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Thoughts on Exodus Apologizing and Shutting Down

Friday, June 21, 2013

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Thoughts on Exodus Apologizing and Shutting Down | Faith Permeating Life

This week brought some big news to the LGBTQ/Christian world. Exodus International, the organization most often associated with the "ex-gay" movement, announced it was shutting down, a day after its president, Alan Chambers, issued an apology for the lives damaged by the organization's activities and message.

I've seen three main reactions to this news.

First are the people who are celebrating. They've seen the damage that Exodus has done over the past decades, and they see the apology and the shutting down of the organization as a step in the right direction. This is what many people have been waiting for for a long time. Some people with direct experience with Exodus or similar organizations are ready to start on the road to forgiveness now that they've finally been apologized to. Others are just grateful that Exodus can no longer be held up as a model for what gay Christians should pursue.

Second are the people angry at those who are celebrating. They're saying things like, "Sorry can't bring back the dead," referencing people who have killed themselves as a result of the shame or despair they felt after not being able to change their sexual orientation through Exodus. They see others' celebration as a sign that they're too ready to forgive and too ready to forget all the damage that Exodus has done.

Third are the skeptics. They see that Alan Chambers and others from Exodus are planning on starting a new organization, and they don't believe it will be that much different than the old one. Some say that this announcement is because orientation-change organizations may be made illegal, and moving to a new organization will allow them to rebrand their work in a way that's legal. They say anyone celebrating this news is just ignorant and doesn't really understand what's going on.

I want to respond to each of these groups individually.

To the first group:

Yes! I know! This is exciting news to all the people who have been praying for apologies, admissions of fault, and for an end to Exodus' work. There are a lot of reasons to celebrate these developments.

I just want to caution you to keep in mind that not everyone is able to celebrate with you. For some people, mentions of Exodus and Alan Chambers in your Facebook and Twitter feeds bring up nothing but memories of pain, shame, and very, very bad parts of their life. For some people, this news, as positive as it sounds to you, will re-open wounds afresh and cause them to revisit times they wanted to forget. For some people, whatever happens to Exodus now is irrelevant, because what Exodus did to them cannot be erased. It cannot be undone.

You are allowed to be happy at this news. But don't assume everyone else will be happy, too, especially those who have personal experience with Exodus. Respect the difference or complexity of other people's feelings.

To the second group:

I hear you. The past can't be changed, and if this discussion of Exodus brings up nothing but hurt for you, those feelings are completely legitimate. An apology doesn't mean we should suddenly forget everything Exodus has done over the past decades.

I want to suggest that even though the past can't be changed, this can still be considered a step in the right direction. There is nothing anyone can do to erase the hurt that happened in the past because of Exodus. But there will be a future generation now for whom Exodus cannot be held up as a model by their Christian leaders or parents. There are people right now who are struggling with whether to enter an ex-gay program for whom the Exodus announcement may have a huge impact on their journey to self-acceptance.

You don't have to celebrate the news. An apology doesn't mean you're required to forgive anyone. But consider that for some people, this announcement is something they've been waiting for, something that they believe will help them find peace. For some people, this represents a shift in the conversation that has greatly needed to happen, and they believe now perhaps it can.

Exodus was not the only "orientation change" or "reparative therapy" or "ex-gay" organization out there, by any means, and there are certainly some that are far worse than Exodus has been in recent years. But Exodus has long been held up as a model, and its closing will send a message to some people, including pastors, about the need to reconsider ex-gay therapy as the default place to direct Christians who share that they're attracted to the same sex.

To the third group:

I don't blame you for having your doubts about this. I can see how it can seem like maybe nothing's really going to change, like maybe Exodus is just trying to save its image by relaunching as a new organization. And maybe you're right; maybe it will turn out that whatever organization the Exodus leadership launches next will be just as damaging as Exodus was.

But personally, I don't think so. I've seen Alan Chambers change his mind slowly over the past few years, and I choose to believe what he says in his apology and elsewhere. I know you may be upset that he still holds a "Side B" perspective (that same-sex sex is sinful), but I choose to believe him when he says it's not his place to force that view on anyone else's life. I choose to believe that he really does want this new organization to encourage "Christians to get together and have conversations across the great divide" rather than trying to force a single viewpoint on them.

Maybe there will still be problematic beliefs or messages coming from Chambers or this new organization. But I believe progress doesn't have to be perfect to be progress. Even a change from "gay people can become straight" to "gay people should celibate" has the ability to make a huge difference in many people's lives, to prevent suicides of some of our future children who would otherwise feel there was something fundamentally wrong with them when they couldn't become straight.

It's understandable that you have your doubts. I get it. But until we see what the future entails for Chambers and the rest of the Exodus leadership, I'm going to choose to remain hopeful that this move will ultimately be a net positive for the Christian world and the LGBTQ community.

To my readers: What was your reaction to this news? What do you think this means for the future?


  1. Having never heard of them before an article appeared in the newspaper here informing Australia of a) their existence and b) the fact that they've apologised and closed down, I'm perhaps not entitled to an opinion on the matter. But I'm going to give one anyway, because of reasons.

    I think the fact that they've closed their doors is good, but the fact that they apologised is equally important. While it may not go any way to lessening the trauma of what people went through, the acknowledgement that what they did was wrong is not without merit. Much like the apology to the Stolen Generations and the Forgotten Children (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generations#Australian_federal_parliament_apology and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forgotten_Australians#Apologies respectively), it's important that not just those personally effected but the general public see that people in positions of authority are apologising for decisions made in a different time and social headspace. But the apology shouldn't be the end of the conversation. If they're genuine about the apology, they should be providing information about independent support groups for those who suffered, and working with church groups to bring a broader acceptance of LGBQT people into the faith, thereby educating the next generations of church leaders.

    I have no idea if any of this makes any sense, because it's nearly 1am. But there you have it. Long comment is long and rambly. Sorry...

    1. Thanks for your comment! I think you're right on. I'm not sure what the Exodus leadership will do next, but I do hope it's a genuine attempt to do better for the LGBTQ Christian community than they have been.

  2. I guess I'm in the first group, celebrating this. I was really really happy to read the apology- it came across as a sincere apology and this is a really really important thing. But I'm straight and haven't ever interacted with Exodus, so I get why a lot of people may be responding differently than me. Which is fine. :)

    1. I was also glad to read the apology and hear that Exodus is shutting down, but understand that not everyone feels the same way. I am a bit bothered by the people who think that Chambers' apology doesn't "count" if he doesn't now also share their beliefs about homosexuality and marriage; I think "I'm sorry for the pain I've caused and I will no longer try to force my beliefs on anyone else" is as much as you can ask for from someone who hasn't changed his beliefs. But as you say, I'm not the one in the position of being hurt, so I'm not going to tell other people how they should or shouldn't feel about it. I'm just looking forward to seeing how things will be going forward.


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