Cover Story
Photography by Tom Mills/Genesis

2011 Daniel of the Year

Alan Chambers: Change we can believe in

Issue: "2011 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 17, 2011

Since 1998 WORLD has selected a Daniel of the Year, one Christian from the millions around the world who have put their faith in God and gained the strength to stand up against ungodly trends (see WORLDmag.com/daniel).

Particular years suggest particular Daniels, and this year, with victories for gay-rights groups at high tide and marriage being redefined, is no different.

ORLANDO-Alan Chambers is in denial. It's a charge his critics level against him on a regular basis. They say that Chambers-a former homosexual who helps others struggling with same-sex attraction-is denying what comes naturally to him. Chambers wholeheartedly agrees.

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"For Christians, every day we're called to a life of biblical self-denial," he says. "We take up our cross and follow Christ, and we deny what comes naturally." But he says denial isn't without reward: "Those who reject the concept of self-denial haven't reaped the joys that come with it."

Self-denial isn't a new concept to Chambers. The 39-year-old president of Exodus International-a Christian ministry that helps people struggling with homosexuality-grew up in a Christian home but embraced homosexuality as a teenager. But through years of an active gay lifestyle, Chambers couldn't shake the biblical conviction that what came naturally to him was also sinful. He didn't want to be gay.

Eventually, he embraced the biblical teaching that Christ could change his heart, and his sinful patterns, including homosexuality. It didn't happen quickly. "I didn't get a magic wand or a lightening bolt," says Chambers. "I got a very difficult, painful, blood-sweat-and-tears journey-and a Jesus who never left me along the way."

That journey began 20 years ago this past September in a Florida chapter of Exodus International, where Chambers first sought help. Ten years later, Chambers became president of the organization that's one of the largest Christian ministries to homosexuals in the country.

It's not an easy job. Part of Chambers' work involves treading into the lion's den of mainstream media outlets that scorn the notion that homosexuality is wrong. Critics have called him a bigot, a homophobe, and a spiritual terrorist. An online petition to ban an Exodus application from Apple's iTunes store earlier this year drew more than 150,000 signatures. Apple dropped the Exodus app, saying it offended large groups of people.

But there's something that angers Chambers' opponents as much as his belief that homosexuality is wrong: His message that homosexuals can change. That's not a new teaching in evangelical Christianity, but it might be one of the most radically unpopular messages in America today.

In a year that has brought the legalization of gay marriage in New York, the repeal of the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and a decision by the Presbyterian Church USA to allow the ordination of homosexuals, Chambers has continued to champion publicly a historic Christian teaching: Christ can change the life of anyone who seeks Him-including a homosexual. Meanwhile, Chambers has issued an urgent call to evangelical Christians: Make churches places where anyone can find compassionate help-including homosexuals.

For bearing both of those messages in the face of fierce opposition for more than a decade, Alan Chambers is WORLD's 2011 Daniel of the Year.

If Chambers leads a nationwide ministry, you wouldn't know it by standing outside the Orlando headquarters where he works. After a handful of security threats from opponents in recent years, the Exodus staffers don't post a sign on the front door. They don't publicize their address. They usually lock the doors.

It's a striking contrast to an annual gay pride festival that drew 60,000 people to an Orlando public park last year. Two days before this year's festival was set to begin in October, a local alternative newspaper carried a front-page preview of the "Come Out With Pride" event. A large block-quote hailed the repeal of the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and declared: "Orlando's [gay] veterans and advocates, not content to simply celebrate the policy change, have begun to lay the groundwork for a new social order."

Inside a sparse conference room at Exodus headquarters that morning, Chambers wasn't discussing the festival or contemplating social order. Instead, his nine staff members were reading perforated cards with handwritten prayer requests sent to the ministry. (The cards come from a newsletter Exodus sends to its mailing list.)

On one card, a set of parents asked for prayer for their daughter to overcome homosexuality. Another offered the same request for a son. A third card came from a man asking for prayer as he and his wife raise their newborn child. "I've struggled with my sexuality all my life," he wrote. "Pray that I'll set a good example of holiness and sexual purity for my daughter."

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