Some Raw Thoughts on Ministry Formerly Known as Exodus International


Last night I wrote a brief post addressing Exodus International President Alan Chambers’s apology to the LGBTQ community concerning the work of Exodus International.

Literally two minutes after I posted my blog, Exodus issued a press release stating they intended to close their doors and the leadership is establishing a new work known as Reduce Fear.

My initial reaction was simply, “Wow.” And that has been echoed across my social media feeds by people from all perspectives.

But as I watched Alan’s opening statements from the Freedom Conference last night, and I started processing exactly what was happening, I began having very conflicted emotions.

This is a little bit of public processing, but I hope it may start a dialogue about the statements made and the changes occurring. I also hope it gives those who aren’t celebrating the changes at Exodus permission to express their equally real feelings and know they are heard and validated.

Dear Exodus International Board Member Mr. Tony Moore, when you say, “We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, BUT…”
the “but” negates the ways God used Exodus positively.

Yes, there are those who have had horrific experiences in Exodus affiliated ministries. That occurs in EVERY ministry, in every church, b/c we are broken people ministering to broken people.

It’s sort of like saying, “I don’t mean to be hateful, but…” and then unleashing a torrent of vitriol toward a person or organization. Yes, you did mean to be hateful.

And yes, you did imply God’s work was negated by your apology.

There are those of us who met the Jesus of mercy, grace, forgiveness, freedom, and love in the people who ministered with Exodus, and the apologies issued in the last couple of days ring with the implication that our positive experiences were a fluke or a mistake.

Is that what you believe now? Are lives transformed but the Gospel heard through Exodus ministries simply people deceived? If we wait it out, are we going to finally accept we really are gay and God’s ok with it? Do we need to begin embracing who we really are and the “fact” God loves us where and how we are?

You’re caving to those who came to Exodus looking for one thing or were promised something that wasn’t delivered. What about those of us who came to Exodus just looking for Jesus and found Him?

Were there problems? Yes. Did some things need to change? Absolutely. But to shut down 37 years of ministry seems reactionary and short sighted.

Mr. Chambers stated that the purpose of the new work, Reduce Fear, is to “come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

Has that not been the goal of Exodus all along? It has been since my first experience with an Exodus affiliated ministry in 2005.

Sometimes a name can carry so much baggage that a name change is most beneficial to the work being accomplished, but there is more going on here than a simple name change. There is a shift in focus, purpose, and doctrine that saddens me.

There is no hope in surrender to anything other than Christ, and last night’s announcement feels like a cultural surrender for those of us who only found freedom and love in the hard, painful, complete surrender to Christ.

Can joyous freedom and fleshly attraction not co-exist simultaneously in the human heart? Does the presence of temptation negate the Holy Spirit’s strong work in enabling us to resist those temptations?

What exactly are you saying about God, sin and homosexuality, Exodus/Reduce Fear?

Advertisements

Don’t Apologize on my Behalf, Mr. Chambers: The Theological Implications of Corporate Apologies


I’ve had several people ask my opinion on today’s press release from Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International.

In it, Alan makes the following statement:

“It is strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the Church’s treatment of the LGBTQ community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt,” said Chambers. “Today it is as if I’ve just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church.”

I have watched the changes in the last year in Exodus International very closely. In 2005, when I first sought hope and healing concerning my lifelong unwanted same sex attractions, I found both in an Exodus affiliated ministry. I worked for that same ministry for a brief time, attended Exodus Freedom conferences, served at Love Won Out events, and even spoke at the Freedom Conference held at Ridgecrest two years ago.

I have a deep love and appreciation for the courage and compassion of those who serve with Exodus and whom I consider to be friends and fellow workers in an extremely isolated and challenging area of ministry.

Because of that, I have remained relatively quiet about all of the changes taking place, but I’m beginning to think a response to these latest comments may be in order. Please pray for wisdom and grace as I process through Alan’s statement and seek to see his heart while still clinging tightly to truth AND love of Christ as found in His Word.

Honestly, I haven’t digested all of Alan’s statement quite yet, and I would like to listen to his message from the Freedom Conference tonight before fully commenting.

However, my initial thought applies to us all.

As believers, we need to be VERY careful both asking for and offering forgiveness on a corporate level, both from a group of people and to a group of people.

If we are to forgive like Jesus, we do so individually and specifically, not generally and corporately.

