Three years ago, Lisa Ling presented “Pray the Gay Away” on “Our America”, Oprah Winfrey Network. The episode examined the two sides of Christian reparative therapy, an attempt to change homosexual people to heterosexuals. “God and Gays”, a follow-up to that show, is going to air on Thursday, June 20th at 10/9c on OWN TV Network.
In “God and Gays”, Ling is joined by Alan Chambers, President of Exodus, his wife Leslie and a group of ten survivors (some are former Exodus leaders) who had participated in the past in Exodus International. For almost 40 years, Exodus International claimed to offer a “cure” for homosexuality.
Several months before the taping, Chambers had contacted Ling and told her that he wanted to issue an apology to Exodus survivors; he asked to meet Ling so that he could read the apology for broadcasting on OWN. Ling said “yes”, but, with a condition — “You need an “audience” to apologize to.”
Ling then contacted Michael Bussee, featured earlier on “Pray the Gay Away” (Bussee was a co-founder of Exodus in 1976 and is on the Board of Canyonwalker Connections, yay!). Ling asked Bussee to assemble a group of survivors. He put the word out and nine others were selected to travel to LA for the meeting.
One of the attendees was Christian from Minnesota. Christian had been highlighted as a protégée and a “success story” of Janet Boynes reparative therapy ministry three years earlier on “Pray the Gay Away”. Christian contacted me the previous month to tell me of the changes in his life; he was now identifying as gay. We had exchanged some e-mails after “Pray the Gay Away”; they were strained, but we each kept the door open for future relationship.
I put Christian in contact with Bussee for the OWN project.
The “God and Gays” group assembled in the basement of the Hollywood Lutheran Church, LA. It seemed an odd space for such an assemblage. The space is not a comfy, lighted conference room, but a simple activities room where groups like AA meet for accountability, confessions and healing. This meeting room, with stacked chairs and emotions, would serve for another similar use.
Survivors came to LA from DC, Minnesota, Oregon and across the US. They had arrived first; Alan and Leslie Chambers came in last. Alan read the apology.
It was then time for them to hear the pain that Exodus’ reparative therapy had inflicted in the lives of the group. In turn, each survivor told his/her story while the Chambers listened.
The meeting lasted over 3 1/2 hours. It was filled with tension, pain, anger and sobbing.
The producers of the episode commented that they had never been involved in such an emotional, powerful and intense filming.
“God and Gays” is sure to be a show whose message should widely reach throughout the conservative Christian church, yet still, it will be met with great resistance.
The conservative church has treated the LGBT community with excessive contempt based considerably on the concept that gay people can and should change sexual orientation. After all, this had been the promise of Exodus to the conservative and Evangelical communities for decades.
Clarifying the critical message that people do not change from a homosexual to heterosexual orientation is pivotal to the way in which many Christians view the LGBT community. Slowly, the message and promise of change is being debunked and the failure and destructive nature of past attempts admitted.
“God and Gays” could finally crumble, not only Exodus, but the faulty expectations families, friends and churches have held for lesbian and gay people.
Once the concept of orientation change is stripped bare, perhaps we, the church can move onto honest and productive conversations about the LGBT community and faith.
HERE IS A PORTION OF THE OFFICIAL APOLOGY from Alan Chambers, Exodus President:
Three years ago, Leslie and I began a very public conversation with Our America’s Lisa Ling, from the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) regarding some of our deeply held beliefs about Christianity and the LGBT community. Today, we have decided to carry this public conversation even further. While this conversation has and may well continue to be met with many different responses from supporters and critics, it is our desire to keep having these honest discussions in the hopes of arriving to a place of peace.
Several months ago, this conversation led me to call Lisa Ling to take another step on this messy journey. I asked if she would, once again, help us add to the unfolding story by covering my apology to the people who have been hurt by Exodus International. Our ministry has been public and therefore any acknowledgement of wrong must also be public. I haven’t always been the leader of Exodus, but I am now and someone must finally own and acknowledge the hurt of others. I do so anxiously, but willingly.
