a bizarre feeling to be walking into the Exodus International conference at the
Concordia University. Irvine California last night. Especially as initially I had a déjà vu
moment as I caught a cab to the wrong university, The University of California,
Irvine. I had been at the latter in 2007
for the first ex-gay survivors conference.
finding the registration table and auditorium I looked around at the 300 people
and tried to read their faces. Some had obviously heard the news of the apology
to the LGBTQ community, some looked tormented and others happy to renew contact
with people they had come to know at
previous Exodus events. I sat down in the back row next to my friend Jim
Burroway the editor of Box
Turtle Bulletin. As far as I knew we were the only openly gay and
accepting people in the place.
with all I knew that had been going on the message Alan Chambers delivered
caught me by surprise.
approach, if possible, has always been to engage instead of attack (this is the
philosophy of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International). Attacking from
a distance is easy. Trying to engage someone in dialogue is time consuming and
requires grace and patience.
2010, every time Alan Chambers did something
positive I sent him an email thanking him. He always responded. Over the
last 12 months our dialogue became warmer. I have also been in a secret
Facebook group with Alan, other Exodus leaders and a number of ex-gay
survivors. The discussions have been challenging at times but, to their credit,
some Exodus people continued listening and engaging.
some reason I had a strong sense that I should attend the conference. In
February I asked how Alan would feel
about me attending the Exodus conference.
Alan's reply was:
Thanks for your
email. I would love for you to come to the conference. I think it will be a year
like no other---I don't know what that means other than it isn't turning out to
look like it used to look. Our numbers are down and my desire for change is
high. It might just turn into an opportunity to promote common ground. You
must decide whether God wants you to join us. Please let me know how that
Last night's historic
|Alan Chambers delivering the historic announcement.|
honestly didn't know what Alan was going to announce last night. I knew it
would be a challenging meeting considering that the apology to the LGBTQ
community had been strategically released only hours before. Exodus shutting
down was a possibility but I doubted that would be announced at the first night
of the conference.
mood in the meeting was sombre and you could tell Alan was preparing the
audience for some challenging news. But I am sure most of the crowd were
unprepared for what was about to come. After all, many had come because they
were struggling with 'unwanted
same sex attraction' .
Alan was making the announcement, once again strategically, the announcement
that Exodus International was ceasing to exist was released on their website.
preparation for the audience was sensitive. He began to cry several times. He
detailed his personal journey to face issues and be completely honest. And also about his spiritual journey to become less judgemental, more accepting and
to be like Jesus. He criticized the churches attitude towards LGBT people and
the community. He wants to make changes and forge a new path of honest and open
are sceptical of these changes. Some are angry and rejecting the apology. Many
are celebrating. Being an ex-gay survivor myself and worked with so many since 2000
I understand and empathise with all these reactions.
doubt these recent announcements will have a huge impact on western
evangelicalism and if handled properly will spill over to Asian and African
evangelicalism. But this won't happen overnight.
is still much to do which is obvious to those of us who have worked in this
space for many years now. The
challenge that lies ahead of us now is to work with those who have suffered
because of the message "homosexuality is a choice and it can be
changed". Sorry doesn't necessarily heal the past but it does give
us hope for a better future. With two
thirds of ex-gay ministries disappearing in Australia in the last decade I
believe that we have led the way. These recent announcements should mean that
my goal to see them all disappear is closer to a reality.
More on that later.
© Anthony Venn-Brown
Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.
Labels: ex-gay, exodus, media release, reparative therapy, unwanted same sex attraction