Exodus International, one of the oldest and most prominent “ex-gay” ministries, issued a public apology to the LGBTQ community yesterday, along with a statement announcing the intention to conclude operations.
In the apology, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International and himself a member of the LGBTQ community, promised, “My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.”
As Exodus International restructures itself and moves into a new stage of its ministry, it has a new purpose: “Our goals are to reduce fear and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming and mutually transforming communities.”
Having written elsewhere about the need for the church to be communities of love for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I was encouraged by this change in direction. Ultimately, however, it raises a new question: is it even possible to do what Chambers proposes, which is, essentially, to identify homosexual acts as sinful yet be truly loving and welcoming to those who are homosexual? Can we separate same-sex acts from same-sex attraction? In other words, is Exodus International’s new direction of ministry just as exclusive as the old?
As we seek to answer these questions, I believe we need to recognize at least two dimensions.
First, regardless of the approach one takes towards homosexuality, such positions should always be lived out with grace, respect, pastoral sensitivity and love. For too long the church has been a place of fear for those struggling with their sexuality. At the recent synod of my denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, delegate Joseph Bowman shared his own story of living as a single, celibate, chaste gay man who was excommunicated from another church for his orientation (Bowman appears in this video at the 57:43 mark). No matter what one believes regarding homosexuality, my hope is that we can all communicate our positions in a way that expresses our deep-seated desire for all to experience the love of Christ and the grace that He offers us at the cross.
One could call this the “external” dimension of this conversation. That is, bearing in mind that the way we in the church have the conversation communicates almost as much to the world around us as the position we actually take. The apology by Exodus International is a helpful first step in reframing the conversation and ensuring that we are concerned first and foremost with people and not issues.
Second, as we dialogue within the church about homosexuality, we must always remember that we hold a diverse range of beliefs and experiences. I have LGBTQ friends who seek to honor God through lifelong, committed relationships and I have LGBTQ friends who seek to honor God through a life dedicated to celibacy. Some in the Christian community would say that sexual orientation simply can’t be separated from sexual acts. Even if we disagree with one another, my hope is that we can listen to each other and give each other a place at the table.
Ultimately, I suspect that this conversation will need to take place around dinner tables and coffee shops, over a glass of beer and at backyard cookouts. We will disagree with one another. As we gather together around the table (both real and metaphorical), bringing with us our own unique perspectives and experiences, dialoguing with one another and hearing each others’ stories, in the midst of our disagreement I believe that we can find unity.
And in all, may we be guided by Jesus’ prayer for all believers: “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”