How does a man go from heading up the largest Christian ministry for people struggling with homosexuality to shuttering that same ministry and apologizing for his role in it?
How does that same man go from saying, “One of the many evils this world has to offer is the sin of homosexuality,” to saying, “The thought of sex with a man is not abnormal or gross to me?”
Those are questions former Exodus International president Alan Chambers attempts to answer in his new autobiography, “My Exodus: Leaving the Slavery of Religion, Loving the Image of God in Everyone.”
I admit this wasn’t a book I intended, or even wanted, to read. Having interviewed Chambers several times along his sad trajectory from Christian hero to so-called same-sex “marriage” backer, I had no desire to revisit his depressing descent. But curiosity being what it is, I changed my mind – not only because Chambers is still trying to maintain a public presence today in sidling up to homosexual activists, but also because I believe his book serves as a serious cautionary tale for the church.
Written partly with his wife Leslie, “My Exodus” chronicles Chambers’ journey from a child who was confused about sexuality to a man who is, unfortunately, even more confused about the Bible.
In recounting his childhood, Chambers notes he called himself “Alice” and remembers his joy in dressing up as a girl and clicking the heels of his mother’s boots on the family’s pine floors. “Most of my prepubescent life was spent believing I was a girl trapped inside a boy’s body,” Chambers admits, although he notes that by puberty, those “feelings of being a girl” subsided. “I grew to like being a boy,” he states. “(But) I was gay.”
Tragically, Chambers also reveals his molestation at the age of 9, when, he says, “an older neighborhood boy experimented with me sexually.” Heartbreakingly, his decision to tell his parents that he was molested was met with a “No, you weren’t,” from his father. Later, we learn that his father, too, was sexually molested as a homeless youth, and that father and son were emotionally estranged for years before making peace with one another. It is difficult to take in Chambers’ truly painful-to-read reflection: “I ached for male love and affection like a starving child in Africa aches for food.”
Somewhat stranger details also emerge: Chambers recounts attending counseling sessions at a ministry called Eleutheros, a member of Exodus International, which aimed to help those struggling with same-sex attractions to find support as they surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Yet Chambers says that while he was attending therapy, he also started visiting gay bars several nights a week — and reflects on his gay-bar jaunts as a net positive. “Going to gay bars, with their freedom of expression and emotions,” he says, “forced me to loosen my grip on tightly bound behaviors.”
Nowhere is this more evident than when Chambers claims he heard the voice of God while drunk at a gay bar, where he’d been abandoned by friends he was expecting to join him. Sitting alone at the bar one night, Chambers reports hearing a voice. “If you choose to stay here the rest of your life, I will love you,” the voice says. “What you think is good is the enemy of my best.”
Chambers says he was “pretty sure it was God talking to me,” and concludes, “What I later learned, and hold on to, was that God’s best for me was not simply to end the struggle between gay and straight, to force me to choose. His best for me wasn’t one or the other. His best was for me to rest in him spiritually, emotionally and physically.”
The problem with this statement, of course, goes beyond the serious danger of ignoring I John 4:1-3 by not testing the spirits to see whether or not they are of God (especially if you’re inebriated when said voice is “talking”). The deeper problem is, in the above and other statements in the book, Chambers appears to define “God’s best” as doing pretty much whatever you want, as long as you’re “resting” in God, whatever in the world that means. But that, of course, negates everything the Word of God (the only inerrant and infallible source we actually have for the “voice of God”) has to say about the transformed life in Jesus Christ.
Paul actually addresses Chambers’ antinomian perspective in Romans 6:1-7, when he asks, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”
In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul further admonishes those who claim to be in Christ, “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Nowhere in Scripture are Christians given license to continue to live as they did when they were dead in sin. Rather, we are told to pursue holiness and godliness, as is fitting for new creatures in Christ who are now “slaves to righteousness.” (Rom. 6:18)
But Chambers’ aberrant theology continues to be on display. In his next round of “gay self-discovery,” as Chambers calls it, he spent 18 months living a “double life” that he acknowledged to no one but God. He then states he “prayed for help to move beyond this season of my life to a God who didn’t condemn or reject me,” but adds, “I came to stand on the truth that salvation is irrevocable and that I could truly be who I was and live how I wanted to live without the fear of losing my relationship with Jesus or the fear that I’d never had one in the first place.”
Again, Chambers’ statement doesn’t align with the Word of God, which warns us again and again that immoral sexual practices are among those behaviors that will cause people to be excluded from the kingdom of God. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God … So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” (I Thess. 4:3-5,8)
More shocking is Chambers’ description of the so-called “limitless boundaries” of God’s love and acceptance, which he taught to others as he later assumed the mantle of leadership at Exodus International. “Many years later I would teach this at Exodus,” he writes, “telling an audience in 2012 that even when they found themselves lying next to someone with whom they’d had sex but not taken the time to exchange names, to repeat this truth: ‘I am the righteousness of God in Christ.’ It was this revelation that led me to make better choices.”
