Since its inception, Exodus International has been an umbrella organization for a coalition of local ministries focused on the issue of homosexuality. In most cases these organizations are founded by churches or individuals acting independently of Exodus, with varying degrees of input from existing ministries.
As a result of this, Exodus’ coalition is a diverse collection of organizations representing a large number of Christian denominations, each one having their own approach to ex-gay ministry. While this diversity of backgrounds and methodologies means that those seeking help from Exodus have a variety of options to choose from, it also means that Exodus itself is vulnerable to guilt by association when one of its members becomes embroiled in controversy, as happened when Love in Action came under fire for accepting teenagers who were coerced into the program against their will.
In response to that incident, Exodus created a set of guidelines for its member ministries to follow when working with youth. Since then, Exodus has been working on a more comprehensive series of guidelines spelling out requirements for leadership positions and counseling techniques.
XGW is currently working on obtaining a copy of these latest guidelines; their existence came to light this week when Where Grace Abounds, one of the oldest and largest Exodus-affiliated ministries, formally decided to withdraw from Exodus’ referral network. Although this split appears to have been reached amicably (WGA’s leaders plan to continue attending Exodus’ summer conferences), it does not appear to have been sudden decision.
“WGA’s model of ‘healing through community’ seems to bring confusion to some and contempt from others within the Exodus network,” executive director Roger Jones explained. Where Exodus and many of its affiliates prefer a more clinical approach that limits interaction between group members, “WGA encourages its participants to develop relationships with one another and provides activities for this to happen within a safe environment. While there is some risk involved with this approach, providing a place for participants to practice new relational skills is essential to WGA’s ministry model. When a person has this experience, they are more likely to be able to function within their own Church communities more effectively.”
Although WGA’s approach may seem counterintuitive at first, it does seem like it would mitigate the loneliness inherent in many ex-gay programs. Last summer at the Beyond Ex-Gay conference I spoke with an individual who had attended Where Grace Abounds, and though he largely reminisced about his ex-gay years in negative terms, he spoke positively of his time at WGA.
Even beyond its differences in methodology, Where Grace Abounds does not fit the profile of your typical ex-gay ministry. Since 1997 WGA has offered services for individuals (heterosexual or homosexual) dealing with sexual addiction, abuse (physical or otherwise) and other relational issues. “Some of the time and energy focused on maintaining our status as a Referral Ministry needs to be spent furthering our broader mission,” Jones explained.
Exodus’ political activism was also a factor in Where Grace Abounds’ decision to cut ties. Like Wendy Gritter’s New Direction For Life Ministries, “WGA has chosen to remain silent on issues of public policy, as we see this as a distraction from the ministry to which God has called us,” according to Jones.
Exodus’ desire to hold its member ministries to stricter standards is understandable, given the public relations problems that can arise. Whether they needed to draw lines where they did remains to be seen; between this and Exodus’ longstanding political focus (which does not appear to have abated to the degree promised earlier this year), they may have succeeded only in driving away one of their oldest and most reputable members.