Thursday, August 29, 2013
Exodus Part 1
Exodus shuts down
Part I(previously published in the Christian Courier)
On June 20, when Exodus International announced its closure at the Annual Freedom Conference, it was big news. Many editorials, blog posts and news articles have been written about the closure and about the apology that Alan Chambers extended toward those who have been hurt by the ministry of Exodus International (see Christian Courier, July 8). I've deliberately taken time to process this before writing about it myself. I was the Canadian Exodus Regional Representative. I am grateful that there have been no media requests in regards to that role, and sense that to be the Lord's hand of protection over myself and my family.
Before I comment on the closure of Exodus, I need to bring context to my experience with the organization.
In 2005, God encountered me. It was life-changing. He met me, a gay-identified man, while I was going through a tough transition. I feebly cried out to God to help me and he gave me a choice to leave my Egypt. Would I go through the wilderness to the promised land, or continue on in the life I had made for myself? I chose to follow God, and with a joy that I had not experienced before, I chose to walk away from identifying myself as a gay man and to trust that God would meet my every need.
Many people couldn't understand my decision; being gay had been my liberation, which I proudly waved around for all to see. But when I encountered God, who asked me to live differently, I proudly waved his banner over my life instead. I chose to be transparent about my journey with same sex attraction, knowing that life wasn't necessarily going to be easy or free of struggles -- rather, that I would face my sinful humanness for the rest of my life.
I attended my first Exodus Conference in 2005 in North Carolina. It impacted my life! I heard testimonies of people walking the journey of sanctification. I attended workshops where I learned how to live a disciplined life and how to honour God with my sexuality. At no time did I perceive or interpret that I would ever be free of this struggle. Yet I fully recognize that each individual interprets and perceives things differently, due in part to their own journey and where they are at in their lives. God had already told me that life in the wilderness wasn't going to be easy, but I had this joy and peace that transcended my own understanding.
I met other men and women who shared their own experiences and it encouraged my faith. I was reminded of Scriptures that speak of always encouraging and spurring one another on toward the finish line. It was clear God had placed people into my life to do that, for which I am forever grateful.
Worship was probably the biggest highlight for me. I wrote in my journal that I had experienced hundreds of desperate people, who recognized their desperate need of Jesus! Worship came out of this place and it was powerful. Why? Because people were taking their eyes off themselves to worship the one true God.
I spent the next eight years attending both the Exodus International Freedom Conferences and the Exodus Regional Conferences. I always left encouraged, built up, strengthened and fed! For the most part, these conferences gave me a BOOST! I was already knit together with a local church community: I was known by others and was working in full time ministry. But these conferences gave me the ability to talk with others in similar ministry, serve attendees through prayer and encouragement -- they were like my extended family. They were like those family members who fully “get” you, even if you don't see them all the time.
Some attendees were not “known” in their local communities, and so these conferences gave them the ability to be known in a safe environment where they too could be encouraged and supported.
I think, fundamentally speaking, the breakdown of effectiveness begins when local churches or church families send people away to receive ministry. When members have to go outside of their own community to deal with the messiness of life, regardless of the issues they face, because the local community isn't equipped to walk closely with those seeking help, that's not ideal.
I know hundreds of people who struggle with same gender attraction. Yet, sadly, I only know a handful of people who attended an Exodus Freedom Conference without having struggled themselves with same gender issues. Those who did attend are the people who know what it means to become a safe place for others. They know mess and welcome it, even if they don't fully know how to minister effectively. What they learned is that they too need Jesus desperately to meet them as they walk with others.
When Exodus International closed, some people grieved; others rejoiced. Regardless of your perspective, I am thankful for the role that the Exodus Freedom Conferences played in my life. I received a spiritual booster shot, which equipped me to go home to what can be a dry and weary land.