A boy is someone who unquestionably follows orders, allows others to define his core, and does not think for himself. Until this year, Exodus International’s President Alan Chambers was a perpetual Peter Pan, who carried the Religious Right’s water bucket and submissively acquiesced to the nefarious wishes and dubious desires of his anti-gay masters.
As a child, Chambers was subjected to the same religious abuse endured by so many LGBT youth. In an Atlantic article, Chambers explained:
“I grew up in a Christian family, in a very traditional Southern Baptist church in a conservative area. When I was nine or ten years old, I realized I was struggling with same-sex attraction — which really was an answer to a lot of questions I had even before that. Why do I feel this way? Why do I act this way?
Once I had a name for my struggles, I realized very quickly that the church was not great at addressing them. I had no clue what to do other than bloody my knees every night praying that God would cure me. I wanted Him to understand how deeply sorry I was for whatever I might have done to deserve the kind of wrath I felt would be leveled against me if my pastors were correct.”
Whereas most LGBT people overcome such oppression, realize that they were fed a toxic dose of bad religion, and move on to live rich and fulfilling lives out of the closet – Alan Chambers believed the words of his tormenters and internalized the homophobia. The sexual guilt combined with stunted emotional growth led Chambers to Exodus International, where he worked to cure his clients – as well as himself — of homosexuality.
For many years, Chambers played the role of the good son. He married a fine Christian woman, regularly attended an evangelical mega-church, and tried mightily to pray away the gay. Always eager to please, Chambers joined Focus on the Family’s “ex-gay” road show, Love Won Out. He and his deputy, Randy Thomas, enthusiastically became the Religious Right’s trained monkeys and flacked for them in Washington. This included a meeting with George W. Bush to help the president’s despicable effort to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Chambers had a unique talent for lying with a straight face. When I interviewed him for my book, Anything But Straight, on March 11, 2001, Chambers said, “I don’t think change is going from gay to straight. Just saying that doesn’t sound like an accurate representation of what Exodus facilitates or proclaims.”
However, as the head of Exodus International, Chambers specialized in deceptive advertising that offered false hope to desperate and vulnerable clients who believed they needed to “pray away the gay” to get into heaven.
Chambers liked to recruit new members by grossly distorting gay life. He told audiences that “homosexuality was for the young” and that when nubile homosexuals eventually lost their tans and hair, the LGBT community would cast them aside. Chambers was prone to fantastic exaggeration, vacillating between the existence of thousands, tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands of “ex-gays,” although the only “successful” ones he paraded in the media seemed to work for his organization.
Chambers also presided over Exodus Youth and Love in Action, which had a program called “Refuge” that forced young gay teenagers, such as Lance Carroll and Zach Stark, to participate against their will.
Although Exodus consistently denies that it “prays away the gay,” that is precisely what the group has done and why their previous slogan had been, “Freedom from Homosexuality Through Jesus Christ.” The group often promoted videos, such as this one, that touted the magic of prayer in curing homosexuality.
And then there was the vile television show Exodus produced called Pure Passion. Geared towards Christian audiences, the so-called “ex-gay” activists on this monstrosity dehumanized and demonized LGBT people by repeatedly referring to them as “sexually broken” and “perverse.”
The radical embrace of spiritual warfare has marred Chambers’ legacy too. In a 2005 Exodus newsletter he wrote, “One of the many evils this world has to offer is the sin of homosexuality. Satan, the enemy, is using people to further his agenda to destroy the Kingdom of God and as many souls as he can.” On September 21, 2007, Chambers told a crowd at the Family Impact Summit, “We have to stand up against an evil agenda. It is an evil agenda and it will take anyone captive that is willing, or that is standing idly by.”
In a move that personified his insincerity, Chambers pledged to keep Exodus out of politics in 2008. Then, without blinking, he turned around and stabbed the LGBT community in the back by endorsing Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages in California.
The nadir for Exodus occurred in March 2009 when board member Don Schmierer traveled to Uganda with a holocaust revisionist to give a presentation on the evils of homosexuality. This fanned the flames of intolerance in Kampala and helped inspire the deadly anti-homosexuality bill. Chambers and Exodus were silent for months in their complicity and it remains a bloody legacy for the group.
JOURNEY INTO MANHOOD
It seems the cognitive dissonance and juxtaposition of Exodus’ stated goals and the sad reality faced by its clients began to trouble Chambers’ conscience in 2007. On Feb. 10, 2007 Chambers told an audience at a Love Won Out conference in Phoenix, “And so every single morning – this is a ritual for me – I wake up and I say, “Dear Lord, I can’t make it today without you. I choose to deny what comes naturally to me.’”
In a June 18, 2007 Los Angeles Times article he said, “By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete” and sexual orientation “isn’t a light switch that you can switch on and off.” Chambers told One News Now on June 22, 2007 that he had never met someone who had a “sudden or complete change when it came to homosexuality.”
The problem was, as soon as Chambers began acknowledging that one could not pray away the gay, he would succumb to pressure from his fundamentalist base and backtrack. Between 2007-2012, Chambers’ mental gymnastics and truth twisting became the stuff of legend. A vivid example was Chambers 2007 appearance on the Montel Williams Show, where the host eviscerated the “ex-gay” activist for his semantic games and outright lies.
