By now you are probably aware that the world’s largest homosexuality rehabilitation ministry, Exodus International, has decided to shut down its ministry. As of June 19th, over 10K people on Facebook had shared the statement made by Exodus’s President Alan Chambers, a former homosexual himself. So, why did so many people share a letter from the president of a Christian “anti-gay” organization?
Well, for one, the statement was an apology. In the statement, entitled “I Am Sorry”, Chambers apologized for the hurt that he and his ministry has caused in the LGBT community:
“Please know that I am deeply sorry. 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. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse.”
Another reason is that any controversial story related to homosexuality will get attention. The ripples that Exodus International has caused in light of its closing is simply emblematic of the importance that homosexuality has in today’s society.
However, in this case, the attention seemed a little different. There wasn’t quite as much vitriol spewed by each side as there normally is. Most seemed to respond to Chambers’s statement with a sort of measured tolerance because although people may agree or disagree in principal with the now defunct ministry, it is believed that this is a step in the right direction – even if it is a small step.
For example, Christopher Yuan, a Christian who is author of Out of A Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God, commented in Christianity Today:
“I do appreciate that Exodus no longer promotes orientation change. Although God does not bless homosexual sex or same-sex romantic relations, heterosexuality should not be the goal. … I think one weakness of Exodus (whether intentional or unintentional) had been a lack of emphasis upon biblical singleness, resulting in an over emphasis upon heterosexual marriage.”
From the other side of the fence, Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, an organization that combats ex-gay groups, was also (somewhat) positive about the recent happenings with Exodus International:
“While we are overjoyed to see Alan Chambers and the board of Exodus do the right thing by closing their doors, there is still far more work to do to put an end to the awful practice of ‘ex-gay’ reparative therapy. As we’ve seen with the recent formation of the Restored Hope Network, there are still enough charlatans and hucksters out there committed to pushing their discredited worldview, at the expense of LGBTQ people and their families, to keep us busy.”
Not all, however, would agree with Wayne Besen or Christopher Yuan or even Robert Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and say that a rejection of a rehabilitative approach to sexual sanctification is a step in the right direction. Andrew Comiskey, a board member of the aforementioned Restored Hope Network, for example, tweeted that Exodus International’s recent decision to abandon a rehabilitative approach to homosexuality led to their downfall: “How merciful of God to shut down Exodus, which under Alan Chambers leadership had completely veered off the course of its mission.”
However, despite the attention that controversial stories about homosexuality will bring, I think the most important reason that Alan Chambers’s statement has garnered much attention and the reason that much less vitriol has been exchanged this time around is that his apology was sincere. For reasons that are at the same time obvious and perplexing, sincerity has become a lost heart in today’s society. Thus when we see it – especially when we see it connected to a topic that is too often devoid of sincerity – we see it as a truly remarkable thing that deserves attention. Being vulnerable is a truly terrifying thing, as Chambers attests:
“Our ministry has been public and therefore any acknowledgement of wrong must also be public. I haven’t always been the leader of Exodus, but I am now and someone must finally own and acknowledge the hurt of others. I do so anxiously, but willingly.”
But, sincerity does not mean renouncing or apologizing one’s deeply held beliefs, as Chambers did not:
“…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.”
Sincerity means being humble, but not compromising, about one’s beliefs. You may disagree with Chambers’s beliefs and you may criticize his ability to “cultivate human flourishing“ without giving up his belief that homosexuality is wrong, but I think it would be narrow not to appreciate the sincerity that Chambers showed in apologizing for the pain he and his ministry have caused in the LGBT community. This is a difficult thing to do, especially when your deeply held beliefs go against the majority of public opinion – see the recent Gallup pole or the very recent Prop 8 ruling in the U.S. – but I think it is a necessary thing to do. After all, nobody ever said this whole humanity thing was ever supposed to be easy.
Flickr photo (cc) by Iain Farrell