Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
I thought it important/helpful to link to a couple of additional responses to the end of Exodus International’s ministry. These responses come from two who have been on the front-lines of this discussion and ministry, in their lives and writing.
Stan Jones, one of the speakers at last year’s Theology Conference, wrote an excellent response: “Exodus in the Wilderness.” Jones addresses Alan Chambers’ apology, President of Exodus International. He comments on something that was right about the apology which reflected theological maturity, and also something that reflected theological drift.
Chambers's impassioned apology reflects many elements of appropriate maturation in the theological and practical vision of Exodus. But while apologies can reflect godly repentance, even well-meaning apologies sometimes can go awry. We can misjudge or overshoot in our apologies. As such, Chambers's statement reflects aspects of theological drift and a capitulation to a prevailing culture that is unbecoming to an organization grounded in scriptural truths.
What was right? Chambers apologized that some have been hurt by actions of some leaders and ministries of Exodus. He also apologizes for the pain inflicted by the Church. Jones addresses this in much greater detail.
What was wrong, and reflected theological drift? Jones notes three matters (I note only the major points).
First, Chambers states that the "good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed" by the hurt it has inflicted. The problem here is that all of the good ever done by or in the name of the church has been clouded by its brokenness and fallibility. All of our good deeds are contaminated by our human limitations and brokenness.
Second, Chambers's own reticence about stating his moral commitments combined with the determination of the Exodus board to form a new organization with a goal to "reduce fear" suggest a capitulation to cultural non-judgmentalism and the prevailing view that moral concerns about homosexual unions are nothing but "homophobia." The historic teachings of the Scriptures and the church on sexual morality have not been driven by fear, but by the words of God spoken to the prophets and apostles.
Third and finally, Chambers states in his preface to his apology that his beliefs do not center on sin but "around grace, the finished work of Christ on the cross, and his offer of eternal relationship to any and all that believe." Chambers seems to be alluding to a prior controversy that may mark the crux of the matter.
This prior controversy concerns statements Chambers has made that “nothing, not even sexual immorality, can ever separate us from the love of God. This seems contrary to the biblical witness of Christ himself [who] promises to separate the sheep from the goats, or of the apostle Paul who proclaims that ‘the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 6:9).”
Jones concludes with “profound sadness” not only about the demise of this ministry, but the reasons for its death, and the bitter fruit that it will bear.
I learned the news of this most recent chapter in the journey of Exodus with profound sadness. At this point, the journey seems to have led into a wilderness in which it will be hard to reap a fruitful ministry that truly honors Christ.
Wesley Hill, who also spoke at our Theology Conference, also shared some helpful reflections as one who has struggled with same-sex attractions, and who did not fit the “Exodus” stereotype (this is one of the issues upon which I commented in my post last week, which is why I invited Wesley to speak at our Conference, “After Exodus, What?” Hill notes the appropriateness of Chambers’ confession about contributing to a certain narrative, that was rooted in their notion of “reparative therapy.”
There are two other items that are important to hear Wesley address. The first is his own narrative which did not reflect the “reparative therapy” narrative expected of all who became associated with their ministry.
Like many younger people who are Christian and gay, I have shied away from much of what flies under the banner of Exodus and its affiliates. I was never involved in an Exodus group of any sort, in part because so many of their public statements led me to believe they were addressing themselves to people with rather different histories than mine. When I heard ex-gay accounts of the origins of same-sex attraction—accounts that focused on absentee or distant fathers or failure to bond with same-sex peers in childhood—I realized I was hearing stories that were pretty removed from my experience. I was raised in a very loving two-parent family, and the “father wound” narrative never illumined the possible causes of my homosexuality as it seemed to do for others. And I discerned, however inchoately, however rightly or wrongly, that if I were to join up with an “ex-gay” ministry, I would feel some degree of pressure to conform my narrative to theirs.
The second important item about which Hill writes is that even though Exodus is no more, and some of what will be gone is good, there is still a significant need for vital and strategic ministry to those Christians who live with same-sex inclinations and who affirm the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures, and who are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to live lives of purity. What is needed is pastoral ministry to brothers and sisters that will allow them – and us – to flourish, not just survive.
But what we still need, and what I most want to be involved in myself, is pastoral ministry to those who say, “I experience ongoing, nearly exclusive same-sex attraction, I don’t expect ‘conversion’ to heterosexuality, I don’t expect to be married, but I want to live within the boundaries of the traditional Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, and I want to flourish, not just survive. And I need help to do that.” There are a lot of us in that boat. We do need help. And there’s now a gap to be filled with—what, exactly? an organization? a regular conference? ministry houses? intentional communities? parish small groups? something more, at least, than what Exodus often was—to help meet that need.
What will that be? Where and how will it happen? What role is the local church to have in this ministry?
I think the local church – which is made up of individuals, brothers and sisters – is absolutely critical to this ministry in this new day. What might God be calling you to be, to do?