Exodus Wants You to Believe It Has Changed Its Ways and Gone Mainstream.
The Problem Is, It’s Not True.
On November 30, 2011, Ex-Gay Watch writer David Roberts reported that the world’s largest “ex-gay” organization, Exodus International, was on the verge of financial collapse. The crisis was a result of declining ministry attendance, a history of failed “ex-gay” activists, a more LGBT-supportive younger generation, and debt from an ill-advised purchase of a $1.1 million building during the height of the real estate bubble.
To stanch the bleeding, the group’s leaders held an emergency meeting in New York on Nov. 16. At the clandestine gathering, according to Roberts, Exodus President Alan Chambers (pictured) emphasized making Exodus more “donor accessible” by “re-branding” the organization into “something more palatable to those with funds to give, and the general public alike.”
It appears that Chambers’ first attempt at enacting this new strategy occurred at the Gay Christian Network’s (GCN’s) annual conference in Orlando on Jan. 5-8. In a fascinating panel discussion, Chambers endured scrutiny of his record by former Exodus leaders John Smid (Love in Action), Wendy Gritter (New Directions), and Jeremy Marks (Courage).
During the tense two-hour exchange, Chambers admitted what LGBT advocates who follow these groups have said for years:
“The majority of people I have met, and the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their sexual orientation or have gotten to a place where they can say they have never been tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction.”
This begs the obvious question: Why is Exodus still in business given a 99.9% failure-rate? It seems that embracing Exodus to change one’s sexual orientation makes about as much sense as basing one’s retirement plan on winning the lottery.
In 2006, Chambers brazenly told the San Francisco Chronicle that there are “hundreds of thousands of ex-gays.” Surely, he knew at this time that his heavily advertised programs were not changing people from gay-to-straight, yet Exodus continued collecting money from desperate and vulnerable clients based on these baked numbers, which I believe constitutes consumer fraud.
However, there is a larger and more relevant question facing us today: Was Chambers’ statement at GCN proof that Exodus is turning over a new leaf or was he simply espousing new lies to assist with the cynical “rebranding” efforts dubiously floated in New York?
This key question will be partially answered in Atlanta, where Exodus will hold its Feb. 18 Love Won Out conference. Many eyes will be fixed on this event because it is the first time that Chambers will speak to his base following the GCN panel discussion.
Now that Chambers has admitted that his program is essentially worthless, will he bravely impart this message to the conservative parents who will attend this upcoming conference and desperately want Exodus to provide a “cure” for their child’s homosexuality? Will he risk letting the unvarnished truth upset his political right wing base that pays his salary? Will Chambers purge his program of virulently anti-gay books that portray homosexuality as the work of Satan?
Damning evidence uncovered by Truth Wins Out incontrovertibly proves that Exodus has not altered its message and may be involved in a strategic campaign of subterfuge to trick news reporters and gullible LGBT activists into believing it has moderated its message.
Truth Wins Out’s research reveals that Exodus appears to be engaged in a new two-pronged strategy:
1) Alan Chambers is moderating his tone in mainstream media interviews and in interactions with LGBT advocates, while toning down homophobic language on the group’s main website. The hope is to create a façade that will marginalize LGBT advocates that criticize the group’s work. Chambers also hopes to persuade news reporters that Exodus is not stridently anti-gay.
2) While the unsuspecting or easily duped focus on Chambers’ slick marketing campaign, the same misleading and toxic anti-gay messages historically associated with Exodus will continue unabated below the radar at local Exodus affiliates.
This cynical strategy is very similar to the GOP presidential primaries where Mitt Romney smiled and stayed above the fray in Iowa, while letting his Super PAC bombard Newt Gingrich with negative ads. Because the attacks were not directly from the campaign, it offered Romney a thin veneer of plausible deniability. “Hey, I never said those terrible things about Newt.”
At Exodus, Chambers is smiling and presenting himself as a nice guy who has seen the error of his homophobic ways. Meanwhile his metaphorical Super PAC (the local Exodus affiliates) are engaged in the familiar culture war that destroys the self-esteem and lives of innocent LGBT people, particularly youth.
It is of critical importance that people understand that what Alan Chambers says publicly means essentially nothing unless his words are fully backed by the actions of local Exodus affiliates where the real “pray away the gay” programs occur.
For example, at the GCN discussion, Chambers alleged that media sensationalism is responsible for distorting the image of his organization. He bitterly complained that talk shows falsely describe him as someone who “overcame same-sex attractions…That has to be clarified.”
Such clarification could begin with Chambers who conveniently failed to disclose to the GCN crowd that Exodus lists on its website a ministry affiliate named “Overcomers Outreach Center.” If Chambers does not want the media to claim he “overcame” homosexuality, he should demand that this ministry find a more accurate name that does not deceive clients.
