Out of the Ashes of Exodus International, Hope for Wholeness Network Arises
National Conference Proclaims Freedom from Homosexuality through Jesus Christ
For nearly forty years, Exodus International bore the name of the largest Christian ministry offering hope to individuals struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction. But last year, its President, Alan Chambers, held their final national summer conference, announcing the end of the organization’s ministry to homosexually oriented individuals seeking an alternative to accepting a gay identity.
To many within the ex-gay movement, it was not a shock. Over the last few years, Chambers had been moving away from a developmental therapeutic approach to ministry that encouraged healing and change, to one of discipleship that emphasized holiness and chastity. As a result, many leaders within the movement began to grow uneasy with Chambers’ diluted rhetoric, confused by public statements such as “99.9% of same-sex attracted individuals do not change (to opposite sex attraction).”
Still, others within the movement were more concerned with his speaking engagements at conferences like the Gay Christian Network (GCN), where he began to offer what some considered a message of “hyper grace” to gay-identified Christians dissatisfied with Exodus ministries. Rather than providing Biblical truth, many believed Chambers was placating to more inclusive organizations such as GCN that embraced same-sex romantic relationships as an acceptable Christian practice.
As these events unfolded, a slow stream of dedicated leaders and ministries around the country had begun to resign from the once powerful ex-gay network, recognizing a dramatic shift in message that seemed to embrace the gay Christian without emphasizing a necessity to repent of sin and move away from homosexual behavior. But the straw that broke the camel’s back occurred when Chambers appeared on Oprah Winfrey Network’s Our America with Lisa Ling, where he publicly apologized to a group of former ministry participants who were angry at their own lack of sexual orientation change they claimed Exodus promised.
While it wasn’t necessarily inappropriate to express remorse to these individuals, who truly felt hurt and disappointed at what they believed were broken promises and inadequate solutions for their struggle. But the way Chambers collaborated in the filming process with figures like Michael Bussee, one of the co-founders of Exodus in the 1970s who later recanted his belief that change was possible and went on to live a gay life, was more than disingenuous. Indeed, the individuals on the show like Bussee were not simply disheartened participants seeking resolution, but angry activists with an axe to grind.
The whole show was a dramatically staged production to provide justification for what Chambers had already decided to do months prior – bury an organization that once provided hope and healing for many truly convicted Christians struggling with their sexuality. Rather than acknowledge the organization’s successful aspects, apologize for what went wrong, and seek to correct its flaws, Chambers stopped flying the plane, got out of the cockpit, and let it crash. Truly, he should have just grounded the vehicle and allowed more qualified individuals to fix the mechanical issues.
At that point, a mass exodus of member ministries ensued, just one month before Chambers announced the official dissolution of the organization at its final summer conference. In the aftermath of Exodus’ demise, the carnage left behind was more than devastating to the hundreds of ministries and its tens of thousands of participants. The few ministries who remained were in disbelief, confused, and grief stricken. Many struggling with homosexuality became disillusioned while endless media reports rejoiced over the death of the biggest “gay cure” network.
But out of the ashes of this implosion arose several new national networks; one of them is called Hope for Wholeness. This weekend, I had the pleasure to attend its first national conference in Black Mountain, North Carolina. At first, the gathering seemed a lot like Exodus 2.0. Praise and worship opened the first night’s session, followed by powerful testimonies of those leaving homosexuality and a witty dramatic presentation on family dysfunction by Acts of Renewal, a husband-wife team bearing stories of healing from sexual brokenness and bulimia.
While I never previously attended one of these summer conferences, I did notice some striking characteristics out of the new leader that was both encouraging and refreshing. McKrae Game is not a professional counselor. He is not a political activist. He is not a polished speaker, and he is not an intellect. But he is compassionate, he is real, and he has a heart for God.
He is open about his weaknesses and does not hide his ongoing recovery from same-sex attraction. In fact, he openly admits that ridding himself of homosexual desires is not a goal for his recovery. Rather, his heart is to understand the meaning of his same-sex desires and obey God’s calling on his life to remain faithful to his loving wife of twenty-three years and their two teenage children.
At a time where the Christian community is being torn a part by endless debates of same-sex marriage, and the church is confused about how to minister to the homosexually oriented, the tone and tenor of Game’s leadership in this network’s first national conference was a breath of fresh air. In fact, he reminded me of Pope Francis’s recent comments towards gay-identified Christians.
While ideologues on both sides of the aisle have recently kept score on the slightest hint of doctrinal change towards homosexuality in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis avoided the political game when asked for clarification on his attitudes towards gay-identified Christians, by stating: “Love God and love your neighbor.” That’s it! Game and Hope for Wholeness, while staying consistent to a traditional Biblical view of sexuality, gave off this same vibe during its four-day conference in North Carolina.
While the keynote speakers were energetic and inspiring, some of the highlights happened in the many breakout sessions I attended. Janelle Hallman, PhD, who specializes in working with same-sex attracted women, gave an emotional talk about her desire for unity and love for all those ministering to those struggling with homosexuality. She wondered how the ex-gay movement would continue to stay alive with the recent demise of Exodus and ongoing fracture between the therapeutic and faith-based community:
Unfortunately, there are so few places to talk freely, and it’s wearing on me. How do we find unity amidst diversity? What is God’s desire for us as real lovers of Jesus? Most of my friends in these different camps (Christian ministries and professional therapists) are all lovers of Jesus, but they’re going in different directions. Is change possible? Should we even use that word ‘change’? Over the years, I have seen these groups polarized against each other, arguing and defending their position. All the while, the Christian clients (struggling with homosexuality) we serve…their experiences continue to be marginalized.
Other leaders, such as Tom Cole, who came out of homosexuality and has been married to his wife for over thirty years, taught a group of men what it really means to be masculine, and how men should throw away cultural stereotypes to focus on the true meaning of manhood. “Our masculine authority is not for us; it’s for others, the people who we love and serve in our families and communities, to protect them.”
While the giant head of the ex-gay movement may have been cut off in 2013, a new lion has emerged with several different crowns in order to carry the banner, including Hope for Wholeness, Restored Hope Network, Overcomers Network, and Voice of the Voiceless. Although far smaller than the 1,000 participants that attended summer conferences in the prime of Exodus’ ministry, the renewed faith and enthusiasm among the more than 100 participants at the Hope for Wholeness conference was a bold response to those pronouncing the demise of ministries reaching out to those with unwanted same-sex attractions. As McKrae Game said in a June 3rd press release: “Exodus International may be dead, but hope is rising in North Carolina this week as national leaders proclaim freedom from homosexuality!”
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