I admit, I can’t believe that I actually just typed that headline. Living in Orlando, Exodus has quite a footprint. I mean, they are often overshadowed by theme parks, but they spend their time at the University and if you’re aware of them, they really are everywhere.
What I find fascinating and what has been bothering me at the same time is the journey of Alan Chambers, the president of the organization. He came out as gay in January of 2012, then by July had announced that Exodus would no longer be involved in promoting ex-gay therapy. I spent a lot of time railing against Chambers, but I had to give him props for choosing the lives of people who he realized he was driving to suicide over his need to share with everybody how much the ghosts of Jewish carpenters disapprove of them. His apology for criticizing the It Gets Better campaign was much more honest and cogent than anything you would see from the likes of Tony Perkins or Bryan Fischer.
When it comes to kids killing themselves, I can’t justify criticizing a campaign that, at its deepest core, is most about saving the lives of LGBT kids. I care MORE about a kid choosing life than whether or not he or she embraces a gay identity. Life comes first. [emphasis mine]
For once, a member of the religious right uses “choose life” to mean people who are out of the womb. I think that’s nearly unprecedented.
And now, nearly a year after backing off of Exodus’s failed attempts to make LGBT people straight, they are closing up shop. Chambers has posted an apology for the harm that he caused, and I have to say that it is unqualified and seems genuine.
Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.
It’s also important that Chambers notes in an official statement by Exodus, (emphasis mine) “Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism.” I think this is an incredibly important realization, since much of what we fight against as queer people/allies, feminists, and atheists/skeptics is this very tribalism that turns mission-oriented groups into bulwarks of ideological card houses.
That being said, with Exodus closing down and starting up again, this time with a message of “reduce fear,” I can’t help but wonder what their “ministry” will be like now. I’m used to there being no less than three street corners with Exodus affliated members (generally avoiding identifying as such before handing me pamphlets) in downtown preaching on a Saturday night. There was one that was near my favorite hot dog stand. Will they still be there, only now not bugging people who present as LGBT in some fashion? Will they still go to the various campuses in the area, or will the reduce fear message be less in your face as the ex-gay one was? I’m also curious to see what they’re reducing the fear of.
After years of fighting their members at school board meetings and arguing with them between classes, I am wary about the direction that they will be going next. I genuinely want to believe Alan Chambers is done with this stuff, but he still is approaching things from an evangelical worldview, and that generally entails a whole host of irrational beliefs, so it’s hard to trust. Then again, I’ve linked twice in this to Warren Throckmorton, who spent years working with NARTH and has since become a very strong ally to the LGBT community and maintained an evangelical identity. But back to the other hand, Throckmorton wasn’t involved in the creation of the Ugandan kill-the-gays bill, and despite Exodus’s lame apology, it’s hard to forgive them for contributing to what has amounted to years now of constant fear that genocide is just around the corner in that country. The fact that they didn’t bother to go international with their apology is also a black mark, since it that’s arguably where they’ve done the most damage.
I would like to have started here at Queereka with a more concise and definitive piece, but all I really have at the moment is a snapshot of the culture wars from the front lines of last night’s big story. I don’t know what will happen, but whatever it is, things will be better when I no longer have to cringe and prepare for a fight every time I see the Exodus International logo. I don’t anticipate forgiving them for the immense pain they have caused without significant effort on their part, but I hope this new project turns out to be an effort in that direction.