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.”
Sadly, Chambers’ remark has little resemblance to reality, with few Exodus affiliates getting the memo. For example, the Christian Collation for Reconciliation proudly boasts on its website that it is, “a member ministry of Exodus-International since 1987, the oldest ex-gay ministry in the state of Texas.”
At GCN, Chambers also vehemently rejected the idea that his organization “prays away the gay.” While Exodus does not use this phrase, it does accurately capture the essence of this organization as objectively judged by the language used by its affiliates. For instance, one flagship ministry, Portland Fellowship, claims, “freedom from homosexuality comes through a person…the Lord Jesus Christ.” The group says it has helped “hundreds of men and women find biblical resolution to their homosexuality.”
Desert Stream Ministries, based in Kansas City, tells clients “the cross is God’s answer to homosexuality.” Exodus can play semantic games all it wants, but reasonable people will conclude that these programs sound an awful lot like “praying away the gay.”
Most disturbing is when Chambers told the GCN gathering: “We’re not here to change you. That is our message. It is something that we have to say. We can’t do that… ‘Change is Possible’ we don’t use that phrase anymore…I’m sorry that that is something that we used.”
One can only conclude by this false statement that Chambers is either malevolent or incompetent. Malevolent in that he is presenting an insincere portrait of Exodus, or breathtakingly incompetent in that he is completely oblivious to what is actually occurring under his nose at Exodus affiliates.
For example, Exodus-affiliate Truth Ministry, based in South Carolina, uses the slogan “Healing from homosexuality through Jesus Christ.” The ministry’s executive director, McKrae Game, has an article posted on the group’s website titled “Is Change Possible?” and a picture of a billboard on the site reads, “I questioned homosexuality. Change is possible. Discover how.”
Another Exodus affiliate, “Carolina New Song” writes on its website that “Our goal is to provide help in achieving an optimum level of healing and change.”
Still another key Exodus-affiliate, Living Hope in Dallas, is still making it appear that the group can “change” people from gay-to-straight. Next to a picture of a good looking man who appears happy, Living Hope tells potential clients: “We believe God has given men a powerful voice to speak truth and life into the world and bring about meaningful change.”
Most revealing is that the bogus message of “change” that Chambers pretends to reject when speaking to an LGBT audience, is occurring in his own backyard. The website of Orlando Exodus-affiliate “Exchange” peddles the message that it offers potential clients “hope for wholeness” and a place where they will be “Finding Freedom From Homosexuality.”
Exchange has an article by Scott Kingry that discusses “leaving homosexuality behind.” In his piece he rhetorically asks, “Can a person change his or her orientation? I believe the answer is yes, but the level of a person’s emotional, physical and spiritual damage might prolong a person’s process. Also, how serious a person’s own motivation is for seeking change may also affect a desired outcome.”
In other words, the Exodus ministry geographically closest to Chambers is peddling the same old “change” myth and then dangerously blaming the victims as unmotivated or too damaged when Exodus’ program inevitably fails.
Obviously, Chambers is either lying or clueless when he portrays the incendiary and misleading “Change is Possible” phrase as a slogan from the past. It is not only widespread as part of present day Exodus rhetoric, but there seems to be no mechanism to curtail its use in future Exodus campaigns at the local level – where the actual programs are instituted. (We showed a few examples of doubletalk, but they were really just the tip of the iceberg)
Sadly, it appears Chambers’ public relations gimmick may pay off. Justin Lee, the Executive Director of GCN, fell for Chambers’ act and said on stage to Chambers, “I hear you and I believe you when I hear you say that this is not a slogan you are using any more.”
Lee should understand that an examination of Exodus’ rhetoric and programs is not about belief but cold, hard facts. When we allow deceptive “ex-gay” activists to con people into thinking that they are mainstream, we do a great disservice to the people we are trying to keep from being victimized. (Note: GCN and Lee did an admirable job with most of the panel and actually did engage Chambers and ask some tough questions.)
Exodus remains a radical, extreme, dangerous, and scientifically bankrupt organization with a toxic message, particularly when it is aimed at youth. At the GNC event Chambers said, “With regards to youth, I think it is a wonderful thing for youth inside the conservative families to have an option through a ministry of Exodus, as long as it is done well. If it isn’t done well, I hope that I will hear about it and we can make these changes.”
As previously demonstrated, Chambers either has no idea about what is going on inside affiliate ministries, or is completely aware and is deliberately concealing the facts. On the GCN panel, John Smid, (pictured) former President of Exodus’ Board, pointedly refuted Chambers’ assertion that Exodus was a healthy environment for youth. (Smid now identifies as gay)
“How many years has Exodus Youth been in ministry? And how many young people today are alienated from their families, their safety, their homes, their parents, their funding, and I never knew that before, because I did not understand it, and wouldn’t receive that. But it is absolutely true, they are.”
