I know I said I don’t post about this often, but I was thinking of writing this long before I received Preston Sprinkle’s book to review. If you’re lost, “this” is a reference to the topic of homosexuality. Along these lines, I’d recommend reading Alan Chambers’ recently released memoir My Exodus: From Fear to Grace. Alan was formerly the president of Exodus International, and ex-gay ministry that he shut down in 2013. He is co-writing with his wife Leslie who gives her perspective through three chapters on how they met, fell in love, and were married.
While Alan is internationally known, he’s also someone I’ve had coffee with and whose kids go to my school. Not only that, but I know Leslie because she works at the school. She oversees P.E. and so we end up watching the gym every now and then during lunch to make sure the high school boys don’t inadvertently (or advertently) nail each other in the head while sportsing too hard. In other words, Alan and Leslie may be widely known, but to me they are members of my everyday community. They are real people that I know outside of their wider acclaim.
With that in mind, I’m not necessarily saying “go read My Exodus because everything Alan Chambers says is gospel.” There is certainly gospel in there, but I do not completely agree with the way grace is explained and presented in the book. It is similar to the disagreements I might have with Tullian Tchividjian, but we still need to have a follow up lunch to hammer that out. To see more where I’m coming from, maybe you should pick up and read Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ (but to explain why is another post entirely).
That’s probably enough ground clearing. Now for some background.
I grew up in East Tennessee in the late 90’s. I was homeschooled. I went from that to working at Lowe’s to a super conservative (and small) Bible college for two years. Then I started working at Starbucks, at which point I actually met and interacted with gay people for extended periods of time. I was pretty sure I knew what the Bible said about that lifestyle. But that’s different than knowing flesh and blood people who live it. And that’s different than knowing people who also claim to be Christians and seem serious about being part of their church with their lesbian partner.
Did I mention my aunt is a lesbian? Like an aggressive type and has been that way since the 60’s? I grew up thinking she was kind of manly, and even innocently commented as much at one point. Years later I found out she was gay and it was something the entire family knew but wouldn’t particularly acknowledge. Pretty typical don’t ask and don’t tell.
More recently, I’ve had a close friend from college lose his wife and become a single dad because the love of his life decided she wanted to pursue the desires for other women she’s had since she can’t remember. The dad of one of my best friends growing up left his mom for another man. One of my best friends told me last spring that he struggles with same sex attraction and we’ve been walking through ever since.
I say all this because I think it’s important for those of us that hold a traditional view of biblical sexual ethics to be aware of the complexities of real life stories. Not so we’ll change our mind, but so we’ll know that what we say about what Scripture says affects real people with real struggles.
This is the reason I think many people ought to read Alan’s memoir. There is a level of detail and vulnerability that allows you to see inside what a struggle with same sex attraction looks like (and Alan paints it as a struggle, not a celebration). Because I naturally struggle with empathy, I need stories like this to let me see and experience what someone else has gone through to get where they are. It’s not because reading about the struggle should change your mind one way or another. Rather, it’s because, to borrow Preston Sprinkle’s book title, gay people are people to be loved by the church. There’s a way to do that without affirming the lifestyle, but it requires actually knowing people to be loved. Those who hold the traditional view can often come across as not having ever had a close friend or family confide in them that they’re gay. Having someone come out to you doesn’t so much change your perspective as nuance it in a way that can’t be entirely predicted.
Alan represents an example of someone who is, in one sense gay, but in another sense straight. He is married. He is a father. He is also predominantly attracted to other men. He’s a sinner saved by grace, who lives by grace day in and day out. He is seeking to live a faithful Christian life, and is calling others to a live of purity. By reading his story, you are able to feel the weight of the pain and suffering that brought him to the place he is today. His story offers an opportunity to grow in empathy and so better participate in the conversation about how the church should relate to the gay community. It’s not designed to change your mind about what you think Scripture teaches about the topic. But it lets you inside someone’s life that is more radically affected by the biblical teaching than one who is straight.
I realize that his choice to shut down Exodus was controversial and that he can be appear to affirm same sex relationships and/or behavior in a way that those holding the traditional view cannot condone. However, I think his story is worth reading and listening to closely. And I’m not just saying that because I know him, but because it was eye-opening for me to read it and made me appreciate even more how God can work in mysterious ways.