We all know that Exodus International is undergoing some changes. We knew a major rebranding was coming, following last November’s revelation that America’s leading ex-gay organization had warned its allies it faced social and financial ruin.
We’ve seen Chambers’s efforts to present a more open and friendly Exodus to the world — including LGBT Christians — beginning with his appearance at the Gay Christian Network conference in January. Since then, we’ve seen Exodus distance itself increasingly from the claims of reparative and conversion therapy.
Conservative Christian psychologist Dr Warren Throckmorton is jubilant about Exodus International’s new stance, describing President Alan Chambers as “leading Exodus from the wilderness of reparative therapy to the promised land of Grace and soul liberty.” Once a reparative therapist himself, Throckmorton has long campaigned against the idea that no method, including clinical intervention, can change homosexual orientation.
At Box Turtle Bulletin, Jim Burroway is tentatively hopeful:
My very short take-away from my own first-hand experience at the conference is this: There really are significant changes afoot at Exodus. And having looked around and engaged in some rather significant conversations in St. Paul, I have come to the conclusion that change is possible at Exodus. But it has been neither instantaneous nor complete. And if it does come about, it will only be after a very long struggle.
Burroway’s colleague Timothy Kincaid has been enthusiastic for developments at Exodus since Chambers’s controversial GCN appearance in January:
Exodus did some soul searching. … And has become, in my opinion, a very different organization. I see change in Exodus. A change of heart, a change of priorities and a change of purpose. And I can understand and respect the Exodus that I believe they are striving to become.
Meanwhile, at Truth Wins Out, Mike Airhart gives Exodus little credit:
Exodus wants the public to believe that it no longer promotes harmful ex-gay conversion. But a review of the Exodus Twitter feed suggests otherwise. … Far from representing robust Christianity or sound mental-health advice, these glimpses at Exodus conference content constitute shallow, warm-fuzzy godtalk, framed into excuses to lie about one’s orientation, assume a false “identity,” infantilize one’s spirituality, and demonize sexual and spiritual honesty.
TWO’s Wayne Besen has been just as scathing:
What Chambers says often has little in common with what he actually does. He breaks promises, rarely follows through, pretends to love while actually bashing LGBT people, fabricates statistics, and paints a false portrait of LGBT life as depraved, shallow, and dangerous. … The point of this post is to warn people not to take Chambers’ pronouncements with a grain of salt, but enough salt to fill the Dead Sea. In the past, his word has essentially been meaningless. Even as he claims to be taking Exodus in a new direction, many of Exodus’ local ministries, where the actual “pray away the gay” programs occur, still engage in the old lies, gender stereotyping, and bizarre practices that Chambers now claims Exodus no longer engages in.
He does view Exodus’s prompt response to Dennis Jernigan’s remarks to the Jamaican media as “encouraging,” however, and concedes it as evidence that Alan Chambers “might be serious” about reform.
Evangelical biblical scholar Robert J Gagnon has now weighed in in his usual lengthy style, expending 35 pages denouncing Exodus’s new stance and calling for Chambers to resign. This highlights a theological controversy that has been glossed over in most media stories, but to which XGW will return soon.
Mainstream media coverage has been significant. The Associated Press and The Atlantic were among the first to announce the changes, late last month. The New York Times and NPR have both run major stories on Exodus this past week.
Among the best coverage has been Lynne Gerber’s piece at Religion Dispatches, which provides a very insightful timeline of how Exodus International has changed since its founding in the mid-seventies.
While Exodus’s rhetoric has been hazy at best over the past few years, there’s no question that it has now made a very clear and public break with the idea of sexual orientation change efforts, or SOCE. None of Exodus’s member ministries, says Alan Chambers, will be allowed to practice reparative therapy. Exodus “isn’t in the SOCE business,” he clarified in an email to XGW.
Ex-Gay Watch will hold Exodus to its words and will observe as closely as ever to see whether the organization’s words and actions reflect its new claims. We will also be watching to see what, in the absence of a promise of orientation change, becomes the core of Exodus’s message.