Alan Chambers: ‘Same-sex relationships can be holy’

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Alan Chambers Courtesy of Alan Chambers

Alan Chambers Courtesy of Alan Chambers

In 2013, Alan Chambers apologized to the LGBT community for the damage he caused at the helm of Exodus International – formerly the world’s largest ex-gay group. The apology shocked conservative Christians who for two decades used Chambers as a poster boy for so-called reparative therapy.

At that time, Chambers said his core beliefs hadn’t changed. He still believed that that marriage was meant to be between a man and woman. Now Chambers and his wife, Leslie, have written a book, My Exodus: From Fear To Grace — their views on marriage have evolved.

My exodus

My Exodus: From Fear to Grace is out September 29

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.)

What made you decide to write the book?

Coming out of Exodus, we felt like there is a story to be told. We started thinking about how we could tell the story because we knew people were going to have questions about what we did. I started thinking about writing some sort of book before Exodus closed but could not hone in on what exactly I wanted to say. My first thought was, “don’t edit me.” I have been edited for so long I did not want my story to be edited any longer.

In My Exdous: From Fear To Grace, you described your role in promoting reparative therapy at Exodus as complicit. Were you?

I definitely take ownership. For me, there was a part of it that I just stepped into. When I got involved with Exodus [reparative therapy] was just the norm. I got involved as a 19-year-old kid it was kind of like growing up in the church – you sit there for so long and it was just what you believed.

[Reparative therapy] was just something that was the overarching belief. This is what causes homosexuality and this is what you do to get over it. The things [about reparative therapy] I learned when I was young, and the ways they were taught, made sense to me. It seemed like it was the majority story for LGBT people. [Reparative therapy] was the end all be all to being gay.

The longer I was there I would question certain things. I changed the narratives as I was examining my own life and the people that I was meeting. We began to make adjustments, like not calling ourselves ex-gay and being critical of different parts of the therapeutic process that we found objectionable. For example, things like “holding therapy.” As we began to chip away at it, I found there was so much more I disagreed with.

I absolutely own it. I perpetuated a lot of shame and unhealthy religion that ensnared me and so many other people.


READ: Let the churches say amen to ban on LGBT ‘conversion therapy’


 

Should reparative therapy be outlawed?

I support, and I’ve written about this, a ban on reparative therapy for minors. It perpetuates shame and I think it is dangerous. When it comes to the therapeutic niche of reparative therapy where psychotherapists and certified professionals are providing therapy with goals to change sexual orientation – that should absolutely be banned.

For adults, I appreciate what the state of California did that requires adults to sign a duty to warn. [They should have] participants sign a disclaimer noting sexual orientation doesn’t change and that it can be harmful. There need to be greater safe guards for adults. For children, I don’t think they should be subjected to that at all.

That does not mean we should tell pastors they couldn’t help their parishioners. We could run the risk of infringing on their religious freedoms. I do not think pastors should tell their kids that their orientation can change—that’s dangerous. But I think we should be educating pastors on how to respond to their gay youth.

How do you respond to people who say if you truly believed in God’s power your sexual orientation would change?

As a man who has same-sex attractions who has an orientation that is gay — but who is happily married to a woman and contentedly and successful in every aspect of that — there is no point for my sexual orientation to be changed. To want to change…that is unimportant to me. I do not think changing your orientation is something anyone experiences.

If your biblical understanding of sexuality is such that gay is not something that you can reconcile, I don’t think that straight is better. I think there are all sorts of downfalls to heterosexuality as well. When it comes to the conservative view of salvation – it’s not straight or gay that gets us to heaven. It’s Jesus. Sexuality in that part is irrelevant. We’ve made far too big of an issue of it so much so that we’ve damaged people and I think we have to stop doing that.


READ: Ex-gay stories flourish when bisexuality is ignored


Your ambiguity and outright refusal to label your sexuality seems as if you’re still playing into religious communities’  change narrative. Why won’t you label your sexuality?

I believe sexual orientation is a part of everyone’s life. Whether they have a gay or straight orientation… and there are some people who have no orientation as in they’re not sexually driven at all. My primary orientation is same-gender.

If you’re going to nail me down on what has been the predominant orientation in my life — it’s that. As a married man, whether I had a straight or gay orientation, my orientation is fixed to my chosen partner. As a married man, I give the most energy to that as I think every married couple should.

When Leslie and I are having sex she’s not screaming “I’m so glad you’re straight” or “I’m so glad you’re gay.” It’s irrelevant. I love and am able to have sex with my wife.

As I am telling the story through my book, I am recounting my truth in the moment. I was trying to be straight but really I was gay. Now at this point, I do not choose a label because there is not one that is best for me. Now, if someone were to call me straight I would challenge them. If someone where to call me gay or bisexual, I would not necessarily challenge them. Those labels seem insufficient.

