisposed).

    • It could be argued that proclaiming a gay identity inhibits the process of sanctification – so Exodus’ emphasis on claiming a different identity (even though the recommended alternative was heterosexual rather than Christian) was spot on.

      I’m not sure if this was the main reason Exodus disregarded the commonplace meaning of the word gay (as Justin points out in the GCN discussion – most people today would define gay in terms that are roughly synonymous with SSA) but after 7 years of my own post-gay journey I’ve started to wonder how helpful it is to carry on self-identifying as gay.

      •  That’s an important point Joe. I think some evangelicals are more than a little disengenous when they claim they have no problem with people ‘being gay’, it’s just “homosexual practice” (as opposed to perfection? ;-)) they object to. If the whole idea of making what (in evangelicals terms) is a sinful inclination a key aspect of one’s identity is problematic (which, if we’re being logical, it surely is) then evangelicals should have the balls to say so, instead of endevouring to be simultaneously gay’affirming’ (we love gay people!) and condemning (gay sexuality is an inclination towards a form of behaviour that is always wrong). Although Peter’s ‘post-gay’ always makes me think of Eminem’s line on Versace “checking the male” ;-)

          Serious question: is there no therapy that just focuses on getting people closer to asexuality than any kind of lust? I appreciate that many would say that heterosexuals can have God-approved sex in marriage, a better (or at least easier) state than a life of celibacy, but replacing (if one is talking of moving across the Kinsey scale) a bunch of same-sex temptations with the straight kind isn’t exactly progress.

  3. Great post, Peter. Of all of the attempts to unpack the meaning of that quote, I think your explanation makes the  most sense. I agree that it can be seen as a small part of a larger, gradual shift among some conservative Christians.

  4. Peter I too understood Alan’s statement regarding change as you did. Though I certainly see how others have interpreted it as they have without the benefit of understanding ex-gay culture and language. The average Joe would take his words at face value. It takes someone knowing the culture to notice there is a subtle nuance there.

    As for Exodus going in a new direction, I am more reserved on that than you. I have heard similar statements in the past but there has been no change in the overall emphases of Exodus. The website and the member ministries still heavily focus on change in orientation. For me to believe an organization transformation has occurred I would need to see the entire website shift to an emphasis on sanctification instead of change in orientation; that would include a good deal of information on how to live a celibate life and the challenges of a mixed orientation marriage (currently there is virtually nothing on these topics). It would also mean an overhaul in the bookstore literature which is still heavily developmentally focused (despite their recent attempt at re-hauling) and focused on repairing the roots of homosexuality. Testimonies tend to follow a template that fixates on developmental issues as well.

    I would want to see Exodus execute new policy and materials aimed at influencing the member ministries as well as member churches to make the necessary changes, including clear disclaimers on the statistics (for example stating that 77% according to Yarhouse/Jones did not develop hetero attractions). This would also include addressing the mixed message that often occurs when Exodus/member ministries say it is about holiness, not heterosexuality, but have curriculum that is highly geared toward working through developmental issues in hopes of repairing what led to homosexual feelings. If its really about holiness, then policy should dictate that curriculum should focus primarily on sanctification and spiritual disciplines instead.

    Finally, I would hope to see Exodus take a more proactive role in correcting the misuse of Exodus by conservative groups that assert anyone can change their sexual orientation. Exodus has largely allowed itself to be used this way because they too are caught up in culture war apologetics. Thus, ministry has been distracted by a need to try to prove change is possible. But that should not be the role of this ministry. And in fact, it causes harm to the majority who don’t experience change and have to deal with a church culture that expects them to (because Exodus testimonies are proof!) and shames them when they cannot.

    I think Exodus might benefit from looking at how Catholic resources address this since the Catholic church is more articulate when it comes to addressing celibacy and in general does not focus on change of sexual orientation.

    Anyway, action speaks louder than words. I await the actions . . .

  5. Great post Peter. I think your last bullet point is spot on and has enormous implications. I am somewhat pessimistic (yet hopeful) that Christians will be able to listen effectively to one another, hear the nuances and respond with grace as we move along the trajectory which you have outlined so well. In particular I wonder how such a development will sit globally, including in non-Western settings??

  6. Hi Peter, 

    I’m a “conservative Christian” in Australia, I put together an essay on a similar topic as part of my M. Div last semester (it’s here. I used a fair bit of the Yarhouse and Jones data to make an identity based case, and I’m hopeful that my denomination (Presbyterian Church), as they rewrite our stance on homosexuality (a process I’m a part of) will make the move towards an identity based approach to both pastoral care and public discussion. 

    If you, or your commenters, have any links to material that might be helpful as I deal with some people on the committee who think the Bible condemns “effeminate men” – I’d greatly appreciate it. 

    Thanks for the post. 

    • P.S – I also think this approach is most consistent with Jesus’ teaching on sexuality in his “Eunuchs for the kingdom” line in Matthew 19.

