Arriving at the Exodus Conference
To say it felt weird, walking onto the Concordia University campus in Irvine CA to attend the Exodus conference “True Stories” on the 20th of June 2013, would be an understatement.
The last time I was in Irvine was 2007, as the only Australian, to attend the first Ex-gay Survivors Conference. The Survivors conference was held at the Irvine University campus to coincide with the Exodus “Freedom” Conference, only kilometres away, where 1,000 had gathered to hear the message preached “Freedom from Homosexuality”.
Now here I was, exactly six years later, at the Exodus Freedom Conference; the ‘enemy’ camp as it were. .
Something didn’t seem right. Not many people around and poor signage made it difficult to find the separate registration area. Too much about the next four days was unknown to me so I’d chosen to stay in a nearby hotel to escape if I had to. Attending the conference meetings and workshops was going to be challenging enough without staying in that environment 24 hours a day.
I knew I had limited time to get registration sorted out as preceding emails warned me of tight security and without registration, no one, and I mean no one was getting into the auditorium for the first crucial meeting. Where was the slick, well-oiled, American razzmatazz of the big ex-gay machine and the 1,000’s attending I had read and heard so much about? Maybe it had been a clever branding exercise and Exodus didn’t have the millions of dollars people claimed. The university campus was deserted for the summer break, adding to the eerie feeling. Occasional passers-by smiled and said hello. No-one I saw seemed very excited. Possibly the recent developments were already having an impact.
At least there would be one other person attending I knew. My friend Jim Burroway from Box Turtle Bulletin had also been granted permission to attend. As far as I knew we were the only two gay advocates there. Everyone else was from the “other side”.
The person I was really waiting to finally meet face to face, was Alan Chambers: the president of Exodus International.
But what was Anthony Venn-Brown doing at the Exodus conference?
The person who has publicly stated his goal is to see all ex-gay programs close in Australia and worked consistently to de-construct the ex-gay “Change is Possible” myth frequently promoted by ex-gay/reparative/conversion leaders and organisations.
Alan Manning Chambers (AMC) and I began communicating three years earlier in 2010.
As the name implies, Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International philosophy is to reach out and build bridges where we can. Dialogue always creates better outcomes than attacking. “It’s better to have a long conversation than a raging debate” to quote Alan Chambers tweet of February 2013. I agreed and retweeted.
I can’t disclose all that is in the email communications over three years,. I learnt very early, doing bridge building, about the need for confidentiality and providing a safe space for those we are dialoguing with. It’s not an option, it’s essential. I gave Alan my word I would not disclose the content of our discussions without his consent. He often said go ahead.
The AMC/AVB journey began in October 2010.
At this time, Exodus withdrew its support from the Day of Truth, held the same day as the Day of Silence. On the Day of Silence, founded in 1996, students take “a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools,”. In 2005, a number of ultra conservative groups, including Exodus International, banded together to create a counter campaign called The Day of Truth. The Day of Truth “was established to counter the promotion of homosexual behaviour and to express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective”.
After a spate of well publicized gay youth suicides in 2010, Exodus pulled out of the Day of Truth and Alan’s statement on the Exodus International website read. “All the recent attention to bullying helped us realize that we need to equip kids to live out biblical tolerance and grace while treating their neighbours as they’d like to be treated, whether they agree with them or not.”
I sent Alan an email expressing my gratitude and re-enforcing why their new decision was important.
After my personal background introduction I wrote
“I’ve just read a report that Exodus is not supporting the Day of Truth to counteract the Day of Silence…….in light of the recent revelations of gay youth suicide. Of course what many of us know is that this is not a spike in suicides they have been going on for decades. What is really sad is that it has taken so long to mobilise people to change this tragedy.
I wanted to say thank you for that……and the acknowledgement of the potential for further harm.
Whilst we may hold differing views there is a higher purpose we are all called to……love.
Some have used Exodus and its message to justify and promote hate……and reject those they should love.
So thanks for taking this recent step…….it will literally save lives”.
I knew that there would have been an avalanche of emails pouring into Exodus and wondered if I would even get a response. It was refreshing to get a brief, but courteous reply from Alan himself, considering other Christian leaders and organisations had chosen to ignore several polite emails instead.
From that point, every time Alan or Exodus said or did something positive, I sent an email expressing my appreciation. And there were several opportunities to do that.
In 2011 Exodus quietly removed articles about homosexuality being demonic possession and that exorcisms were one way of freeing a person from their same-sex-attractions. (This is still believed by Exodus Global Alliance. Exodus Global Alliance is a loose affiliation of ex-gay ministries around the world that was separate to the much larger and more influential North American Exodus International)
Copyright © Anthony Venn-Brown