To apologize with “we” statements concerning the Church borders dangerously on universalism, and I would respectfully ask fellow believers to refrain from apologizing on behalf of the Church to an individual or to another corporate body of people.

As a priesthood of believers, not a single one of us speaks on behalf of the whole.

If you want to apologize, do so for yourself, but not on behalf of the entire Body.

To read Alan’s statement, click here.

Sex Trafficking, the Super Bowl and She’s Worth It


Today marks the official start of the She’s Worth It! Campaignn, a grassroots effort to raise money for the rescue, recovery, and reintegration of women trapped in sex trafficking both here and around the world.

Our goal is to raise $280,000 this month to this end.

This weekend, there is a lot of information circulating about human trafficking because this weekend is the Super Bowl.

How are these two things connected? Because each year, thousands of women are trafficked to the cities where major sporting events are taking place. As I type, thousands of women are being trafficked to New Orleans for the johns who will be there for the game and the girls.

Not only is the She’s Worth It Campaign raising money for global organizations, we are also raising money to help an organization here in the States that helps connect women who are escaping sex trafficking to medical services.

I issued a challenge on Facebook earlier today, and I’ll issue it here as well.

If you plan to watch the Super Bowl this weekend– the game or the commercials– I challenge you to share this campaign with the people with whom you are watching the game. At halftime, share about human trafficking, tell people about the women in NOLA who will be suffering this weekend. Pray for both the women trapped in human trafficking and the men who are using them. Give the website to them to donate straight from their smartphones.

To educate yourself about the connection between the Super Bowl and Sex Trafficking, visit First Things for a quality article about the issue.

Check out www.prayforthejohns.org for ways to pray for the men using these women.

Go to www.ShesWorthItCampaign.com for information about the women who desperately need to be rescued and the organizations that are working to rescue them. You can also find information on how you can get involved.

Want to donate to the movement? Go to www.tinyurl.com/SWI-BM

Human trafficking is THE human rights issue of our day, and YOU can be involved in putting an end to it.

Currently 27 million people are enslaved worldwide, more than at any other time in history. Be a part of putting a stop to it in this generation.

The Protecting Shadow of Jesus


I read a student essay today that I wanted to share with you all.

The question was: “With which anonymous person in John 7-9 do you relate most and how does this specific story fulfill John’s purpose for writing as stated in John 20:30-31?”

A basic “reflect and let me see you get it” essay. I wasn’t expecting anything too terribly profound. Then I read this.

I hope that, when I grow up, I love Jesus half as much as this 9th grader. She chose to write about the woman caught in adultery:

“I relate to her because I’ve been caught sinning, maybe not as publicly, but I know the humiliation. I also know the feeling of Jesus’ shadow over me, protecting me and standing between me and my accuser. It doesn’t make the situation any less humiliating, but it does help me realize that I don’t need man’s approval because I have a Savior that will back me up every time.”

God has me “teaching” these kids b/c I have SO MUCH to learn from them. What a beautiful description of our Savior.

Gender Roles, Submission, and the Image of God: Choose your words carefully


The last few days have seen a small explosion occur online related to a post by Jared C. Wilson on The Gospel Coalition blog site. In what was intended to be a statement against the increasingly popular discussion concerning the sexual practices of bondage and domination that have been poorly represented in works like 50 Shades of Grey, Jared used a quote from a book by Douglas Wilson that was published more than a decade ago. D. Wilson is well known for arguing positions to their logical, and sometimes controversial, end, and he has received a lot of heat for it. You can read Jared’s post, Doug’s quote and the ensuing heated debate here.

This is neither a new nor an isolated debate. In a small part of the evangelical world, it is a long standing debate between two camps concerning the nature of the marriage relationship. What was once a theological debate has become in recent years a smoldering pop culture fire that appears to have exploded in the comment sections of the blog posts of Jared and a writer named Rachel Held Evans. Rachel is a firm egalitarian who has recently become the voice of liberal Christianity in all issues related to gender and sexuality. As I have watched Rachel’s prominence and influence grow over the last couple of years, I have observed her tone shift from being that of one who is offering a grace-filled, alternate perspective to the fundamentalist Bible Belt teaching of her childhood, to that of one who is declaring an all out war on those who hold a complementarian view of gender and the marriage relationship.

Three specific blog posts, Jared’s original post, Rachel’s response and Jared’s rebuttal and clarification of his intent, are a heartbreaking example of the polarization that has developed around this issue.

