As Wayne Besen wrote for the anti-reparative therapy organization he founded, Truth Wins Out, “Ex-gay programs have never really been about converting gay people into heterosexuals. It has really been a gigantic marketing and public relations campaign used by anti-gay organizations to say, ‘Gay people don’t need equal rights, they need therapy and prayer instead.’”
This reasoning has become the primary driver behind anti-gay legislation not only in the US, but also abroad. Jim Burroway, author of the gay news and analysis site Box Turtle Bulletin, who has closely covered the horrific “Kill-the-Gays” bill in Uganda, noted in an email to CJR that “Exodus Board member Don Schmierer’s participation at [a Uganda anti-gay conference] reinforced the same message Exodus delivered here: if gay people can change, there is no need to rescind laws against homosexuality.” Exodus later disavowed the Uganda bill after a public uproar.
So it is very important that Exodus now seems to be reversing its former policies. Just recently, the vice chairman of the Exodus board supported anti-sodomy laws on a trip to Jamaica, which is seeing rising violence against gays and lesbians. The Times reported that, thanks to Exodus’s new philosophy, he was asked to resign in June.
A statement at the Exodus website now says, “Exodus International has not supported and will not support any legislation that deprives others of life and dignity based on their sexual orientation or the expression of such within the confines of a consensual adult relationship … Finally, we stand with the LGBT community both in spirit, and when necessary, legally and physically, when violence rears its head in Uganda, Jamaica or anywhere else in the world.”
It will be interesting to see what this new policy means in practice. None of the stories that covered this reversal so far have looked into what an Exodus without animus toward gay people will look like. Will they still be able to raise funds? What does it mean to both “stand with the LGBT community” and also support members who wish to suppress their same-sex attraction and act straight? These are questions reporters should consider addressing.
None of this means that Chambers thinks it’s okay to be gay - he doesn’t (though he now says he believes gay people may also go to Heaven). Rather, he seems to be treating homosexuality in a way similar to alcoholism: People will always be gay, but they can act as if they are not, practicing celibacy and finding understanding spouses of the opposite sex. This means that, in terms of how Exodus deals with individuals, its new stance is a smaller step than it may seem at first. Individuals may still be hurt, may still despair if they are unable to channel their sexual attraction into something that’s Biblically acceptable.
Yet if Exodus does what it says it will and speaks out against all forms of violence against gay and transgender people, then Chambers’s change of heart may help modify the evangelical and fundamentalist conversation—and thus the national conversation—around gay and lesbian issues to something that is more moderate and reasonable. And that will be far more important than the sideshow of internecine fighting over whether or not reparative therapy works.