Where do you stand on same-sex relationships? Are you affirming of them?

I do believe that same-sex relationship can be holy. As a Christian, I think marriage is best. That is why I’m supportive of the Supreme Court decision for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. I think same-sex marriages can reflect, and often do, God’s image. Many people in the church either do not know of Christ-centered same-sex relationships or refuse to see them. Leslie and I have met so many individuals who have awesome stories and are doing amazing work. Their marriages absolutely reflect the image of God.

  • Larry

    The man is still a dishonest weasel. He admits there is no real therapeutic value to “orientation change therapy” and still advocates that adults should be willing to undergo the religious bigotry inspired torture. He only makes a slight change to state that children should not be subjected to it.

    The man has left a lot of bodies in his wake and is still rather unrepentant about it. Now he is trying to pander to a different crowd to continue his grift.

  • Briar

    I don’t think he’s a weasel. I think he’s been taught to hate a part of himself, and that’s a very difficult pit to climb out of. His responses were painful to read — all that excess verbiage to mask what he could not say plainly. I have no doubt he loves his wife – and she must love him, to stay with him – but I wonder if a mixed-orientation marriage of this type can ever be healthy. The fact that he is “able to” have sex with his wife is a pretty sad statement. Is it more loving to stay together, or to leave each other with blessings and hope?

  • alison

    Who didn’t see this coming?

  • Michael Bussee

    A change of heart is good. Even better is making direct amends to whatever extent that is possible. I would hope that any and all profits of his book go directly to a group like the Trevor Project or to efforts like NCLR’s #bornperfect campaign. It would also be great if he would take an active stand in promoting an end to conversion therapy for all people — children and adults. I know that some former leaders are hesitant to take on the role of activist, but I believe they all have that responsibility.

  • Tim

    Larry – As a conversion therapy survivor and someone who has fought to end conversion therapy for minors, I assure you the waters get muddy for adults. I agree that there should be a required disclaimer from professional therapists saying it doesn’t work, but in this country everyone has a right to do what they want. You’re right. It is religious bigotry and thousands are adversely affected by it. Since we can’t stop non-professionals from practicing it for adults and hurting people from going to get it, we are left with just educating the population on the dangers of it.

  • John

    Why the push to label someone’s sexuality? Why force someone into a corner, seemingly to make a point. Part of the whole problem with this issue is that we are defining people by their sexuality. This seems to be the paramount measure of a person and it must be named in order to be valid. Bull. So tired of this heresy and appalled at the compromise of the church.

  • Kim

    Of course anyone is “able to” have sex with either gender, but to live day in and day out without the “balls to the wall” passion that feeds both the human souls misses the mark…..it’s nothing more than going through the motions. To have a truly authentic relationship, you have to be honest with yourself about “what makes you tick” so to speak.
    Alan did an extensive interview with Patrick Strud from BuzzFeedLGBT last week (Sept 24?). It’s worth taking the time to find it online and read it. I would post the link here, but the site won’t allow it for some reason. After reading the BuzzFeedLGBT interview, I mostly feel sorry for Alan and his wife. They’re very aware of the catastrophic effect they’ve had other people’s lives, and I suspect their regrets and demons will only grow as time passes. Age has a way of putting the past into different perspectives, and the list of regrets generally grows with time.

  • Larry

    There is no reason professional therapists need to even get involved. Their own professional organizations have considered it dangerous quackery. As appropriate to asking a MD to perform an exorcism. Any involvement of mental health professionals in this is a clear betrayal of medical ethics.

    You have a right to do what you want within limits. Pretending a form of emotional and physical abuse is therapy is a form of fraud. There should be a disclaimer akin to going to a “psychic”, claiming that one does this for “entertainment value”.

    It is not therapy. Its guilt induced pressuring to be tortured by people who despise gays. All done in order to make gays despise themselves. All pretenses of therapeutic effects must be considered outright fictions.

    The fact that Chambers still advocates this nonsense speaks badly of his character.

  • Larry

    “Why the push to label someone’s sexuality?”

    Peer pressure and the need to be accepted by religious authorities who demand that only one orientation is considered worthy of being treated like a human being.

    The people who are defining others by their sexuality are the ones who are using their religious faith to excuse treating people badly based on it. Churches are so beholden to this need to treat gays badly that it has become a defining characteristic for many.

  • Lorrie Bolanos

    Thank you Michael , I admire you !

  • Melissa

    He’s a good hay msn. He is able to love his wife. Just as a lot straight people have sex with their spouses and yet what easily turns them on…welll…

    He probably is much more easily turned on by men. But his focus is on Christ. It’s not such a big desl. I’m a straight woman and I think I get it…

  • john not mccain

    I agree. He probably really is sexually attracted to Jesus most of all.