In October 2011 the “ex-gay” myth began to unravel, when John Smid, who used to run Exodus’ flagship ministry, Love in Action, acknowledged in a blog post: “I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.” A month later, Brazil’s lead “ex-gay” activist, Sergio Viula, admitted that such ministries are a fraud: “In fact, ex-gays don’t exist – it’s pure self-suggestion.”
In 2012, Dr. Robert Spitzer sped up the demise of the “ex-gay” myth by renouncing his infamous 2001 “ex-gay’ study.
Chambers’ personal journey into manhood began in January when he agreed to appear at a Gay Christian Network conference in Orlando. While sitting on stage in front of a packed room of gay Christians, Chambers found the courage to tell the truth:
“The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction.”
Chambers went on to tell the GCN crowd, “I hate the term ‘ex-gay.’ I don’t use the term ‘ex-gay.’ I hope I don’t lead an ‘ex-gay’ ministry.”
Of course, many of us who follow these groups were incredulous, because it was clear that Exodus member ministries at the local level considered themselves “ex-gay” and boldly claimed that clients could miraculously change. Additionally, the organization was still using reparative therapy literature that trafficked in crass gender stereotypes.
This past week, however, Alan Chambers finally became a man. He told Associated Press reporter Patrick Condon that Exodus was ridding the organization of reparative therapy books and that the idea of a cure for homosexuality was “bizarre.”
“I do not believe that cure is a word that is applicable to really any struggle, homosexuality included,” said Chambers, who is married to a woman and has children, but speaks openly about his own sexual attraction to men. “For someone to put out a shingle and say, ‘I can cure homosexuality’ – that to me is as bizarre as someone saying they can cure any other common temptation or struggle that anyone faces on Planet Earth.”
On Saturday, Chambers reiterated his change of heart to Eric Eckholm of the New York Times:
In a phone interview Thursday from Orlando, Fla., where Exodus has its headquarters, Mr. Chambers amplified on the views that have stirred so much controversy. He said that virtually every “ex-gay” he has ever met still harbors homosexual cravings, himself included. Mr. Chambers, who left the gay life to marry and have two children, said that gay Christians like himself faced a lifelong spiritual struggle to avoid sin and should not be afraid to admit it.
He said Exodus could no longer condone reparative therapy, which blames homosexuality on emotional scars in childhood and claims to reshape the psyche. And in a theological departure that has caused the sharpest reaction from conservative pastors, Mr. Chambers said he believed that those who persist in homosexual behavior could still be saved by Christ and go to heaven.
Only a few years ago, Mr. Chambers was featured in advertisements along with his wife, Leslie, saying, “Change is possible.” But now, he said in the interview, “Exodus needs to move beyond that slogan.”
Chambers told National Public Radio:
“I believe we’ve been hypocritical. I believe that we have looked at the issue of same-sex attraction differently than we look at anything else.”
In an interview with The Atlantic Chambers said:
“… by no means does being part of Exodus mean we don’t still struggle or feel tempted. It’s a very real part of the lives we lead. Our goal isn’t to snap our fingers and pretend those struggles don’t exist.”
Chambers is paying a steep price for his honesty. He has been attacked by dead enders and extremists on the right, and several ministries have left the Exodus network, according to Ex-Gay Watch editor David Roberts.
Robert Gagnon, the long-winded zealot from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary called for Chambers to resign: “My greatest concern has to do with Alan’s repeated assurances to homosexually active ‘gay Christians’ that they will be with him in heaven.”
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) president Qreg Quinlan told the New York Times: “I think Mr. Chambers is tired of his own personal struggles, so he’s making excuses for them by making sweeping generalizations about others.”
The truth is, Alan Chambers has grown up and finally become a man. I still vehemently disagree with him on most issues and would like to see Exodus fold. There is no more need for the existence of Exodus than there is for black face theater. The very essence of this anachronistic group is insulting and demeaning to LGBT people and their families. I also believe that Exodus should apologize for harming people with their lies and begin to offer financial compensation to those who were led to the organization through misleading advertising campaigns.
However, Chambers does deserve credit for going out on a limb and taking hits from his bombastic base. His newfound honesty may cost him his livelihood and has made him powerful enemies. It would have been easier for Chambers if he had kept playing politics and cashed the checks at the bank. Instead, he risked it all. In this instance, he demonstrated personal integrity by shouldering the responsibility and taking the criticism that comes with rocking the boat.
Many people have asked me this week: “Do you trust Alan Chambers latest move and is it sincere?”
I can’t answer whether he is sincere, but I can say that what he said is irrevocable. Chambers admitted that one’s sexual orientation couldn’t be changed and did so on the largest stage imaginable. After speaking to the AP and the New York Times, there is simply no going back to business as usual for Chambers without decimating his credibility and character. He and Exodus have to live with the consequences of what he told the media. The days of Chambers playing it both ways and engaging in semantic back flips are over. (And if not, he risks looking like a flake and becoming a permanent punch line)
Truth Wins Out recognizes Chambers’ recent courage and we understand the ferocity of the fire he is taking from his “friends.” Becoming a man is never easy, but Chambers couldn’t live in Neverland forever. Make no mistake about it, Chambers flirtation with facts has created a brand new day and everything has changed in the “ex-gay” industry.