The ex-gay myth has crashed. Fallen. Shattered. Exodus International president Alan Chambers announced last night that Exodus is shutting down. Tonight in a televised interview with Lisa Ling (OWN 10pmET), he will publicly apologize to all who have been harmed by the organization. (See apology here)
The ex-gay house of cards has been falling for some time. Over a decade ago, Focus on the Family’s Dr. Dobson was advocating the use of so-called ex-gay ministries. Prior to 2000 Focus on the Family broadcasts featured their own John Paulk, “the story of how one man overcame homosexuality.” In 2000, however, when Paulk was spotted in a gay bar, he quickly disappeared from the organization family.
A most interesting Focus on the Family story you may have missed was in 1997, when Focus on the Family co-founder Gil Alexander-Moegerle, having left the organization, wrote a letter of apology for the organization’s stands on homosexuality and women’s issues. (This story of course was not broadcast, and Dr. Dobson certainly did not endorse it.) He could no longer keep silent. In his words: “I apologize to lesbian and gay Americans who are demeaned and dehumanized on a regular basis by the false, irresponsible, and inflammatory rhetoric of James Dobson’s anti-gay radio and print materials.”
Likewise, leaders and founders of Exodus international have been leaving and apologizing for several years. (You can view many of these on YouTube.)
The message that must get to our churches: There’s no such thing as ex-gay. Anyone can “change” and believe himself changed for a period of time, even a few years, especially when he wants so badly to please his church and his family, and when he has been convinced that being gay is a sin before God. Ultimately though, despite marrying, having children, becoming a perfect church-going family man, no one can escape his orientation. It will always resurface. And before you argue with me, show me someone who has been “ex-gay” for 10 years or more and who claims he is “cured,” and ask yourself as a straight person if you could pray away your attraction to the opposite sex.
Many wounded Christians have been hurt by so-called ex-gay ministries. Their churches have for many years sent them to organizations like Exodus to be “cured,” only to be confused and harmed emotionally. Some tell stories of electric shock, others of being forced to masturbate while looking at opposite-sex pornography, others of being taught to play “manly” games like football, all being told over and over that they are a disappointment to God. If you pray hard enough and have enough faith in God, God will heal you, cleanse you, make you heterosexual, many churches likewise have preached to those who are gay. It has been in error all along, and now the Exodus ministry itself is humbly saying, “We are sorry.”
Those churches that will be bewildered by the closing of Exodus are those who have embraced the misguided belief that a person’s sexual orientation is a choice and that being gay is a sin. All of us have believed wrong teachings, especially when we have heard them over and over by religious leaders in whom we place so much trust, who likewise were taught repeatedly by their leaders, who likewise were taught by their leaders . . ., but there comes a time when we all need to question and re-examine our teachings, measuring them against the example and the teachings of Jesus himself.
And if we open ourselves up to really listen to the hurting people, we will hear through their tears the same stories over and over – stories of believing the church’s preaching of condemnation, and praying for years to change, stories of wondering why God doesn’t change them, why God doesn’t love them, stories of leaving church in sadness, and feeling like a broken human being, not worthy of God’s love.
The American Psychological Association has estimated that one in ten males is gay and one in twenty females, and this percentage is consistent across lines of time, race, culture, and even religion. The reason we don’t see this percentage in many of our churches is because they leave before adulthood, having suffered in silent pain throughout their childhood and youth, listening to the condemnation. Fortunately most just leave the church (as if that’s not sad enough), but many choose in hopeless desperation to leave the world. We cannot wash our hands of these lives, churches. We probably will never hear the reasons, because their families have been taught to be ashamed. Parents are taught to believe their gay children are “lost.” Thus, not only are the church’s misguided teachings on homosexuality hurting those who are gay, but also all those who love them. Entire families are grieving and hiding in shame that their children are gay.
Without this “stop-being-gay” ministry to send them to, what now can a church do to help those who are gay? Exodus’ closing is actually a blessing, because it gives churches a great opportunity to seek meaningful understanding and response. It gives us an opportunity for real dialogue, for listening to gay people’s stories, for examining Christian organizations that are ministering to gay people in helpful ways. Gay Christian Network, Soulforce, Evangelicals Concerned, More Light Presbyterians, Pink Menno, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, The UCC Church, The EpiscopalChurch . . . the list of Christians reaching out with Jesus’ love and compassion is growing every day, and these are excellent sources for churches to begin to honestly seek direction.
Now is the time, churches, to ask ourselves if we indeed have failed in this area. Now is the time to hear the very real cries of those we have personally hurt despite truly meaning to help. Now is the time to make a choice. We can continue to quote the Leviticus abomination passage and pretend we already know all there is to know, or we can humble ourselves before those we have hurt and before God, and say “we are sorry, deeply sorry.”
Recommended for prayer and meditation: Acts 10:9-19
photo credit: blog.mysanantonio