Back in March, Exodus International President Alan Chambers (pictured) told the Oprah Network’s Lisa Ling (Our America, March 8, 2011)  there was such a thing as a gay Christian:

Is there condemnation for those who are in Christ?  No there is not. There are people out there living a gay Christian life, active gay Christian life. God’s the one who called them and has their heart.  And they are in relationship with him.  And do I believe they will be in heaven with me?  I do. If they have a relationship with Jesus Christ, they will.  We serve that kind of God that says, “Come to me as you are.” His love is unconditional. He wants our heart more than anything else.

Exodus International President Alan Chambers

Anyone familiar with the message of Exodus International and other ex-gay organizations will have been surprised by this blunt, unqualified affirmation of gay Christians. As someone who has been reading and listening to Alan Chambers and other ex-gays for a few years, I could see three possible interpretations:

a) Alan meant it is possible to be a genuine Christian, on your way to heaven (in Exodus’s evangelical world, the Christian/non-Christian question is largely about being “saved” and going to heaven), and be openly gay and in or open to a gay sexual and romantic relationship;

b) Alan meant you can be “same-sex attracted” and Christian, as long as you’re celibate, and you toe the conservative Christian line and believe that “practicing homosexuality” is a sin; or

c) Alan was lying.

My instinctive interpretation was that Alan meant b) and tried to be vague enough that open-minded viewers would assume he meant a). Not an outright lie, but certainly deceptive. On the question of whether you can be gay and Christian, the Exodus website reads:

However, if someone actively pursues homosexual involvement and refuses to acknowledge this behavior as sin, it’s valid to humbly question whether his or her commitment to Christ – and especially to growth in holiness – is genuine.

It’s hardly the enthusiastic endorsement of gay Christians Alan tried to portray. Not long after the Lisa Ling interview aired, Alan posted a newsletter article that addressed this imbalance by assuring Exodus’s conservative audience that yes, gay Christians really are as bad as you think they are:

Today many Christians with SSA … are choosing to keep the gay identity/label. This falls short of God’s best because identity matters. … [The] grace-only approach … gives license to sin. This is taking over many churches and denominations. Allowing clergy to be ordained while living in sin, heterosexually or homosexually, makes the Church irrelevant. The basis of a Christian life is that it is set apart. It is different from the world. Redeemed. Living in sin is the opposite of living redeemed. Anyone can be redeemed, but the result of redemption is a turning from what we once were through the power of repentance. In order to accommodate sin one has to ignore biblical truth or revise it to fit their life choices. Church is no longer church then, just a club for people to gather based on their common interests. In my opinion the problem with being a gay Christian is that gay comes first and takes center stage. God won’t share His throne with anyone or anything. (Emphasis his throughout.)

Evidently, this forceful take-down of gay Christians wasn’t reassuring enough for Exodus’s followers, and Alan posted a further addendum to the Lisa Ling comments in the April newsletter. He repeats his view that, although they’re deceived and very, very sinful, there are gay Christians:

I do believe that there are gay-identified people who truly know Christ – ones who are active in the sin of homosexuality and ones who are celibate. However, I also believe there is a tremendous amount of deception in anyone who chooses to define themselves as gay and certainly deception in anyone engaging in deliberate and habitual sin.

But the post is, on the whole, a pandering to Exodus’s supporters (and donors), who are generally even more conservative than Alan:

My comments on Lisa Ling caused uproar among some, maybe even you, who feared I was condoning sin or allowing for someone to be comfortable in their sin and therefore taking Exodus down the new road of ambiguity that is plaguing our churches today. To that end let me point you to my life and this ministry for the definitive answer on what I believe. I think my article last month on identity might have helped, too. My identity is solidly IN Christ. I am not a gay Christian or an ex-gay Christian. I am a Christian period. I am a man. A husband. A father. A son. While still a human with fallible flesh, I have a new heart and am therefore a new creation in Christ Jesus. Because of that I am no longer able to find comfort in sin, though I will be tempted by it until death. As will you.

He’s desperate to allay the panic that, judging by his reaction, is seizing Exodus’s support base.

Here’s what Exodus doesn’t get, or gets but avoids: People just want yes-or-no answers to questions. Can you be gay and Christian? Are you gay? Are you homosexual? Can prayer make a gay person straight? Can therapy make a homosexual heterosexual? Can homosexuals change? Exodus exploits the haziness of terms like “change,” “healing,” “freedom” and “transformation” to have it both ways. It will hide behind the half-truth that labels, categories, questions and either/ors are limiting, and that the truth is complicated and ambiguous, but in Exodus’s case it’s just an excuse to have its cake and eat it.

On Our America, Alan Chambers tried to convince America he was a modern, tolerant person who accepted gay Christians. He wanted us to believe that Exodus International is a modern, tolerant organization. Now he’s backtracking to a position that’s amounts to “Okay, technically there are gay Christians, but in reality, they pretty much don’t exist.” He clearly worries that this take on the question — which he describes as “an unfailing and generous grace” — is still too liberal for his conservative audience.

At least with extremists like Peter LaBarbera you know where he stands. With Exodus, it’s double-speak, obfuscation and a different story spun every day, depending on who’s listening.

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