Tag Archives: Exodus International

And now, Randy Thomas’s apology

Following in the footsteps of Exodus International President Alan Chambers, The organization’s Vice President, Randy Thomas has also offered an apology to the gay1 community.  I don’t have much to say about the quality of the apology.  (If you want to see thoughts on that, check out Zack Ford’s post on the subject.

I did find a couple of interesting bits in the apology though.  For example, when Randy acknowledged that he wasn’t originally aware of some of Exodus’s policies, he said the following (bold emphasis mine):

My understanding of public policy at that time was limited to the talking points I was given to tailor my testimony around.

I find this admission that such talking points existed and that testimonies given by ex-gays were apparently expected to fit those talking points rather interesting.  While I was critiquing the Yuans’ book, Out of a Far Country, I noted the following about how Christopher’s own testimony followed a certain narrative and how some love to promote that narrative as universal:

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality I occupy. In reality, I live in a world where some people — influential people — have invested a great deal of time and money in presenting QUILTBAG people — particularly gay men — in the worst light possible. There are those who still either explicitly or implicitly seek to link homosexuality with substance abuse, pedophilia, risky sex, and other destructive behaviors.

Such people like men like Christopher Yuan. They love such men’s stories, because they can point those men’s experiences, generalize them, and say, “See? This is what all gay men (and QUILTBAG people in general) are like!” Courageous men like Christopher — and I do not discount his courage or the truly amazing nature of his transformative journey — become tools in the anti-gay political machine’s to inaccurately paint and even dehumanize an entire class of people.

It strikes me that organizations like Exodus might have been actually pushing that narrative by encouraging its members to tailor their testimonies around talking points.  Perhaps such organizations went to a great deal to not only push such narratives about LGBT people, but helped construct them in the first place.

The other thing that I noticed was Randy’s reason for keeping quiet about some of the problems when he encountered them in Exodus and various member ministries (again, bold emphasis mine):

There are many good people in the broader Exodus movement that I didn’t want to hurt by sharing the bad we’d uncovered. Other staff members and I dealt with some of these ills privately…To protect some leaders, which wasn’t totally inappropriate, others didn’t know how bad some things had gotten. Therefore, some have been shocked that Alan apologized and that I, among others, were supportive. In order to protect the reputation of some, I chose silence.

In order to protect the reputation of some — and I speculate the organization as a whole, Randy Thomas chose to remain quiet about the harms he knew about.  I doubt Randy was the only one involved in Exodus who did this, either.  The thing is, this is a pattern among religious organizations and institutions.  In order to “protect reputations,” things are “handled privately” and then swept under the rug where they are out of view and those involved cannot be held more fully accountable.

Religious leaders need to learn that it doesn’t matter what you’re talking about, this shit isn’t right.

Some might wonder why this matters.  After all, Exodus is closing its doors, so this should all be over, right?  Well, no.  Setting aside that Exodus 2.0 (by some other name) is still an unknown up-and-coming thing.  Exodus Member Ministries are still in operation.  Other organizations like Restored Hope Network and J.O.N.A.H. are still around and pushing the ex-gay myth.  N.A.R.T.H. and its affiliates are still around pushing pseudo-scientifically based conversion therapies.  And the anti-gay political organizations and individuals who still argue that LGBT people don’t need equal protection under the law because they can “change” are still in operation.

Randy’s admissions should be taken as things to look for in all these other organizations?  How many of them are still covering up harm to “protect reputations”?  How many of them are still carefully orchestrating ex-gay testimonies carefully selected and tailored to promote narratives about LGBT people as if they’re universal?

These are the things that those who used to be involved now admit to.  We need to be vigilant to see who is still involved and are still engaging in such things.

1That’s the word he used.  I’m not intentionally ignoring the damage that ex-gay ministries have caused bisexual or trans* people.

Why I appreciate John Shore’s letter

[Content Note: Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, Moral Judgement of Same-sex Relationships, Some mentions of racism.]

Angry LetterA couple days ago, a friend on Facebook shared a link to John Shore’s open letter to Alan Chambers regarding Alan’s apology.  I read it and winced.  It was full of John’s well-known snark and sarcasm and is, in my opinion1, way over the top.  Plus, I often disagree with John about some of his positions.  For example, I’m willing to give people a lot more leeway on their views of same-sex sexual relationships2.  And that whole KKK comparison?  Yikes3.  So like Wendy Gritter4, I found myself uncomfortable with John’s letter.

