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Archive for the ‘Alan Chambers’ Category

Last week I blogged about Alan Chambers and his announcement that Exodus was moving away from politics. Through Ex-Gay Watch Alan Chambers asserted

that after listening to friends and critics alike — but mostly the Lord — we decided to back out of policy issues and our Director of Government Affairs took a position with another organization.

Today David Roberts at Ex-Gay Watch reports that Exodus continues to maintain ties with a politically active conservative group.

After XGW discovered information indicating that Exodus International is a member of the prominent religious conservative political organization, The Arlington Group (AG), we asked President Alan Chambers to respond on the record. He replied that Exodus was indeed a member, and they planned on maintaining that membership.

Publicly Alan stated that he was willing to take a leap of faith. He suggested that the Lord was behind this decision to back out of policy issues.

The author of James asks the critical question,

But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? James 2:20

For years Exodus member ministry leaders petitioned Exodus to get out of the business of politics. Ex-gay survivors also have raised the question, “If the vast majority of us do not end up living an ex-gay life and instead embrace another way that we feel is more healthy for us, why does Exodus seek to punish us by denying us rights and privileges afforded to heterosexuals?”

Perhaps Alan spoke too soon and did not count the cost of stepping out of the political arena. Perhaps certain politically active funders and supporters will disdain a non-political Exodus and throw their money and support to groups that care less about people and more about politics.

Wendy Gritter modeled leadership for the Exodus leaders when she gave her keynote address and again in the article she posted here at XGW. She stressed,

We have been distracted by the politics around homosexuality.

Of her own ministry she promises,

We are pastorally-focused, not politically driven.

Alan has heard from friends and critics, but according to him—mostly the Lord—that Exodus should move out of policy work. Quoting from James again,

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

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I keep having to remind myself that it is not even a full year since Christine Bakke and I launched Beyond Ex-Gay (bXg) and the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement. That was in April of 2007 after an all night crazy session where we posted nearly 30 pages of content in eight hours. Now we have over 120 pages of content with loads of narratives, art work, articles and resources. Soon we will have a recap of what happened in Memphis with photos, video and more.

After the launch of bXg, we partnered with Soulforce and UC Irvine’s LGBT resource center to organize the first ever Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine, CA. By choosing to have it in the same city and the same week as Exodus’ annual conference, we saw the beginnings of a deeper sharing that previously had not taken place between ex-gay leaders and ex-gay survivors.

By telling our stories through art, in the media, over dinner, in a chalk talk, apologies, through video and written narratives, our message has been that for many of us, our ex-gay experiences caused us more harm than good. In telling our stories we have sought to understand what happened to us and to stand as a witness and warning about some of the harm that can come from trying to change and suppress our orientation and gender differences.

People began to listen. Others felt encouraged to speak out. In less than a year dozens have come forward, not to attack ex-gays, but simply to share how the ex-gay life was not possible or healthy for them, and that they found a better way for themselves.

Some discussions we held were very public, others very private, and will remain private. And we have begun to see shifts and changes.

Love Won Out has since revamped their web site and now presents a slightly more realistic picture about change than they have in the past. Ex-gay leaders attended some of the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference events and blogged about how moved they were by what they saw and heard. People have begun to use the term ex-gay survivor in the media and on their blogs. Recently Wendy Gritter, a leader of an Exodus affiliated program in Canada, specifically referred to the stories at Beyond Ex-Gay in her keynote address to Exodus leaders earlier this year. Wendy has since published a piece over at Ex-Gay Watch outlining some changes she would like to see take place at Exodus.

And today we learn from Ex-Gay Watch that Alan Chambers announced that

In August, 2007 after a lot of prayer, deliberation and listening to friends and critics alike — but mostly the Lord — we decided to back out of policy issues and our Director of Government Affairs took a position with another organization.

This is good news indeed and comes after much work on the part of folks both within and outside of Exodus to help the leadership to consider backing away from getting tangled in debates about LGBT rights.

Back in July during the Ex-Gay Survivor Initiative sponsored by Soulforce, ex-gay survivors shared their stories around the country with a recurring theme about harm, but also with a call to ex-gay leaders and church leaders to consider pastoral care and people’s lives before politics.

John Corvino, a philosophy professor and wonderful lecturer about LGBT issues recently wrote an excellent article about ex-gay issues. In it he says,

People often ask me what I think about ex-gay ministries. I have no objection to them in principle, but serious problems with them in practice.

I have no objection to them in principle because I believe we should give others the same respect that we ourselves demand. That includes giving people wide latitude about living their lives as they see fit. If you really believe that you’re heterosexual deep down, and you want to take steps to help realize that identity, far be it from me to insist otherwise. I’ll let you be the expert on what you feel deep down, as long as you show me the same courtesy.

You can read the rest of the piece here.

