Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, is currently on vacation with his family. But his much needed break is hardly going uninterrupted following his announcement that Exodus no longer supports reparative therapy.
"I would just [like to] start my vacation at some point," Chambers said Thursday, after weeks of juggling phone calls and media requests. "It's been a crazy few weeks."
Over the last six weeks, 12 ministries have left Exodus International, which has a membership of some 270 (including ministries, counselors and church associations). Chambers said the disagreement can't be boiled down to "one issue" but what has gotten Chambers in a bit of hot water with some Christians is his recent repudiation of reparative therapy and his theology.
He has specifically been called out by Pittsburgh Theological Seminary associate professor Dr. Robert Gagnon over his statements assuring homosexuals of their salvation. The New Testament professor has even called for Chambers' resignation.
(Read Gagnon's argument here.)
Chambers responded to Gagnon's statements in an interview with The Christian Post. The full transcript is below.
CP: I'm sure you saw or heard about Dr. Gagnon's statement. First of all, what is your initial response to his call for your resignation?
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Chambers: Someone's always calling for my resignation. It's nothing new. It's something that's been part of my tenure at Exodus over the last decade plus. So he can add his voice to the chorus of others whether it's gay activists or now a New Testament professor.
CP: I believe you mentioned before that everyone at Exodus, the board, agree to the changes you made at Exodus. A New York Times story mentioned though that there is a growing schism within the network and I'm not sure if he was referring to Exodus or to all groups similar to yours. I wanted you to clarify if there is a schism. What kind of response have you been getting after the changes (to halt reparative therapy)?
Chambers: Exodus is a very large organization. My board of directors is supportive of me as the president of Exodus and are very much involved in my decision-making and those types of things. They're a wonderful and balanced group of people and I'm grateful for their support. Within the membership we have 270 or so members within the network of Exodus whether that's a local member ministry, a counselor or one of our members of our church association.
We've had 12 ministries leave our network in the last six weeks or so. So there is some disagreement over a number of different things. I don't think it can boil down to one issue over another but I think there is some disagreement. But out of 270 or so organizations that are still a part of Exodus, 12 leaving is sad for sure but people have to do what they have to do. It's not any different than something like a split that we see happen in churches all the time.
CP: Let's get to the part that Dr. Gagnon expressed most concern for. You've made several statements expressing your belief that active homosexuals can still go to heaven if they have a relationship with Christ. What do you say to Dr. Gagnon and others who believe one's eternal destiny can be endangered if they have persistent and unrepentant sin and are acting out on that?
Chambers: Well, I find it interesting first that this all centers around the issue of homosexuality and we don't bring in any other sin issue into the picture – the ones that are running rampant within our churches largely go unaddressed. Issues of pride and judgment and gossip and slander and other types of sexual immorality, gluttony, you name it. I think it's hypocritical and inconsistent for us to attack this one group of people over any other group of people that are within our churches today. If we were talking about one of their sin issues we wouldn't have addressed this at all. I find that hypocritical and inconsistent.
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. We will all struggle, we will all fall prey to some type of sin, some will fall prey to the same types of sin over and over again. I don't differentiate between this one sin struggle than any other.
Rob Gagnon said on NPR last week that homosexuality was a more egregious sin. I don't find where that's stated in the Bible at all.
CP: There are those who are struggling with same-sex attraction and are trying to not act on that and then there are those who are celebrating it, who are intentionally living that lifestyle and feeling accepted by God. Do you find a difference between them when it comes to their salvation and eternal destiny?
Chambers: Let me be clear that I'm not God so I can't tell you who is and isn't going to heaven. What I know about my relationship with Christ is that as a believer, I am eternally secure. I gave my heart to Christ and that gift of salvation is irrevocable. 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? Would Rob Gagnon and other people make as big a deal about that as they are with this? I don't think so.
I think we as believers can be secure in our relationship with Christ. 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. 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.
CP: As you probably know this is an age old debate on the once you're saved always saved belief. This all kind of boils down to the doctrine of sin and sanctification. I understand there are varying views among Christians. But how do you view the process of sanctification in a Christian's life?
