Have you ever tried to straddle a fence that was just an inch too high? If not, you can imagine that it’s an exceptionally uncomfortable position. The tendency is to jump from one foot to the other, rather than stand on tippy-toe with weight evenly divided on both sides.
That is the picture in my mind when I think of Exodus International, which for over thirty years has been the world’s leading Christian ministry to gay believers. They have stood with equal footing on two truths. First, that those who experience same-sex attraction are beloved of God and the church must learn to love them better. Second, that homosexual behavior is something the Christian believer must turn from. Now it seems that the straddle has become too uncomfortable and many in leadership have chosen to step to one side of the fence or the other. Exodus is closing its doors.
The organization faced much criticism over their long-standing motto, “Change is Possible.” Their website would feature testimonies of men and women who had indeed turned away from the homosexual life. But the reality is that many who experience same-sex attraction will never be able to “change” that orientation. Whether or not Exodus explicitly said, “You aren’t victorious if you don’t experience a change in your attractions,” some walked away from their ministry defeated, as no amount of counseling, therapy, or prayer was able make the feelings go away.
“Righteousness is Possible” may have been a better motto. Given that our success in this Christian life does not depend on our feelings aligning with God’s will, a perpetual state of surrender and obedience regardless of our feelings is the goal for all believers. The Apostle Paul expressed that reality when he spoke of “doing what I do not wish to do,” and when he appealed to God to remove the “thorn” in his flesh. (God said ‘no’ to that one.) The true Christian life is not as shallow as “if you really believe in Jesus (or even if you believe and work hard enough) all your problems will go away.” Show me a Christian who has not had to wrestle with an ongoing health, familial, financial, or spiritual issue, and I will show you an immature believer. Trials, be they chosen or not, are an inseparable part of transformation in Christ.
This narrow path, as Jesus calls it, is so counter-human that most days I can’t look Him in the eyes and say, “I have been faithful”. I often choose to indulge my flesh in ways that may be unnoticeable to the onlooker, but God knows that I am not giving Him my every thought, word, and deed. And yet when I come to Him in confession He does not say to me, “This is obviously difficult for you, my standards must be too high.” Rather he tells me, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” And then, through on-going surrender, empowers me to act on His will. Feelings are not the barometer for godliness. Submission to God’s ways despite our feelings is the righteous mark of the believer who is truly seeking Christ.
I loved Exodus. In a world where it seemed that many were forsaking truth for tolerance, it was one of the few organizations that walked the fine biblical line of loving our same-sex attracted brothers and sisters in Christ without capitulating to cultural pressure. While some former leaders of Exodus are beginning a new chapter, I will miss being able to turn to Exodus for biblical resources and stories of courageous brothers and sisters who are striving toward Christ. I will miss their presence in our ecumenical community.
It seems that now more than ever, the charge to be Christ to those in our lives with same-sex attraction falls to us. May we be people who, however uncomfortable, stand with solid footing on both sides of the fence- loving God’s truth, and loving those He deemed precious enough to die for.