Since the GCN panel, I’ve probably been thinking more about Exodus than I have for a while. As I have said before, I still know a lot of people serving within the Exodus network. I don’t know how many of them would still consider me a friend – but I continue to care about many of the dedicated men and women I met through Exodus. And I very much care about the men, women and young people who seek out the ministries of Exodus hoping to receive encouragement and support in living a God-honouring life as someone who has the experience of same-sex attraction.
After the panel I wrote some blog posts that spelled out some of my priorities. And really, they haven’t changed much since I was wrestling within the Exodus system as the regional rep for Canada. Back then, I thought the whole fight over causation was a huge and unnecessary distraction. Today it seems that for the most part, most Exodus folks would acknowledge that we don’t really know what causes someone to experience same-sex attraction – and that it is likely a complex combination of different factors, both nature and nurture, that impact different people to different degrees. Back then, I thought that a focus on reorientation was a mistake. And it seems that Exodus has become more honest and realistic in this arena. Back then, I thought it was important that people have the space to be honest about the reality of their same-sex attraction and be free to describe that in a way that seemed most resonant to them. I hope that Exodus will be willing to raise awareness and educate their consitituency about the distinction between describing and defining so that this kind of honest space can grow. Back then, I thought that Exodus needed to exercise greater wisdom in how it engaged with those beyond the supportive, on-the-same-page constituency. And I see some attempts and some struggles in Exodus today to attempt to do a better job at that.
So if I was leading Exodus today, what would I focus on? I would address the paradigm of certainty that impacts everything that Exodus is currently wrestling to discern as they move forward. Please be patient as I try to unpack that a bit more.
A common criticism of Exodus is “double-speak”. That is, one thing is said in one context and then it is qualified in another context. For example, in the GCN context gay Christians with differing views were acknowledged as brothers and sisters in Christ. In later writings to supportive constituency it was perceived to be qualified with clear statements of sin. It seems to me that this dissonance is energized by a post-enlightenment theological system that prioritizes absolute truth and views embracing humility in the face of mystery as a weakness, capitulation to relativism, or a deficit to faith. Such a system claims certainty in its interpretive conclusions.
The dilemma in such a system, however, is how to think about, relate to, and engage others who claim to be in reconciled relationship with Jesus Christ and who claim to honour and submit to the authority of Scripture who come to different interpretive conclusions. The certainty of such a system necessitates that those who differ are viewed as deceived, or rebellious, or ignorant, or lazy and selfish at best, and at worst those who are trying to lead the church astray. In a system that claims absolute truth, there just isn’t a lot of room to really relate to others who claim to be Christian, but who disagree. One can confront – which in our post-modern, individualized culture would almost certainly be ineffective. Or with sympathy and compassion, seek to bring them light, truth, or correction perhaps simply by your presence or the witness of your journey and experience. However, even this stance presumes that the other party has some inherent insecurity about their convictions that can be leveraged by a more persuasive expression of that which is truly biblical. And certainly, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit – and he can bring conviction any way he chooses.
What do you do, however, when the other party doesn’t seem to be convicted by the Holy Spirit? When they aren’t insecure about their convictions? When they aren’t burdened with guilt, shame or fear? When they have confidence in the love and grace of God toward them? When their theological reflections are deep, rich and thorough? When their lives demonstrate the fruit of faithful discipleship?
A system of certainty hits a stalemate at this point. There really isn’t any place to go. Inevitably condescension enters the interactions. Arrogance is perceived. Connection is limited.
When I look at Exodus, particularly in the North American context, I see a nearly 40 year old organization in a rapidly changing social context. I see a parachurch ministry within a Christian community that is in a time of turbulence, tension and change (and certainly not only on the topic of homosexuality). I see a particular support constituency that has very clear lines in the sand (ie. Al Mohler stating that sexual orientation is sinful). I see a growing community of ex-gay survivors articulately telling stories of harm and spiritual damage. I see other ministry organizations engaged in the conversation at the intersection of faith and sexuality gaining influence at the leading edges of the Christian community.
And I see Exodus stuck. Stuck between listening to the growing reality of those who differ but who none-the-less are part of the Body of Christ, and following the expectations of a support constituency who function largely in theoretical doctrinal certainty calling for a return to a rational, Christianized power base. It is, in the long run, a paralyzed position. There will always be those who gravitate towards absolute truth systems. Even if living in such systems can seem restrictive, it at least feels safe and secure. A lot of motivating energy can come from fear. You don’t have to trust your own discernment because you can simply do what you’re told. And you can take pride in living up to all the expectations. And you can block out any challenges to your system by writing it off as deception or rebellion etc.
But more and more, people are refusing to find their security in such systems. Some have even dared to call such systems inherently idolatrous. More and more people, like Jacob, are wrestling with God for themselves. Risking to deconstruct the certainty of the system they were expected to follow. More and more are finding that fear and certainty were not the energies that deepened their faith, their commitment, their partnership with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. More and more build their confidence upon the conviction that truth is a person – and his name is Jesus.
I think there will always be gay Christians who engage with the Scriptures and deeply believe that they are not to enter a same-sex consummated relationship. And I think Exodus, among others and alongside the church, can be an organization that supports and encourages such believers. But if Exodus hopes to be more than an ingrown, insular ministry, if it hopes to be part of the larger conversation within the Christian community and our culture, then it will need to reconsider the system that undergirds their message.
Our Scriptural interpretations are fallible. Our deepest convictions are expressions of faith, not inpenetrable arguments. Our deepest commitments arise out of confidence in God’s love, not fear of his wrath. Our deepest repentance emerges from intimacy and gratitude for God’s power at work in us, not our ability to faithfully follow.
Arrogance does not represent the Suffering Servant – who is the Saviour, the Reconciler, the Victor. And while most Christians would never view themselves as arrogant, our certainties about matters that are clearly disputed in the broader Body of Christ are certainly perceived that way. The Incarnation is the deepest and fullest expression of humility that we are to follow. Humility recognizes that our best efforts are incomplete. Humility recognizes that only God judges rightly. Humility recognizes that there are many members in the Body, with different functions and different roles. Humility recognizes that we are called to experience unity even in our diversity. Humility recognizes that despite differing perspectives on significant matters, we are one in Christ. Humility recognizes that I could be wrong.
If I was leading Exodus, I would seek to deconstruct the system of certainty and nurture an ethos of theological humility. Deep convictions are not compromised by humility – they are strengthened by it.
Such humility would mean that sisters and brothers in Christ can be received as such, not hiding differences but acknowledging our unity in Christ.
Such humility would mean that leadership ceases to fear the powerful expectations of those insist their interpretation is the absolute truth.
Such humility would allow a deep and authentic response to past practices that have resulted in spiritual, emotional, psychological, and relational harm.
Such humility would allow dialogue with those of differing perspective around common ground issues of mission and justice.
Such humility could counteract harsh measures against LGBT people in the global context.
Such humility could eventually help to dismantle the sense of enmity perceived to be between the gay and Christian communities.
Such humility would bless the gay Christian community.
Such humility would bring God delight.
It wouldn’t be easy. It might even financially sink the organization …. But something could rise from the ashes that would be postured to move into the future….. something that smelled a lot like Jesus.
Consider this TED talk about “Being Wrong”: