The final Exodus conference was coming to a close and Alan Chambers had promised me
an interview. I'd already been bumped back several times as every conceivable
media outlet had had their piece of Alan over the last four days. The term "media
frenzy" comes to mind. Most of the leading newspapers around the world and
TV networks along with Christian media outlets got the story first hand from
the man himself. I was pretty well the last.
The media in
Australia seemed to miss the news and significance of the oldest and largest ex-gay/conversion/reparative therapy organisation shutting down after 37 years.. The Sydney
Morning Herald published a small article titled "Gay
Cure Therapy will continue" The article was poorly researched as
evidenced by not only Alan's age being misquoted (37 was how long Exodus had
been in existence, not Alan's age) but also comments from those the journalist
had contacted. For example Peter Stokes from the Salt Shakers
saying " "It's very sad to see a
good organisation being ripped apart by one individual," If Mr Stokes had actually listened to the address that was available
on the internet then he would have know this was not one individual (Alan
Chambers) but an entire board decision laboured over for at least 12 months. The
SMH article headline should have read "Gay
cure' therapy will continue ....(to disappear)"
Maybe I'd been too
successful in creating my Secret Mission and people didn’t realise I was actually
there. I was already blogging about events and my newsletters where keeping subscribers updated. I'm sure Mr Google could have helped a few Aussie journalists track down a reliable source for their story. Noel Debien, from the ABC Radio National did his homework and tracked me
down in the hotel in West Hollywood. The interview
aired a couple of days later.
I walked into the media room and sat down . Amy, in charge of media, reminded me that I had twenty minutes. I was hoping
for more. What I had really wanted was not so much an interview but a
conversation as we'd had in the emails but over a meal, bottle of wine or
cocktail. One of those "in-depth" things.Alan entered the
room. This is a very different man who greeted me warmly four days earlier.
He's spent. The emotional toll of the last few months, the gruelling schedule
of the last few days and tackling opponents from both the LGBT community and
the church because of the apology and closure was plain to see. He's exhausted.
Alan sits in the
chair opposite. It doesn't feel comfortable for me.....too formal...almost confrontational.
AVB: You must be
AC: I am exhausted
AVB: How many interviews
have you done in the last three days?
AC: Dozens, dozens
Thinking I'd like to not do a standard
interview getting the standard answers Alan has been giving for days. I attempt
to get Alan to open up with some deep thinking first.
AVB: So I guess maybe we
could start with how many elephants do you think are in the room?
AC: I have no idea
AVB: You are tired
AC: I am tired
Well that attempt clearly didn't work. I move
AVB: Yeah, ok, so we’ll
forget the elephants
AC: Yeah just go
straight into the things
AVB: So what do you
think have been, looking at first of all the apology, the announcement, that
you’re shutting down, the three main factors that have contributed to that
happening and you coming to this place?
AC: Yeah, you know I
think as far as the apology goes, I don’t know if there are 3 or more or less,
but its undeniable that there are people who have been hurt and who have shared
that hurt. And when people share trauma and
they share specific things that they have been hurt by, you have a choice to
either ignore that or to say you’re sorry, and we/I felt there was no other
thing to do but to apologise because I was sorry, we are sorry, though, you
know so many of the stories I hear might not directly relate to me, but I am
the President of Exodus International and if we were looking at this as an
organisation, where we’re all in this together that’s, we have to own that together
and on behalf of the organisation I did and certainly there are things that I
can look back at and things I have said, and words I have used and situations
that have come up where I personally have needed to apologise for and so I felt like it was absolutely important
for me to issue this apology, not to qualify anything, to be as specific as I
could and to share that and you know it is never easy to admit wrong, but it’s
necessary and it heals and you, allows people to move on and I hope that will
be truly something that happens for people who have been hurt. As far as closing Exodus, that is something that
when I became the President of Exodus or when I was being hired, or going
through the hiring process in 2001, the Board of Directors and the hiring
committee asked me one final question before they went into their deliberations
and it was “What does success look like for you at Exodus, as the leader of
Exodus?” and I said quickly “Success
looks like Exodus going out of business, because the church is doing its job”. And that’s been our goal every day for 12
years, under my leadership. We started a
church, an Exodus church association, trying to build relationships with
churches so that the number one place people would call, or the first place
people would call for help when they were in crisis would be the church. Whether they wanted to live a life like the
one I have chosen to live, whether they were married and wanted to find help
for their marriage or whether they wanted to pursue celibacy or even gay and
lesbian people who simply want to know that the church is there for them, is a
resource for them, is a community for them as well, that’s been our goal for 12
years to help the church become that safe place for people and what we had
begun to realise is, it’s not that many churches aren’t doing their job because
I think that there are tremendous amounts of churches they’re doing wonderful
things that are so welcoming to people,
Knowing that churches have not been places of
safety for LGBT people but actually places of harm, I fear for gay and lesbian people belonging/going to an evangelical/pentecostal church. I particularly fear for these young people at the conference because Alan has said it's now the church who must do this work and I know that many will return to churches whose mentality, culture and leadership are forty years behind the times. If they come out in their local churches will be they be set on a self-destruct projectory that too many 1,000's have gone on before. How much longer will they find a 'gay' church in order to feel safe. I ask.....
