Cover Story

2011 Daniel of the Year

"2011 Daniel of the Year" Continued...

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

That's where a church can be especially effective, he says: "It's not rocket science. You don't have to have a counseling degree to bring somebody to Jesus and walk them into a place of wholeness. But you do have to have a lot of patience because it's not going to get all cleaned up immediately."

Chambers says that kind of patience is lacking in some churches that have spoken the truth about the sin of homosexuality but have failed to extend Christ-like compassion to those struggling. "God is 100 percent grace and 100 percent truth," he says. "If we fail to represent any part of that then we fail to represent Christ."

Chambers' emphasis on church is a pointed answer to critics who say that Exodus is solely focused on reparative or conversion therapy-a counseling method that tries to help a person change his sexual orientation. Some of the Exodus affiliates do focus on reparative therapy, and Chambers says he believes it has merits: "But it's ultimately not about counseling. It's about a life of Christian discipleship."

That may be the point where Chambers' critics most misunderstand him. The concept of self-denial as a part of Christian discipleship doesn't make sense to those who believe that affirming self is the greatest good. Chambers knows it's a point that he can't make others understand: "I'm not the Holy Spirit."

But he also knows that while many embrace their homosexuality, others don't want to live with same-sex attractions, including people already in churches. He believes that Christian groups should be able to share what the Bible teaches about faith and sexuality and to offer compassion rooted in Christ: "Why shouldn't that be out there for people who want it?"

Most of his critics contend it's destructive. Websites like Truth Wins Out and Ex-Gay Watch have whole sections devoted to condemning Chambers and other ministries to homosexuals. They note that some prominent former leaders of Exodus have returned to homosexuality. Chambers acknowledges that many people do return to homosexuality, but he says that doesn't negate the validity of Exodus' message.

Others loudly disagree. The gay website Queerty described Chambers' message at Exodus as: "Advocating adults and young people (and their families) disavow the way their creator made them for a life of hating yourself so a man on a cross won't send you to hell. This man [Chambers] does not teach love and prosperity; he prescribes dangerous advice for malleable minds."

Activists regularly protest outside Exodus events, including a September event in rural Auburn, N.H., that drew about 90 protesters carrying signs with slogans like: "Conversion Therapy Kills," and "Exodus, Exodus, Quack, Quack, Quack/You Can't Change Gays and That's a Fact." When a group protested outside an Exodus meeting in Wheaton, Ill., in 2009, Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network told the Chicago Tribune: "They say they 'love' us, yet their fake attempts to change gays into straights is rooted in their hatred of gay people."

And in an ABC News segment with anchor Brian Ross earlier this year, Ross barely concealed contempt for Chambers when he asked: "But you really believe that homosexuality is a sin?" (Chambers answered yes.) Ross later asked: "Isn't this a dangerous message you're sending?"

Criticism reached a peak last March when Exodus submitted an application to Apple's iTunes store that included a calendar of events and a link to the ministry's website. When Apple approved the app, a website called Change.org launched a petition to remove it from the store. The petition called Exodus "dangerous" and eventually garnered 150,000 signatures. Apple dropped the app. Christian author Charles Colson called the effort against Exodus "a bare-knuckled smear campaign," noting that one reviewer called Exodus "as dangerous to Christianity as al-Qaeda is to Islam."

But Chambers says it's most disappointing when the criticism affects Exodus' relationships with other Christian groups. Christian youth leader Dawson McAllister agreed to drop Exodus from his radio show's website and referral list last year when a gay activist complained to the Clear Channel radio station that carries the program. (The activist called the show's hotline pretending to be a confused gay youth, and the phone counselor suggested he call Exodus.)

Chambers said McAllister's decision to drop Exodus at Clear Channel's insistence was "astounding" because McAllister referred him to Exodus 20 years ago: "It's hurtful because he believes everything we believe, but he won't stand up for it." Tim Altman, CEO of the program, declined a request for comment.

Last July, news broke that Willow Creek Community Church had severed formal ties with Exodus in 2009. The mega-church with its 30,000 members and well-known pastor Bill Hybels didn't publicly specify a reason for breaking the longtime ties, but Chambers noted that the decision came after the gay-rights group Soulforce met with Willow Creek leaders. (Members of Soulforce visit churches and Christian colleges around the country, and the group's website says their mission is "changing the hearts and minds of religious leaders who engage in anti-homosexual campaigns.")

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