The apology by Alan Chambers, the leader of Exodus International, and the subsequent announcement of the closing of the umbrella organization changes nothing. Let me repeat: this changes nothing. The apology seemed to be heartfelt and gracious and addressed the abuses that bedeviled the organization and its ministry. The leader was right to apologize for those abuses. However, the abuses themselves, the fact that a number of ex-gays have decided they are not “ex” gay after all, does not change the fact that choosing to have sex with those of the same gender is a sin. There. I’ve said it. It is a sin. In fact, Alan Chambers says it as well. In a part of the apology that rarely gets quoted, I might add:
I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them. I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.
And as a sin, it is a hard habit to beat, especially if you have a biological predisposition towards same-sex attraction. It is hard to beat, just as a number of other conditions are hard to beat. When a recovering alcoholic falls off the wagon, we don’t come to the conclusion that it is pointless to try to change his/her behavior towards alcohol. So why make the claim that “reparative” therapy is not only useless but harmful just because it fails to work in many cases? Or for that matter, one can't make the case that it doesn't work if the real problem is that it is being used abusively. Is the claim that no one has ever changed their sexual habits? Is the claim that no one has ever changed their sexual orientation?
There are many things wrong with this argument, but the one that disturbs me the most is this: If the claim is that God cannot help homosexuals live a holy life, either by overcoming their same sex attraction or by choosing to live a non-homosexual lifestyle despite that attraction (the choice that Alan Chambers makes), then how can we claim that God can change anything about anyone? That is what troubles me – I want very much to believe that God can and will change me. Not my sexual orientation or behavior; that isn’t my particular problem. But there are things in my life that I pray daily that God will change. And I truly believe that over time, the promise is that God will honor such prayers and work within each of us to make us into God’s own image. In the Methodist tradition we call it “going on to perfection” and supposedly we really believe that this is possible. So while it may be true that Exodus International is full of sinful people who get caught up in power and give in to sin, that changes nothing about what I believe God can do in a person’s life.
Yes, I know that the opposing argument is that love is not a sin. I agree. Love is not a sin. Sexual orientation is not a sin. Sexual activity in the wrong context is a sin. And I agree that we should love all people—yes, I really do mean all people—unconditionally. As it happens, I don’t find it hard to love those of other sexual orientations. But there are people that I find it difficult to love. I suspect I am not alone in this. That is because what is truly “inborn” in us is sin. I am a sinner. I was not born a nice person or a good person, but I desperately hope that I am getting better as time goes on. I don’t say this because I hate myself or anything, but I know the secret places of my heart and I know that I am not really a very nice person. I don’t think I am particularly worse than anyone else, mind you, but I think we all have a nasty side that will come out given the right circumstances. We also have the image of God that can come out given the right circumstances and the power of the Holy Spirit working within us!
So let’s stop acting like the failures of the “ex-gay” organizations somehow proves that it is not possible for God to work in the lives of those who have same-sex attractions to overcome those attractions. If you want to hold up the list of bad guy ex-gays, I can hold up lists of gays who aren’t particularly nice people either – starting with Michael Piazza www.dallasobserver.com/2003-12-04/feature/fallen-angel/full/. But talking about the problems of Michael Piazza doesn’t prove anything anymore than Walker Railey’s downfall proves something about United Methodist Ministers—except maybe that if we are looking for inborn traits, the lust for power is one that we should probably consider.