An evangelical professor is calling for the resignation or removal of Alan Chambers as president of Exodus International, citing concerns that Chambers is offering a false hope to gays and lesbians and compromising the ministry's mission.
Robert A. J. Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, believes the Exodus head is deceiving active homosexuals by stating that their salvation is assured.
"Alan's approach of providing assurances of salvation to those actively engaged in sexually immoral intercourse is a very different approach than Jesus' and Paul's warnings that immoral sexual behavior, among other offenses, can get one excluded from the kingdom of God and thrown into hell," Gagnon wrote in a 35-page article, posted last week.
Gagnon – who holds degrees from Dartmouth, Harvard Divinity and the Princeton Theological Seminary and who comments regularly on the issue of homosexuality – respects the ministry of Exodus. Since 1976, it has grown to be the largest organization of its kind, equipping churches to address homosexuality and helping individuals struggling with same-sex attraction pursue a life based on their relationship with Christ.
The New Testament professor not only considers Exodus a "light for the world" but he also appreciates Chambers' life testimony in resisting same-sex attractions and his belief that homosexual practice is sinful.
But over the last year and a half, Chambers has been making statements that raised red flags, in Gagnon's view.
In a 2011 interview with Lisa Ling, Chambers said, "I do believe they (people living an active gay Christian life) will be in heaven with me ... if they have a relationship with Jesus Christ."
During the Gay Christian Network conference in January, the Exodus president again stated his belief that homosexually active Christians would be in heaven. And most recently, he made similar comments to The Atlantic in June.
"Some of us choose very different lives than others. But whatever we choose, it doesn't remove our relationship with God," Chambers told The Atlantic.
When asked if a person living a gay lifestyle won't go to hell, he responded, "My personal belief is that ... while behavior matters, those things don't interrupt someone's relationship with Christ."
The repeated statements mean that this belief is a "settled conviction," Gagnon observed.
"In my view these settled convictions on Alan Chambers' part (which, incidentally, are not the only problem statements and decisions that Alan has made) are a serious enough departure from Scripture (and so from the historic mission of Exodus) that Alan should be asked to step down from leadership in Exodus. Failing his voluntary resignation, he should be removed," the professor stated.
Gagnon's statement was published days after Chambers announced that Exodus would no longer be supporting what is known as "reparative therapy."
Though the organization had long helped individuals struggling with homosexual desires find freedom through Christ, Chambers doesn't believe that trying to "cure" same-sex attraction is a biblical message.
"Your struggles don't always go away," he told The Christian Post earlier. Chambers, who is married to his wife and has two children, has admitted many times that he continues to this day to struggle with same-sex temptations, but he has also stated that it's no different than any other man struggling with heterosexual temptations.
Speaking to attendees at an Exodus conference last month, Chambers explained that the staff has "matured in our understanding of what it is we feel like is best to offer."
"God has been changing and honing in who we are at Exodus," he stated.
Exodus still affirms that homosexuality is a sin, he pointed out, but the goal of the organization is not to make gay people straight.
Declaring his desire to employ a model more focused on discipleship than anything else, he said, "Our desire is to be so focused and so centered on the Gospel ... on who he is and who he's called us to be."
Gagnon said he agonized for months about whether he should go public with his concerns about Chambers' leadership. He expressed his concerns to Chambers, who has led the group since 2001, half a dozen times this year but to no avail. "Alan has made clear to me that his views are fixed and will not change."
Those views, Gagnon lamented, will define Exodus.
"[M]y main concern is that Alan's comments to those living a homosexual life are ultimately unloving and ungracious. I don't doubt that Alan intended his comments to 'gay Christians' to be otherwise. Yet the actual result is to leave such persons deceived by giving them a message of 'peace and security' when instead danger hangs over them (1 Thess 5:1-11)," he explained.
What comes into question, then, is the belief: "once saved, always saved."
Though he once believed in this doctrine, Gagnon sees overwhelming evidence in the New Testament that speaks against it.
"Persistent and unrepentant sin of an egregious sort, I believe, can get one excluded from eternal life," he maintained.
While God's grace is marvelous, he stated, "grace does not entail assuring self-professed believers that, 'whatever' they do and irrespective of repentance, their relationship with Christ will be uninterrupted."
"Suffice it to say, no one can know for certain when a believer crosses the line into falling away. It is not a question of earning salvation (which the New Testament authors clearly state cannot be done) but rather of letting Christ live within oneself, to which faith (if it is true faith) always says 'yes.'"
With that, he believes that Chambers' views "severs the integral connection between faith in Christ and a life led by the Spirit of Christ."
"[M]y disagreement with Alan Chambers does not boil down to a difference of opinion regarding eternal security. It boils down to a difference over whether, as [John] Calvin says, one can separate 'free remission of sins ... from the Spirit of regeneration."
Gagnon's call for Chambers to step down also includes concerns over other "problematic" statements he has made, including remarks that homosexual practice is no worse than any other sin. The seminary professor's full statement can be found here.
In addition to the president, Gagnon is also calling for the resignation of Chambers' pastor and chair of the Board of Exodus, the Rev. Clark Whitten.