But as I thought about this letter more and more, I’ve also come to appreciate it.  Yes, there are things about it I’m uncomfortable with.  There are things that I would have said differently or possibly not said at all if I had been the one writing it.  But on the flip side:

  • It is nice to see someone who is all in for supporting my rights and protections and defend not only my humanity and my dignity, but even my (relative) moral rectitude.
  • I look at the number of people (including that friend from facebook) who not only found validation for their own feelings about Alan’s apology through John’s letter, but were better able to understand and clarify what their feelings were because of it.
  • As someone who has gotten a bit of the “why can’t we all just forgive Alan” pushback and even got accused of “yelling” at someone when I objected, I appreciate the fact that there’s a voice that’s full of even more fire that makes my already calm (in my opinion, at least) objections look downright gentle by comparison.

I consider all of those outcomes good things.  So yeah, maybe John’s comment is unhelpful in the sense that it does nothing to smooth things out between Exodus and those hurt by them.  But maybe smoothing things out between the two groups isn’t the only goal.  Who knows, maybe it’s not even one of the top five priorities right now.

1Several other people will disagree with my opinion, including many LGBT people.  That’s cool.

2Ultimately, I do think John is right.  To truly be 100% in the corner of LGBT people, I think someone has to give up their right to pass moral judgment on our relationships5.  However, I do agree with Warren Throckmorton when he says that we all have to live together, and I’m willing to have some degree of relationship with someone who thinks there’s something sinful about same sex sexual relationships.  However, that belief will create boundaries between that person and myself that don’t exist between myself and those who feel otherwise.  So my position may be close to John’s or miles away from it depending on your perception the nuances I’m hinting at here.

3Confession time.  My problem isn’t that I don’t think that there should never be comparisons between homophobia, transphobia, and racism, or the struggles of various marginalized groups.  What bothers me more with this analogy is that far too much of LGB6 activism is being spearheaded by white men who are notorious for only bringing up issues of race to make analogies like this.  We as a community have been rightfully called on this, and John’s analogy makes it clear that many of us and our allies have not internalized that challenge.

4I don’t know if Wendy did this intentionally, but I appreciated the way she phrased her statement regarding the letter.  “I’m uncomfortable with….”  Not “John shouldn’t have said that.”  Not “his tone wasn’t helpful.”

5But then, I think that when a person goes from a morality that focuses on “this is what I believe I am called to do” and instead starts to focus on “this is what you should do,” that person is in trouble territory.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking sexual choices or any other kind.

6I’m intentionally leaving off the T because the activists I’m thinking of also have a tendency to ignore or pay minimal attention to trans* needs as well.

Musings on Alan Chambers’s Apology

[Content Note:  Anti-LGBT Discrimination, Sexual Orientation Change Effort, Ex-Gay Rhetoric]

Just saying.
Just saying.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Alan Chambers offered an apology to the (other) members of the LGBT community.  I wanted to take a moment and look at it and offer my thoughts and reactions to it.

Before I get to the apology itself, I do want to offer a bit of criticism of his lead-in commentary.  Let me just say that I can sympathize with the fact that Chambers is taking a lot of flak from people who used to support him, not to mention the continuing flak that many in the LGBT community might be giving to him.  However, I also have to say that I find it highly inappropriate to start talking about one’s own struggles and how you feel you’ve been wronged when building up to an apology to the people you yourself have wronged.  Apologies 101 says that you keep the focus on the hurt you’ve caused one another.  I think that’s something Alan needs to keep in mind.

He opens the apology itself by telling a story about a four car collision that he caused.  He tells this story to draw home an important point:

I never intended for the accident to happen. I would never have knowingly hurt anyone. But I did. And it was my fault. In my rush to get to my destination, fear of being stung by a silly bee, and selfish distraction, I injured others.

This is actually something a few of us were concerned about.  We were concerned that Alan would try to pass off any harm done by Exodus and its member ministries as “accidental.”  It’s good to see that he instead chose to tackle this head on and say that he’s responsible for even the “unintentional harm.”