  • Frank L Cooper

    A comment was made, He has left a lot of bodies in his wake! Guess what? I am one of those bodies! Are we not all guilty of leaving bodies along the wake from our arrogance, hatefulness, anger, mistrust, ego…? How many have we hurt? How many times have we said I am sorry? Guess what? Alan has and still does! The difference between Alan’s situation. His life was in the public eye! Ours, not so much. And some in hiddenness. We sometimes forget to take off our judgement knickers! I lived for my family and church. My life was hell doing so. I went to Metanoia,by Exodus, in Seattle, WA in the mid 80’s. Was there for 3 years.I was so desperate to get my family’s approval and get back in good standing! I am 52 now and I don’t do my, could-a, would-a, should-a’s, be a bitter man at all churches or blame them. WHY! Because my life has made the strong, passionate, humanitarian incredible man I am today! Are we stuck being a victim from our life or have we become a victor? Alan, continue…

  • William Fisher

    Describing someone’s sexuality – or labelling it, if you will – is no more defining them by their sexuality than describing, for example, their eye colour is defining them by it. Labelling it does not legitimize it, and it doesn’t need to be legitimized anyway. Nor does it make it so that others can’t critique it: they can critique it to their hearts’ content, whether it’s labelled or not. But it’s a bit of a waste of time: critiquing a person’s sexuality, be it heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual, will do nothing to change it.

  • Mo

    “Their marriages absolutely reflect the image of God. ”

    Two men don’t have a marriage. Two women don’t have a marriage. That’s like saying there’s such a thing as a square circle, or a married bachelor. Marriage is a particular thing, not just anything you say it is.

    There is not one word affirming homosexuality or homosexual relationships in Scripture. Scripture is clear on this sinful lifestyle. He knows that.

    What a shame this man has decided to turn his back on Christ. The harm he will be causing people will be immense.

    I hope this man will repent!

  • Mike

    It really comes down to Lordship. Is CHRIST the Lord of your life or your sexual desires? Should you be obedient to all of Gods commands or just the ones you find agreeable? Is Gods word infalible and true or up to interpretation so you can feel good about yours and others sinfulness?

  • Larry, I do not advocate, endorse, condone, or support reparative therapy for adults. I came out against it in 2012 and have been a vocal opponent of the practice. But, as Tim Rymel so eloquently stated adults have a right to choose their own course. I also believe there need to be legal notices and that every client should be required to sign a duty to warn stating they know reparative therapy is dangerous and cannot change orientation.

  • Perfectly stated, Tim.

  • Glenn Hawkins

    Briar, Didn’t Jesus say something about hate? Didn’t He say outright that unless you hate, not just a part of yourself but your LIFE, that you CANNOT be His disciple? Didn’t the apostle Paul say something about hate as well, when he stated that the world has been crucified to him and he to the world? Our problem is this: we don’t take Jesus’ words seriously. We have a religious hobby, not a sold out followership of Jesus. Jesus modeled the example: He said that He ONLY did the will of the Father, no more, no less. Jesus gave up His “right” to Himself when He came to earth as God incarnate. And Paul said he was a doulos of Christ–that literally means, “slave” of Jesus. This means that Paul was owned by the Master. Our problem is that we don’t feel God is worthy of this.

  • Glenn Hawkins

    Um, Larry: Christians who believe the Bible says what it means and means what it says, read plainly that it is GOD who labeled us. HE made men male and women female. That should be the end of the story. But we have made things muddy because we place a high value on our feelings and tend to trust them more than biological fact. The truth is, the Bible deals with reality as it IS, we deal with what we WANT reality to be. Romans 1 tells us, “professing to be wise, we became fools . . .”

  • JeremiahA

    Apparently Mr. Chambers is ignorant since he lumps reparative therapy with all therapies for sexual orientation change, so I will not purchase this book nor will I recommend anyone else purchasing it. What we need is a non-fictional, unbiased treatise covering the causation, health risks, treatment, and other issues of same-sex attraction, which would better serve our youth with same-sex attraction and their future.

  • Mark

    Our problem is that it all makes absolutely no rational sense at all. All of this ridiculous story telling about sacrifice and original sin is a total load of BS and completely unnecessary to live a sane and moral life.
    People, we don’t need religion any more!

  • Mark

    I think individual people can decide for them selves what it is they want. Sometimes relationships are more complex than pure attraction. Sometimes there are other factors involved which may be valued more highly than sex-drive, and people may choose those for their own reasons. In fact, this is the case in all relationships regardless o gender or sexual orientation. A heterosexual couple may choose to remain together despite the fact that there is not much passion, because they value other components of the relationship (children, family, intellect, etc) more than just physicality.

  • Mark

    True. And the answer is, Christ, Jahweh, Allah, Krishna, or Joseph Smith should not be the lord of anyone’s life. And people should not be obedient to voices they imagine hearing in their head.
    Simple.