Cover Story

2011 Daniel of the Year

"2011 Daniel of the Year" Continued...

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

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.")

In an email, Willow Creek spokeswoman Susan DeLay said the Soulforce visit didn't influence the church's decision to cut ties with Exodus, but she didn't offer a specific reason for the decision. DeLay did say: "We do not believe same-sex attraction is a sin; engaging in sex outside marriage is. Willow believes marriage is ordained by God for one man and one woman."

Whatever the reason for separating from Exodus, Soulforce executive director Cindi Love wrote an editorial in July hailing Willow Creek's decision. Love said the group met with Hybels in 2008 and 2009 to encourage the church to cut ties with Exodus, and said that Soulforce was "celebrating today that Willow Creek has found a door in the wall of religious bigotry and walked through it in such a public way."

Despite the ever-widening torrent of criticism, Chambers says he remains dedicated to his work and ready to admit his own mistakes. For example, shortly after a Christian conference on homosexuality in Uganda in 2009 that included Exodus board member Don Schmierer, a handful of Ugandan officials drafted legislation to institute the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality."

Chambers condemned the legislation, but critics said he should have listened to pre-conference concerns about speakers at the event known for inflammatory language and views, and asked Schmierer to avoid it. Chambers eventually agreed: "I wish I had known the complexity of this initially and said [to Schmierer]: 'Don't do this.' But I didn't, and I'm sorry."

Earlier this year, after criticizing the "It Gets Better" campaign (targeted at gay teens) for using the character Woody from the children's movie Toy Story, gay blogs questioned Chambers' concerns for suicidal youth. Chambers backtracked, saying he shouldn't have criticized the campaign's use of a child's toy without affirming the message that gay teens shouldn't commit suicide. "Would I rather a kid choose life and be gay?" he says. "Of course, I'd rather him choose life."

Spending long days steeped in heated controversy would be exhausting to many, and personal threats might lead others to seek new work. Chambers says he's received a handful of threatening calls, including a message saying he should be killed for what he's doing. He maintains a substantial security system at his home and calls his wife when he's traveling to go over a security checklist at night. "I don't live my life in fear, but we're careful," he says.

Despite the pressures, Chambers remains notably upbeat and energetic. He bounds around his office and peppers his conversation with humor. And he doesn't worry about a climate that seems to grow increasingly hostile to his work. "For me to do nothing with my story is a waste of God's grace and His redemption and His mercy and all He did for me," he says. "It changed my life, and I've watched it change other people's lives."

At a Friday night regional conference, Chambers told the same thing to more than 100 people packed into a chapel at a church outside of Orlando. He had forgotten his notes for the evening, but he hadn't forgotten his message: "Is change possible? If you know Jesus, anything is possible."

Listen to Jamie Dean discuss this year's Daniel of the Year on WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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