Exodus International is Dead. Is the Ex-Gay Movement?

By Aimée Simpierre

It is a momentous day for Christians who identify as gay. Last night NuWine Press attended a film screening of Yoruba Richen’s “The New Black” chronicling the LGBT civil rights movement particularly within the black church community. Leaders in the religious LGBT community such as Bishop Yvette Flunder of The Fellowship, declared that homophobia, that “last bastion” of discrimination in the black church, would eventually fall. One of the first major gospel artists to come out – Tonex (aka B. Slade) told his story and sang of Christ’s love for the “sheep of another fold.” Beyond just deconstructing the “clobber passages” of Bible scriptures misinterpreted to condemn same-gender-loving people, the film traces various religious individual’s evolutions toward a more inclusive stance, against the backdrop of Maryland’s 2012 effort to approve same-sex marriage via the “Question 6″ referendum.

Also last night, Exodus International, the leading proponent of “reparative therapy” for gay Christians, closed its doors. And “God & Gays,” an episode of “Our America” presented by Lisa Ling and aired on the OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, showcased Exodus International’s founder Alan Chamers apologizing to individuals who tried in desperation to change their sexual orientation under the guidance of the organization.

In addition, in the next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will address same-sex marriage in two eagerly anticipated decisions related to California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Potential outcomes range from full marriage equality for the entire country to the maintenance of the status quo. (See: The New Yorker’s excellent interactive detailing the various legal outcomes).

What does all this mean for Gay Christians?

If you’re a Christian who identifies as gay, or a supporter of equal rights for all, you have to look at the current state of affairs and appreciate the power of free speech, artistic expression and the Democratic Way. But what does it all mean? And why, in light of all this,  can I still not proudly walk into the church of my upbringing with my baby girl and wife of 18 years?

Churches are a world unto themselves. In the best case scenarios, they are governed by God and a humble, human shepherd sensitive to the Holy Spirit and the needs of their congregation. In the worst case scenarios, the absolute power of a pastor absolutely corrupts God’s will for His people and dogma trumps the Holy Spirit -  leading to the triumph of tradition over Truth and the blinding of many followers. In either scenario, the church is still community. And for some, any community is a prized possession.

So when will all churches support LGBT equality? Probably never. Churches need to be autonomous so that we can pursue the will of God without government incursion. And as long as the leadership of a church involves human beings, there will always be human biases that get passed on as “gospel.”  Consequently, the ex-gay movement may never die. As one of the young activists from Yoruba Richen’s “New Black” poignantly noted, “there are children in those pews,” listening to the condemning, anti-gay rhetoric coming from pulpits. And each child that internalizes that rhetoric as truth adds another generational link to the chains of oppression passed down from slavery. But many churches will change. Led by the Holy Spirit, pastors and congregations have declared God’s radically inclusive welcome policy and His unconditional love. Even within the black church, organizations like LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent continue to help heal the harm done, and advocate for change. Books like RAW: A Poetic Journey, Finding a Way from Conflict to Revelation, and films like The New Black, tell the stories of individual evolutions. These are just a few of the still small voices, that are growing louder every day.

When will our federal government support LGBT equality? Soon. It’s already happening, the rules are changing. We wait with great anticipation for the next Supreme Court rulings, and celebrate President Barack Obama who has declared his Christian faith and his support of federally-recognized gay marriage. This is one of the swiftest and most effective civil rights movements ever. And on behalf of my 15-month-old daughter, I say thanks be to God for that.

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