We probably all know how difficult it can be to offer an apology. No doubt that is why so many hurts remain unresolved for so long. People find it hard to apologize. Today, I am reminded that it can also be difficult to graciously accept an apology. The news media are abuzz with the announcement that Exodus International is shutting down its operations, and its president, Alan Chambers, has issued an apology to the LGBT community for all of the harm done to us by himself, Exodus International, and the Christian church.
In case there are readers who do not know - Exodus International is an “ex-gay” organization; a so-called “ministry” that claimed to “rehabilitate” and “heal” homosexual orientation. For thirty-seven years, in partnership with other similar religious organizations, Exodus Int’l. has put forth the fallacious message that homosexuality is a sin from which one can be delivered; and they have claimed that their “reparative therapy” has converted gay and lesbian Christians into heterosexuals.
So Mr. Chambers announced today that the organization is closing its doors, takes back what it has always said about LGBT’s status before God, and apologizes for any and all harm done.
I would love to set a wonderful example of immediate, complete, and gracious acceptance of Mr. Chambers’ apology...
Well. I am struggling; and I am going to put my struggle “out there.” On one hand, I am glad that Exodus is shutting down, and that Mr. Chambers is re-evaluating his attitudes. I would love to set a wonderful example of immediate, complete, and gracious acceptance of Mr. Chambers’ apology and let that be the happy ending to this blog. But I cannot. Not authentically. Not honestly. My immediate reaction to his apology - honestly - is it feels like much too little, much too late. You can read the whole apology at this link.
There are several statements in Mr. Chambers’ apology that just don’t sit well with me. But the thing with which I struggle the most is this:
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.
... by intentionally participating in it you were intentionally hurting people ...
I have a very difficult time reconciling “good intentions” with a knowing and intentional practice of consciously hiding one’s own ongoing experience of the very thing that one publicly condemns as “sinful” and characterizes as “curable.” I have a hard time believing that a person who spreads the message that God loves LGBT’s any less than God loves anyone else, and who perpetuates our marginalization in the church, and even denies that we are part of the Body of Christ would “never in a million years ... intentionally hurt another person.” Really, Mr. Chambers? You really had no idea that the enterprise in which you were engaged was hurting people; and that by intentionally participating in it you were intentionally hurting people? I’m sorry. To me, that is like plunging a knife into a person’s gut, twisting it over and over again, and then apologizing by saying, “I never meant to hurt you. I would never intentionally hurt anyone.”
Mr. Chambers is also quoted saying:
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 vocal majorities 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.
Um, excuse me. Mr. Chambers is not “forging a new place of peaceful service in and through both” the LGBT and Christian communities, unless he means that strictly in the sense of it being a “new place” for him. The Metropolitan Community Church, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, and many other Christian LGBT organizations and individuals have been peacefully serving God and our neighbors in that intersection for many years. He finds it “strange” to be an outsider to both the LGBT and Christian majority establishments? Welcome to our world, Mr. Chambers. It is no longer strange to LGBT Christians to be shunned by many Christians and distrusted or dismissed by many LGBT’s.
Mr. Chambers also says:
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.
So here’s what I think, in this moment - I think that Mr. Chambers is taking “baby steps” in a journey toward redemption. I think that perhaps it has to happen this way because (presumably) he really is a decent person who simply cannot take in, all at once, full awareness of the magnitude of his sin; the sin of intentionally presuming to judge the standing of others before God.
I think that the best I can do - as an immediate reaction - is to give myself permission to take baby steps, too. I know where I will end up. I will accept Mr. Chamber’s apology - the parts of it that are an apology - and forgive him completely. I will do that because I am a Christian; and my understanding of what that means requires me to forgive him. And I accept that I have not reached that place immediately upon reading his apology; and I will not claim to be there before I am. Pretending to feel what I don’t feel (yet) would be the same kind of inauthenticity that Mr. Chambers practiced for so long.
Mr. Chambers and Exodus International were part of “the Accusers” of whom I speak in my book (Ready to Answer: Why “Homophobic Church” is an Oxymoron). The harm that they inflict on all LGBT’s and on LGBT Christians, in particular, is massive. And it gets more and more inexcusable every day. There is such a huge body of information available to everyone, now, about correct contextual scripture interpretation, homosexuality, and the sexuality and gender spectrums. It is getting more ridiculous every day for people to still be talking about homosexuality as a “lifestyle” or a “choice” or a “sin.” It’s worse than ignorance. It is willful ignorance - willful, not “unintentional.” It is refusal to know better. It is the protection of privilege, within Christ’s church, by oppressing members of Christ’s Body. The Accusers’ willful ignorance, their presumption to judge others, and the massive harm that they inflict on LGBT’s are sins!
But that takes me right back to, “Let (s)he who is without sin cast the first stone.” **sigh** So I will accept his apology and I will forgive him. Maybe not today, but as soon as I can, God helping me.