I Beg The Church

Dear Church of Jesus Christ,

That seems like a pompous salutation for a blog. But I don’t know what else fits. I am led to write to anyone who considers themselves a follower of Jesus Christ. I am led by God’s Holy Spirit to write to you about the situation with Exodus Ministries International, and its leader Alan Chambers.

Basically, I have several things I want to beg of you.

In case you missed the big news, Chambers has issued a public apology on behalf of Exodus International, and has announced that the ministry will be shutting its doors.

So, I beg of you the following…

I beg you to pay attention to this story.
I beg of you to spend some time in prayer, reflecting on the fact that, once again, another “ex-gay” leader has admitted that “reparative therapies” are harmful and damaging. In case you missed it, here’s a part of Chamber’s statement:

Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know…

More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable(sic) relationship with almighty God.”

I beg you to consider the vast number of “ex-gay” leaders who have left the “movement.”
Alan Chambers’ statement may be getting a lot of press right now, but he’s hardly alone. In fact, “leaders” have been leaving the “ex-gay” movement for decades now. If you’ve never read Michael Bussee’s story, find it here. I actually find his statement more powerful than anything Chambers said. Bussee was one of the originators of Exodus, but left long ago.

Or, check out this blog that outlines just a few of the many more leaders who have left this movement.

Or, an even longer list here.

Mediate on what it means that so many LEADERS have left this movement.

Or, consider the number of conservative Christian leaders who have also been involved in “scandals” over their sexual orientation in the past few years. Google the following names, and do a little reading for yourself:
Ted Haggard
George Rekers
Jim Swilley
Tom Brock

Not to mention, scores of other politicians and public figures who have been “staunchly anti-gay” but eventually “outed.”

I beg you to hear the thousands of participants in “ex-gay” ministries who abandon the quest.
Think about this: If so many leaders have left this movement –men who have spiritual, emotionally, physically committed their lives to denouncing and rejecting their innate sexual orientation– just imagine what the effect has been on participants.

Sure enough, there is a growing body of evidence that shows, overwhelmingly, how harmful these “therapies” are. Please read this, which cites new studies and information from former “ex-gay” participants.

Near the end of this story is the following paragraph:

Many respondents gave long descriptions of a difficult road to recovery after abandoning their efforts to become straight. Some found more “accepting” churches or therapists. Others became activists, concentrating on helping people who have gone through similar experiences. Many said that they still don’t consider themselves to be recovered.

The reality is that Chamber’s apology has grown out of a several-year connection with journalist Lisa Ling, and some incredible reporting she has done on “Our America.

One of the powerful parts of the recent show is this session where ex-gay survivors talk about their harrowing experiences:

If you are a Christian who believes in such therapies, I beg you to repent.
Sooner or later, the evidence becomes overwhelming. These ministries are harmful to human beings. They  are not Christ-like in any way. Being associated with them is not what God would want of us. Sooner or later, almost everyone realizes this.

If you have been on the fence, I beg you to allow this to be the moment you reject these so-called “cures” and “ministries.” The old idea, “love the sinner but hate the sin” does not apply here, because sexual orientation is an innate part of a person, not something changeable or “fixable.”

I’m not asking you to issue a public, “I Am Sorry” like Chambers. Although, if you’re up for it, it might well be healing to people you know personally. What I’m really asking for is for you to withdraw your support from these ministries. Make it clear, going forward, that you do not support them.

For those of us who are United Methodist, consider our foundational “General Rules,” and the admonishment to “Do No Harm.” If you are a United Methodist supporter of “reparative therapy,” please consider your involvement in light of our commitment to God to “Do No Harm.”

I beg you to consider that God calls you to love LGBT persons without precondition.
The hopeful news is that millions of Christians today fully embrace LGBT persons in their complete humanity. Just as thousands of LGBT persons have abandoned the quest to “pray the gay away,” so too have thousands of gay and straight Christians abandoned harmful anti-gay theology and rhetoric in their churches and lives.

What I am saying is: Join us!!

These Christians see LGBT persons as good children of God, who are neither more nor less sinful than any other human on the planet. All humans have their sins. But LGBT person’s sinfulness is not tied to their sexual orientation.

If you have a hard time with this, consider finding other folks who are struggling with these issues, and start a short-term study group. In fact, our church has produced a guide that could be very helpful to you.

It’s called “This I Know,” and it’s a short-term study that uses an award-winning documentary, “For the Bible Tells Me So” to unpack these issues of the Bible and theology. Consider using it with small groups of Christians you know. Or, study it on your own.

But, please, find a way in your heart to affirm God’s love for LGBT persons, without precondition. Many Christians have already made this move. Join us.

I beg you to realize the time is short. Not for LGBT persons. For The Church.
The truth is, many LGBT persons are so disgusted by these kinds of therapies –and by the general sexual hypocrisy of Christ’s Church– that they have already left the Church forever.

But! So have a great many heterosexual persons too, especially the young. Survey after survey shows that here in America acceptance of homosexuality is quickly becoming a “litmus issue” among the young.
I realize that last sentence is likely to anger some of you. But I speak the truth, friends.

Time after time, for example, I talk with United Methodist leaders in their 50s and 60s who speak of how their straight children –adults usually in their twenties– are leaving the UMC forever because the UMC is not fully inclusive.

What I am saying is that repenting on this issue, finding a way to fully embrace LGBT persons, is not only the right thing to do in terms of how we treat individual LGBT persons. It is that. But it’s also what God is calling The Church to, and is a part of the future of Christ’s Church.

This is also true for the International Church too. This great essay reminds us that while Chamber’s mea culpa is helpful in the American context, the closing of Exodus International does nothing to stop the harmful anti-gay rhetoric of many international Christian ministries.

The story says the following:

Since 1995, Exodus International has been part of a worldwide umbrella organization called the Exodus Global Alliance, which has ministries throughout East Asia, the Pacific, and Latin America. The North American group actually announced it was withdrawing from Exodus Global Alliance last week, in what turned out to be a sign of bigger things to come. In a statement, the Global Alliance said that “This change in relationship … releases both ministries to serve the Lord, the church and the people impacted by homosexuality according to each ministry’s specific calling.” The non-American branches will presumably keep operating for the time being.

Echoes of harmful American-led “ex-gay” ministries are likely to resound in the international church for some time to come. So, we must be clear not only for our own sake, but also so that the international church can disavow their harmful anti-gay theology too.

Again, for United Methodists, our General Rule to “Do No Harm” is instructive. If, as is the case, it’s becoming crystal clear that these ministries are harmful in America, we must challenge the international church to “do no harm” as well.

So, all of these things, I beg of you.
I beg this out of love for my LGBT brothers and sisters (within and outside The Church).
I beg this out of love for The Church itself.

I ask not for comments. Nor for debate. I ask for your spiritual action.

If you haven’t changed on this issue yet, I beg of you too now.

(Leave a comment below. If you like this post, then “share it” or “like” it on Facebook/Twitter by clicking the box below, so others can see too. Comments here are moderated, and are approved at my discretion, when I can get to it..so be patient if they don’t appear right away)

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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