This current debate reveals, I believe, the telling problem that will leave this issue an open wound rather than a constructive conversation of mutual edification and sharpening. This debate is no longer about the grand theological message of the Gospel and of way in which marriage is to be a picture of that Gospel. This debate has been boiled down to sound bites, generalized points of semantics.

In a Twitter conversation today between Rachel, Jared, and Denny Burke, Rachel tweeted the dictionary.com definition of conquer to which Denny replied, “Did you notice definition number 3?” Rachel and the egalitarian camp are up in arms over the use of the word conquer because they are reading it with the understanding of conquer meaning “to acquire by force of arms; win in war.” This is the first definition listed. Both Jared and Doug have repeatedly responded that this was not their intent in the use of the word, but, as Denny suggested, their intent was more along the lines of “definition number 3”: “to gain, win, or obtain by effort, personal appeal, etc.: conquer the hearts of his audience.” In other words, Doug is not suggesting husbands are to conquer the hearts of their wives by oppression and force, but rather to win them through the hard work of sacrificial servant leadership.

Rachel and her egalitarian supporters are holding to their position that the use of the word conquer refers to definition number one. Jared, Doug, and their complementarian supporters are holding to the fact that they intended the use of the word conquer to imply definition number three. And despite all the clarification offered by Jared and Doug, in this polarized debate, it appears that never the twain shall meet.

Some of you may be thinking, “War of words. What’s the big deal?” But the big deal is that this is telling of a larger trend in our society. Authorial intent no longer bears weight in a postmodern world. Despite the fact that the author has repeatedly clarified his intent, the readers have demanded that their interpretation trumps the author’s intent and refuse to accept his clarification and explanation of intent concerning his own words.

And just as the marriage relationship is described by God as a small picture of the larger relationship of Christ with His Church, so too is this attitude of reader authority a small picture of Rachel’s larger reading of God’s Word. Rachel’s first line in the above-linked post seems to indicate she doesn’t view Scripture as God’s authoritative Word: “Patriarchy is old—so old that the writers of Scripture include it in their creation story.” As far as Rachel is concerned, the Bible, from Genesis 1:1 on, is a collection of writings about God which are written by patriarchal men who have misrepresented what God really meant for His people to know about Him. Apparently, all authors are subject to their reader’s understanding and interpretation, even God himself. And when a reader takes issue with what a writer has communicated, it is the responsibility of the author to acquiesce to the interpretation of the reader. Rachel and others are now demanding for an apology and retraction of something that neither Jared or Doug ever actually said. Because people were hurt and offended by their own misunderstanding of (or disagreement with) Doug’s words. And when Doug clarified what he meant, the clarification was simply not enough for some.

What is most heartbreaking is that, within the the comment section beneath Rachel’s post, Rachel and Jared both expressed that there is much in the debate about which egalitarians and complementarians agree. But, as Nathaniel Simmons noted in a comment on my Facebook page, “It does seem that two sides are largely in agreement, yet feel committed to disagree.” True constructive conversation will never take place if the two sides cannot even agree to the definitions of the words with which they are debating one another.

My thoughts on the whole thing?

The entire debate only serves to confirm that, like it or not, the marriage relationship is THE picture of the Gospel given to us. If relationships and sex were primarily about “mutual pleasure” as some are arguing, we wouldn’t get so up in arms when people disagree with our understanding of it. Generalized statements and polarized debates will never get us to the heart of the complexity of human relationships because those relationships are the image of an infinitely complex God.

Rachel preaches a strong message of “mutual submission” in her mission to redefine the term egalitarian, but there appears to be no mutual submission in her stance that the interpretation of the reader trumps the intent of the author.

Hopefully it doesn’t take a theological scholar to recognize the danger in believing it is the Author who answers to the reader and not the other way around.

UPDATE: Doug Wilson’s response to the “kerfuffle” can be found here.

UPDATE #2: Just to be clear on my own intent, this is not a wholesale attack on Rachel. As I said above, I have followed her work for a couple of years and have interacted with her on a couple of occasions. Her compassion for the bullied, the victimized, and the judged is commendable, and I have appreciated the way in which my own faith has been strengthened and my thought processes sharpened by her work.
That being said, it is with her understanding and treatment of complementarian thought within her campaign of mutualism and with this particular post with which I have the greatest concerns.

