An Unconditional Surrender In The Culture War


[Re-posted from earlier today]

It’s very rare that one side in a culture war actively renounces its past positions and embraces a new one. That’s particularly true on the Christianist right, where absolutes hold sway, regardless of doubt or charity. So today is a banner day for those of us who have long fought for the equal dignity of homosexuals as children of the same God as heterosexuals, and deserving of no less love and support. Exodus International, the group that championed “reparative therapy” for gays as the only way to live a Christian life, will soon cease to exist and has offered an apology for its past actions. This is quite a statement from Exodus’s president, Alan Chambers:

Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism. 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.

Then this personal apology:

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. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.

That’s an enormous statement given the recent past and, to me, a sign of God’s grace. That’s why when I say “unconditional surrender,” I hope Exodus won’t regard that as some kind of victory lap. It isn’t. It just springs from a deep appreciation of their grace-filled decision to re-examine their conduct as Christians and see where the world may have led them astray. Anyone in the public sphere who openly and candidly comes to terms with an error of judgment, and owns it, and even seeks forgiveness for it, is contributing to a more humane, honest conversation and dialogue.

I’ve never been one of those campaigning to shut these psychological torments/”therapies” down. If that kind of therapy is what an adult wants, I will not get in the way.

In fact, I examined the actual arguments of reparative therapy in some detail in my book, Love Undetectable. The mind is still mysterious enough and the origins of our emotional and sexual attractions so complex, my view has always been to keep an open mind about what makes one a homosexual, before or after birth. I still don’t know. But what I do know is that homosexuality exists, that we are not a chimera, and that we are not straight people, drawn to wicked things. We are simply human beings, as human as any heterosexual, with all that entails for Christian doctrine.

And the older brother of the prodigal son is a fascinating analogy. The older son is still thinking in terms of rigid categories of worthiness and rule-based morality (and the pride that often comes with them), while the father opens his heart and doors to the younger, feckless son, who long ago abandoned every duty and every moral obligation, but who remains his son. The righteous brother is appalled at the overflow of the father’s love to such a miscreant:

Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this, your son, came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.

But God’s love sees past these categories. The only true virtue for Jesus is love – unconditional love, for anyone, in any situation. The parable is about letting go of those strict and sometimes self-righteous moral codes in order to surrender to the expansive and unknowable force of God’s love. I return again to Augustine’s phrase

In essential things, unity. In doubtful things, liberty. In all things, charity.

Finally, one part of the Christian right has grasped the last part of that equation. They have returned from the barren land of Christianism and control of others and toward the fertile valley of Christianity and love for all.

May others follow in their path – as many in the younger generation already are.

(Painting: The Return Of The Prodigal Son, Pompeo Batoni, 1773)