An Unlikely Love

own library

One year ago this week Leslie and I walked into the dark, unremarkable basement of Hollywood Presbyterian Church and sat down in a circle made up of people whom some in the mainstream Church would rather forget. There was a time when I believed they should be forgotten or at least ignored. I was the leader of Exodus International, the largest Christian organization in the world offering hope for change to anyone impacted by homosexuality. That change had come to mean ridding oneself of homosexuality. These folks all came from Christian backgrounds and had damaging stories about Exodus and the Church. They were no longer interested in the change Exodus represented. Though I hadn’t been connected to or even met most of them, the organization I was leading bore responsibility for some of the anger and hurt they carried into the ominous basement that Sunday afternoon. As the leader of Exodus International, I was their enemy.

I had been intentionally listening to stories like theirs for months. I knew something had to be done. The hurt was extensive and I believed it was my duty to make things right. I needed to repent and apologize to this group. The apology had to be unequivocal, unconditional. I asked Lisa Ling and her crew to capture the apology on camera so others could also hear and receive. The entire 3 hour and 25 minute ordeal was filmed and portions of it ended up being featured in an episode of her hit TV series Our America on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). It only seemed fitting to partner with Lisa as she had facilitated a coming out journey of sorts for me when she pursued me for an interview that aired in March 2011.

Forever. For Always and No Matter What.

Leslie croppedOn the morning of January 3rd, 1998 I repeated the prayer that had been mine for nine months for the very last time. I woke up early and began getting ready for what I knew would be a full day. I needed to be dressed and at the church by 7:30a.m. for pictures. It was my wedding day. I was 31 years old and knew that the fulfillment of this day’s plan would change my life on this earth.

Long before I started dating Alan, I made a mental list of what I wanted in a spouse. My list was short. It didn’t include the things I was attracted to but rather those qualities I thought important in the man I’d share my life with. As a believer in God I knew I would be attracted to another believer. As a person who loves to laugh, I knew I would be attracted to someone who was at least fun if not funny. As someone who is average looking, I didn’t expect to get anyone who was more than average looking. There were only two things I wanted from my husband.

  1. I wanted him to like me first.
  2. I wanted him to be someone who could tell me “no.”

In other words, I wanted him to be interested in and pursue me first. I wanted him to see me, to know me, to want me, and to love me. I didn’t want to be responsible for pursuing him or catching him. I didn’t want to change his mind. I wanted us to be his idea! As a person who has some strength of opinion, I also wanted someone I could follow. I wanted someone I could trust to not only lead me to where I wanted to go, but more importantly to places I didn’t want to go.

Alan is the only person to ever meet those two qualifications. Subsequently on our first date, when he leaned over the table and looked me straight in the eye and asked, “So when are we getting married?” without reservation or hesitation I answered, “January 3rd is a Saturday.” That was March 10th, 1997, the day I began my 9-month prayer. With as much honesty as I could muster, I acknowledged that I loved Alan and thought that marrying him was the purpose God was leading me towards. I admitted I could be wrong and asked God to please interfere if He knew better. On our wedding day, as I put on my make-up I asked God to stop the whole thing if I had missed the mark. I thought it would have to be a sizeable obstruction at that point, like some horrible car accident, but I was willing. Because the day proceeded with only minor hiccups (like our hired Roles Royce not showing up to take us from the church to the reception and a lit candle flying out of a candelabra), I married Alan and have never doubted whether it was the right thing to do. I trusted God and my relationship with God.

After a year of wedded bliss, I had another lesson to learn. Alan and I got into a bit of a squabble. Nothing earth shattering. It was simply about money. So typical. After a short exchange of unpleasant words, Alan left to run errands and I was left vacuuming. In my heart I heard a gentle whisper that could have only been God. “Do you trust ME?” I answered, “Yes.” He asked a second time and I responded the same. He asked a third time. I turned off the vacuum and sat down and said, “Of course I trust You.” “Then trust the ME that is in Alan.”

It was a new level of trust. I trusted Alan and wouldn’t have married him if I hadn’t. The reality is though that humans make mistakes and disappoint people. I needed to trust the God in Alan and their relationship even more than I trusted Alan himself. In that moment I learned to rest. It isn’t my job to be his accountability or his teacher or his savior in any way, neither are those jobs his to perform for me. I run the same risk of being wrong as he does. Only in God’s hands are we secure enough to be trustworthy. Only in His hands can we rest securely, peacefully, and thoroughly.