This month, Rolling Stone magazine vividly outlined how Exodus’ youth programs can torment students. The article, by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, followed an outbreak of LGBT youth suicides in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin school district (also Michele Bachmann’s congressional district), which has been sued for enacting anti-gay policies. One of the teenagers featured in Rolling Stone, Justin Aaberg, had been harassed by zealous students at an Exodus-sponsored school event just prior to his suicide:
Justin shrugged and smiled, then retreated to his room. It had been a hard day: the annual “Day of Truth” had been held at school, an evangelical event then-sponsored by the anti-gay ministry Exodus International, whose mission is to usher gays back to wholeness and “victory in Christ” by converting them to heterosexuality. Day of Truth has been a font of controversy that has bounced in and out of the courts; its legality was affirmed last March, when a federal appeals court ruled that two Naperville, Illinois, high school students’ Day of Truth T-shirts reading BE HAPPY, NOT GAY were protected by their First Amendment rights. (However, the event, now sponsored by Focus on the Family, has been renamed “Day of Dialogue.”) Local churches had been touting the program, and students had obediently shown up at Anoka High School wearing day of truth T-shirts, preaching in the halls about the sin of homosexuality. Justin wanted to brush them off, but was troubled by their proselytizing. Secretly, he had begun to worry that maybe he was an abomination, like the Bible said.”
…“‘Justin?’ Tammy Aaberg rapped on her son’s locked bedroom door again. It was past noon, and not a peep from inside, unusual for Justin.
‘Justin?’ She could hear her own voice rising as she pounded harder, suddenly overtaken by a wild terror she couldn’t name. ‘Justin!’ she yelled. Tammy grabbed a screwdriver and loosened the doorknob. She pushed open the door. He was wearing his Anoka High School sweatpants and an old soccer shirt. His feet were dangling off the ground. Justin was hanging from the frame of his futon, which he’d taken out from under his mattress and stood upright in the corner of his room. Screaming, Tammy ran to hold him and recoiled at his cold skin. His limp body was grotesquely bloated – her baby – eyes closed, head lolling to the right, a dried smear of saliva trailing from the corner of his mouth. His cheeks were strafed with scratch marks, as though in his final moments he’d tried to claw his noose loose. He’d cinched the woven belt so tight that the mortician would have a hard time masking the imprint it left in the flesh above Justin’s collar.
Still screaming, Tammy ran to call 911. She didn’t notice the cellphone on the floor below Justin’s feet, containing his last words, a text in the wee hours:
:-( he had typed to a girlfriend.
I can come over
No I’m fine
Are you sure you’ll be ok
No it’s ok I’ll be fine, I promise
In defending his dangerous youth program and excusing the continued use of reckless terminology, Chambers disingenuously pretends he has little power over Exodus affiliates, even though he tries to project an aura of power as the group’s president.
“You can’t imagine how difficult it is to steer a ship like Exodus, the size of Exodus with regards to these type of issues…it is difficult and I have been very careful not to confuse a large constituency of people too quickly with terminology changes.”
Of course, we all know this excuse is patently absurd. In a single e-mail, Chambers can instruct all affiliates to stop outright saying or manipulating language to imply that “change is possible.” In the same communication, Chambers can demand an immediate cessation of all work relating to Exodus Youth. Furthermore, he can warn that all ministries that do not comply with his dictate will lose their official status as an affiliate. It is beyond laughable for Chambers to pretend that he has no say in such matters and is little more than a helpless bystander to enacting changes within his own organization.
The upcoming Love Won Out seminar in Atlanta is Chambers’ first opportunity to show that he has the integrity to tell a conservative Christian audience exactly what he told GCN: Exodus’ programs don’t work.
If Chambers delivers the same, tired, anti-gay message espoused at previous conferences, he will be permanently viewed as a two-faced charlatan. Only through a radical departure from the past, an entirely new message, and a demand of total compliance by Exodus affiliates, will Chambers’ reality finally begin to match his rhetoric.
The world is waiting for real repentance, not the rebranding of a failed product. Atlanta could signify a new beginning for Exodus, or the absolute end of people ever again believing a word Alan Chambers has to say. This may be his last opportunity to show that “Change is Possible” for Exodus International.
Fight back against Exodus’ lies in Atlanta:
‘Love Won Out’ community meeting
Thursday, Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m.
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
731 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30308
Saturday, Feb. 18, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
3915 Carrollton-Villa Rica Highway
Villa Rica, GA 30180