Talk about outrageous Scripture twisting! What Chambers asserts here is actually the polar opposite of what the Bible tells those who are engaging in unrepentant sexual immorality. As I Cor. 6:9-10 clearly states: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Far from telling those who have repented of such sins to just “rest” in God while they continue to engage in illicit sexual behavior, Paul exhorts them: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.” (I Cor. 6:15-18)
But Chambers, by his own admission, holds to the view throughout the book that as long as you once prayed for Jesus to come into your heart (as he says he did at the age of 6), you’re in the kingdom of God, and to believe otherwise is apparently to be under the bondage of religion. Yes, Romans 7 is clear that the Christian will continue to fight sin all his life, even as he has been made new in Christ. But the Word of God completely contradicts Chambers’ cheap-grace view and actually implores us to be diligent to confirm if our faith in Jesus Christ is truly genuine. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (II Cor. 13:5)
These and many other instances in the book all suffer from the same problem: no biblical support. In fact, Chambers never cites one Bible verse in his entire memoir – not to support his theological positions, not to refute others’ theological positions. And how can you make a credible case that your position is the biblical one when you don’t even bother to bring the Bible itself into the discussion? Saying “grace” a lot – which Chambers does — isn’t much of an argument, especially when you’re defining it incorrectly in the first place.
What Chambers leaves out of the book is also interesting, most notably the details of the theological path he followed at the behest of his longtime pastor/mentor and former Exodus board chairman, Clark Whitten, as well as the way he eventually came to shutter Exodus International.
Nor does he fully explain why, having come to the conclusion that he no longer believed in the original mission of Exodus International, he didn’t simply resign and let another person take his place. Instead, he writes, “I believe closing Exodus was birthed in God’s heart,” later noting, “If Exodus wasn’t a safe haven for people in need of a judgment-free zone, then we were no different than the fundamentalist, legalistic, pharisaical parts of the Church we had once run from.” But others at Exodus International vociferously disagreed, publicly sharing stories of internal turmoil and calls to repentance that were never heeded.
Stephen Black, former volunteer chairman of the Exodus Ministry Council and now executive director of First Stone Ministries and board vice chair of Restored Hope Network, reported that he actually started telling others about his concerns over Whitten’s and Chambers’ theology in 2010.
“Clark Whitten began sharing his version of grace teachings to Exodus Ministry directors in leadership meetings starting in 2007 all the way through the demise and implosion of Exodus,” Black has written. “I and several ministry directors and other Christian leaders joined together to start the process of confronting the heretical teachings of Clark Whitten and Alan Chambers (Matt. 18:15-17). Unfortunately, to no avail because Chambers and Whitten had already put the plan in place in changing the bylaws of Exodus to make Exodus a ‘ministry’ possession of Alan Chambers.
“(Chambers and Whitten) actually believe that grace gives them such liberty they no longer need to acknowledge their sins before God or confess their sins. It is simply antinomianism repackaged.” (See: http://www.stephenblack.org/2015/05/13/in-alan-chambers-own-words/)
Chambers does espouse unabashed antinomianism in his book (with a few well-placed gibes at his detractors, to boot). But it is noteworthy to read how many times it is not the inerrant, unchanging Word of God that guides Chambers, but the supposed, audible “voice of God” that allegedly gives him instructions, impressions or directions on what to do or how to proceed in life. He talks of having “a ‘God speaks’ moment.” And he says it was that “voice” that directed him to close Exodus entirely: “I felt I heard God speak clearly, and in that moment, I knew what the next step would have to be.” Shortly thereafter, Chambers publicly announced the end of Exodus International.
Since that time, Chambers has continued to make the rounds among homosexual activists. He has said God is “cool” with so-called same-sex “marriage.” He has made multiple rounds of apologies on issues like reparative therapy, the possibility of change, the issue of sexual orientation, etc., as he apparently tries to make nonstop amends for ever saying that God genuinely can transform a repentant sinner’s life.
More puzzling, however, is why his apologies to the Christian community aren’t equally as forthcoming. Where are his apologies now to the many Christians who urged him to repent or asked him to step down and spare the ministry? To the donors who gave their hard-earned money to the ministry in good faith? To the many Christians who once trusted him to stand on the Word of God and tell the truth about the believer’s new life in Christ and now feel betrayed? Perhaps he’s made such apologies in private, but the reader waits in vain for such apologies in Chambers’ memoir.
Toward the end, Chambers reveals much more than he may have intended in his quote: “It was humanity’s hunger to define good and evil that got poor Adam and Eve in trouble all those years ago. Good and evil is a distraction, a detour. There’s no life there.”
But it was never “a hunger to define good and evil” that was the problem, and Adam and Eve were far from “poor.” Their sin was what got them into trouble. We know that, because that is what the Word of God says.
And there, I believe, is the biggest takeaway of all from Chambers’ book. It is an easy thing to say you believe the Word of God, but it is quite another to actually submit to it. Had Chambers chosen the latter route, Exodus International might still be alive and well today.