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Warning: Exodus is finished but the ex-gay movement has just begun

Warning: Exodus is finished but the ex-gay movement has just begun

Chuck Phelan, our Soulforce Board Chairperson, and I met with Alan Chambers at the last Exodus Conference. We thanked him for closing Exodus and for admitting exgay tactics don’t work. We delivered a letter from our ED, Dr. Cindi Love suggesting a list of actions we recommend he take next. This blog is my response to the Exodus closure.

Celebrate the headline Exodus International Closes Down. Thank Alan Chambers for his confession that “ex-gay therapy” does not work and for his apology for the “pain and hurt” it has cost so many of us. I saw Alan issue his apology at the last Exodus conference. He was sincere and contrite. Even if you don’t trust Alan’s motives, you have to admit that his confession and apology are a giant step forward in undermining the credibility of those who continue to hold out the false promises made by the ex-gay movement.

On the other hand we should not allow ourselves to believe that the ex-gay movement died with the closure of Exodus. Quite to the contrary, Alan’s apology provoked ex-gay loyalists to hunker down, ride out the storm, re-organize and re-emerge with an even more militant commitment to their beliefs that that homosexuals can and must be cured.

The Exodus (ex-gay) faithful are uniting under a new name, the “Restored Hope Network” (RHN) currently being organized by Anne Paulk. Anne admits proudly that this will be an ex-gay ministry. In her online testimony she describes the RHN “cure” for homosexuals in these words: “Jesus got hold of me and that was the end of my homosexuality.”

The Board of Reference of this old/new nightmare among us includes the same-old fundamentalist leaders whose names are associated with decades of biblical misuse and scientific ignorance: Matt Barber, Robert Gagnon, Joseph Nicolosi, Leanne Payne, Janet Parshall, Matt Staver and 11 other mega-church pastors and right wing organizers. The terrible suffering caused by Exodus and the failure of its ex-gay therapies flows directly and indirectly out of the false teachings of these fundamentalist Christian leaders.

These hard-core ex-gay promoters really believe that those who “give in” to their homosexual “temptations” will find “their lives ruined and their souls damned.” My worst fear is that the more than 250 ex-gay ministries located in the U.S. and 17 other countries that were once associated with Exodus will sign up with the Hope Restored Network instead of following Alan Chamber’s example.

Let’s not kid ourselves. These local ex-gay ministries know that their ex-gay therapies do not work and that they personally are responsible for suffering and even death.
The real difference between Paulk’s “Restored Hope Network” and Chamber’s “Reduce Fear” organization is their ultimate goal for practicing homosexuals. The old word “cure” is out. “Change” is in. Consider the “Restored Hope Network” as the hard-core “changers” who are committed to the failed methods of Exodus and “Reduce Fear” as the soft-core “changers” who practice “change” light.

At the recent Exodus “Freedom Conference” Alan’s own testimony inadvertently described “change” light. The first step for the soft core “changers” is to admit that that they cannot “cure” you, that no matter how hard you try your homosexual feelings will still exist.

Alan also admitted quite openly that he still “struggles” with homosexual desire and in deciding not to “act on those desires” he describes the second step towards soft-core “change.” Alan and the other soft-core changers don’t describe homosexual acts as sin (that’s the hard-core way) but they do cling to the old notion that God’s will for sexual relationships is limited to one man with one woman.

It’s very likely that Chamber’s “Reduce Fear” ministry will offer loving counsel to those who struggle against their homosexual orientation. It is also likely that they will help churches organize small groups for dialogue (not unlike AA’s group meetings) and publish new materials for soft core “change” that emphasize mercy and not judgment.

But just beneath that loving, non-judgmental surface there remains – whether spoken or not – the belief that “change” is still the ideal outcome. Alan’s “change” will not call for homosexuals to become heterosexuals but for sexually active homosexuals to become self-accepting but celibate lesbian or gay persons.

For those who choose not to remain celibate or for those who fail at celibacy “Reduce Fear” will hold up as an example Alan’s loving relationship with his wife Leslie. Soft core “changers” will teach that sexually active lesbian or gay persons should enter into “traditional” opposite sex marriages or into a relationship with an opposite sex fellow “struggler.” This sounds a lot like the Apostle Paul’s unfortunate advice that “… if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion, (I Cor. 7:9).

Here’s the problem. Alan Chambers and Anne Paulk are only different in degree. As long as “change” is involved in a ministry to homosexuals it remains an ex-gay ministry. Hard-core change demands that our natural homosexual orientation be “cured” or at least “denied.” Soft-core change asks gently and lovingly (not demands) that we live unnatural lives by refusing to be the person’s we were created to be.

Alan Chambers and his wife Leslie are obviously in love. It is perfectly appropriate for Alan to decide that being married to a heterosexual is worth holding his homosexuality in check. But it is not perfectly appropriate for Alan to set himself up as an example on which to build an entire ministry.

If his “Reduce Fear” ministry would say, “It’s ok to accept your homosexuality as a gift from God. It’s ok to be in a loving homosexual relationship. If that’s your decision ‘Reduce Fear’ will support you in every way.” Then they could also say, “But if you decide to struggle against your homosexual orientation in order to stay in a loving relationship with a heterosexual spouse, we will support you in that decision as well.”

As long as Alan Chambers even infers that not accepting your homosexuality is the better way he has not ended his ex-gay ministry. He has just re-organized it as a kinder, gentler form of Exodus. I’m afraid that one day he will have to confess that his new soft-core change methods didn’t work either and apologize again for the suffering and death he and his ministry have caused.