A letter to Charlie Pickering on the exodus of Exodus

Charlie,

I like you. I’ve been a fan since the early days – since the Mel and Charlie show on JJJ. I’m not a Jonny-come-lately Talking About Your Generation Pickering bandwagon jumper. You’re a smart guy. Whip smart. It’s fun watching you pull politicians apart on The Project, the show normally strikes a nice balance between smart advocacy on serious issues and humour – and I reckon that is largely a result of your own personality. It seems that’s the mix of most successful comedians.

But I had some issues with last night’s show (Friday June 21). I loved the segment on Refugees – and Walk Together – a good initiative from a Christian pastor, Brad Chilcott, I enjoyed most of the program, but I was a bit surprised with the segment on Exodus International’s Alan Chambers recent apology to the gay community. I understand it’s a story – but I didn’t think this was the quality of some of your better advocacy work. I appreciate that the panel has pretty strong views on the nature of same sex attraction. That people are born gay, or don’t choose to be gay. That it’s immutable. And while as a Bible believing Christian I’m happy to agree with the first – that people don’t generally have a choice when it comes to their sexual orientation – I’m puzzled about the idea that any aspect of any human will is something that individual does not have a right to attempt to change. As an exercise of their humanity. 

I know the Psychological Associations have moved from classing homosexual attraction from a disorder, to classing discomfort with one’s sexual orientation to a disorder – but surely we can think a little bigger, and a little more progressively on this front. I’m with you in not wanting to see vulnerable people forced to conform to a norm in society, or being taken advantage of – I don’t think Exodus International was particularly interested in a vendetta against unwilling converts, this isn’t a modern equivalent of trying to stamp out left-handedness. I’m also sure – as Alan Chambers himself seems to indicate – that there have been people who have been in these “conversion therapy” programs against their will, and I’ve got no doubt that this is potentially psychologically harmful. But what about people who go willingly? What about adult individuals who haven’t been brainwashed but simply want to exercise some self control in accordance with their religious beliefs? What about my friends who are Christians, same sex attracted, and want to enjoy a heterosexual relationship as an avenue for sexual expression? Both you, and Carrie, said some odd things, that to me suggests you really do believe that this kind of counselling never works.

Carrie’s nice line was:

“Sexuality can’t be changed but attitudes can.”

I have friends who are testimony to the fact that it does. Your absolute claim can’t be maintained. The research suggests you’re wrong too. Alan Chambers is responding to the problem with the idea that reparative therapy always works. It doesn’t. Sexuality occurs on a spectrum – we’ve known that since Kinsey. Some people can move along that scale, others can’t. Some people can move (probably the ones closes to the middle of the scale, some people who want to be faithful to their beliefs might simply live as celibate same sex attracted Christians.

I’m with Alan Chambers and the research (a study from Yarhouse and Jones in particular) that suggests that “reparative therapy” won’t always work. Especially if it’s defined as flicking some binary switch from gay to straight with no space for “neutral.”

Here’s what the study found.

“In addition to clarifying what we found, it is equally important to clarify what we did not find. First, we did not find that everyone can change. Saying that change is not impossible in general is not the same thing as saying that everyone can change, that anyone can change, or that change is possible for any given individual. Second, while we found that part of our research population experienced success to the degree that it might be called (as we have here) “conversion,” our evidence does not indicate that these changes are categorical, resulting in uncomplicated, dichotomous and unequivocal reversal of sexual orientation from utterly homosexual to utterly heterosexual. Most of the individuals who reported that they were heterosexual at T6 did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and they did not report their heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated.”

Personally, I think “Reparative therapy” is a horrible name that somehow suggests homosexual orientation is more deviant than the standard heterosexual attraction that leads heterosexual people to all sorts of sinful sexual activity outside of marriage – we’re all broken on the sexuality front…). Let’s call it what it really is – a tool for helping equip individuals to live as they wish to live if their sexual orientation does not match their chosen identity.

The problem is that this study suggests reparative therapy does sometimes work – which means sexual orientation isn’t actually immutable. If it never worked there’d be a good reason to stop individuals pursuing this avenue for change. They also found that the process, when adults are deliberately engaged as individuals, is not actually harmful by any measure – this isn’t to deny that the process is possibly harmful – but it isn’t inherently harmful.

This data is backed up by the people who are staffing groups like Exodus, like Liberty, in Australia – and by my same sex attracted brothers and sisters in churches all around the world who are either content being single and remaining same sex attracted without being sexually active. These people are to be admired. Not ridiculed. They are taking Jesus’ call to “carry the cross” and applying it to their sexuality – dying to their own desires in order to be part of something bigger.

I can’t throw stones at groups like Exodus for trying to love and support these people.

