Although I am a social conservative, I believe that social liberals have played and continue to play a vital and important role in challenging the reasons for socially conservative positions. Quite frequently the position you take is less important than the reason you have for holding that position, but this fact has often been lost to both sides of controversial political issues. I feel it acutely because I’m often annoyed or ashamed by the rhetoric or actions of people who are (technically) on the same side of issues as I am. For example, I am pro-life but I cannot abide those who aggressively promote the idea that abortion is equivalent to murder.
I am also deeply skeptical of the arguments for same-sex marriage, but I cannot contest that the argument over the issue has exposed deep, ugly, and un-Christian attitudes within the community of social conservatives. Much of the reaction against the gay rights movement has been born out of fear, pure and simple. I heard once as a kid that there are ultimately only two human motivations: fear and love. Either we act for something we desire, or we react against something we fear. There’s room for caution and prudence in this paradigm, but fear is almost invariably a symptom that something is wrong. In acting out of fear, social conservatives have been too slow to denounce indefensible treatment of homosexuals or–in the worst cases–have even employed bigotry as a political weapon. They have failed to live up to the example and teachings of Christ and, in the long run, nothing has done more to damage their cause then this alliance with hatred.
And so I’m extremely impressed with what I have read coming from Exodus International today. First, the current president has issued an apology for hurtful actions of Exodus International in the past, and second, he has announced that Exodus International is shutting down. Exodus International is the oldest national Christian ministry targeted towards addressing homosexuality, and the gay rights community is applauding the twin news of the apology and the shut-down. (I learned about the news through my Facebook friends who are allies of the gay rights movement.)
But I’m not sure if they have carefully read the apology and notice of the shut-down. Perhaps they have, and are choosing to applaud what is laudable while remaining silent on continued areas of disagreement, and of course that would be valid. In either case, however, it’s important to note that Exodus International is not so much shutting down as it is growing up.
In his heartfelt apology, Exodus International President Alan Chambers makes several acknowledgments. First, that homosexuality cannot be “cured” and also that he, himself, continues to experience homosexual inclinations to this day (although he is in a heterosexual marriage). Secondly, he clearly acknowledges the despicable behavior of some on his “side” of the issue in their treatment of their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Third, he recognizes that this behavior has worked to separate people from God:
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 relationship with almighty God.
But that is not the end of the post. Chambers denounces fear, but he doesn’t back away from his belief in traditional sexual morality, stating that “I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.” This is the message that social conservatives ought to have had from the beginning. It’s shame it’s taken so long to come to it, but it’s great that–as Exodus International’s new direction indicates–the change has finally come.
In the statement about the closure of Exodus International, Chambers announced the formation of a new group called ReduceFear that, from everything I can tell (the site is just a placeholder), will continue the commitment towards traditional views of sexual morality. But, and this distinction is vital, in a genuinely Christian manner. As Chambers puts it:
For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical… From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.
That’s the key insight: if homosexual acts are sinful, then that makes those who choose have homosexual relationships sinners… just like each and every one of us. It means that they face temptations and sometimes succumb… just like each and every one of us. It means they are damned without the intervention of a loving Savior… just like each and every one of us. It means, quite simply, that they are our brothers and sisters.
I believe that the maturation of socially conservative views on homosexuality is part of a broader process of coming to understand the dangers of purity culture in general. Some of the same knee-jerk reactions, fear reflexes, and un-Christian teachings that have characterized social conservatism’s views on homosexuality have also been endemic in their views on pre-marital sex. There are good reasons to believe in things like monogamy, chastity, virtue, and modesty, but there are also very bad reasons to believe in those things. Social liberalism is forcing social conservatism to differentiate between dogmatic taboos and thoughtful principles. They are forcing social conservatives to choose pick one motivation: fear or love. This is, without question, a good thing.