AVB: But for gay and
AC: I think there are
churches out there that are welcoming for gay and lesbian people, and I believe
there are churches out there that may differ in their opinion about sexual
expression that are still welcoming for gay and lesbian people to be a part of
their community, or at least places that provide refuge and support and don’t
qualify it with “we only support or help people that we agree with”, I believe
that there are those spaces out there.
AVB: It is changing
isn’t it in some circles but it's slow.
AC: It is changing
AVB: I see churches go
through a process of, you know, they say “we’re welcoming, we’re accepting,
we’re affirming” and that’s actually quite a process for them which can take
several years for them to go through.
AC: It’s true and I
think it’s a hard place for churches to be, but that’s been our goal to move
out of the way for the church.
AVB: But you never
expected it to end like this?
AC: I didn’t. You know recently we have kind of modified
that phrase to Exodus has to go out of business so the church can do its
job. It’s time for the church to step up
to the plate and while I appreciate the fact that the church has trusted us all
these years with people, at the same time I think there have been churches that
have used Exodus as the scapegoat “We don’t want to be messy like this, we
don’t want to deal with these issues, we don’t want to go through the backlash
that you people go through so we’re just going to send people over here”. And I think we need to deal with this in the
It feels a little less formal becoming more like the our times over meals at the conference. I think it's time
to have more of a conversation than an interview. It certainly feels more
natural to me. So I share my thoughts. Re-emphasizing some of the content of
our email communications.
AVB: I’ve often said
that I haven’t seen Exodus or ex-gay ministries as the enemy. The way I see it
is that Exodus has often been the symptom rather than the cause It's the cause/effect
principle. The cause is actually
ignorance, Exodus has been the symptom/effect. The root cause exists within
churches is ignorance and misinformation about sexual orientation and gender
identity. The average pastor is so uneducated or ill-informed about these
things. So the way I see it is we’re
going through stages., Like in Australia, we’ve been through phase one. You're
closing Exodus down but we've seen over two thirds of these organisations close
down. For me now it is about phase two which is educating Pastors and church leaders
so they are more informed, particularly about the impact their words have on people,
When a young person comes to you and says ‘I’m gay, or I think I’m gay’, your
response will either drive them on a course which will lead them into
depression and thoughts of suicide, or you can provide a space for them to work
through that process without judgment or an agenda. How much easier would that
be and they can become more accepting of themselves.
AC: Yeah you know I
think there will always be differences of opinion when it comes to how we
steward our sexual expression as believers and I think we can do that very,
very carefully. You know for me if someone
comes, you for instance, this is your life, this is your story, you are a
Christian every bit as much as I am and you’ve come to a very different place
with regards to what you believe about sexual expression. I’m not going to doubt your salvation and we
can have a robust conversation maybe about the differences in what we believe,
but at the end of the day our common ground, the thing that links us together
and that is more important than anything is our relationship as brothers in
Christ and I think that that’s, for me, I believe and I hope this is true of
you and others for people who have differences of opinion, we’re very, very
careful how we exercise our beliefs, and so for me to talk to someone who
doesn’t believe as I do, who is in that vulnerable, or early stages of making a
decision for themselves how they’re going to steward their sexuality in
relationship to their faith, I have to be very careful, if they ask me my opinion
what I believe, I’m going to share what I believe about how I live my life, recognising
there are people like you and so many others who have come to a different
conclusion and allowing for that difference to be something that might be a
place where we don’t agree, but that’s not a deal breaker, that’s not a deal
breaker for God.
AVB: So our main concern
should be about safety for the individual?
AC: Yeah I think that
should be, I think not causing shame for the decision that they make.
AC: Not causing them
grief or imposing our belief on them, but respecting that everyone has to come
to their own conclusion because God’s given us the freedom to decide for
ourselves, how we are going to live this out.
I know this is going to be incredibly
challenging for many of the pastors and church leaders I know but time is
limited so I move on.
AVB: One thing that I
find interesting for some of us, I know for me, I have been hearing the stories
of harm and I’ve known those who have taken their own life and I’ve walked
through so many of these things myself, so you must have been hearing those
stories for some time. I mean I’ve been
hearing them for, since 2000 when I started my first ex-gay survivor group So for
thirteen years I’ve been hearing these stories. You must have been hearing
those stories as well, so when did the shift start to happen that those stories
had an impact on you?
