IRVINE, Calif. (BP) -- Exodus International, a decades-old ministry of helping people overcome homosexual behavior, announced it is closing down the same day its president, Alan Chambers, issued a public apology to people who have been hurt by the organization.
"Exodus International is the prodigal's older brother, trying to impose its will on God's promises, and make judgments on who's worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father -- to welcome everyone, to love unhindered," Chambers said in a written statement June 19, alluding also to the development of a new ministry to "reduce fear."
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the folding of Exodus International "doesn't mean the folding of an evangelical sexual ethic, though it does mean a move away from a therapeutic model of sexual sanctification."
"Evangelical Christianity increasingly addresses sexual issues more in line with the older Christian tradition of sin and temptation and triumph than with the language of therapy," Moore told Baptist Press. "We can't have a utopian view of overcoming temptation of any sort."
Jesus never promises any Christian freedom from temptation, Moore said, but He does promise the power of the Spirit to fight against the pull to temptation, whatever the temptation may be.
"Increasingly churches are addressing persons with same-sex attractions the same way they address everyone else: in terms of the Gospel and a lifelong call to take up one's cross and follow Christ," Moore said. "This means the Christian grappling with same-sex attractions needs to hear that the Gospel addresses him or her, and that this person needs the whole body of Christ, in community, not just an accountability group of those who are defined by the same temptations."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said it became clear last year -- when Chambers suggested that people can persist in homosexual behavior and still receive the salvation that Jesus offers -- that Chambers and Exodus International were rethinking their understanding of a Christian approach to homosexuality.
"Sadly, it appears that this rethinking has resulted in something like a surrender to the cultural currents of the day," Mohler told Baptist Press.
Chambers' apology was to appear on an episode of "Our America" with Lisa Ling on the Oprah Winfrey Network June 20, but in a speech at the Exodus Freedom conference at Concordia College in Irvine, Calif., Wednesday night and in a statement released earlier that day, Chambers said he must "finally own and acknowledge the hurt of others."
"It is strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the church's treatment of the LBGT community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt," Chambers wrote. "Today it is as if I've just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church."
Chambers, who has served as president of Exodus International for 11 years, said his newfound beliefs "center around grace," rather than sin.
"I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma.... And then there is the trauma that I have caused," Chambers wrote, pointing to his decision for years not to disclose his own ongoing same-sex attractions.
Chambers' apology continued, "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 we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents....
"I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, 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 when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart."
Most of all, Chambers said, he regrets that people have interpreted "this religious rejection by Christians" as God's rejection, and he said he will never again allow his beliefs about marriage and sex to interfere with loving his neighbor.
Bob Stith, who served Southern Baptists as a national strategist for gender issues until funding for the position ceased last year, told Baptist Press he has no problem with making apologies and asking for forgiveness.
"I personally have known many men, women and parents who have been hurt by well-meaning words and actions by ministries, individuals and churches," Stith, a former Exodus International board member, said. "To that extent, this apology could hopefully challenge us to be more thoughtful and Christ-like as we interact with an increasingly secular society."
But Stith took issue with some components of Chambers' apology, including the statement about gay parents being every bit as capable.
"While it may well be true that some same-sex couples have provided more stable and loving environments for children than some heterosexual couples, this statement seems to ignore that Scripture only gives one pattern for family and nowhere can I find any justification to change that," Stith said.
"Our standard must remain a total allegiance to Scripture and not to the changing whims of culture," Stith said.
Also, when Chambers apologized for communicating that homosexual families are "less than me and mine," Stith said it's not a matter of whose marriage is better but what God's standard is.
"If [God] has a standard -- which I clearly believe that He does -- should we not be doing all in our power to uphold that standard and to call all creation into alignment with that standard?" Stith said.
Such statements from Chambers, Stith said, conflict with Chambers' statement that God's standard for sexual expression is between a man and a woman in marriage, causing "unnecessary confusion."
Stith also warned that in the televised apology, Chambers appears alongside people who have been hurt by various ministries and the people are given the opportunity to vent their frustrations without the ministries being offered a response.
The Orlando-based Exodus International, with 260 member ministries worldwide, announced the decision to close after a unanimous vote by its board of directors who for a year, according to a news release, discussed and prayed about "the organization's place in a changing culture."
"We're not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, but a new generation of Christians is looking for change -- and they want to be heard," board member Tony Moore said in the news release.
Randy Thomas, executive vice president of Exodus International, told The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville that the group -- going forward under a new name, reportedly to be announced late June 20 -- will no longer aim to help people change from homosexual to heterosexual attractions.
"Providing help for people to turn from gay to straight is something we've distanced ourselves from," Thomas said. Instead, the new mission will be to help people achieve a better relationship with Jesus without judgment, he said.
Mohler, in his comments to Baptist Press, described the Exodus announcement as "not a course correction -- it is a capitulation."
"The statements from Alan Chambers and Exodus International indicate that they have lost confidence in both the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Mohler said.
"The normalization of homosexuality contradicts the Bible's consistent condemnation of all same-sex sexuality as sin. The rejection of the hope for change for homosexuals (as for all sinners) indicates a tragic loss of confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Mohler said.
In that light, he added, "it is far better for the ministry to disband than to misrepresent the Christian community and the Gospel."
Chambers' personal comments, Mohler said, "are both troubling and confusing," particularly his statements about sin.
"While Alan Chambers is right when he insists that our beliefs do not center on 'sin' because 'sin' isn't at the center of our faith, he seems to have lost sight of the fact that Christ came to save us from our sin," Mohler said. "Thus, sin is inseparable from our story of salvation in Christ."
The news of Exodus International's closing makes for a sad day for the Christian church, Mohler said, because the collapse of any ministry that had once served the cause of the Gospel is a tragedy. He noted that this collapse was progressive, not instantaneous.
"The greatest tragedy is that persons experiencing same-sex attractions or involved in same-sex sexuality will be further confused by the capitulation of Exodus International," Mohler said.
Russell Moore, in his comments to Baptist Press, said, "The Christian church has always maintained that sexual expression is directed only toward the one-flesh union of male and female in marriage.
"Anything else is to be turned away from, regardless of how difficult that is. The church has also maintained that all are fallen people who can be forgiven by the blood of Christ and who can receive power to walk according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh," Moore said. "We shouldn't be offering cures or quick fixes, but Gospel."
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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