It is strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the church’s treatment of the LGBT community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt. Today it is as if I’ve just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church.
It is also strange to be an outcast from powerful portions of both the gay community and the Christian community. Because I do not completely agree with the vocalmajorities in either group and am forging a new place of peaceful service in and through both, I will likely continue to be an outsider to some degree. I imagine it to be very much like a man I recently heard speak at a conference I attended, Father Elias Chacour, the Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Israel. He is an Arab Christian, Palestinian by birth, and a citizen of Israel. Talk about a walking contradiction. When I think of the tension of my situation I am comforted by the thought of him and his.
My desire is to completely align with Christ, his Good News for all and his offer of peace amidst the storms of life. My wife Leslie and my beliefs center around grace, the finished work of Christ on the cross and his offer of eternal relationship to any and all that believe. Our beliefs do not center on “sin” because “sin” isn’t at the center of our faith. Our journey hasn’t been about denying the power of Christ to do anything – obviously he is God and can do anything.
With that, here is an expanded version of the apology I offered during my recent interview with Lisa Ling to the people within the LGBTQ community who have been hurt by the Church, Exodus International, and me. I realize some within the communities for which I apologize will say I don’t have the right, as one man, to do so on their behalf. But if the Church is a body, with many members being connected to the whole, then I believe that what one of us does right we all do right, and what one of us does wrong we all do wrong. We have done wrong, and I stand with many others who now recognize the need to offer apologies and make things right. I believe this apology – however imperfect – is what God the Father would have me do.
To Members of the LGBTQ Community:
In 1993 I caused a four-car pileup. In a hurry to get to a friend’s house, I was driving when a bee started buzzing around the inside of my windshield. I hit the bee and it fell on the dashboard. A minute later it started buzzing again with a fury. Trying to swat it again I completely missed the fact that a city bus had stopped three cars in front of me. I also missed that those three cars were stopping, as well. Going 40 miles an hour I slammed into the car in front of me causing a chain reaction. I was injured and so were several others. I never intended for the accident to happen. I would never have knowingly hurt anyone. But I did. And it was my fault. In my rush to get to my destination, fear of being stung by a silly bee, and selfish distraction, I injured others.
I have no idea if any of the people injured in that accident have suffered long term effects. While I did not mean to hurt them, I did. The fact that my heart wasn’t malicious did not lessen their pain or their suffering. I am very sorry that I chose to be distracted that fall afternoon, and that I caused so much damage to people and property. If I could take it all back I absolutely would. But I cannot. I pray that everyone involved in the crash has been restored to health.
Recently, I have begun thinking again about how to apologize to the people that have been hurt by Exodus International through an experience or by a message. I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope. In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me.
And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there. The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does. As my friends do. As God does.
Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.
Friends and critics alike have said it’s not enough to simply change our message or website. I agree. I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today. I understand why I am distrusted and why Exodus is hated.
Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry 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. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.
More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.
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.
You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours. I hope the changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight regarding Exodus International, will bring resolution, and show that I am serious in both my regret and my offer of friendship. I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good.
Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing.
EXCELLENT UPDATE from Lisa Ling, June 13th:
Getting closer and closer. Just wanted to let you know that the expanded version of the exchange will be online when the show airs. I’m almost more excited about that because people will get to experience the rawness and the courageousness that you all exhibited practically in full. Few things have made be prouder than this episode and what will be available online. Hope you’re all well. Oh, I’m also being interviewed by The Advocate and After Ellen.
Jeremy Siefer, one of the producers of the special wrote to Bussee:
“Jackie Hurwitz and I just reviewed the final mix and color correction of the show today. It looks and sounds amazing — as powerful and poignant as anything I’ve ever worked on. It’s going to open eyes and minds. Thank you again for sharing your stories. T-minus ten days to broadcast — you may now commence blogging, tweeting and telling it on the mountain…”