Thinking Out Loud

June 27, 2013

When is an Apology Not an Apology?

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.

o-o-o-o-o

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!

June 22, 2013

Exodus International Shuttered After 37 Years

In the television program Newhart, which should not be confused with The Bob Newhart Show, Bob Newhart plays innkeeper Dick Loudon with actress Mary Fran playing his wife, Joanna Loudon.  I’ll let Wikipedia tell the rest:

Newhart boasts one of the most memorable series finales in television history,  entitled “The Last Newhart.”

…The screen goes black.

Then a light is turned on. Viewers see Bob Newhart is playing the role of Dr. Bob Hartley (Newhart’s character from The Bob Newhart Show) clad in pajamas, while sitting up in bed. The master bedroom is a duplicate of the room set seen on The Bob Newhart Show.

Dr. Hartley says, “Honey, you won’t believe the dream I just had.” His wife turns on the light and rolls over to speak with him. It becomes clear that she is not Joanna, but the dark-haired Emily (Suzanne Pleshette, Hartley’s wife from The Bob Newhart Show). Many in the studio audience (and millions of television viewers) realized with a shock that the entire Newhart series (and presumably Dick Loudon’s entire existence) had just been revealed to have been nothing more than Bob Hartley’s dream.

In a way, that’s how the years 1976 to 2013 must appear to those who were part of the drama of Exodus International, a non-profit Christian organization founded to quench homosexual desire. Was that all a dream? And then…

Exodus InternationalOn June 19, following a unanimous vote at its annual meeting in Irvine, California, the board of directors announced that the organization intends to shut down. It said the move came “after a year of dialogue and prayer about the organization’s place in a changing culture.”  Its president, Alan Chambers, repudiated the organization’s mission in a nearly hour-long talk at the annual meeting, the organization’s 38th such gathering.  In the talk he said, “I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.”  He said his next ministry would be different: “Our goals are to reduce fear and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming and mutually transforming communities”.One member of the board, Tony Moore, issued a statement that said its decision was “not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, but a new generation of Christians is looking for change — and they want it to be heard.”  The organization has local affiliates that may continue to operate independently under a name other than Exodus.

[complete article with annotation at Wikipedia]

Basically, in a changing world with more investigative data on the subject of homosexuality than any other psychological and sociological phenomena in the last several decades, the reparative therapy shoe no longer fit. While the effort of those years wasn’t all for naught, it is a repudiation of a ministry paradigm by the very organization which epitomized its radical approach.

In many respects, the Canadian organization New Direction Ministries reached this same decision many years earlier. It’s too bad that Exodus International didn’t borrow a page from their Canadian cousins. Although the organization began in 1985, its history page recounts the change that took place:

Having been a member ministry of Exodus International since the beginning, New Direction left Exodus in 2007. This decision was made in light of our distinct identity and no longer fitting an ex-gay paradigm of ministry.

The transition from being an ex-gay ministry to embracing an identity as bridge-builders in the midst of diversity around faith and sexuality has not been a quick or easy one. Such a transition can also raise suspicion as to our true motives and true activities as a ministry.

In the Spring quarter of 2010, the New Direction board concluded a season of conversation with key stakeholders of the ministry. The outcome of this time of reflection on our identity and purpose was an affirmation of our posture as bridge-builders in the context of complexity, diversity, and tension that surrounds the integration of faith and sexuality.

What this means practically is that we acknowledge the challenge of difference and work as peacemakers to develop models of relating and language that will promote unity, reconciliation, and justice. This posture of peacemaking will be shaped by our existing core values to be: respectful, relational, relevant, redemptive, humble, and hopeful.

We lament the alienation, judgment, anger, and hatred that marks far too many of the debates around homosexuality. The primary casualties are those outside the heterosexual mainstream, their families, and loved ones. For the sake of our witness to a watching world, ministry to those personally impacted, and our desire to see a vibrant church united in mission to bring shalom, we choose this identity of bridge-builder. We choose to stand in the midst of the tension, anger, and hatred-and we choose to speak words of love and peace.

Our theological and ethical positions are important, but if they are held without love, we are nothing but a clanging gong and resounding cymbal. In the debates on homosexuality, one does not have to look far to see evidence of a lack of love. At New Direction, we will move forward, focused not on trying to resolve the theological arguments, but on calling followers of Christ to relate and respond in the midst of this diversity with radical trust, robust hope, and fearless love. We believe that this will honour Christ, build the church, and foster life giving ministry to those outside the heterosexual mainstream.

Many times I’ve written that the issues of homosexuality and same sex attraction is the issue that the church has to face. In a series of gender issues and what some would call “pelvic” issues — abortion, commonlaw relationships, women in ministry, etc. — issues like gay marriage and the compatibility of a homosexual orientation with a faith based on the life and teachings of Jesus are probably among the most crucial issues the church has faced in the last century.

At a piece entitled “Top Trends Affecting Your Church…” we wrote:

The Gay Issue — I debated how to phrase this.   I’m not even sure what aspect of this is going to play out in your church.  I just guaranty that at some point during the year, you’re going to deal with various aspects of the gay debate …If you haven’t already.

However, the hoisting of the white flag at Exodus International is a concession to updated realities, not in terms of Christian theology, but in terms of the approach we take; a shift from confronting to coming alongside; from staring down an enemy to standing side-by-side.

My personal belief is that there are some people who are mis-identified, who have believed a lie being perpetuated by an internet movement that has a number of agenda reflecting a host of motivations. But we’ll save that for another article. I do agree that attempts at reparative therapy have been unsuccessful in changing the wiring of individuals given to same sex attraction, and that such efforts have done the proverbial more harm than good.

At this point, Exodus International has shot the final episode, and it ends with a dawning that the 47 years were, to use the Newhart comparison,  like a dream…

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