One pastor’s journey from life on the streets to the head of pro-democracy protests
Alan Chambers still believes that change is possible for homosexuals, but he says he's realistic about the process: It's usually a lifelong struggle.
The president of Exodus International-a Christian ministry that helps people grappling with homosexuality-surprised many in June by announcing a change in the organization: The group would no longer endorse reparative therapy-a form of counseling that aims to help a person change his sexual orientation.
Chambers says reparative therapy has some helpful elements but he's wary of claims that the approach could "cure" a person of same-sex attraction, and worries such claims could set up unrealistic expectations for those seeking help. He says a person could battle homosexual temptation the rest of his life, and sees Christian discipleship in a local church as the key to confronting sin and pursuing holiness over a lifetime.
At least 12 affiliated organizations have left the Exodus network since the announcement. More than 200 remain.
For some, the biggest controversy hasn't been over Exodus' break with reparative therapy but over recent comments that Chambers has made about homosexuality and Christianity.
In January, Chambers spoke on a panel at the Gay Christian Network, an organization that describes itself as "a nonprofit ministry serving Christians who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender."
Chambers defended Exodus' work to the group, but also told attendees: "We're Christians, all of us," and "we all love Jesus." In an interview with The Atlantic in June, Chambers reaffirmed that homosexuality is a sin. When asked if a person living a gay lifestyle would escape hell as long as he has accepted Christ as his savior, Chambers replied in part: "... while behavior matters, those things don't interrupt someone's relationship with Christ."
Those comments led Robert Gagnon, an associate professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, to call for Chambers' resignation. Gagnon, who has written about homosexuality and spoken at Exodus events, says it's unbiblical to assure people living in lifelong, unrepentant sin that they will go to heaven.
"Alan's approach of providing assurances of salvation to those actively engaged in sexually immoral intercourse is a very different approach than Jesus' and Paul's warnings that immoral sexual behavior, among other offenses, can get one excluded from the kingdom of God and thrown into hell," Gagnon wrote in a 35-page paper in July.
In a phone interview in mid-July, Chambers-WORLD's 2011 "Daniel of the Year"-said he believes that persistent, unrepentant sin isn't compatible with mature Christianity, but emphasizes that Christians struggle with sins of all kinds without losing their salvation.
But what if a person doesn't struggle? What if he claims Christianity but doesn't believe that his homosexuality is sinful? Could the fruit of a person's life indicate the state of his soul? Chambers replies: "Sure. I think the Scripture is clear that there are people who will say, 'Lord, Lord,' and Jesus will say, 'I never knew you.' But I can't judge someone's salvation. ... If they say to me that they are believers ... I can't tell them that they're not."
Chambers' central argument: If a person is saved, he can't lose his salvation. His critics' central response: If a person is unrepentant, it could be sign that he was never saved at all. In that case, Gagnon says: "The actual result is to leave such persons deceived by giving them a message of 'peace and security' when instead danger hangs over them."
Despite weighty theological questions, Chambers, who lived an active gay lifestyle for years before leaving it behind, says he hasn't changed the message that homosexuals should leave their sin: "It would be impossible to look at my life and say that I am condoning anything other than a life surrendered to Jesus Christ."
Exodus supporters will be watching to see if the group's work continues to include the message that Chambers told a small gathering in Orlando last year. "Is change possible?" he asked. "If you know Jesus, anything is possible."