The Secret Mission is no longer a secret
What a bizarre feeling to be walking into the Exodus International conference at the Concordia University. Irvine California last night. Especially as initially I had a déjà vu moment as I caught a cab to the wrong university, The University of California, Irvine. I had been at the latter in 2007 for the first ex-gay survivors conference.
Finally finding the registration table and auditorium I looked around at the 300 people and tried to read their faces. Some had obviously heard the news of the apology to the LGBTQ community, some looked tormented and others happy to renew contact with people they had come to know at previous Exodus events. I sat down in the back row next to my friend Jim Burroway the editor of Box Turtle Bulletin. As far as I knew we were the only openly gay and accepting people in the place.
Even with all I knew that had been going on the message Alan Chambers delivered caught me by surprise.
My approach, if possible, has always been to engage instead of attack (this is the philosophy of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International). Attacking from a distance is easy. Trying to engage someone in dialogue is time consuming and requires grace and patience.
Since 2010, every time Alan Chambers did something positive I sent him an email thanking him. He always responded. Over the last 12 months our dialogue became warmer. I have also been in a secret Facebook group with Alan, other Exodus leaders and a number of ex-gay survivors. The discussions have been challenging at times but, to their credit, some Exodus people continued listening and engaging.
For some reason I had a strong sense that I should attend the conference. In February I asked how Alan would feel about me attending the Exodus conference. Alan’s reply was:
Thanks for your email. I would love for you to come to the conference. I think it will be a year like no other—I don’t know what that means other than it isn’t turning out to look like it used to look. Our numbers are down and my desire for change is high. It might just turn into an opportunity to promote common ground. You must decide whether God wants you to join us. Please let me know how that turns out.
|Alan Chambers delivering the historic announcement.|
I honestly didn’t know what Alan was going to announce last night. I knew it would be a challenging meeting considering that the apology to the LGBTQ community had been strategically released only hours before. Exodus shutting down was a possibility but I doubted that would be announced at the first night of the conference.
The mood in the meeting was sombre and you could tell Alan was preparing the audience for some challenging news. But I am sure most of the crowd were unprepared for what was about to come. After all, many had come because they were struggling with ‘unwanted same sex attraction’ .
Whilst Alan was making the announcement, once again strategically, the announcement that Exodus International was ceasing to exist was released on their website.
Alan’s preparation for the audience was sensitive. He began to cry several times. He detailed his personal journey to face issues and be completely honest. And also about his spiritual journey to become less judgemental, more accepting and to be like Jesus. He criticized the churches attitude towards LGBT people and the community. He wants to make changes and forge a new path of honest and open change.
Some are sceptical of these changes. Some are angry and rejecting the apology. Many are celebrating. Being an ex-gay survivor myself and worked with so many since 2000 I understand and empathise with all these reactions.
No doubt these recent announcements will have a huge impact on western evangelicalism and if handled properly will spill over to Asian and African evangelicalism. But this won’t happen overnight.
There is still much to do which is obvious to those of us who have worked in this space for many years now. The challenge that lies ahead of us now is to work with those who have suffered because of the message “homosexuality is a choice and it can be changed”. Sorry doesn’t necessarily heal the past but it does give us hope for a better future. With two thirds of ex-gay ministries disappearing in Australia in the last decade I believe that we have led the way. These recent announcements should mean that my goal to see them all disappear is closer to a reality.
More on that later.
© Anthony Venn-Brown