Alan Chambers Revives Debate: Can Gay Christians Go to Heaven?
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, which up until now had supported the so-called gay "cure," isn't fazed by a call from an evangelical scholar for his resignation. In fact, he's heard it many times before.
"Someone's always calling for my resignation. It's nothing new," he told The Christian Post on Thursday. "So he can add his voice to the chorus of others whether it's gay activists or now a New Testament professor."
But this time, the concern isn't centered so much on the practice of reparative therapy – which aims to change a person's sexual orientation from gay to straight – nor is the criticism coming from a pro-gay camp. What has at least one evangelical sounding the alarm is Chambers' theology.
Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, is very concerned about statements made by Chambers over the last year that assure Christians who persistently engage in homosexual behavior that their salvation is guaranteed.
"The issue is that Alan assures even self-professed believers who are unrepentant and self-affirming in their sin that no sinning of any magnitude or degree will keep them from going to heaven," Gagnon said to CP.
Chambers reiterated to CP his belief that for anyone who has given his or her heart to Christ, the gift of salvation is irrevocable.
"You know my issue isn't whether gay people go to heaven or straight people go to heaven. The point that I'm trying to make is that we as believers can have security in Christ when we are believers," he stressed.
(Read the full interview with Chambers here.)
"I'm not saying that sin isn't sin. I'm not saying that people should live in unrepentant sin. I'm not saying that that's a mark of a mature believer at all," he added.
"Certainly if someone looks at my life, they will see that I have surrendered my heart, my life to Jesus Christ. I'll be very glad to tell them what my faults and my weaknesses are and the areas that I pray about in my life every day. But I know Christ. And that is secure. And I think that is something that actually helps believers pursue his holiness, when they don't have to live in that fear or that life of condemnation wondering whether God's going to yank His relationship from them."
Everyone, he highlighted, struggles and falls prey to sin – and sometimes the same type of sin over and over.
In response, Gagnon contended that the debate is not about Christians who occasionally stumble into sin.
"We are talking about self-professed Christians who contend that their behavior, even behavior that Scripture regards as an extreme offense, is actually a good thing and who have no desire whatsoever to discontinue the behavior," the biblical scholar stated.
"I understand that Alan sees his message as encouraging 'gay Christians' to consider how great God's grace is so that, hopefully, they will respond to grace with obedience," Gagnon added. "However, homosexually active 'gay Christians' are already abusing God's grace. Like the incestuous man at Corinth (1 Cor. 5), assuring them that they will go to heaven while they are continuing in gross sexual immorality has the opposite effect of encouraging them to keep on abusing God's grace.
"My disagreement with Alan is over his belief that no immoral behavior of any magnitude carried out in an unrepentant and self-affirming manner over the course of one's life is even an indication of a nonexistent faith. Jesus and the authors of the New Testament clearly regard an untransformed life as evidence for the absence of justifying faith."
Chambers has expressed frustration over Christians placing more emphasis on the issue of homosexuality than other sin issues.
He said he doesn't differentiate between one sin struggle (i.e. homosexual behavior) over another.
"For other people who are involved in unrepentant sin whether it's the sin of homosexual sexual expression or gluttony or pride or heterosexual sexual expression outside of a monogamous heterosexual marriage or any other thing – are those people in danger of losing their salvation over those issues?" Chambers posed. "Would Rob Gagnon and other people make as big a deal about that as they are with this? I don't think so."
Gagnon admitted that he wouldn't make as big a deal about gluttony or even pride as he would about homosexual practice but argued that the Apostle Paul and Jesus didn't either.
He said immoral acts of sexual intercourse, such as "homosexual practice, incest and bestiality," are viewed in Scripture as "more outrageous than fornication or even adultery precisely because of the grossly unnatural character of incest, homosexual practice, and bestiality."
Nevertheless, he said he does believe that "unrepentant incest offenders, adulterers, persons in sexual unions of three or more, and fornicators should be warned about possible exclusion from God's kingdom."
When asked about the process of sanctification in a Christian's life, Chambers quoted 1 Cor. 6:9-11.
There, the Apostle Paul talks about those who won't inherit the Kingdom of God and then says, "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
"I believe in justification at the point of salvation; I believe in sanctification at the point of salvation," said Chambers. "That doesn't mean that we don't continue to mature as believers in Christ. But I believe that we are justified and we are sanctified. But sin resides, the power of sin resides in our flesh. It will always try us and it will always tempt us and therefore we always need to be submitting our mind, will and emotions to the lordship of Jesus Christ."
Chambers announced last month that Exodus no longer supports reparative therapy. He explained to CP that he doesn't agree with the methods reparative therapists employ – such as the use of heterosexual pornography or images to encourage heterosexual attraction – especially when they guarantee a 100 percent "cure" from gay to straight.
"I had someone who said they had experienced a 90 percent permanent – in all caps PERMANENT – reduction of their same-sex attraction," he recalled. "How can we quantify that? How can you even know that that's what you have experienced? And what if at some point you fall to 85 percent or 70 percent? That, I think, sets people up for unrealistic expectations and is something that I'm not willing to offer."
For Christians in particular, Chambers doesn't deny that someone can gain an opportunity for new life when they come to faith in Jesus Christ. He's living proof of that, having formerly practiced homosexuality. Happily married to his wife and the father of two children, Chambers, 40, wants others seeking to align themselves with Christ to be able to do so – whether through celibacy or marriage.
But a relationship with Christ doesn't mean the struggles or same-sex temptations will go away, he emphasized.
John Smid formerly served at Love in Action – a ministry within Exodus International. It was 1995 when he decided to make a bold move and confess that he still had ongoing same-sex attractions. That admission was made at a time when no other persons in the "ex-gay" movement had ever discussed lingering homosexual desires. A lot of people were angry.
He was married to his wife then and still is now.
Nearly two decades later, Smid now leads a ministry called Grace Rivers. His goal through the ministry is not to change a person's sexuality but rather to love them and "encourage them through their journey towards God, or with God," he told CP.
Before Chambers' big announcement last month that Exodus was halting reparative therapy, he made a phone call to Smid in 2011.
During that unexpected call, Smid talked about his "newfound belief centered in God's grace for gay people."
"I talked with Alan about how I had discovered a new awareness of God's grace with us through the journey of life," he elaborated to CP. "I realized that none of us will ever achieve perfection in this life and that there must be a grace covering for us as we muddle through our lives. If Jesus forgave us our sins, all of them, then homosexuality must be another factor in our lives that is covered by His grace. None of us knows where we or any other person is along our journey, but He does."
While Exodus has ended reparative therapy, what it is offering now is something that Chambers considers more biblical – an encouragement of discipleship.
"It's about pursuing a relationship with Christ."
"[I]f someone wants to know what I believe then look at my life. I am pursuing Christ wholeheartedly 100 percent. I don't need a theologian or a set of man-made beliefs to guide me in my daily life," he underscored.
"I'm grateful for people's opinions but I choose to surrender and to serve Christ and Christ alone and in that my life has changed. My beliefs and my desires have changed. They have come into alignment with who He is and who He created you to be. And that's a wonderful thing and that's what we will always offer at Exodus."