I am in my last year of undergraduate studies in creative writing at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. I am taking an advanced writing class this summer in which my first major project is a multigenre work covering a particular subject. Choosing to write about my experiences in the ex-gay movement, I would be remiss if didn’t also chronicle the rise and fall of Exodus International within the work as well. Given the news of the past week, I am going to have to do some revision of my writing.
Exodus International, an umbrella organization dedicated to providing support for those with “unwanted same-sex attraction”, announced on Wednesday at their annual conference that they are shutting down their ministry. The news hit all the major media outlets. Though I knew something was in the works–Exodus president Alan Chambers had been intimating “big news” for some time–I didn’t expect the news to look quite like this.
The reaction of most of the people I know is simple ecstasy. Though they may not have been personally affected by Exodus or by the ex-gay movement, they are aware of Exodus’s role as the world’s oldest and largest ex-gay organization. They know that many lives will be spared, as “reparative therapy” treatments have been indicated to induce depression and even suicide. They may even personally know others who have suffered under the pseudotherapy.
However, those of us who are close to the issue are not quite so optimistic. First off, Exodus isn’t really shutting down. The name is being retired, and from a legal standpoint, it will cease to exist as a non-profit organization. However, at Wednesday’s conference, Mr. Chambers announced that he and the other leadership would be launching a new initiative called Reduced Fear. Thursday night, the OWN network broadcast a feature from Lisa Ling’s Our America series, in which Alan Chambers offered his official apology to the ex-gay survivor community, and several ex-gay survivors confronted Mr. Chambers regarding how much his organization had damaged their lives. As a precursor to that broadcast, HuffPost Live featured Ms. Ling and Mr. Chambers, as well as Michael Bussee, Exodus cofounder who became perhaps its harshest critic, and Sean Sala, an ex-gay survivor. During that webcast, I asked Mr. Chambers what the aim of Reduced Fear was specifically, and he couldn’t give the audience a straight answer (no pun intended). [See the whole half-hour webcast here.]
Many ex-gay survivors, well acquainted with the slippery rhetoric of Exodus International, are reading between the lines and guessing that Reduced Fear will work with churches in encouraging them to “let” LGBT peopole into the pews whilst maintaining that same-sex relationships and gender variance are still “sinful” and “wrong”. In other words, a leopard trying to change its spots.
And there is the critique that the “apology” doesn’t really go far enough. John Shore offers an outstanding indictment, pointing out Chambers’s lack of contrition or desire to do the hard work of making amends, and that, in lieu of this hard work, he instead is using the “apology” as a platform to advertise his new organization.
If only leopards were our only concern…
Just like the mythical hydra, we know that even if every vestige of Exodus disappeared, this beast has many heads, and they reproduce.
In January 2011, Alan Chambers was part of a panel at the Gay Christian Network annual conference in Orlando. The story of how he ended up in perhaps the last place you’d expect him is quite convoluted, but irrelevant to the impact of what that visit meant. At the conference, he made two statements that served as a death knell to Exodus International. First, he admitted that “99.9%” of Exodus clients did not change their orientation. If you think that would be enough to bring down the organization, it wasn’t. His second statement was considered far more shocking: that there would be gays in heaven. As word got out of his statement, Exodus affiliates left the organization in droves, along with some Exodus leadership, and together they founded Restored Hope Network, who have since Mr. Chambers’s statement considered Exodus “apostate“.
Then there is the Exodus Global Alliance, an organization operating outside the United States who at one time was considered a sister organization to Exodus International. They are not disappearing anytime soon.
And then of course, bear in mind that Exodus International is an umbrella organization. It has provided to its affiliates, and to the public at large, literature, speakers, and media spokespeople. However, none of the organizations who until now were part of Exodus are going away. Some may hop on Reduce Fear, but my bet is that many will join Restored Hope. (Wow, Mr. Chambers certainly wasn’t pulling any punches in choosing the new name, eh?)
I don’t want to undercut the significance of the end of Exodus. Indeed, I personally know a number of activists and ex-gay survivors who have fought for years for this day. Much of that time was spent in direct dialogue with Mr. Chambers. And though it may be construed that the end of Exodus is symbolic, I’ve learnt to never estimate the power of symbols. Still, if we think this is the end, it’s really just one step of many to go.
So many steps until we all recognize each other’s equality and humanity…
EDIT: Corrected oragnization names: “Global Exodus Alliance” to “Exodus Global Alliance”, and “Reduced Fear” to “Reduce Fear”.