Alan Chambers is shutting down his “pray away the gay” program and asking for forgiveness. But he still believes that homosexuality is a sin.
Alan Chambers, the former President of Exodus International, made news this week with the closing of the 37-year-old ministry and the accompanying personal apology on behalf of the organization for its years of trying to “pray away the gay.” He has begged forgiveness for both the organization and himself. The closing of the organization and its rebranding with a new mission statement would indicate a true desire to change.
I was raised Catholic but I was always a bit of a rebel. Not much, but a bit. When we were studying Homer’s Odyssey in elementary school, I once raised my hand and asked, “Didn’t the Ancient Greeks believe that all their gods were real? What makes us different?” The answer was basically, “Because Christianity is the true religion.” I also once asked, “If Lucifer sincerely repented would God forgive him?”
That was a doozy. And the answer I got was basically, “No.”
Forgiveness, on the surface, seems easy to understand. A sincere apology is offered, one accepts, and then you move on. Vital for self-preservation, for inner and outer peace, real forgiveness is, to me, the hardest thing to put into practice. When it comes to grace, religions, philosophies and self-help gurus have given us variations on a theme. In Judaism, a person is obliged to forgive if the offender is sincerely sorry. In Catholicism, grace, mercy and forgiveness are discussed in relation to the Seven Cardinal Virtues and forgiveness is considered necessary for Patience. Carrie Fisher, in her play Wishful Drinking, breaks it down to a quote which has been variously attributed to Gandhi, St. Augustine and Alcoholics Anonymous: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” The healing, then, is on both sides.
But thoughts of the damaged lives and the irreparable harm Exodus International has caused makes my heart well with sorrow and my skin crawl with rage. What can be done to repair that devastation? In John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, Father Flynn relates a story about a gossip. That story was told to me as part of a sermon in the church of my youth: a woman asks forgiveness for her malicious gossip. Her priest tell her to cut open a pillow and dump its contents out her window, instructing her that she can no more undo the damage she has caused than she can collect up feathers from the wind. The insidious nature of the teachings of Exodus International, various Christian sects and other non-Christian religions that profess homosexuality to be an abomination do damage to the world. Violence is the result.
Violence against the gay community is a result of the pervasive and inexhaustible rhetoric that damages the psyche of the individual and leaks into secular society. Matthew Shepherd’s death, whose heinous torture and beating took place at the hands of anti-gay teens, is on the hands of the anti-gay movement along with thousands of others who have gone unnamed and unmentioned by the media. Those who proclaim to “love the sinner and hate the sin” are unaware of the results of the inner conflict their platitudes produce. And when they are made aware, denial takes charge. Lady Macbeth, in her impassioned, guilt-ridden speech in Act V of Macbeth concludes, after delusional attempts to scrub the blood from her hands, “What’s done cannot be undone.”
Exodus and groups like it have caused damage that will take decades, if not centuries to undo. Racist hatred in the United States pervades even though tremendous strides have been made in the Civil Rights movement. Crimes against homosexuals vary from raging violence and beatings (a series of them have taken place in New York City as recently as the last six weeks) to day-to-day bullying in schools – before children even understand their own emotional and sexual proclivities. The sins of the father are visited on the children. Indoctrination has victims in both the bully and the bullied.
Chambers, in his apology, says:
“I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them. I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.”
His belief that homosexuality is something he must accept in himself as an ever-present temptation to be fought is what my mother would call “talking out of both sides of his mouth.”
Contradiction is the nature of nature, so while I believe Mr. Chambers is sincere, I still am angry at this late apology. I recognize his desire to move forward and to acknowledge the damage Exodus and others like it have caused – and continue to cause. Chambers promises to “proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God [and to] serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing.”
It sounds marvelous but what’s the nitty gritty? As long as his ministry professes that homosexuality is sin, my safety will be at risk.
I was named for Thomas the Apostle. Doubting Thomas. He didn’t believe Christ was risen until Jesus asked him to touch the wounds on his resurrected body. I believe Chambers feels remorse but I don’t see how his belief in homosexuality as sin will change the hatred produced by so much conflicting dogma.
Mr. Chambers is not responsible for decades of poisonous dogma. And his apology, coupled with the dismantling of Exodus International represents a step forward in the LGBT community’s relationship with Christianity, which has been soiled by toxic language on both sides. I believe the closing of Exodus was not done without a great deal of soul searching on the part of the Board of Directors and all involved. In a general sense, assuming their good intentions, I have respect for the struggle they must have gone through to reach their decision. Mr. Chambers’ personal remorse resonates for me. Do I forgive him? Well… he has not caused me any direct harm and peripheral fallout from Exodus continues to float in the air like the feathers in the sermon. But in my own heart, there is room for Mr. Chambers and those who struggle with what nature gave them.
I feel deeply sorry for those who allow such inner conflict to be so influenced by document which is so full of contradictions. I feel sorry they cannot reconcile themselves to the truth of themselves. When they do, they will recognize the need to forgive the Biblical teachings that have wronged and misguided them. Only then can they move into a world of peace, self-love, honor and grace.
Also read Ted Cox’s exposé Under Cover in a Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp
Photo of flags: Flickr/Pete