Lovely shifts and dramatic changes are happening. Thank you to all ex-gay survivors who have stepped up to share their lives and their stories. Later this week along with Box Turtle Bulletin we will release more video of ex-gay survivors who recently began to speak out. We cannot underestimate the power of telling our stories honestly, vulnerably, not out revenge or malice but out of concern for others who may not know the other side of the story.

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This is the second in a three part series. Part One: What Was I After and Why?
Part Three: Living on the Outside

Part Two–What Happens When Change is not Possible?

After all my efforts, my faith in the Bible as I understood it and my faith in God and the working of the Holy Spirit, the change from gay to straight never came. In fact, the more I pursued what I thought was God’s ordained gayless path, the more I desired men, the more severe the struggle became, the more bizarre I acted out.

Finally after losing my marriage, my job as a missionary in Zambia, my close friendships and the support of my home church, I became desperate and enrolled in the Love in Action (LIA) residential program in Memphis, TN.

During orientation the staff informed us how we should envisage the program. How disappointing to hear John Smid, director of LIA, announce that none of us should expect to become heterosexual! He considered such a goal to be unrealistic and stated that most likely we would struggle with these same-sex desires for the rest of our lives.

I despaired. What a weak, powerless Gospel! Hearing this, one of the elders in my church back home questioned the spirituality of LIA. But after 15 years of believing I could and must seek to change my sexual orientation through the power of God, in deep grief I accepted the fact that such a change was not possible for me. It rocked my faith and challenged everything I had believed about the redemptive work of the cross and the blood of Jesus.

It turns out that Exodus now teaches this very message—change in orientation is not possible—although they share this mostly behind closed doors. Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, spoke at the Love Won Out (LWO) conference in Phoenix earlier this year and via a transcript of his talk, Hope for Those That Struggle, I read what Alan had to say about same-sex attractions and change.
(hat tip to Jim Burroway, who is working on his next installment of his LWO series).

And I’m going to shatter your world here: heterosexuality shouldn’t be your number one goal. Whether that’s for yourself or for your kid or for your loved one or your friend or your family member. Heterosexuality shouldn’t have been my number one goal.

The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness. And I think we in the church often get that wrong. We think, “okay, the best thing for this person who’s involved with homosexuality or involve with lesbianism is that they come out of that lifestyle and go into heterosexuality.

Well if that’s all we think is necessary, we’re setting people up for a terrible fall. The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness.

This is not the first time I heard the mantra about homosexuality versus holiness. (Is it an ex-gay creedal statement or a think-tank created mind-bending talking point inserted intermittently to stir up shame and fear?)

In many ways this statement proves more sinister and harmful than statements promoting the false assumption that change in orientation is possible (which most Exodus ads still suggest to this day.) What I hear in the mantra is that anything homosexual by default is unholy, unclean, dirty, ungodly, evil and demonic—the opposite of all things holy. I heard this same message over an over in my youth be it on the playground, in the media or at church.

In his statement, Alan Chambers declares that people with same-sex attractions, who refuse to renounce these attractions, are unclean, much like the leper or menstruating women in Jesus’ day. These ceremonially unclean members of society were denied access to the temple and intimate relationships. Anyone with a conservative church background today can decode Alan’s message to mean that people who accept their same-sex attractions are denied access to God and to heaven. It may not be what Alan intends to say (or it may be), but the statement exudes this damning message all the same. Only the righteous enter the holy Kingdom of Heaven and homosexuals are NOT holy.

Back at Love in Action, I understood that although change in my orientation was not possible, I still needed to sort out my same-sex desires and get the victory over them. I stood with a choice-my faith in Jesus or my same-sex attractions? I chose Jesus.

At LIA I determined to gather the necessary tools that would enable me to manage and contain my sexual desire. I still dreamed for the miracle of complete deliverance from same-sex desire, but I knew not to expect it. So with the goal to be a faithful soldier of Christ, denying myself and taking up my cross and bearing it daily, I plunged into two years of treatment at LIA.

I devoted my time, energy and heart to the effort. I allowed the program teachings to soak into my mind, much of it stuff I already knew from ex-gay books I had read but with a more therapeutic spin on them, but also new techniques, ideas and theories. The program took on many approaches (some times changing approaches weekly) and in some ways incorporated the “best” of what was offered in the ex-gay world.

Though writing hundreds of Moral Inventories, I re-interpreted every non-straight sexual experience I ever had and re-labeled them dysfunctional, inappropriate and addictive. I continued to spend time in prayer and Bible study staying in close contact with God and looking to God for strength. I also submitted to LIA’s training to make me more masculine by changing the way I dressed, my affect, my tastes and hobbies. In the language we used at the time, “I worked my program.”

