On Thursday, news that Exodus International, a Christian organization that handles issues associated with same-sex attraction, will be shutting down quickly spread across media. With its president, Alan Chambers, also apologizing to gays and lesbians for how the group treated them over the past 37 years, the developments were certainly noteworthy.
Following these revelations, TheBlaze connected with Exodus executive vice-president Randy Thomas to learn more about the organization's motivations for making such sweeping changes, including its plans to relaunch a new group with a vastly-different vision and goal set.
Why Is Exodus Closing Down?
When asked why the group's leaders are using this particular blueprint, he was candid.
"Well, it started a couple of years ago and, really, it's been even longer than that," Thomas said, noting that, for quite some time, Exodus has been exploring its impact and considering changes.
While the organization believes it has done a great deal of good, the shift in culture requires new tactics -- and a recognition that some of the old methods used to reach out to gays were both faulty and divisive. The negative impact of Exodus' activities on some gays and lesbians, Thomas contends, simply couldn't be ignored.
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"Exodus has a well-earned reputation of being a cultural warrior institution, and we went from being the safe place for people being able to speak about same-sex attraction to being an institution," he said, noting that problems arose with the latter designation.
What to Expect From the New Organization
With Exodus being scrapped, Thomas said that a new organization (the URL is reducefear.org, but a website is not yet available) will be launched -- one that will give younger Christians what they have been asking for.
"Something that's more relational, talking with people and not at people," he said of the new group, noting that these actions will be taken "instead of going to war with the culture."
TheBlaze also attempted to clarify if the apology and the shut-down were indicative of changed views about the nature of homosexuality and marriage. Thomas, though, said that the apology and the new organization are merely meant to focus on new tactics and a change in tone and engagement.
"We definitely have opinions about human sexuality and those haven't changed," the Exodus leader said. "We do believe in God's creative intent for sexuality."
But as Chambers noted in his initial apology, the new organization won't be speaking at all into public policy issues. Instead, it will focus on "a personal context of faith."
"We're wanting to be more relational," Thomas said, again driving home this theme.
Considering, though, that the group opinion on the Bible's take on gay marriage hasn't changed, we asked how they would get past barriers to reach out to people on all sides of the issue. Thomas said that he believes this can be accomplished if the new organization operates through a lens of humility.
"I want to see the person and try to understand why they believe the way they do," he said, noting that engaging with individuals who have differing views is essential.
So far, reaction has been mixed, Thomas told TheBlaze. While many who have benefited from what Exodus has to offer are nervous about the changes, others have reached out to express support.
How Churches Might React
As for churches, if they adopt the same model of open discussion and debate on the subject, it's likely going to create some controversy. But Thomas said that he firmly believes that houses of worship need to nail down their beliefs on who should be involved in leadership and other such roles -- and apply them fairly.
"We personally believe that churches should allow anyone through the doors. What the church has done is pick specific sins to highlight and, if we were to actually be fair with it, no one would ever come to church," he charged, highlighting that every sin, if treated the same way as homosexuality and other related issues, would render people unable to worship.
"Anyone seeking spiritual answers or wanting to come in a relationship with Jesus Christ should have nothing [preventing them]," he added.
As for those who might say that gays should be excluded from church leadership, Thomas said that this decision is up to each house of worship, but that it should be applied across the board and that the rules should be presented clearly and uniformly.
"Are they allowing heterosexual couples who aren't married, but who are in leadership and living together?," he rhetorically asked.
Discussions about homosexuality are certainly controversial, regardless of the level to which same-sex marriage has become more acceptable in American society. And when it comes to personal relationships with Christ, the debate turns even more heated.
TheBlaze asked whether it's possible for a person who is engaged in a gay lifestyle, from Thomas' perspective, to be a true Christian.
"If someone claims to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and [that] He raised from the dead, who am I to judge whether they truly know them or not?," he asked.
In speaking about his organization's closure and the work ahead, Thomas said that he is truly encouraged and hoping to engage people who are both gay and straight, alike.
"There is no us versus them anymore. It's just us," he said.