Friday on the NewsHour, Ray Suarez talks to Jeff Chu, author of “Does Jesus Really Love Me?”, about being gay and a Christian. Chu profiled several people who had experiences with Exodus International. In this extended interview, Chu reacts to news of Exodus International ending its operations.
Earlier this week Exodus International made headlines when it decided to close its doors and issue an apology to the gay community.
For decades Exodus International has been the leading practitioner of the “gay cure” movement. Based in Orlando, Fla., the organization has grown to over 260 member ministries worldwide. Exodus and their affiliates hold fast to a strong evangelical Christian belief that homosexuality is a sin and not a part of the life God intended them to live. Marriage, they believe, is intended to be between one man and one woman. They offered services to people who wanted to overcome their same-sex temptations.
The organization strove to assist people with same-sex attractions “surrender their sexual struggles to Jesus Christ and live a life that reflects the Christian faith.”
In an unexpected statement Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, wrote:
“I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry that I … failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.”
Shortly after his statement was released, Exodus’ board of directors unanimously agreed to close the ministry. Chambers wrote: “For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”
The move reflects a public view of same-sex marriage that is radically different today than it was in 1974 when Exodus opened its doors. Now a majority (51 percent) of white, evangelical Protestants under 35 support same-sex marriage according to a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute. That’s compared to only 15 percent of their elders.
Yet other conservative evangelical ministries are not convinced that closing Exodus reflects a change in perspective from Christians.
“I think it’s easy to overblow this story into a parable of evangelical shift. I don’t think that’s the case. I see this as the end of a church ministry that had been confused for some time about its own views,” Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the PBS NewsHour.
Moore thinks the utopian and therapeutic approach by Exodus was reflective of an American culture that wanted a quick and easy fix to something that ultimately is non-negotiable.
“In terms of the morality of human sexuality, we don’t have the option to evolve, we have the option handed down to us by Jesus. This isn’t a teaching that we can negotiate away each generation, it’s something that has been given to us,” said Moore.
Exodus’ member ministries are autonomous from Exodus International and will choose independently whether to keep operating.
Since the member organizations have that independence, author Jeff Chu thinks the end of Exodus is symbolically important. “The significance is not so much in practice, because those ministries are still going, the therapies are still continuing, but Exodus, the figurehead, is what’s gone.”
Chu thinks that this shift is important for the larger debate.
“There has been an incredible amount of suffering,” he said.”I think we can start to have conversations because of what’s happened with Exodus, where we look at whether there is a better way to handle this, even if you are theologically conservative.”
Chambers plans to open a new ministry that will seek to make churches become “safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”