A Mile in Our Shoes


This week has been one of the most heartbreaking, inspiring, challenging, convicting, angering, and frustrating weeks I have had in a very long time.

My heart is breaking for so many that I see who are consumed by the self-deceiving justification of accepting a less-than-the-best plan for their lives. My heart is also breaking because of the reaction they have received from so many in the church.

With the passing of Amendment One in North Carolina and the declaration of support for gay marriage from President Obama, political and moral opinions have been shared far and wide from every social media platform available. And the extent of the thoughtfulness has generally been “We win. You are idiots” from both sides of the debate.

From the right I hear, “Shameful,” and “Ridiculous,” and “Sinners,” and “We win,” and “That’ll show the world what America thinks about Sodomites,” and a whole host of other sound bites.

From the left I hear, “Bigots,” and “Idiots,” and “Persecutors,” and “Close minded,” and “Bullies.”

Lots of talking about one another. Very little talking with one another.

But what has bothered me the most has been the posts and comments and conversations from people who appear to otherwise be faithful, Jesus-loving Christians. Statements that hint at a victory over Public Enemy #1, gay people. Statements justifying hateful attitudes by saying, “We’re just taking a stand against sin,” and “God is going to judge America for the words of our President.”

For one, I’d rather hear Christians taking a stand for Christ than taking a stand against particular sins.

Why?

Because we generally only attack the temptations that don’t personally attack us as individuals. You don’t hear gluttonous people attacking the gluttons. Those who have experienced divorce don’t judge others in the same position. People who have overcome addiction usually aren’t heard judging the addict. Ever been in bankruptcy? I bet you don’t dog on people who are up to their eyeballs in debt.

Why?

Because they’ve been there. They understand what it’s like to be overwhelmed by that struggle and they know that it’s not enjoyable, no matter what kind of happy face one may apply.

Before you begin talking about the current gay marriage debate, take a moment and place yourself in the shoes of someone who struggles or has struggled with same sex attraction. Imagine an embarrassing or shameful part of your past being dissected on every news channel, social media platform and in many conversations you pass through during the day. The conversations generalize and talk about “those people” in harsh and insensitive terms (stereotypes are almost always harsh and insensitive, by the way).

Even if it’s something you no longer struggle with, part of your past that is long past, it still hurts. Because while that person you trusted isn’t talking about you specifically, you know that if you were still struggling, they would be talking about you that way.

And so it becomes personal.

I had the following text conversation Thursday morning with a young woman I once mentored through her journey with unwanted same-sex attraction:

“Bekah, is it bad that I got to the point of crying last night? This older guy at church was talking about the [gay] marriage thing… and he started more around the lines of bashing. I didn’t stay for church. But I did start crying… I just remember what it’s like on that side and hearing all the stuff. Then hearing it at church…IDK… Is it bad that I got upset?”

“No, it’s ok to be upset about injustice. It’s sad to hear people in the church who don’t understand grace.”

“Between them and people who I thought ‘got it’… it’s just… idk… I don’t understand people. Beyond that, I don’t understand Christians. It’s like they pick the parts of the Bible they like and agree with and ignore the rest. Last night reminded me why I never wanted to become a Christian.”

I hardly knew what to say to that. Except, “I understand, I also remember what it’s like on that side. When I see and hear the behavior of some who claim to speak for God, and sometimes I don’t want to be a Christian either.”

Remember some things before you speak about any sin or person entrapped in sin:

1. Sin easily entangles.

2. Satan is a liar and the father of lies. No one sins without first being deceived.

3. “But for the grace of God go I.” That person could be you.

4. The person you’re talking to may be the person you’re talking about. You just may not know it.

5. Pay attention to your conversations. Do you take stands against things or take stands for Jesus?

6. Jesus dined with sinners and prostitutes. He condemned religious Pharisees. I was once a Pharisee. Then God showed me just how much of a sinner I am. Now I add “Pharisee” to the list of self-loving sins I need to die to daily.

7. It’s possible to love sinners and also say, “Go and sin no more.” Jesus did it and so can we.

8. Jesus said the world would know we were His by our love for one another, not by the platforms we support or soapboxes we stand on.

9. Strive to be the type of Christian that never makes another Christian regret taking that name.

10. Know that you can disagree without destroying. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. Attacking people is equal to attacking your own Army’s POWs in a time of war.

Have you ever experienced an unintentional attack by someone speaking carelessly? How did it make you feel? How did you respond?