In the New Testament of the Bible, we are shown a picture of Jesus as our bridegroom. Those who believe in Him are called His bride. I am so thankful that He liked me first. He saw me, knew me, wanted me, loved me, and made a way for me to be in relationship with Him and His Good Father. I did nothing to make Him love me. He pursued me. He keeps me. I am so thankful that He is my guide and counselor and friend. He leads me to where He wants me to go whether it is beside still waters or through the valley of the shadow of death. I can and do follow Him.

One last thought, as a bride of Christ, we get so much more than we think or imagine we deserve. It’s like me ending up spending my life with someone who is incredibly handsome (especially with the beard, rrr!), exhaustingly funny, and who not only believes but also lives his faith.

Forever. For Always and No Matter What.

“It’s a Leap Of Faith”: Alan & Leslie Featured in Excellent Buzzfeed Article

Photo Credit: Edward Linsmier for Buzzfeed. Click image to read the full article.

Photo Credit: Edward Linsmier for Buzzfeed. Click image to read the full article.

From the article “The Man Behind The Historic Implosion Of The Ex-Gay Movement” by David Peisner:

…  Chambers not only closed Exodus in sudden and dramatic fashion, but acknowledged the ineffectiveness of gay-to-straight reparative therapy and offered a remarkable mea culpa that apologized for his organization’s many missteps. He’s now founding a new organization focused on bringing Christians and homosexuals together, called Speak. Love. Many in the LGBT community hailed Exodus’ demise as a victory in the culture wars but were disappointed Chambers hadn’t gone further in his support of gay rights or his renouncement of the religious underpinnings of the ex-gay theology. To many evangelicals, the man who had not only been a leader of the ex-gay movement but also a living example of its successes was now a lost sheep, or worse, a heretic.

“There are times when I feel like I don’t have a country,” Chambers says, not far from a wall of photos that include shots of him with his wife, with his kids, and with Mike Huckabee. “There are people who have been invested in this fight for years on both sides. It’s the vocal minority on either side that gets the microphone. What I believe is there are far more people in the middle.”

It’s this middle group that he’s hoping to represent and talk to. The question is, will he have the chance? At the moment, he’s working on defining specific plans for the new organization and raising money to keep the lights on. But in order to succeed, he’ll need to convince people that his divisive past has indeed passed, and that his own personal struggle won’t get in the way of his public mission.

This article is worth the read. Please check it out. If inclined, come and let us know what you think after reading the article.

Exodus International to Shut Down

exodus-logoOriginally announced June 19th, 2013.

Exodus International to Shut Down

Thirty-seven-year-old ministry for those with same-sex attraction marks its last national conference 

Irvine, Calif. (June 19, 2013) — Exodus International, the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality announced tonight that it’s closing its doors after three-plus decades of ministry. The Board of Directors reached a decision after a year of dialogue and prayer about the organization’s place in a changing culture.

“We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, but a new generation of Christians is looking for change – and they want to be heard,” Tony Moore, Board member of Exodus. The message came less than a day after Exodus released a statement apologizing (www.exodusinternational.org/apology) to the gay community for years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole.

A Changing World – Letter from Alan Chambers May 2013

exodus logo

Cross-posted from the Exodus Blog

In 2009 I spent ten days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Prior to going, I spent time researching the country, its people, and the state religion of Malaysia—Islam.  Months before my trip I called one of my Malaysian friends and asked her a number of questions about how the Christian Church is treated in her country.  Her answer both surprised and comforted me.  She said, “We are guests of Islam and Islam is a gracious host. We are guaranteed freedom of religion, worship and practice as long as we do not proselytize (seek to convert others).”

Once I was in Malaysia, I saw a thriving Christian Church and population, one that wasn’t fighting its host country or culture, but rather co-existing quite nicely and peacefully.  I found the Christians there incredibly servant-hearted and patriotic, loving a country, culture, government, and people of whom they were the minority by far.  In my own hotel room there was a Koran, an arrow on the ceiling pointing to the east, a mat for me to kneel on, and instructions on how to pray.  I also learned that all citizens of Malaysia, regardless of the religion they are allowed to profess and follow, are considered Muslim.

Messy Story, True Story – Letter from Alan Chambers for February 2013

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I am thrilled to be a part of the Body of Christ. Though imperfect, I see a tremendous groundswell of truth, compassion, grace, and service, which accurately reflects the heart of Jesus Christ.

Contrast that to 1991, the year I sought support for my struggles with sexuality outside of the four walls and community of my local congregation.  I was afraid of being cast out because my story was different.  I had no confidence in the church’s ability to treat me kindly or extend grace.  I will never know whether my perceptions of them were right or wrong.  I simply couldn’t risk what I believed would be my reality if I “came out” to them. So I sought help from Exodus International.