Next–Part Three: Living on the Outside

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Over at her blog Christine responds to snarky comments Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, left over at Shawn O’Donnell’s blog. Shawn wrote about the moving experience he had at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference,

The most emotional part of the weekend was a chalk talk we did… where people shared their emotions about their ex-gay experiences on this huge sheet of paper. The entire ceremony was done in silence. It gave me the chills. I don’t believe there was a dry eye. I felt like I was at the Veteran Memorial or the Holocaust museum.

To which Alan lashes out,

Harm? Come on, Shawn. No one is being harmed by Exodus offering people a choice. You KNOW better.

Christine digs into this choice that Alan offers,

Now, about the “choice” issue. What choice are they offering?

Is it the choice between being kicked out of your church, or being loved as “the struggler?”

Is it the choice between a relationships with parents who believe we can and should pursue change because others claim to have done it, or living a life being true to yourself but without a good relationship with family?

Is it the choice between which state to live in because Exodus has politically backed anti-marriage equality amendments that could negatively affect your children or yourself?

Is it the choice that many women have to make whether they will stay in a marriage with a man who is not able to love them well, or whether they will leave and break up a family?

Is it the choice of having to believe that you are broken and inferior, or the choice of finding your own wholeness in a world that is all too ready to believe what they are told about gay people?

I can understand Alan being defensive when people who have intimately known the work of Exodus stand up and tell a different story than the party line. No one wants to hear that the work they do actually causes more harm than good. Although medical associations have warned of the risks of reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry in the past, we are seeing something different with folks like Shawn O’Donnell and the many others who are coming forward.

When survivors step up and tell their own stories, stories that challenge the misconceptions long held by Exodus leaders and the conservative Evangelical church, can cause people to scramble to silence these voices. It can also cause some people to humble themselves to listen to see if there is a truth they need to hear.

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Lots in the news yesterday about a possible shift in focus at Exodus, or at least with Alan Chambers. See Ex-Gay Watch for details about the possibility that there is no such thing as an “ex-gay”.

No doubt lots of discussion has gone on between folks at Exodus and concerned activists and citizens. IN the past few months Exodus president Alan Chambers has made some moves to better protect youth in their programs and has come out against bullying and homophobia.

All of this is welcomed news. Dialog helps us challenge our assumptions, stretch our thinking, consider new possibilities. I know that when I speak with people who identify as ex-gay or former homosexual (or whatever term they may prefer), I walk away with a deeper and broader understanding.

Some time ago I put out a call to Exodus leaders to hear the stories of survivors, people who attended Exodus programs for months, even years, and at the end of the day came away harmed more than helped. For some of us the process of recovery from our ex-gay experiences has taken years and will take plenty more time. We submitted ourselves to the care of people we trusted, people, who for the most part, intended to help us. But we walked away depressed, discouraged and depleted.

I don’t know if there is a shift at Exodus. I know that there are ex-gay leaders who really care about people more than issues. These folks may not speak out in public much or get on national TV programs, but they are part of Exodus too and have been working behind the scenes for years to help move the organization back to the ministry roots and away from political lobbying.

In the past few years Exodus has intentionally shifted their focus to target youth with their own Exodus Youth MySpace page and of course Love in Action’s Refuge program.

As of this moment if you go to the Refuge site, http://www.asafeplace.org, it looks much more understated than I ever remember it. I cannot easily find a reference to Refuge on Love in Action’s pages. It is not listed as one of LIA’s current programs, and I can’t find a link on Exodus Youth. Has this program quietly ended? If so, this is a BIG shift.

—-Update
Since I posted this earlier today the Refuge page has been taken down. You can see a cached page of what I saw this morning.
——

This is not about politics, about winning or losing. It is about people. There are people who do feel uncertain about their same-sex attractions. They feel this way for many reasons. In trying to sort these feelings out, folks have turned to Exodus, and although Alan still claims that hundreds of thousands have been helped (see video below), I imagine many more people have been harmed than helped. Even the help we received has not outweighed the harm.

My hope is that in Irvine we can continue the dialog.

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Yesterday was IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia. I celebrated it here in Lund, Sweden at the Smålands Nation student group and did my Homo No Mo play to a packed house. I head off to Umeå in the North to do another presentation.

Exodus International president Alan Chambers wrote a blog entry in support of IDAHO (no not the US state of Idaho but the actual anti-homophobia day).

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia. And, you might be surprised to learn that I support this effort. Homophobia does exist. Irrational fear of those who are gay or lesbian is a real problem in our culture. While I believe we have come a long way, I still see true homophobia at work each and every day.

He concludes,

So, when it comes to the evils of homophobia, bullying, name calling, hatred and violence where those affected by homosexuality are concerned, I stand with all decent human beings who are fighting and praying for an end to the ignorance and ungodliness that cause them.