He then goes on to name some of the ways — mostly the more extreme ways — in which some people were hurt by their experiences with Exodus member ministries.  He even admits personal culpability in the fact that he wasn’t always up front about how much he still struggled (struggles) with same sex sexual attraction, thereby reinforcing a false image that others hoped to, failed to achieved, and felt grief and shame over.  He goes on to talk about the ex-gay narratives that shamed parents.  He confesses to not standing up against those Christian supporters he had who said horrible things about LGBT people.  Overall, Alan lists many criticisms that have been leveled against him and Exodus, acknowledges them, and apologizes without defense or excuse.

The one thing I note as lacking is that Alan never challenges how Exodus’s message of “change” was often used as political cover.  The relationship between those who promoted Sexual Orientation Change Effort (whether based in religion, some form of therapy, or a combination of the two) and those who would deny LGBT the full protection of the law and the same rights as their non-LGBT counterparts has always been mutually reinforcing and symbiotic.  Those who would deny LGBT people rights and protections often point to the ex-gay narratives and say, “See?  They don’t need these protections.  They can just turn straight.”  Similarly, the difficulties that LGBT people face due to discrimination and social stigma perpetuated by anti-LGBT activists also keep many LGBT people in a state of misery that makes them more susceptible to promises made by ex-gay organizations.  Alan’s failure to acknowledge those relationships between the two groups and apologize for contributing to the overall toxic mentality toward LGBT people is troubling to me.

Also, I note that Alan does not seem to acknowledge that, while Exodus will be closing its doors and he will personally be getting out of the ex-gay industry, the legacy he helped to build will still go on.  This apology will not stop people from building on the foundation he and the rest of Exodus have already laid.  It will not stop people from continuing to point to his relationship with his wife and his past words as “proof” that LGBT people everywhere should make the same choice and condemn those who don’t.  I hope that this is a truth that Alan comes to wrestle with and considers what more he might do to loudly decry those who would continue to build on the legacy he’s left.

Furthermore, an apology will not heal any of the wounds already inflicted or any of the damage already done.  That takes more effort, and I find myself wondering what Alan is prepared to do to go beyond simply apologizing and restoring those who he and the rest of Exodus have hurt.  Perhaps that is part of his and the other board members’ vision for the new organization they hope to start.  Only time will tell.

The End of Exodus International

[Content Note:  Brief mentions of Sexual Orientation Change Effort and those who have promoted such efforts, both past and present]

Exodus International has announced that it is closing its doors.  In their announcement, Alan Chambers indicated that they have realized that the organization has become “imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”  Chambers continues thus:

From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.

Exodus Off SwitchThat’s a pretty stark, honest, and self-incriminating statement for Chambers to make, who has often been (justifiably) accused of equivocation in the past.  His apology, which he offered the same day as this announcement (and which I hope to cover in a future blog post), was equally candid and vulnerable.

Of course, Alan and the other Exodus board members don’t intend to merely disappear.  They hope to build a new organization:

For these reasons, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry. “This is a new season of ministry, to a new generation,” said Chambers. “Our goals are to reduce fear (reducefear.org), and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

It will be interesting to see how this new organization shapes up and how they plan to live out their goals.  I’m curious to know what fear they hope to reduce?  Are they hoping to reduce the fear that many LGBT people justifiably have of many conservative Christian individuals, churches, and organizations?  Are they prepared to consider what they really may have to do to truly undo that damage and transform their churches into places that some LGBT people might again find welcoming?

Or will those involved fall into those same old patterns that are so familiar to them?  Will they fail to see some of the subtler attitudes and behaviors that will continue to leave many LGBT people feeling wary of them?

And as always, will they give up their own sense of safety in order to meet LGBT people where we are and where we already feel safe, or will they remain in their “more welcoming” cloisters and wonder why still so few seek them out?

One thing is for certain, while this is the end of Exodus, it is not the end of Exodus’s legacy or the ex-gay movement among Christian movements.  There will still be other organizations — such as the relatively new Restored Hope Network — to carry that torch for years to come.  All the same, I’m glad to see the Exodus board pulling the plug and refusing to carry that torch any further themselves.