Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Exodus International Targets Young People for 2011

Despite the substantial scientific, and even theological, evidence that debunks the myth that homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender variance are not embodied ‘disorders’, ex-gay organizations, like Exodus International, have refused to close their doors and rescind their claims that LGBTQ folk are morally flawed and in need of fixing.

Instead, for 2011 Exodus International has refocused their mission and their strategic vision planning has developed into the following manifesto for the upcoming year: Simplify, Amplify, and Intensify.

In an open letter to their supporters, Alan Chambers elaborates on these concepts as they move forward to refocus their mission (simplify), refocus their target audiences (amplify), and refocus the cultural impact their message carries in the world (intensify).

As expected, I have many contentions with Chambers’ message. I find his argument within these categories to be theologically problematic. However, despite my best efforts to disagree with Chambers and Exodus, their organization continues to exist and their message continues to reach the lives of many individuals every day.

In 2011, Exodus endeavors to get back to the heart of their mission: mobilizing the Body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality. Their primary mission is reaching out to the Church to “help them engage people inside and outside the Body of Christ who are impacted by homosexuality.”

The Body of Christ. Paul reminds us that we are all members of the Body of Christ.* Therefore, are not all of our stories relevant in ministering grace and truth to the world? What does ‘grace’ and ‘truth’ actually look like? Can any of us actually claim to know ‘truth’? To do this we could have to claim the authority to know God’s will and intent; which I wholeheartedly believe is beyond our comprehension. So when Chambers speaks to ministering ‘truth’, whose ‘truth’ does he speak of? The ‘truth’ we do know is that we are all members of the Body of Christ. Thus to practice ‘grace’ means to welcome all of us at the table as equal members in the Body.

One of the biggest controversies around Exodus International has been their involvement with converting young people into ex-gays. This past year they discontinued their support of “National Day of Truth” and in in the recent past, discontinued their program “Refuge”. However, their involvement with young people has yet to come to an end. In his letter Chambers writes,
“In 2011 we will turn up the volume on our simplified message and begin providing increased and focused resources for individuals, families, schools and churches. For instance, the greatest area of need in our culture is outreach to young people. We will be changing the name of Exodus Youth to Exodus Student Ministries in order to encompass middle school thru college age students. We have listened to youth pastors, parents and especially students and we want to amplify our message in a way that they will best receive it: via web communication, YouTube, podcasts and short to the point booklets. We are also in the process of creating an App for iPhone users.”
As a counter movement, we need to be disturbed. Given Exodus’s appalling record with young people, this organization has no business in schools or around anyone under the age of 21. Their message is hateful, intolerant, scientifically bankrupt, and will continue to lead to young people harming themselves — including the potential for depression, abusive behaviors, and even suicide. The stories from ex-gay survivors are the greatest testament to the ways that these programs are harmful and destructive of all individuals, but especially to young people.

Chambers continues by writing, “Staggering numbers of young people are abandoning their faith because they cannot reconcile their homosexuality with their Christianity. The temporary but instant satisfaction of this world is far more appealing to them than the eternal benefits of a progressive journey of discipleship.”

I concur that the number of young people leaving the church based on issues of sexuality is quite high. But that high number exists because of organizations like Exodus. The reality is, Exodus is not in business for the spiritual welfare of young people. If they were, they would be offering a message that relentlessly reminds young people that they are loved by God without reservation.

But instead, Exodus prides themselves on being a $10 million a year organization, that operates on an international level. I struggle to see how they are business for the spiritual welfare of the people. Chambers even addresses the letter to 'partners', making use of very obvious corporate language; making a call for groups to include Exodus in their planned giving through budgets and missions giving. And they call this ministry?

Ministry is, as Gregory the Great reminds, caring for the souls of people. Caring for the souls of people requires that we practice love towards one another. To reference Paul again, love is kind and love protects.** We as a counter movement, though we are not all Christians or identify with a religious tradition, are called to practice radically inclusive love. Love is a universal practice. Furthermore, we called to share our stories that speak against the harm produced by organizations like Exodus. Young people should have access to safe and liberating spaces as they come to understand their sexuality in a world impacted by Christianity and oppression.

* Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12
** 1 Corinthians 13

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