AC: You know I think
they’ve always had an impact. You know
what “what was it that caused their depression, what was it that caused all these
things”, and you know, it’s not that
they haven’t had an impact on me, it’s wondering what else could have been
going on, was it all this issue, was it all related to something that we have
said or we have done, and I think we all have to own our part in the stories of
people who take their life if we were implicated in that for sure and we have
to be careful with our words and I realise it’s as you said the symptom of something
or the root of something much, much deeper, that we have wielded the sword of
our truth, and our opinion related to our theology that has caused people who
are vulnerable, shame and guilt, I know that those things have caused and
contributed to people feeling depressed and feeling like there was no other way,
you know I lived that myself, you know
when I heard as a teenage boy that there was no other option but for me to be
gay, that caused me to want to die, as a Christian kid to think this is my only
option, that’s a huge jump for me and I’m very thankful for the ministry of
Exodus because of that, because I credit it with saving my life. Where people will say it caused them
tremendous harm, it was something that changed my life and saved my life.
AVB: That was something
I was going to ask you about, actually, because people are very, very familiar
with the horror stories, shall we say, and the trauma and the tragedies, but
you’ve been saying that Exodus actually has done some good work, and I remember
I wrote to you an article about that, so what do you feel has been the good
things Exodus has done?
AC: Well you know I
think that we’ve provided a space for Christians with a biblical conviction
about sexual expression. We’ve provided
them a safe place; we’ve provided them a community we’ve provided them with encouragement. You know it was unbelievable to me as a 19
year old kid to find out there was any place I could go and just share
everything, imperfect as it was, there was a bunch of human people and it was
this amazing community of people who didn’t look at me like I was crazy, who
understood because they were there themselves, so I think that we’ve provided
that type of community and resource for people for 37 years, it has literally
in my opinion saved lives, and I think we’ve provided an opportunity for
parents to come and our message to parents has always been ‘you’re relationship
with your kid is priority, don’t kick your kid out of the house, invite them
in, love them, love the people that they love.
You can live in a relationship even if you disagree on any number of
issues. This isn’t the only issue you’re
going to disagree on. Don’t make this
the focus of your relationship.’ So I
think that has done tremendous good and there won’t ever be a shortage of
failures in anything that’s 15 minutes old let alone 37 years old.
AVB: Through the apology
and now closing down Exodus it’s interesting that you representing former
Exodus president and me as a gay community leader in Australia, I find it
interesting that you and I now have the same "enemies" although I
rarely use that term......opponents is better..
AC: It’s unbelievable
how many people who are Christians hate us, hate me, I don’t want to put words
in their mouth, they haven’t said they hate me, but they certainly hate a lot
AVB: Oh they have. I
have read some vile and cruel things over the years.
AC: And I think that’s
AVB: They feel betrayed
AC: They feel betrayed
and they feel like I’m a heretic and I think that that’s
AVB: You’ve lost faith
AC: That’s the
difficult thing in all of this that we treat the Christian life as if it is a
war against people in our culture and when someone dares to think for themselves
and wonder for themselves and question things for themselves and not follow what
the high priests are saying or the people who have placed themselves in the
position of high priest are saying, then you are labelled and branded and you
become a focus of the culture war yourself.
We need to put down our weapons in the church; God didn’t call us or
bring us to planet earth to be culture warriors. He called us to be peace makers, He called us
to bring the good news of the Gospel and the good news is good news for
everyone. I don’t see much good news
being shared out there when it comes to the culture wars that we’ve gotten
ourselves involved in. I see a lot of
people being hit by the cross fire, it’s time we do something different and
that’s what we want to do. We want to be
part of a new conversation, with the beliefs that we bring to the table and
sitting down with people who may have different beliefs and saying you know
what there’s something we have in common and there’s something we want to do
better, ending bullying, finding a place for and resources and homes for gay
teenagers who are homeless, there’s so much good we can do. That doesn’t cause anyone of us to compromise
the beliefs that we have, its common good is something we have to do, the church
has to care about these things.
AVB: Yeah I guess that’s
a good segue into the next question which is, I’m here, and you said ‘I’d love
you to come,’ so that’s probably intriguing for a lot of people as to why would
you want Anthony Venn-Brown to be attending that conference and so what was all
AC: Well we’re brothers
in Christ, why wouldn’t I want you to attend?
You have been kind to me.
That response just flawed me a little and get lost in my thoughts for a moment. Could
it really be that simple? Could we progress this conversation and bring about
change by simply showing kindness to others? God knows there is a lot of hate and
anger out there. The impact of kindness has definitely been underrated.... Alan continues to elaborate.
