By: Kara Crawford
On June 19, 2013, in a surprise move, Exodus International announced that the organization would be shutting down for good. The organization was established over three decades ago as what is often referred to as an ex-gay ministry, which is to say a Christian ministry preaching against homosexuality and espousing and practicing “conversion” therapy, colloquially known as “pray the gay away” therapy. Historically its ministry has caused an undeniably large amount of damage to all stripes of queer individuals who ever participated, either by their own will or by force of family or friends.
The day of the shutdown and in the following days, the internet practically exploded with posts and articles reporting on it and its implications. As part of the official announcement, Alan Chambers, the longtime leader of the ministry, issued an apology to “Members of the LGBTQ Community,” reflecting on the stories of trauma and harm done to those who had been through an Exodus program in the past, saying:
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….More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.
After this he went on to state that he does not apologize for his beliefs on what the Bible says regarding sexuality but pledging to not let those beliefs interfere with his love and respect for those who do not share them. In an interview with The Atlantic, he expressed interest in starting a new project (using the website domain reducefear.org) completely unrelated to the ex-gay programs which Exodus espoused, particularly something which “promotes a dialogue, a new relationship between people who have previously not had relationship with one another.” This would effectively serve to bring together Christians from both sides of the “fence” regarding homosexuality to dialogue in a respectful and loving manner.
As a lifelong United Methodist who, in spite of painful anti-queer moments and continued anti-queer policies of the church, has refused to give up on the fight for change, I believe that this moment holds a lot of potential for queer people of faith. As we have seen this week with the Supreme Court decisions, this is a pivotal moment in our history, a moment when we can truly create change in our society and in our world.
Some among us are still feeling the the pain, agony, and in some cases, self-hatred imposed upon us by Exodus International. For some this may be a cause of deep anger, for others deep sadness. Some may not yet be willing or able to forgive Chambers and Exodus for that harm. We cannot lose sight of that pain and anger, but we must not let the harm done in the past prevent us from moving forward, insofar as it is healthy and reasonable for each individual; in the face of this violence we can and must use our anger constructively, motivating ourselves to continue to bring change and be change.
As for Chambers, moving forward I recognize that many will be skeptical of any of his future projects. It is my genuine hope, though, that his intentions are sincere, that he will move forward on a project seeking respectful dialogue. Likewise I hope that queer people of faith might see this as an opportunity to create relationships with those who might be in a different place than we are, because relationships are often the best way to transform people’s understandings of an issue, particularly ones so personal as this.
We should celebrate. Symbolic though it is, the shutdown is a victory for queer people of faith across the board. Many other ex-gay organizations like it continue to exist and operate, but this is proof that people can and will recognize the error of their ways. Unjust and anti-queer policies of churches and other religious organizations can and will change. So we should take time to celebrate. We deserve it.
Most importantly, though, we must never allow ourselves to become complacent in the wake of these or other victories. Exodus may be shut down, but it is merely the tip of the iceberg. Until all queer people who wish to seek out a faith community can find somewhere safe and loving, our work is not done. Until the wounds from the painful and abusive past and present are healed, our work is not done.
Much progress has been made, but much is still left to be accomplished. It is our task to make the possibilities a reality.