Happy ‘I Tolerate You Day’

question mark heartNothing says love more than telling gay sinners how much we ‘luuuuuuv’ them and how much we HATE their sin.  I think that is why there are so many Christians who have deep friendships with gay and lesbian people.  Tolerance is a compelling gift to the gay and lesbian community so anxious for Christians to half-heartedly embrace them with the limp, lukewarm hug of Jesus.

Can you just feel the love?

Before I go too far with the pretense that I am an expert on this subject, please know this pep talk is for me as well.  I am relatively new on the scene of wholeheartedly embracing all people, period.  Even typing that sentence was full of deep conflict for me.  I so badly want to qualify my own superiority in all of this by sharing the type of people I am embracing—compelled to make the comparison between my morality and theirs so that you will know how amazing it is that I, a good (a.k.a. morally superior) Christian, am embracing…well, them (a.k.a. poor things lost in sin).

Judge Less, Pray More – Letter from Alan Chambers for November 2012

Cross-posted from the Exodus Blog.

Everyone is clamoring for the No. 1 spot in the great gay Christian debate. For some, it isn’t enough that people hold to a traditional, conservative, and biblical sexual ethic; they also want to emphasize that homosexual sexual expression is more egregious than other sexual sins and deserves greater judgment and eternal consequence. Others insist that there are no scriptural mandates limiting homosexual sexual expression for believers. While most of us would never even question heterosexual sexual ethics, some seem fine with making special exceptions for the gay or lesbian person.

The arguments are never-ending, one-dimensional, and secondary, at best, in the grand scheme of things. None of this is rocket science. I am not a Bible scholar (though I greatly appreciate them and their role in my life and in this discussion), but I am a believer in the one true Christ and nothing gets more attention or time in my life than He does. While “theologian” isn’t in my title, I do take studying God’s Word seriously and read it more than anything else. So, as others identify as Wesleyan Arminian Christians, Calvinist Christians, Anabaptist Christians, gay or ex-gay Christians, I have to admit I am just, simply, irrevocably, a Christian.

Entering The Promised Land – Letter from Alan Chambers for September 2012

Cross-posted from the Exodus Blog

Twenty-one years ago this month I walked into a local Exodus Member Ministry for help.   I was 19 years old and a church kid—a believer in the one, true Christ.  I was also 8 or 9 years into my struggle with same-sex attraction. SSA was, at that time, all consuming; likely because I was 19 and my young body raged with hormones I constantly gave into my sexual thoughts.  In my teenage years, I gave into a few sexual relationships with guys my age.  My daily life was full of fearing God, praying for relief and giving in to overwhelming temptations that I thought I had no power over.

So, when I found out about Exodus I knew I had to check it out.  I’ll never forget that fall-like day on September 12, 1991.  I remember what I was wearing as I walked through the parking lot of that ministry–a building I’d driven by numerous times in my life with no clue that inside was an answer to a nearly decade old prayer.

The big and burly director of the ministry eventually came out into the lobby and greeted me.   A good ole boy of sorts.  Corduroy pants, flannel type shirt, suspenders.  Certainly no connection to “the issue”, I concluded.  Never judge a book by its cover.  Sitting in his office a few minutes later, I was scared. However, that day was pivotal for me.  I began a real healing journey that wasn’t at all what I’d hoped for or considered.

Holy Sexuality (Batman)!

Alan & Leslie Chambers

Recently I appeared on an episode of Our America with Lisa Ling on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).  The majority of what aired was from a past interview, but I was grateful that OWN released an unused portion of the interview online. In my opinion it was one of the best parts of my time with Lisa as it clearly portrayed my deep and unequaled love for my wife, Leslie.

Not everyone liked the interview, however.  In it Lisa asks, “So are you heterosexual?”  To that question I answer transparently, sharing that while I do experience same-sex attraction I am Leslie-sex attracted.  I state that I am not gay, which I see as an identity based around same-sex attraction that absolutely fails to describe me or speak to the majority of my feelings, desires or sexuality.  I stop short of calling myself heterosexual, though, too.  That seemed to irritate some and confuse others.

I think Christians have confused heterosexuality with holy sexuality.  As I have said for more than a decade now, the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality (or vice-versa) it’s holiness.  I didn’t take the role I am in at Exodus to make people straight or to promote heterosexuality.  I also didn’t take on the role to tell people with same-sex attraction how inferior that struggle is in comparison to others.  I chose to serve at Exodus International to proclaim that God created us to live out biblical, sexual, holiness even amidst great trial and sacrifice.  That is my story and it is my encouragement to fellow believers and others who might be seeking.