Exodus International may be distancing itself from reparative therapy — defined specifically as the gay-to-straight treatment offered by Joseph Nicolosi and NARTH — but it is also at pains to distance itself from another big, bad something: the word GAY.
Writing for The Gospel Coalition, Exodus Executive Vice President Jeff Buchanan grasps at straws when he tries to list the reasons no Christian should identify themselves with the adjective or noun “gay.” His number one excuse is that calling oneself a “gay Christian” or even a “gay celibate Christian” is that it detracts from “our identity in Christ.”
With every additional label–whether it is occupation, gifts, interests, or sexual orientation—we detract from the complete work of Christ in our lives and splinter our identity into fragments.
This horror at labelling people by their occupations and gifts does not extend to labels like “executive vice president” and “pastor,” both of which appear in Buchanan’s byline. Presumably Exodus President Alan Chambers will soon be changing his Facebook description, which currently reads “Husband, father, public speaker and author.”
Or perhaps Buchanan’s insistence that all labels (and he does not distinguish between good and bad labels) are equally offensive to the work of Christ is disingenuous? In an NPR radio interview recently, Chambers had no problem saying:
I wouldn’t call myself a gay man. I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a Christian, I’m a pastor, I’m a darn good gardener, I can decorate with the best of them.
The problem is not labels, as Buchanan claims. It’s “gay.”
His second reason is that “an identity based upon same-sex attractions” encourages segregation, “obsessive introspection and self-pity.” Here he repeats a claim that Exodus has long made that simply accepting the word “gay” as an accurate description of oneself means assuming a political identity that takes precedence over every other aspect of a person. This is patronizing. Like any word, it can be used in different contexts in different ways, but this does not preclude it having a basic meaning that everyone understands — a person whose primary sexual attractions are towards others of the same sex.
His third reason hints at sexual orientation change, showing that Exodus has yet to completely abandon the hope of gays turning straight:
While some who suffer receive immediate explanations from God, others are challenged to wait. In the midst of waiting, we must always have hope. An identity rooted in same-sex attractions serves as an anchor that keeps us docked in our present circumstance. We have accepted our lot in life, and experience now becomes our identity. Should a person ever develop a desire to explore a heterosexual relationship, he or she will find it difficult to overcome the label that can deter interested parties.
Did you get that? Mike Airhart was perhaps overstating it when he said Exodus was resuming its call for sexual orientation change, but he was certainly correct that Buchanan’s statement reveals the hope is still there. Essentially, Buchanan’s message is: Calling yourself gay just makes it harder to become straight.
Buchanan’s final three reasons are all based upon the same notion that applying a term to yourself is tantamount to making a single characteristic the be-all and end-all of your identity. Accepting you are “gay” is not “authentic,” he says, but a conforming of yourself to an “idol” of desire. Any “name” outside Christ “falls dreadfully short of God’s intent for us.” He writes:
Scripture is replete with examples of the importance God places on a name. Often, God would change someone’s name to signify a new beginning in life. God didn’t always give someone a name that exemplified who they presently were, but rather a name that reflected who he knew they would be one day by his grace.
Is there another subtle promise of change in there? Don’t call yourself gay, because by God’s grace, you won’t always be gay. I wonder if this fear of the gay label extends to other “sins,” or is everything else to be subject to this strange evangelical political-correctness? Do people who like cigarettes forfeit all other aspects of their identity by accepting the label “smoker”? Or could we admit it would be dishonest to deny such a label?
Buchanan’s last reason is that the word “gay” can have “vast socio-political and cultural connotations.” Another canard, for any number of adjectives and nouns can carry with it similarly wide connotations (ironically, “Christian” is the classic example), but that doesn’t rule out using it in one particular context to mean one particular thing — namely, in this instance, to acknowledge the basic truth about a person’s sexual orientation.
This fear of a word only confirms a long-established problem with Exodus. The problem is not that it claims one thing or the other, but that it avoids plain language and capitalizes on ambiguity, glossing over the specifics when it comes to the question at the centre of its message: Is change possible?