One pastor’s journey from life on the streets to the head of pro-democracy protests
For nearly a decade, Alan Chambers often awoke to a fight. The president of Exodus International—a Christian group that helped men and women struggling with homosexuality—faced nasty emails, angry phone messages, and hostile media interviews. Many opposed his message that homosexuals could leave their sin and follow Christ.
By mid-June, the battle was over: Exodus leaders announced on June 19 the group would shut down after nearly 40 years of operations. One core reason: Leaders said the group’s tone had grown too judgmental. Another: Chambers told the homosexual community he didn’t apologize for his beliefs about marriage, but added: “I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek.”
The desire not to fight may be key in Chambers’ shift. In 2011, WORLD named Chambers its Daniel of the Year for years of work that drew intense criticism from many. Some accused Chambers of hating homosexuals. One critic called Exodus “as dangerous to Christianity as al-Qaeda is to Islam.” A handful called in bomb threats to Exodus headquarters.
The end-of-Exodus announcement came less than a day after Chambers issued an online apology to homosexuals. He apologized for promoting reparative therapy—a method that focuses on relationships between homosexuals and their parents when examining causes for homosexuality. Many Christian counselors don’t use this method, but Exodus endorsed it until last year.
Chambers also apologized for concealing his ongoing struggle with same-sex attraction. He found help at Exodus more than 20 years ago while leading an active homosexual lifestyle. Several years later, he married a woman and adopted two children. Since then, Chambers has said his marriage is healthy but has also said marriage doesn’t “cure” homosexuality or eliminate same-sex attractions.
Chambers said he retains his belief that homosexual activity is sinful, but over the past year he has riled many conservative Christians by suggesting that children do equally well with two gay parents as with a mother and a father, and telling a gathering of the Gay Christian Network: “We’re Christians, all of us.”
That statement drew alarm from some Christians who noted that continual, unrepentant sin could indicate a person isn’t a true believer. They noted that Jesus taught the fruit of a person’s life points to the state of his heart. Chambers replied in part that while “behavior matters,” he couldn’t judge a person’s relationship with Christ.
As Chambers moved away from some conservative Christian positions, Exodus suffered significant financial losses. Chambers says donations dropped in 2012, and especially in the first few months of 2013. The group had 20 full-time staff members three years ago, nine last month, and planned to have three as of July 3—all volunteers. Chambers attributed the drop to the shift in his language last year but insisted the group isn’t closing due to financial losses.
In an interview with WORLD, Chambers said he and Exodus board members would start a new group with a more welcoming tone that doesn’t emphasize the sinfulness of homosexuality: “I’m not saying that we pretend sin doesn’t exist. But it’s been the lead in our conversation for so long, I do think it’s time we step back from it. … Since Exodus has been used as a weapon, we’re retiring this weapon.”
It isn’t clear exactly what a new organization will do, though Chambers said he hopes to “promote dialogue” and continue to relate his story about redemption in Christ, “as we put many things we’ve led with into the backseat for the purpose of building relationships.”
The closing of Exodus marks a significant moment, but other Christian groups, churches, and individuals continue to help those who desire to leave homosexuality and embrace Christ.
Harvest USA—a Pennsylvania-based group—offers Christian teaching and discipleship for those struggling with sexual sin of all kinds, including homosexuality.
Executive Director Tim Geiger—a Westminster Theological Seminary graduate and Presbyterian Church in America elder—says Harvest also trains churches to “create a climate of grace” where people feel free to come forward for help. The group helps churches learn to talk with people about a relationship with Christ and the idols in their hearts that lead them to sin.
Geiger found the same help from Harvest more than 15 years ago: After a 20-year struggle with homosexuality and pornography, Geiger (who has since married) says he learned “my sin didn’t have to define me.”
Christopher Yuan learned the same thing. The author of Out of a Far Country embraced Christ and left an active life of homosexuality and drug use more than a decade ago. He says it wasn’t easy and has involved “the gradual surrender of the core of my being to Christ. … Change isn’t the absence of struggle, but the freedom to choose holiness in the midst of the struggle.”
For Yuan, that means celibacy in singleness—a lifestyle he says Christian churches should work harder to affirm as a robust way of life.
Yuan says Christians should also show deep compassion as they speak about homosexuality, but remain firm about the seriousness of sin. It’s not a popular message, and Yuan has faced pushback at some secular universities. (A Yale magazine responded to his 2011 campus visit with a column entitled “The Nonsense of Christopher Yuan.”) Yuan says he persists despite criticism because he wants to serve the church: “I love how God takes our past and uses it for His glory.”
Rosaria Butterfield shares Yuan’s conviction. The author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert chronicles her journey from a lesbian professor of queer theory to a Christian, homeschooling mom and pastor’s wife (see “Journey of grace,” March 8, 2013).
Butterfield says parachurch ministries come and go, but local churches should seize the opportunity to reach those in need, including homosexuals. That means desiring and seeking to disciple hurting people: “I hope the church can now be more intentionally ready. We appeal to a great God who in His sovereignty knows better than we do what we need and where we are.”