After lunch, the Exodus International equipping event resumed with fictional scenarios. Each table was given a slip of paper with an LGBTQ-related scenario written on it, and groups talked about how they would respond to each scenario. My table received the following scenario: a couple reveals that their son came out as gay after being away at college for a year. The son had been a member of the church's youth group. How do you reach out to the son?
The five other people at my table batted around ideas. One man stressed that the son will need another identity to replace the gay identity they want to take away, or else he'll resist. One woman reminded the group that religious faith is a choice and may not happen right away; thus, the parents need to be treated with love if their son doesn't embrace Christianity right away. Another woman added that they should respect the boundaries of the son. They can talk with and pray for the young man's parents, but they should not talk about homosexuality with the son until he comes to them. Everyone agreed that the parents should be counseled to love their son unconditionally, regardless of his homosexuality, which gave me a small dose of relief.
When the various tables shared their scenario responses, one table discussed the scenario of a lesbian couple who wanted to be members of their church. The table agreed that while no one should be turned away from Christ, the couple must be made aware that God doesn't condone their sinful behavior. They stressed the difference between being welcome in a church and being a church member, adding that a life of purposeful sinful mistakes is not Christlike.
Chambers, Yuan, and Rodgers listened from the front of the room. Rodgers claimed that homosexuals cannot wrap their heads around the notion of "love the sinner, hate the sin." However, she urged listeners to use different language than that, reminding them that such language could be misinterpreted by gays as a personal rejection of them as people. Yuan chimed in, insisting that homosexual behavior rather than the homosexual persons is sinful, adding that, "There's lots of room for sinners in our churches." Chambers said that homosexuality is not the only issue troubling churches, admonishing listeners to hate the sin in their own lives too.
The last module of the day was a question-and-answer session with Chambers, Yuan, and Rodgers. Yuan criticized the hermeneutics of gay-affirming Christianity, accusing it of promoting a regressive view of sexuality. He made the inaccurate, ahistorical claim that pre-Christian and pre-Jewish cultures accepted homosexuality, ignoring the fact that ancient cultures had very diverse views on sexuality.
"When we find people who are gay-affirming, we kind of find an inverted hermeneutics where we find experience almost trumps--it's not that scripture interprets our experience, it's our experience that interprets scripture, because seldom do I hear from people who have moved from a traditional view of sexuality to, they call it progressive, but I don't like to use progressive, because it's almost regressive. I mean, before Judeo-Christian values, all cultures embraced homosexuality. So, their revisionist view of sexuality that we find people say, 'Well, I used to believe that homosexuality is a sin, but then my best friend is gay and they love Jesus, so how could this be a sin?' So we find where experience trumps the authority of scripture. It's not sola scriptura anymore, it's sola me."When an audience member asked him how he would respond to someone who said "I was born this way," Yuan claimed that such a person needs to be born again.
"Even though you believe that you're born gay, I know the Bible says that you must be born again ... It doesn't matter if you think you're born gay or if you're born an alcoholic ... Just come to Jesus."Chambers disagreed with the idea that genetics dictate sexuality, insisting that all people are born fallen but that fact need not prevent people from serving Christ. Again, he framed homosexuality and Christianity as mutually exclusive categories.
"We're born genetically, physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, sociologically, anthropologically ... We're fallen. We're born fallen. I think it's too simple to say there's a gay gene. Genetics were never meant to be tyrannical. Just because I have a genetic predisposition to something doesn't mean that I am forced to believe as my genetics say I should behave. I have a number of friends who are doctors and one of them said just last wee, 'we're a hundred percent genetic and a hundred percent spiritual, and it's all of it.' ... Who cares? Does it matter? Does it matter whether we were born genetically predisposed to same-sex attraction or not? It doesn't because that hasn't hindered out ability to choose Christ and to serve him faithfully."The final session of the day featured Alan Chambers' closing remarks. Much of Chambers' talk focused on how Christians can evangelize effectively and avoid pitfalls that have fueled hostility from LGBTQ persons. Chambers called the LGBTQ rights movement "angry and bitter," but blamed hostility from the Christian community in part for that anger.
"We haven't always done it right in the church when it comes to how we have reacted or responded to the issue of homosexuality, how we have treated people, the jokes we've told, the attitudes we've had, the types of things we've created and systems we've created in our churches that are only there to address that one particular issue, so we have a long way to go. And I think we have an angry and bitter gay rights movement today. The angry and bitter gay rights movement that irritates us so often, but I think we have that angry and bitter gay rights movement today because of how we have reacted in the church, what we've done, how we've reacted to them and how we've treated them, and I think we have to do better."He lamented the "missed opportunity" that presented itself during the Chick-fil-A debacle, insisting that Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day sent the wrong message to observers. The problem, as Chambers saw it, was that the controversy conveyed Christian disdain for LGBTQ people instead of support for opposite-sex marriage and freedom of speech.
"We as a Christian community missed an opportunity because the message didn't get out loud and clear that we're in support of marriage or that we're in support of free speech. So many of my gay and lesbian friends and non-Christian friends heard on Support Chick-fil-A day, they heard, 'we're against you.' They saw us lined up in droves, lines a mile long, to show not necessarily what we're for but what we're against."Chambers urged the faith community to cultivate welcoming communities, lest LGBTQ people find refuge in "counterfeit communities" such as gay hangouts.
"Create within your community an atmosphere of openness, an atmosphere of transparency. The reason people go to counterfeit communities like happy hour every afternoon from four to six at their favorite bar is because they can be whoever they want to be in that context. Nobody in the bar is going to beat them over the head or look at them cross-eyed because of what they did, and if they do look at them cross-eyed, the reason the person's not going to feel uncomfortable that they were looked at the way they were looked at because that's their community. These people are in relationship with them. I long for the day when our churches are better than my favorite gay bar was, when our churches are better than the counterfeit communities where people are spending the bulk of their lives."Chambers words, while well-meaning, struck me as misguided. Does Chambers really believe that anti-gay Christians can woo LGBTQ persons while simultaneously condemning their sexual orientation as sinful? Does he really believe that groups such as Exodus can earn gay people's trust while simultaneously condemning their love, sexuality, and relationships? While such tactics may work with LGBTQ persons who have been convinced that their sexual orientation is pathological, most LGBTQ persons will reject Exodus International's message.
In conclusion, the Exodus International equipping event in Mechanicsburg was a revealing look into the rhetoric of fundamentalist Christian homophobia. While it has publicly rejected the promise of guaranteed sexual orientation change, it still promotes a vague idea of "transformation" through Christ without firmly defining what that means. Exodus International condemns homosexuality as sinful, frames it as incompatible with robust Christian faith, and couches such homophobia in language about "love" and "openness." While its call to "love" LGBTQ persons is softer and gentler than the vicious hate that some fundamentalists spew, it's also more insidious, since Exodus International is still homophobic. I expect to hear similar rhetoric when I observe Exodus International's "Love Won Out" conference in Mechanicsburg later this month.