You can. It seems.

It doesn’t help that Alan Chambers’ apology is so nuanced that it is the proverbial jelly being pinned to a wall – but he’s a guy who is same sex attracted and in a heterosexual marriage who will continue to maintain his position on gay marriage and gay sexual expression. The apology says so. He’s just wanting to change the tone of the conversation – and that’s admirable.

I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.   

But back to last night. And your stone throwing. In the heat of the interview with Doug Pollard from the Rainbow Report he mentioned Liberty Inc and Living Waters as groups operating in Australia. Now Doug isn’t objective – that’s why he’s good talent. But you didn’t even feign objectivity in your line of questioning. You didn’t quiz him on where the evidence for his assertion that these groups involved people with no formal training came from. You Dorothy Dixed him. With this question/statement in particular. To which he responded “yes”… That means this isn’t just a leading question. It’s a statement.

“Given that we are about to head into a Royal Commission into various forms of abuse within religious organisations as it is. This strikes me as something that maybe in ten, twenty years time we’ll need a royal commission into these gay conversions as well.”

I’m going to call you out on this one. Shenanigans! The Royal Commission is broader than “within religious organisations” – deliberately. Sure. I’m with you on the horrific abuses perpetrated by people operating within religious organisations being terrible and heinous. Which is what makes this comparison truly awful. You, rightly, got stuck into the ACL when it made unflattering and unhelpful comparisons between homosexuality and other things – like smoking, and the Nazis, but here you’re comparing two equally horrible and unequal concepts – the systematic abuse and cover up of the abuse of children within institutions, and a voluntary activity undertaken by individuals with appropriate consent by groups with appropriate training. Far from “hiding” – Liberty Inc has a website. Which says:

All our counsellors are professionally trained and accredited

It is mandatory for all counsellors working with Liberty Inc to be degree qualified and be a member of the Christian Counsellors Association of Australia. The Christian Counsellors Association of Australia maintains minimum standards of ethical practice including privacy and confidentiality.”

Degree qualified. Seems Doug was misleading you. Farbeit from me to teach you about television and stuff – but you enabled Doug Pollard’s slander of an opposing group without giving the opposing group recourse to respond to the slander. This is low brow television at its worst under the veneer of a progressive agenda.

Doug mentioned smart phone apps that have been responsible for “uncovering the lie” that gay-to-straight conversion people are perpetrating. I can only imagine he’s referring to Grindr and a recent outing of a proponent of gay to straight conversion in the states. A guy named Matt Moore. Far from being a testimony to the failure of groups like Exodus, Moore’s story is a testimony to the grace and forgiveness for sexual brokenness found in the gospel.

I suggest reading his interview to get a sense of what it looks like to struggle to live out a life following Jesus within the sphere of your sexuality. What it means to take up your cross – which is what Jesus called people who followed him to do. And then I suggest that on Monday’s program you find someone who is carrying that cross and ask them about it. Rather than shouting down their sacrifice from a position of ignorance and hate.

CP: What would you say to a Christian suffering from same-sex attraction after this experience?

Moore:  The same thing I have always said: Jesus is better than sin. It doesn’t matter what the specific sin is, Jesus is better. He is more valuable, comforting and satisfying than homosexual behavior, and I can say that from experience. If you fall, get back up and keep pursuing Him. If Jesus went as far as to die for your sin, why would He not help you up when you stumble? The world will tell you to embrace your homosexual desires because it’ll make you happy in this life. Jesus tells you to deny yourself and follow Him and promises to give you eternal life if you do. You must decide everyday who you will believe and who you will follow: the way of the world or the Way of Jesus Christ.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

5 thoughts on “A letter to Charlie Pickering on the exodus of Exodus”

  1. Would like to contact you directly regarding this story. Could you please send me your email?

  2. I didn’t see the show, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the idea of reparative therapies or heterosexual marriage for homosexual people as an avenue for sexual expression (this seems to glorify sex in a way the Bible doesn’t, and sends a confusing message to singles in the church), but I’m speaking as someone who’s merely read a few blog posts (this one was interesting: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/torn-chapters-5-6-on-reparative-therapy-and-ex-gay-ministries) rather than actually had conversations with friends about the issue…

    HOWEVER, you’re the first person in forever who’s mentioned the Mel and Charlie show on JJJ, and that has made me very happy. COURTESY WAVE! Adam and Will for breakfast, Steve Cannane on Mornings, Mel and Charlie in the arvo… *sigh* Good times.

    1. hi Belle,

      I don’t want to make marriage an idol. But I do think if sexuality is not immutable that we shouldn’t deny people the chance to enter a marriage. People i’m very close to are in this situation and while it takes an incredibly understanding spouse it’s also a blessing for both people.

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