  7. Unfortunately, given your claims to the contrary in this latest post, your first link to your own words offers the following:

    “…. The truth of course in this case being the “real” truth behind
    homosexuality, that it’s not a fixed thing, that people can change their
    orientation and move from gay to straight.
    I’m broadly in agreement with that viewpoint. I do think that sexual orientation isn’t a fixed thing…”


  8. Nope, only awkward for those who quote out of context.

    Today in the USA is “The Day of Truth“. You’ll see the little advert on the right-hand side of the page. Essentially, the idea of the Day of Truth is to follow the “Day of Silence” (a day when students in US schools go around saying nothing as a protest against homophobia – quite valid a thing to do in some places I think) with a day where “the truth” is shared. The truth of course in this case being the “real” truth behind homosexuality, that it’s not a fixed thing, that people can change their orientation and move from gay to straight.
    I’m broadly in agreement with that viewpoint. I do think that sexual orientation isn’t a fixed thing, that one’s sexual and emotional life isn’t dictated by genes, chromosomes or biology or even one’s current affections. But the canny amongst you will have noticed that unlike Exodus and it’s ilk I describe myself as post-gay and not ex-gay. Why is that?

    The first paragraph refers to the stance of “Day of Truth”, the second to my stance. I’m very clear that I believe “that one’s sexual and emotional life isn’t dictated by genes, chromosomes or biology or even one’s current affections”. But that is a far cry from agreeing with the position of those who want to reduce all same-sex attraction to a psycho-dynamic model.

    Though, to be fair, five years later then that original post you refer to, I’d be more comfortable referring to sexual identity then sexual orientation.

  9. Peter,I think you will agree: Christians, trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord, must at some point obey Him. Those of us with same-sex attractions must live as other celibate singles in Christ Jesus until that day we are able to live in a life-long monogamous heterosexual marriage (the only boundary wherein sex is not sinful).

    Truly, I think this is the basis of Jones & Yarhouse findings: there is a continum along which “ex-gays” (or “post gays”) find themselves as sanctification is an individual and life long process not complete until we see Jesus face-to-face (or, at least, that is how I read Ryle’s book on Holiness). 

    I agree the church and Exodus ministries would like to reduce SSA to a psycho-dynamic model or believe in the Therapeutic Gospel. Our sexual and emotional lives are impacted by genes, the enviroments, and our own sin nature. If it is really about holiness, then we should focus, as Karen has stated, on sanctifiction and spiritual disciplines rather on whatever our life-dominating temptation be.

  10. Actually, what we need to be doing is outlawing it completely, making it a criminal offence to offer reparative therapy, because it is dangerous and harmful, and can even be fatal.

    As for someone like you being excited about teaching people how to be a Christian and Gay, that’s deeply worrying, since you aren’t exactly a shining beacon of tolerance and don’t have the credentials to be accepting. People can be Gay and Christian without your help, and it’s best left to other Gay Christians, and THEIR groups to talk this through — it doesn’t need a course. Best thing to do with reparative therapy centres is shut them down, because the deaths and pain they have caused cannot be expunged with a few apologies and a bit of bleach. Exodus and NARTH will never be able to wash the blood from their hands, regardless of how gay-friendly they pretend to be. There is no place in the UK for this, and increasingly none in the US.
    Sorry to sound negative, whilst you are trying to be positive, but it just sounds like they’re intending to carry on reparative therapy under a new name, new PR, new brochures, new soothing mood music. It won’t wash.

  11. As far as same-sex attraction and being Christian goes, there is no issue, because the texts do not support condemnation of same-sex attraction, but refer to a variety of issues, including the fertility rituals of other tribes, religious rituals which involved sex, often involving temple shrine prostitutes. Ignoring the bible these rituals are also described in other literature. Unless those on here with same-sex attraction are temple shrine prostitutes — I wouldn’t worry about it.

    Who else agrees with me? Well, take this statement;

    a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute
    condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract
    fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a
    problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied
    narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to
    psychological structures.”

    Rowan agrees with me, and this is that he wrote.

    Fundamentalists and traditionalists read the texts only one way, and ignore all the other interpretations, of which there are several. Who would take things so seriously, and make life-altering decisions, when the texts are ambiguous at best, and wrongly interpreted at worst. We should have a debate to see what the texts really say, in their original Hebrew, within the historical context of their day — not trying to relate them to 21st century cultural norms. Who will be the first to explain Lev 18 21 — yes 21, not 22 ?

  12. Any person who is unhappy with who they are can change who they are. Any gay man can go and marry a woman and convince himself he is cured.
    As a gay man, I am not saying that it is not possible for a gay man to marry a woman and be happy. But I am saying it is wrong for anybody to say you can change if you believe in God.
    God made us who we are. We should be comfortable with that. We should not allow the opinion of others to quote how we live our lifestyle.
    We should not allow others to quote to us from the Bible what they interpret it says about us. Because I can find fault in anyone, Gay or Straight, using the Bible. Using what I interpret what it says. What I interpret, however, is not necasarily correct. Because the Bible is not the word of God. It is the word of Man.
    I have a relationship with God and he has told me in his own way there is nothing wrong with me being who he created me to be.
    Nobody chooses to be Gay, but according to Alan Chambers you can choose to be straight. Whats wrong with this picture?
    If you feel that in order to live with yourself you need to pretend to be something you are not because that is what other people expect you to be, go for it. If you want to change who you are because other people are telling you you are going to burn in hell, go for it. Judge not lest you be judged. We are all guilty of that.
    I think the recent suicides and other emotional trauma and the announcement of the closing of exodus speaks for itself.
    In the meantime, Mr Alan Chambers, you mind sharing with us what your net worth is? Im sure you made a ton of money off this farce. You will answer to your maker as well, sir. My answer to God will be, this is how you created me. What’s yours?

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