Leaders of Exodus International, which announced it is closing this week, are starting a new group aimed at finding common ground within conservative churches and fostering acceptance of all sexual orientations.
But the debate within the conservative Christian world over homosexuality is far from over, and it may well get sharper as the politics of gay rights – especially gay marriage – intensifies.
Most of Exodus’s affiliates had already left before Mr. Chambers’s announcement and are expected to keep doing conversion therapy. A new umbrella group is already in place, the Restored Hope Network, which its website says is “dedicated to restoring hope to those broken by sexual and relational sin, especially those impacted by homosexuality.” On Friday and Saturday, the group is having its first annual conference in Oklahoma City.
But some of Exodus’s leaders aren’t going away. They’re planning a new endeavor that they say accepts people as they are – a reflection of changing views, particularly among younger Evangelicals, toward homosexuality and gay rights.
In interviews with the Monitor, two of Exodus’s leaders spoke of their own experiences with same-sex attraction, their abiding religious faith, and how they hope to find common ground in addressing social problems.
“Exodus has been a lightning rod ministry, and it’s been really one side of a debate, a raging debate, on issues related to sexuality,” says Chambers, speaking on the phone from his conference in Irvine, Calif.
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“Our desire in the church is to be people of peace and to be known by our ability to be in relationship with and have conversations with all different types of people. And so we want to create opportunities and conferences and spaces where people can come together who have different opinions, and different worldviews, to talk about really complex issues.”
By “church,” he says, he means the “global” Christian church, not any particular denomination. His new, as-yet-unnamed, endeavor will be rooted in a desire to “reduce fear,” he says. The website, still under construction, is ReduceFear.org.
Chambers hopes that people of faith, regardless of sexual orientation, can come together for the common good to combat social ills such as bullying.
"We’ve got to get to a different place in our culture than we are at today, certainly within the church,” he says. “There are gay and lesbian people who are in the church, and there are people who have very different beliefs about that who are in the church.”