Martin E. Marty
Notice the tenses in Wikipedia’s entry on “Exodus International” posted only a day or two after events necessitated a change from the word “is” to “was”. Quote: “Exodus International was a non-profit interdenominational ex-gay Christian organization that sought to help people who wished to limit their homosexual desires. . . Exodus International formerly asserted . . . [it] was an umbrella organization which grew to include. . . over 150 ministries in 17 other countries.” Etc.
One does not expect instant revisions of encyclopedias, whether of the on-line or other-line sorts. Give the religious world a week or two before anything about theology draws notice from a few. But anything to do with “Sex,” not “God,” is the splitting agent of denominations. Hundreds of congregations in numerous church bodies have broken away since words like “same-sex” came to prime time in church and world.
We can’t fault the media for giving so much attention to last week’s news about the “Closing Shop” sign posted by Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International. Quite remarkable is his avoidance of the pop-penitence so often practiced today. Not content with “if we offended or hurt anyone,” or “we made a mistake,” he went on to speak for the organization as he apologized for the pain, hurt, and all that went with the Exodus approach. He acknowledged that Exodus-type policies and strategies could lead to suicide and to church, family, and friends turning away. That’s quite serious.
Chambers, married to a woman and a father of two adopted children, acknowledged that not all impulses connected with his homosexual make-up had disappeared, but he understood them and encountered them with new understanding.
Since the simple declaration that homosexual activity is a sin used to be the first and last word, for Christians who made it basic to their understanding of faith, a declaration like Chambers’ is the latest shakeup in the ranks of the formerly completely self-assured evangelical leaders.
Not all evangelicals, of course, think this week’s news settles much. The Southern Baptist Convention’s new “ethics” man, Russell Moore was ready: “I think it’s easy to overblow this story into a parable of evangelical shift;” “it’s only the end of a ministry that had been confused for some time about its own views.” Chambers had said “For some time we’ve been imprisoned in a world view that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”
Below, we provide links to an intelligent but not-unfiery exchange between two staunch evangelicals who argue about reactions to the five or six references in the bible that are negative toward homosexuality.
Columnist and blogger Peter Wehner, attacked by Kevin DeYoung, pastor of the University Reformed Church in East Lansing, responds in complex ways that we cannot condense here. Wehner quotes New Testament scholar Richard B. Hays, and Gospel Coalition founder Timothy J. Keller, both of whom make efforts to provide a broader context for dealing with biblical texts without down-playing the seriousness with which the texts are to be taken.
Wehner himself points to the standard evangelical compromise or by-passing of biblical anti-divorce texts, which affect millions, but holds firm to his insistence that the five or six negative biblical references cover everything that needs to be said on homosexuality.
Rest assured: more will be said.
“Exodus International.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Accessed June 23, 2013.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exodus_International.
Chambers, Alan. “A Changing World – Letter from Alan Chambers, May 2013.” ExodusInternational.org, May 21, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.http://exodusinternational.org/2013/05/a-changing-world-letter-from-alan-chambers-may-2013/.
Do, Anh, Kate Mather, and Joe Mozingo. “Shifting tide was ministry’s doom.” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2013. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jun/21/local/la-me-0621-exodus-international-gays-20130621.
Wehner, Peter. “An Evangelical Christian Looks at Homosexuality.” Patheos.com, June 11, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2013/06/20/jesus-homosexuals-grace-wehner-deyoung/.
DeYoung, Kevin. “Common Fault Lines in Maintaining an Evangelical Approach to Homosexuality.” TheGospelCoalition.org, June 14, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2013/06/14/common-fault-lines-in-maintaining-an-evangelical-approach-to-homosexuality/.
Wehner, Peter. “Jesus, Homosexuals, and the Grace of God: A Response to Kevin DeYoung.” Patheos.com, June 20, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2013/06/20/jesus-homosexuals-grace-wehner-deyoung/.
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.
Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School.