How does Scripture instruct us to interact with those with whom we disagree or do not understand?

For more information on grace-filled dialogue about the current gay marriage debate, check out the following links:

Tim Keller on how to treat homosexuals


How to Win the Public on Homosexuality by Collin Hansen

NC Amendment One and President Obama by Matt Emerson

Bullying and the Sixth Commandment


As an educator, I spend quite a bit of time discussing the issue of bullying. We form task forces, attend conferences, write books, produce documentaries and movies, inform parents, spear head movements… all in an attempt to teach students to be kind to one another.

Bullying has become the topic du jour as more and more tragic incidences of teen suicides are traced back to constant harassment from classmates. Bullying was a term rarely discussed when I was in middle and high school. When it was, we were generally told that there would always be mean people in our lives so we better learn now how to deal with it. Why the constant attention now to bullying? Are kids today meaner than they were 15-20 years ago?

I don’t believe kids are meaner. I remember some of the things done to classmates when I was in school, and it doesn’t get much meaner than some of those things. What I believe has changed is the fact that, due to social media, kids today never escape the harassment. Once upon a time, bullies found you on the bus or the playground or in the hallway by your locker, and if you could just get home or to your next class, you’d be safe for a while. Now, kids carry their bullies around with them in their pockets. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and a host of other social media sites allow teens to fashion lynch mobs to psychologically hang one another without ever leaving their bedrooms. While I may have had the possibility of one mean girl calling me and maybe being subjected to a secret third party in a 3-way call, teens today can experience virtual mob attacks on their Facebook walls and Tumblr comments.

One movement in particular has caught attention in Christian circles because it focuses on the bullying of one particular segment of the population. Tomorrow is the Day of Silence, “a student-led national event that brings attention to the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in schools.” On the Think Christian site, Neil de Koning writes a passionate post explaining why he believes Christians should participate in the Day of Silence.

Regardless of who bullying is targeting, we all know it is wrong. While there is no verse in the Bible that explicitly states, “Thou shalt not bully,” God has plenty to say about how we treat other people. And the crazy thing is that, unlike people, God really doesn’t discriminate. He commands that all people be treated the same; friends or enemies, believers or not, male or female, “Jew or Greek.” All people bear the Imago Dei (image of God), and all are to be treated with the same sacrificial love and respect that we all crave for ourselves. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3),” he didn’t place any stipulations on the instructions.

I particularly appreciated the following observation by Neil in the above mentioned article:
It’s simple really. God says “NO” to bullying and abuse. In my reading of Scripture and leaning on Christian tradition, particularly the Heidelberg Catechism, the “No” does not turn to “Yes” when certain subgroups of our community are named.

What does the Heidelberg Catechism contribute to the conversation on bullying? Some interesting and challenging instructions.

Question: What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?

Answer: I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor – not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture and certainly not by actual deeds –and I am not to be party to this in others.

Question: Is it enough then that we do not murder our neighbor in any such way?

Answer: No. By condemning envy, hatred and anger, God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful and friendly toward them, to protect them from harm as much as we can and to do good even to our enemies.

I’ll leave you with this final excerpt from Neil’s post and hope that you will read the entire post and spend some time reflecting on what it means to love with grace and truth, showing the kindness of God that leads us to repentance to a world that is desperately tired of bullying.

Our neighbor is not just the people like us whom we like. She or he is the one we come across in the course of our daily activities. This certainly includes the ones we pass in the hallways of our schools and pass on the sidewalks and buses on the way to school. And the behaviors that the catechism finds offensive include the daily schoolyard practice of belittling, the common practice of offense gestures, the ordinary practice of demeaning texting that creates a culture threatening for gay and lesbian teens.

It even includes thoughts. If there is any way our thoughts say “you are not my neighbor” or say “you are not worth my kindness or my time,” the catechism would say you are guilty of breaking the law of God.
“It’s simple really. God says “NO” to bullying and abuse.”

I find it interesting that it adds, “I am not to be party to this in others.” Being a silent bystander is unacceptable. This is good news from our tradition and church to those who are often victims of bullying and abuse. Every church, school and parent can powerfully encourage teens to become a vocal neighbor when they see a person being bullied. It is simply a matter of being a good neighbor.

So, ask yourself, who have you failed to see as your neighbor, and how can you begin praying and moving towards a Christlike approach to all people?