Chambers: I'll point to a Scripture that is very relevant to this whole debate. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which talks about all those who won't inherit the Kingdom of God. And then it says in verse 11 which I think is so appropriate here "but you were washed, you were justified, you were sanctified through the blood of Jesus Christ." I think it's for me with regards to this issue I believe in justification at the point of salvation; I believe in sanctification at the point of salvation. 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 was always tempt us and therefore we always need to be submitting our mind, will and emotions to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
CP: In that passage you mentioned, Apostle Paul said there were cases where homosexuals did change after converting. Why did you decide to stop reparative therapy altogether if it maybe did or could help one or two people?
Chambers: I think it's an interesting look at all of this. There wasn't reparative therapy in Corinth. So in this passage I think people came to Christ and experienced a new life in him apart from the therapeutic process. But when it comes to someone pointing to this passage and saying homosexuals changed, well, I'm not sure that's what that passage is referring to. Certainly anyone who comes to faith in Christ has a new heart and they have an opportunity for new life and that's a wonderful thing. But it doesn't say anywhere in that passage that the people didn't still struggle with temptation or that they never fell prey to that sin again whether it was the issue of homosexuality or any of the other things that are listed there. So to pick and choose that once you come to Christ you're never going to struggle in those areas again or never fall prey to stumbling in those ways again, I just, I don't think we can assure that.
Now on to reparative therapy, I think counseling is a wonderful tool for anybody regardless of what struggle they bring to the table. I think we can all use a little bit of counseling on planet earth today. But when it comes to reparative therapy, the reason we have distanced ourselves from it is because some of the things that they employ and some of the messages that I've heard from reparative therapists with regards to what someone can expect once they get through that type of therapy. For someone to promise a percentage type cure for this issue, for instance I had someone who said they had experienced a 90 percent permanent – in all caps PERMANENT – reduction of their same-sex attraction. 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 when we're sharing these types of messages or presenting what was presented to me.
When I said on national television I still struggle, a reparative therapist called me and said if you'll come into therapy with me I can cure you of your temptations and attractions 100 percent. And then there are the offers of using homosexual pornography within the therapeutic process to help people understand why they're struggling. And then there are encouragements to use heterosexual pornography or heterosexual images to encourage heterosexual attraction. I find it a golden idol, honestly, where we have been hypocritical to ask people to resolve this issue in a way that we haven't encouraged other people with other struggles to resolve. I'm looking at offering biblical holiness, not an unrealistic expectation for people that will leave them disappointed.
CP: How does that look like on a practical level at Exodus? If somebody comes into Exodus now and they're saying they're struggling with same-sex attraction, how does this new discipleship or Christ-centered model look like?
Chambers: It's really an encouragement of discipleship, it looks like anything else that we're offering to anyone else, any other person struggling with any other issue in their life. It's about pursuing a relationship with Christ. For some that will mean getting the help or expertise of a counselor that can help them walk through and navigate through some of the traumatic things that they've been through in their life. But to say that people who have same-sex attractions are the only group of people who need to go to a therapist to completely resolve those attractions isn't something I find biblically accurate.
It says in this world you will have trouble in John 16:33 but take heart you can have peace in me because I've overcome the world. I think for believers you know we are helping people pursue holiness through a relationship with Christ, through biblical community in their local church, through honesty and transparency, sharing what it is that troubles them, being accountable. But this isn't just for people with same-sex attractions it's for all people in the church. And I think that's really where we need to be more consistent as believers. Exodus will do that for people who come to us for help. But we will encourage the church to do that in general for anyone and everyone who's seeking to be a mature believer in Christ.
CP: So you want the church to play a much bigger role in this.
Chambers: This is the church's job. This is who we are as the body of Christ to reach out to people who are in need, who are struggling, who need to be discipled and to pursue Christ in their life. That's good news and the church should offer it wholeheartedly to anyone.
CP: Do you feel this issue is just so complex and complicated that you easily get misunderstood?
Chambers: I do. I think we've made it a golden idol. I think we in the church have treated it differently than we've treated anything else. We've made it bigger; the resolution for this needs to be bigger than for other people. I think we have to do a better job than we've done. So I do think there is, people rush to judgment and rush to clarify their point on this issue in ways that they don't' rush to judgment and to clarity on other issues.
CP: Are there any other misunderstandings that you want to clarify or anything you want to add to this?
Chambers: I think, again, if 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. 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.