By now, many readers will already have heard the news that Exodus International is closing-up shop. What was once a leading evangelical ministry to those struggling with homosexuality has now become defunct. This is in no small part due to the influence of its charismatic president, Alan Chambers, whose views have led the organization into a theological cul de sac.
Chambers announced the ending of Exodus in connection with an extended public apology to those who have been hurt by Exodus’ years of ministry. His apology, however, has caused much confusion and consternation for evangelicals (like myself) who have been watching this unfold from the outside. Among other things, Chambers writes,
I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.
For me, this expresses the underlying problem with Chambers’ leadership. I understand the skepticism about reparative therapy. In fact, there is nothing necessarily Christian about reparative therapy, and I am quite skeptical about some of its claims myself. Having said that, Chambers apologizes not simply for promoting reparative therapy but also for promoting “sexual orientation change efforts” altogether. Chambers seems to be saying that Spirit’s work of conversion does not address sexual orientation. I don’t know how else to take this except as a denial of what the Bible teaches about sanctification (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:23).
Christians have no moral obligation to subscribe to the specific tenets of reparative therapy, but we do have an obligation to believe that the Christian gospel can save and sanctify sinners. Thus Christians must insist that sexual orientation/behavior is alterable. We believe that not on the basis of any particular study—although there are studies that support the claim—but on the basis of what the Bible teaches.
That does not mean that we believe all homosexuals become completely cured of homosexual desires once they become Christian. Nor does it mean that all homosexual converts will become completely free a homosexual orientation in this life. But it does mean that we have hope in the progressive sanctification of all repentant sinners, including homosexual ones (2 Cor. 3:18).
The biblical doctrine of sanctification assumes that all of us are sinners and need to be progressively transformed into Christ’s image over the course of our lives (2 Cor. 3:18). It does not teach that sin will be eradicated in Christians in this life. It does teach that Christians will experience real progress in holiness over the course of their lives (which Chamber’s denies).
A Christian person may struggle with homosexual desires his whole life, but he can know real victory over homosexual behavior. Some homosexuals may even experience a change in orientation, but that’s certainly not guaranteed for every homosexual in this life (Wesley Hill’s book is a must-read in this regard). Some may be called to a consecrated life of celibacy. Others may be called to marriage and family. In any case, we believe that God can alter sinful desires and behavior over time (Phil. 2:12-13). To abandon that possibility is to abandon Christianity altogether (1 Thess. 4:7-8).
It appears that Chambers has abandoned the possibility of transformation, and that is why I am concerned about the public statements he’s been making over the last year or so. The path that he commends enables sinners to be complacent about sin. It enables them to regard holiness as an optional add-on to their Christian faith. Yet the Bible says that without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). That means that the very homosexuals that Chambers wishes to reach will never see the Lord if they continue in their sin. Even if they claim to be Christians, they won’t inherit eternal life in the end if they’ve spurned Christ’s Lordship in the present.
I am sad to see what Exodus has come to. I am grieved by Chambers’ apology tour that distorts and confuses the Christian message. But I am not sad to see the closing of the 2013 version of Exodus. It seems that Chambers was leading Exodus back to Egypt, and that needed to end one way or another.
For those looking for resources on homosexuality and the Christian life, I am hopeful about a new organization called the Restored Hope Network. They have a solid theological basis, and it looks poised to fill the gap left by collapse of Exodus.