This is not the first time I heard an Exodus leader (current or former) speak about the mission to inform and reform the often anti-gay church. No doubt when an Exodus member goes into a church to give testimony of their dramatic deliverence from the gay lifestyle, in addition to depicting in details the horrors of that lifestlye, they do challenge some folks to think about gay people as not simply evil and sinful and worthless dangerous human beings.

Ex-gay leaders have confessed to me that they even experience homophobia at times within the churches they attend and the Christian organizations where they work with lots of straight people who either avoid them all together or treat them differently from “normal” men and women.

I imagine it gets confusing for some of the straight folks in the church when they hear messages about how wild and out of control gay people live in our unsaved state coupled with the exortations to treat LGB and maybe even T people a little bit better. This is especially true when leaders, like Alan, on the one hand state he stands “with all decent human beings who are fighting and praying for an end to the ignorance and ungodliness that cause” homophobic attacks, and on the other hand he publicly opposes hate crime legislation that would protect LGBT people (like it protects people attacked because of their religion.)

While I applaud Alan for taking a stand within the church and using his platform in order to point out the prejudice, fear and hatred that exists, in addition to the mixed messages he sends, I think he is missing the point, but then so many of us do when it comes to these issues. I spoke the other day before the screening of Fish Can’t ‘Fly and began my talk by saying,

Heterosexism has affected me much more deeply than homophobia.

I have never been physically attacked by a homophobe and only on a few occasions been verbally assaulted because I am gay, but I suffer the negative effects of heterosexism everyday. Heterosexism most simply defined is the belief that heterosexuality is the preferred, idealized norm for society and anything other is deviant, weird, dangerous and subversive. The people at Wikipedia put it this way,

Heterosexism is a predisposition towards heterosexual people. A related term is Sexual Prejudice, a negative attitude toward someone because of her or his sexual orientation. [1] This bias is not the same as Homophobia, but rather is the discrimination towards or against non-heterosexual behavior due to a cultural or sociobiological bias. Heterosexism suggests that the basis for this bias is not found in the individual per se but rather has a broader cultural or biological basis that results in weighted attitudes towards heterosexuality over other sexual orientations.

While homophobic attacks happen daily, heterosexism happens by the nano second. A young child gets the message over and over again in books, TV ads, teacher’s examples and even heterosexually paired salt & pepper shakers, that anything other than heterosexual pairing is just not right. Growing up in such a world, with virtually no positive examples of same-sex couples, queer and questioning young people begin to develope a negative sense of self and can even grow quite isolated and suicidal within a society where they do not see themselves reflected or accepted.

Heterosexual privilege in our society makes it clear that some citizens are more valuable than others. This not only affects LGBT folks, but also unmarried heterosexuals, particularly women. McGill University’s Equity Subcommittee on Queer People provides a list of how heterosexual privilege works. Of course most heterosexuals do not see these things as special privileges. They just seem normal. Ah, but if you are not heterosexual (or one practicing heterosexuality in a marriage or other romantic relationship) you sense the significance of these privileges. Here is the list of some heterosexual privileges. Heterosexuals…

  • Show affection in public safely and comfortably, without fear of harassment or violence
    Openly talk about one’s partner and relationships to others without considering the consequences
  • Benefit from societal “normalcy”: the assumption that heterosexual individuals and relationships are valid, healthy, and non-deviant
  • Assume that all people and relationships are heterosexual, unless otherwise known
  • Do not face rejection from one’s family and friends because of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Easily access positive role models and media images for one’s gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Cannot be asked to speak on behalf of all heterosexuals
  • Use gender specific pronouns when referring to one’s spouse or partner without discomfort or fear of reprisal
  • Have automatic recognition of one’s spouse as next-of-kin in emergencies
  • Easily select reading or viewing materials in which heterosexuality is the predominantly reflected orientation
  • Have families similar to one’s own represented in children’s literature
  • Raise children without fear that they will be rejected or harassed by peers because of their parents’ sexual orientation or gender identities
  • Receive support and validation from a religious community
  • Not risk being denied employment, housing, or other services because of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Not be seen as needing therapy to “cure” one’s sexual orientation or gender expression
  • Marry

Standing against name calling and violent acts against homosexuals (as we are known by some) sounds like a good thing for a religious leader to do. But when a leader like Alan Chambers also stands against hate crime legislation and marriage equality for lesbian and gay people, it reveals the hollowness of his words.

True, compared to folks like say, James Dobson or Jerry Falwell, Alan Chamber’s words sound progressive and thoughtful, but words without actions, just like faith without works, and all sorts of fine sounding words without love are really dead, clanging, clashing gongs that do no more than distract and confuse and contribute to the problem.

UPDATE: Do you want to see heterosexism in action? I just read some comments over at Alan’s blog, and Mike Ensley, the assistant to Exodus’ Director of Student Ministries, wrote

The fact is, heterosexuality is innately superior. Only heterosexual partners enjoy the complimentary aspect of their physiology, and only they can produce children.

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