The president of Exodus International, Alan Chambers, has confirmed to Ex-Gay Watch that the organization he leads has shifted direction, turning away from public policy in order to concentrate on ministry.
Since the first day we entered into policy discussions and activism it was a struggle for us. I felt strongly about the issues we were defending, but conflicted about the fact that we might be alienating people that simply wouldn’t call us for help because of the perception that we were becoming a partisan and political organization rather than a ministry for all.
Not long ago, Wendy Gritter, executive director of the Toronto-based ministry New Direction, gave the keynote address at the 2008 Exodus Leadership Conference (PowerPoint presentation, 29 MB audio recording). As Warren Throckmorton describes it,
The mission of New Direction is “creating a safe place for same-gender-attracted people to journey towards wholeness in Christ.” The focus of New Direction appears to be much more focused on Christian ministry to same-sex attracted people as opposed to mediating change of sexual orientation.
He quotes Wendy:
[W]hen we look at those who now have their stories on the Beyond Ex-gay website…we also ought not to be patronizing? There can be this subtle sense that ‘you just didn’t try hard enough….but see we did.’ How can we engage relationally with those who have come to different theological understanding than we have?
There is much to digest here and in the lengthy comment thread that Wendy's talk initiated at Warren's blog, but it seems to me that we are witnessing a historic development in the way evangelical Protestant churches and ministries deal with homosexuality, in that Exodus has really been the flagship for an approach focusing on orientation change.
Exodus, along with its charismatic and evangelical allies, has boldly--dare I say "loudly"?--proclaimed the reality of God's power to deliver people from homosexuality. But affirmation of the truth of divine deliverance from bondage of any kind needs always to be held in tension with acceptance of the reality of thorns in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7-9) which God in his providence allows us to learn to live with. Call this, if you will, a theology of suffering--which the great Catholic mystics always affirmed but which some churches (especially ones influenced by Pentecostalism) have been loath to recognize.
Now, while the Exodus approach has grown out of churches that stand very firm on the teaching that homosexual acts are always sinful, the same cannot be said within the context of the Anglican Communion, at least in North America and the United Kingdom. There too, though, it's notable that the Zacchaeus Fellowship (to which I belong as an associate member) has emphasized its pastoral calling.
We want it known that we are neither an ex-gay ministry nor a counselling ministry, although we do refer people when asked. We are not a political lobby group but a pastoral fellowship. We are not militant, but we try to exemplify the love of Christ in everything we do and say.
The sad spectacle of the moral and organizational collapse well underway within the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church points to the need for vigilance lest a healthy sensitivity to the voices of people who feel marginalized by the Church lapse into relativism. I heard recently that the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and the moderator of the United Church of Canada apologized for missionaries' declarations that Christianity was superior to indigenous North American spiritual traditions. Sorry, but that won't do. We need to remain firmly attached to the true Vine (John 15), or we will bear no fruit.
Chances are very remote, though, that Exodus will go mushy any time soon. The change that Wendy Gritter calls for is truly welcome. Let the brittle bits of caramel be folded back into the pliable, leavened lump of dough. A fuller Christian message affirms complementary aspects of teaching rather than defending one truth at the expense of another. Courage, the Catholic apostolate to people living with homosexual attraction, has never emphasized orientation change but rather chastity and discipleship.
Two years ago, Alan Chambers and Michael Bussee along with many others batted around the idea of retiring the "ex-gay" label. As I wrote back then,
[T]he ex-gay claims and ex-ex-gay counterclaims are kind of irrelevant when moral codes are based not on private judgment but on the guarantee to God's people of "the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error" (CCC 890). In other words, there's a lot we don't know yet about the etiology (CCC 2357) and potential changeability of homosexual desire, but no outcome of these controversies can undermine the basic call to every last blessed one of us to live our whole lives in chastity, be it within or outside heterosexual marriage (CCC 2337-2350, esp. 2339, 2342).
Link thanks to Warren Throckmorton.