On Wednesday, June 19, 2013, Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International issued his I Am Sorry statement on the Exodus International website and announced the organization is going to close. As you might guess, I was sent links to a number of stories and blogs by friends and ministry supporters to find out what I think. Frankly, Alan Chambers move wasn’t surprising to me. He has been saying things in recent months which seemed to be leading in this direction.
On a national level the reactions have been mixed. The L.A. Times article, Exodus International says its anti-gay view was not ‘biblical’ gives an inkling of the division over the apology:
Brad Allen, a former Exodus employee who told his family and friends he is gay in 2012, and who appears with Chambers on the Lisa Ling show, said, “I was incredibly proud of him for doing this — and he’s taking flak from all sides.
“He’s being called a ‘heretic’ and the ‘worst kind of sinner,’ but in his heart he knows this is right.”
I have never met Alan Chambers and other than the few articles I have read by or about him do not know what he thinks and cannot speak to his motivations. It is interesting to see this coming on the heels of the news that Brian McLaren Led Commitment Ceremony At Son’s Same-Sex Wedding and Rob Bell put his blessing on homosexuality.
On first blush there are some things Chambers says with which I would concur. There are also some statements which demonstrate things I have pointed out in the past but some of his points are patently unbiblical.
In his apology, Chambers writes:
I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse.
I and MCOI have been on the record for a long time as opposing name calling. Our lead article in the 2006 Spring/Summer issue of the Journal, Emergent Detergent: Hating for Jesus – How NOT to clean the morals of the USA looks at this in some depth. Name calling tends to be counter-productive. The groups who have made this their mission, Westboro Baptist Church and Repent America tend to operate, at best, on the fringe of the church. The Bible is pretty clear that we are not to judge those who are outside the church (1 Corinthians 5:12). Why Chambers refrained from publicly speaking out against this practice in the past is any one’s guess but MCOI and others within the church have publicly spoken out against this practice. Chambers next statement demonstrates an issue that in general the church and individual Christians have been perpetuating:
Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.
Contained in this statement is an underlying premise that coming to faith in Christ, being redeemed from sin and having peace with God means that sinful desires will cease. The struggle particular sins which vex each of us individually will no longer be present in our lives. I am not saying that God does not have the ability to take away those desires but it is rarely the case. When I first came to the faith the church we began attending had “testimony night” fairly regularly and we would hear “I was an alcoholic and after I accepted the Lord I never wanted a drink again” or some other similar claim. Now I cannot validate how much a particular desire they “were delivered from” had them in their grip but after a while I began wondering why God hadn’t delivered them from gossip, slander or some other sort sin which seems to be more acceptable in church. Aren’t they as much of a sin as the one they claimed to have been instantaneously delivered from?
There is a false expectation that once we are saved, a particular sin which has its clutches dug deeply into our heart, will be taken away. In some cases, those who struggle either give up on the faith, figuring salvation didn’t “take” for them or conclude that it must not be a sin because God has allowed them to continue to have the desire and hasn’t punished them for their desire and behavior. Paul addresses the dilemma in Romans 7 where he describes the battle between the 2 natures. He tells the young pastor, Timothy to “flee youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22) he doesn’t say that God will take them away and he doesn’t say that they are okay with God. We are told to pursue holiness but it is something we have to work at. Sex has an enormously powerful attraction and power far beyond its promised satisfaction. This is true whether one is attracted to the opposite sex, same sex or some other sexual desires which we won’t discuss at this time.
This brings me to where I believe Chambers has strayed biblically. Early on in I Am Sorry he writes:
My wife Leslie and my beliefs center around grace, the finished work of Christ on the cross and his offer of eternal relationship to any and all that believe. Our beliefs do not center on “sin” because “sin” isn’t at the center of our faith.
Although this sounds good at first, with what follows it tends to mimic a problem the Corinthian Church to which the Apostle Paul spoke forcefully:
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)
Grace is God’s kindly attitude toward the undeserving or in short hand, unmerited favor. God’s kindly attitude toward the undeserving does not give us permission to look the other way when someone is deeply involved in perpetual practice of sin. It especially does not give us the right to pat ourselves on the back for being accepting of sinful behavior (the Corinthian arrogance Paul mentions). I am not talking here about sinful desires. We are all in the grips of sinful desires of various kinds. I am not talking about the occasions when we didn’t “flee” and were overwhelmed by a sin to which we are particularly prone. Here we are confronted with the churches handling of sin in its ranks. Recognition of the holiness of God and the awfulness of sin must be a part of the teaching and preaching within the church to believers. Working with individuals in helping them to live holy lives and not be captive to the attractions of sin is the responsibility of church leaders. This trend of normalizing sin which McLaren, Bell and now Chambers is going down is unbiblical and dangerous. What does Paul say in Romans 6?:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!