I was a regular reader of John Shore’s blog before he became, as it were, a one-issue candidate. I liked the Christlikeness of his loving approach toward gay and lesbian Christians (and non-Christians) but over time his blog morphed into a sort of advocacy group for faith-connected or faith-seeking people in the LGBT community. I would agree with him on one day, but not the next. So I mostly stopped reading.
But I figured John would be quite happy to see the end of Christian reparative therapy organization Exodus International.
John was not happy at all. He took EI’s Alan Chambers to task for issuing something that had the literary form of an apology, while at the same time noting that Chambers was not really apologizing at all. At first, I thought, ‘C’mon John… can’t you at least accept this as a step in the right direction?”
But you know, it’s amazing what 24 hours can do. Someone once said if you want to follow world events, read magazines not newspapers, because newspapers stories are written in haste, but magazine writers have the luxury of up to a month to ruminate on a given topic. I realized that Shore has a point.
I’m not saying that I disagree with Chambers. He still holds to the same Biblical principles as he did before. He doesn’t see that God has changed His mind on certain issues. He doesn’t feel he has anything to recant. He is repenting of the approach that EI used, the damage it caused in many individuals and families, and its present outdatedness in a rapidly shifting culture.
So it’s understandable that from Shore’s point of view, the announcement of last week simply doesn’t resonate.
EI got boxed into a corner and had the good sense to hoist the white flag. The problem in the Evangelical milieu is that we don’t have good protocols for shutting down ministry organizations. As long as there are donors creating a good supply of daily donation mail, the organization must continue, the lights must be kept on, the staff must be paid.
EI decided it couldn’t maintain the status quo. Whatever form that decision takes, it was the right one; but Shore is astute to notice that it doesn’t mean there’s been a shift in core values among the leadership.
In Saturday’s post here about the EI closing — the one where I subtracted 1976 from 2013 and got 47 instead of 37* — I mentioned some parallels between Exodus International and their Canadian cousins at New Direction Ministries. NDM director Wendy Gritter had just released their monthly eNewsletter and I noticed the issue of the hour was missing. That’s changed now on their blog, and you can read Wendy’s comments at this link. Here’s a sample:
…When New Direction was going through the birth pangs of trying to move towards generous spaciousness, we had a very involved conversation as board and stakeholders about whether we should change the name of the organization and start over with a fresh, new blank page. After all, here in Toronto, New Direction had that association with ex-gay – not a nice or easy legacy to navigate. It would have been really nice to change the name, rebrand, and simply start over.
In the end, we felt that it was very important to keep the name. It has been hard. I still meet gay people in Toronto whose first reaction is cynical and bitter when they hear that I lead New Direction. But it has been richer too. I get to hear the painful stories. I get to be a humble ambassador of reconciliation. I get to be a living apology. And sometimes our biggest critics have become some of our biggest champions…
I’m not sure that would work in the same way for Exodus. So I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t close down. But, I do wonder if they simply re-open, with a new name, if there aren’t a few red flags for me. When I wrote my apology for Ex-Gay Watch, New Direction still clearly held a traditional theological view of marriage. What we found, however, was that the notion of building bridges while holding a clear position was a bit of an idealistic pipe-dream. If we really wanted to nurture open and safe and spacious places for people to explore, wrestle, and ultimately own their own spiritual journey – we needed to relinquish our certainty – and acknowledge that Christians with deep commitment to Jesus Christ and to the Scriptures come to different conclusions on the question of whether a committed gay relationship can be an expression of faithful discipleship. As leaders and as an organization – we had to relinquish power, control, status, privilege – and humble ourselves in the place of real tension – where we have to trust that the Holy Spirit is more than able to lead people in the way they need to go. We don’t need to control the outcomes in people’s lives. Our role is to enter mutual relationship with a commitment to keep looking to Jesus.
*The headline was repaired but the error lives forever in the permalink!