I haven’t had any time to write a short piece on the Exodus kerfuffle, so I will have to settle for a long one. I’m honestly sorry, because I’m from the Strunk & White school of writing: the fewer words, the bigger the punch. But there’s just too much here I’ve been wanting to say.
The fact that Exodus is closing its doors doesn’t affect me much. I’ve only ever been part of one Exodus-affiliated group, and after a few months I gave it up as a bad job: I didn’t to hear these men tell and retell their stories, and I didn’t need to keep telling them mine. I’ve never been to an Exodus conference. Up to a few days ago, when I read his humble and courageous apology, I hadn’t even read anything written by Alan Chambers.
Predictably, the media at large (who, until the apology, had never heard of Exodus at all) declared itself an expert on what Exodus did or didn’t stand for, and proclaimed its closing a piece of unqualifiedly good news, long overdue in a society as enlightened as ours. To the fuzzy mind of the Huffington Post, the difference between Exodus International and the Westboro Baptist Church is only a difference of degree.
They’re wrong, of course, but the more I think about Alan Chambers’ apology, the more blown away I am. It takes tremendous selflessness to devote yourself to a cause to the degree that Chambers devoted himself to helping gay Christians; and then after years of that, to turn around and accuse yourself of being an enemy of the people you were most committed to helping? I can’t imagine how he has suffered. “You have never been my enemy,” he writes; “I am very sorry that I have been yours.” You have to be a mensch to say those words.
“I am sorry,” he says elsewhere in the piece, “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.” There’s a certain brand of Christianity that treats the actual experience of human life as somehow irrelevant, and substitutes instead a scaffolding of abstractions — Conviction, Deliverance, Freedom In Christ — things which, however true and real in themselves, mean very little to an actual suffering human being. That’s the kind of thing that, however well-intentioned it was, really does need apologizing for.
To an extent, that’s the kind of thing ex-gay ministries have offered. That’s certainly the way these things are caricatured: trying to “pray away the gay” without actually touching any of the underlying longing or pain; or using at-best-questionable means to develop heterosexual attraction,1 when our lack of heterosexual attraction is actually the least of our worries. In my own experience of homosexuality, sex (or lack thereof) is very far from being the point.
The point is how we relate to other human beings. I’ve always said that if I could deal with all the other bits, the fact that I experience sexual attraction to men would be no big deal.
The problem is that, for the kind of Christian who’s committed to thinking of homosexuality as “just another temptation”, it makes no sense to talk about “all the other bits”. In this school of thought, homosexuality is coterminous with sexual attraction, and the gay man is exactly the same as any other man, except that he happens to want to sleep with men instead of women.
It boggles my mind that people actually think this way, because if you’ve ever been a human being, you’re aware that sexuality neither begins nor ends with the pelvis. If your sexuality is so compartmentalized that is has nothing to do with the way you relate to people outside the bedroom, then you are bad crazy.
People who do think this way have either not really thought about it at all — not tried to put themselves inside the head of an actual man or woman with same-sex attraction — or they’re afraid that, if they admit that homosexuality is an actual complex phenomenon, and not just an invention of Teh Liberalz!!!!11, they’ll have to relinquish a lot of their other beliefs about what men and women are.
This is the first part of a four-part post. Part 2 will appear tomorrow.