AC: ....and these days
kindness is hard to come by, so it means a lot to me, and you’ve wanted to have
a conversation though we disagree on some things, that’s what I want to do and it’s
amazing to me that here I am, saying very clearly what I believe and yet
creating this new space, what some are calling this wishy washy space, my gay
friends and my gay activist friends haven’t doubted for a minute what I really
believe and yet they have been so welcoming and so warm, and so receptive and
so desirous of relationship with me. And
there have been so many people on my quote, unquote, "side", of all
of this who say they don’t know what I believe any more, even though I’m clear about
what I believe.
AVB: Are they saying that you no longer
believe at all because you no longer believe what they believe?
AC: Maybe, and so it’s
just, of course I would want you to be here and I want you to be a part of all
that’s going on and see what we do and experience the stories that are here
which probably some have been stories that would be resident in your own
conference, and so that’s why I invited you to be here because we’re going to
spend eternity together, why not spend a few minutes here on planet earth.
Time for some humour
AVB: Yeah, and find out
about your great shoe collection and how much you love cocktails. (Private
Amy walks over from her desk, stands behind
Alan and gives me the wrap up signal. OMG that twenty minutes vanished like a vapour.
AVB: What would you like
to say, in closing, because there are these two worlds which are happily fighting
each other almost like they need each other to exist? The victim and the persecutor. What would you
like to say to the conservative Christians and what would you like to say to
the LGBT community at this point in time?
AC: Well the
conservative Christians the message is easy, what’s in this culture war, let’s
stop treating people in ways that Jesus wouldn’t treat them. We have an example of how Jesus treated people
with whom He disagreed or with whom were living a different life than He was
living - well everyone was living a different life than He was living
(laughing). He was the only perfect
person that ever lived, but let’s put down our weapons, let’s present a gospel
of peace, let’s find some common ground.
Keep your opinions, nobodies asking anyone to give up their opinions or
change their beliefs, those are what make us who we are and I think we can
learn from each other in those things.
But for Christians let’s put our weapons down, let’s end this culture
war, let’s find something we can do in common, let’s have a conversation with
each other and let’s find ways that we can help people and work together. You know World Vision, and I’ve said this a
couple of times, in interviews and maybe in my talk the other night, but World
Vision is doing something astounding in Bangladesh and many other places in the
world. World Vision are Christian, a
decidedly Christian organisation with Christian values and whatever, I don’t
know all that they believe, but they’re Christian
AC: Evangelical. They have partnered in Bangladesh with the
Muslims, the Hindus and the Buddhists. A
deep partnership where they have a day care that they are running together for
the children of the sex trade workers in that area.
AVB: That’s Christianity
AC: While the mums are
next door prostituting themselves these religions have decided ‘were going to
put aside our differences, ones that people are waging war over in the other
countries, were going to put aside our differences and we’re going to care for
the needs of these children that otherwise wouldn’t be cared for. That is the embodiment of Jesus Christ and
the ministry that He wants us to do on planet earth. And I want to be part of that, maybe I’ll
have to go to work for World Vision, but that’s what I want to see happen.
AVB: And what would you
like to say to the LGBT community – that’s a good message for the Christian
AC: The LGBT
community. What I would say is we want
to work with you despite differences, here’s our apology, we’re sorry, we have
our beliefs we can’t apologise for those, but we are going to exercise great
care and great concern when we share those beliefs, but we want to find some
things we have in common, we want to work together, and there are plenty of
causes that you care about that we care about too. We’re here on planet earth together and we
want to be in relationship with you, and we want to find some common ground and
want to have some conversations.
"we want to find some
things we have in common, we want to work together, and there are plenty of
causes that you care about that we care about too". This needs to be explored in-depth. What might that look like? What things do we have in common? What specific causes?..... but Amy is now walking up and down behind Alan. I
know I've already exceeded my twenty minutes.
AVB: Can I just ask one
Alan looks over at Amy who is running the tight timetable. I know it's only hours till 37 years is about to brought to a close. I have no doubt there is much to do. I get the agreement to go ahead even though we are now up to 30 minutes. I'm glad .....it's an important question.
AVB: The reaction out there –
there’s lots of anger and of course we know where that comes from, but it’s not
very helpful and when people say to you “the apology is not enough”, how do you
respond to that?
AC: You know I’m thankful
that I serve Jesus Christ, because forgiveness is always there and to say that
the apology is not enough, I can’t argue with them......
I saw Alan become emotional a couple of times
during his opening address where he had to compose himself in order to
continue. It happens again now.
AC: ..... this is all I have to offer, and I’m sorry it’s
not enough, it’s all I have, to be genuinely sorry and to pledge to work
together. That’s all I have to
offer. For a lot of people I think it,
there are a lot of people out there who it is enough for and I hope we can work
together and get the work done and I hope someday the bitterness and anger and
all of that will heal for the people that it isn’t enough for now.
AVB: Great thanks Alan I
do appreciate you giving me this time.
AC: You’re welcome.
© Anthony Venn-Brown
Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.
Labels: alan chambers, exodus, exodus global alliance