Thursday, June 20, 2013

Leading "Gay-Curing" Organization To Shut Down

Exodus International President Alan Chambers
In a prepared statement released Wednesday, Exodus International announced that it will effectively be ending its "ministry." Not only that, they apologized.

Exodus' mission since its inception in 1976 was to "proclaim freedom from homosexuality" with the purpose of curing people of their homosexuality. It was an umbrella organization which grew to include over 120 local ministries in the United States and Canada and over 150 ministries in 17 other countries including the UK, France and Australia.

For several years former pro-straight leaders have been making apologies to the gay community for their "curing" efforts. Just this past April, John Paulk, former chairman of Exodus, renounced his past involvement in the movement and expressed remorse for his actions. And years prior to 2013, other prominent "ex-gay" leaders were apologizing for their involvement in the movement:

On its website Wednesday, Exodus president Alan Chambers said this:

“Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism. For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical. From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered. For these reasons, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry. “This is a new season of ministry, to a new generation,” said Chambers. “Our goals are to reduce fear and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

A little earlier in the day, Chambers, who has a wife but admits to same-sex attraction, had this to say:

"Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.

Friends and critics alike have said it’s not enough to simply change our message or website. I agree. I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today. I understand why I am distrusted and why Exodus is hated.

Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.

More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.

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.  

You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours. I hope the changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight regarding Exodus International, will bring resolution, and show that I am serious in both my regret and my offer of friendship. I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good.

Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing."

I personally celebrate these moves by Exodus and its leaders and pray for healing for those who have suffered because of their actions. ~ Mark Andrew Nouwen

Ex-Ex-Gay Links:


Beyond Ex-Gay

Sunday, June 16, 2013

When You Cannot Honour Thy Father Or Thy Mother

April 1989 - Smiles can conceal so much.
"Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee." ~ Exodus 20:12 (KJV)

There are the words, written in stone - supposedly literally. If you were to ask many Christians (or Jews for that matter) what their favourite Bible passage is, the answers would vary. But ask them what the most important passage is, and many would reply with "The Ten Commandments."

There are some difficult commandments within the ten that Moses brought down from the mountain, and throughout the Bible in general. But for some of us, "Honour they father and thy mother" is the hardest.

For instance,

  • Some have grown up without a father or a mother; we have no idea who our father or mother is,
  • Some have grown up with a practically-absentee mother or father who left the parenting to the other parent,
  • Some have grown up with an abusive father or mother. Instead of love, we experienced intense fear. Instead of security, we constantly felt insecure. Instead of guidance, we were left to figure out life for ourselves. Instead of words of encouragement and praise, we heard words that no young person should hear.
Some of us dealt with one or more of these scenarios for our entire childhoods. There was no vacation from it. If there was a good day, you knew that sooner or later it would be followed by an awful one.

We were bruised.
We were scared.
We were abandoned.
We had to grow up much too soon.

Still, there are those hefty words in the twentieth chapter of Exodus, commanding us to honour thy father and thy mother.

The too-easy Christian answer for far too long has often been "Well, you just have to forgive your Mom/Dad. And once you release that anger, treat them with love." There is also often a heavy concentration on reconciliation within Christian circles, no matter the cost it seems.

But I'm here to say that sometimes it just can't be done. By it I'm talking about reconciliation. I definitely believe that forgiveness is achievable, at least in my case. Forgiveness is often more about your own healing rather than the person who has done you wrong. Holding onto bitterness against someone for years just gnaws at your soul and mind and I think it's very helpful to make a decision to let that go.

However, reconciliation is another thing. What I'm about to say is contrary to the Bible, I know, but:

Sometimes you cannot honour thy father or thy mother. 
Get away. Change your phone number. Throw away the letters.

This can be a very hard thing to do particularly for Christians because often they are taught to love at all costs, even if it hurts. However, so many children of absent or abusive parents attempt to do this almost to the point of masochism.  

Why is it so difficult to attempt to have a relationship with an absent or abusive parent? Often it is because the nature of the relationship has not changed (i.e. a parent doesn't acknowledge that their children has their own wishes and dreams) OR because the parent is still an abusive, miserable person and it is unbearable to try to maintain any sort of relationship with them.  

Some people would say that you are honouring your father or mother by ignoring them because you're allowing them to heal.

Let's stop it with the sugar-coating. 

I just say it sucks.

It sucks because in our minds and hearts we still feel that we want a mother or a father, and we try to believe so hard that a relationship will be possible.  Some can torture themselves for years when the best thing to do is to say goodbye, at least for now. You can't say what the future will hold. But it's time to take care of yourself.

Let me get personal for a moment; obviously there's a reason that I'm writing a blog post like this.

Without getting into the whole story, I grew up with an emotionally and verbally abusive father. It was almost constant right up until I left the house at age 17.  I describe it as hell.  My father was a ticking time-bomb. If there happened to be a good day (and there were), I still knew that it wouldn't last and I'd be hiding out in my bedroom listening to the abuse being heaped upon my mother.  On many occasions my father's temper would be so bad that my mother would necessarily shovel me into the car with a change of clothing and we'd stay at a pastor or youth leader's home overnight.  When my father wasn't yelling, there was deafening silence, the kind you could cut with a knife.  My Mom left him in my first year of college.  For several years my father noticeably changed; for instance his temper virtually disappeared.

In the last dozen years, my relationship with my father has been very rocky. There have been periods where we haven't had contact for a year and a half, on more than one occasion.  There have also been some good times, where we've been in regular contact. 

However, sadly, I have now had to distance myself from my father on a more permanent basis. The main reason is because it seems that my father cannot have a relationship with me without pointing out my "faults." These faults include that I have several gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends and am an active advocate for LGBTQ rights. Add to that the fact that I left fundamentalist Christianity over ten years ago and am now a Unitarian Universalist is a major point of contention.   I don't need people to agree with everything that I believe in or in my activities, but I also don't need - check that - I won't accept belittling and attacking. So, for now, I have cut my father out of my life.

It is a painful process to have to cut a parent out of your life, but often the pain of not having them in your life is far outweighed by the crap you take by constantly trying to make the relationship work and receiving grief in return. But allow yourself to feel that pain and that grief.

Finally, Christians who decide to cut off a parent shouldn't take any guff from fellow-Christians who start quoting The Ten Commandments to them. And while we're at it, women shouldn't take any guff from Christian leaders for leaving abusive husbands - that could be a whole other blogpost. It seems to me that Jesus said that he came that "we might have life, and have it abundantly," not miserably.

I am grateful for the relationships I have with some of my relatives, particularly my other immediate family members; they mean the world to me. But as a friend recently told me, and it hit me like a tonne of bricks - shared DNA does not constitute family.

I pray that if you've had to cut off a parent, or are in the process of doing so, that you'll realize that you are highly loved and that there are people around you who see and accept you for who you are.  Be good to yourself. You'll make it through this.

Mark Andrew Nouwen
(Feel free to share this, as it may help someone in a similar situation.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It's Not Too Late To Live Your True Calling

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 - 4:00pm
Matter of Taste Coffee Bar - Kitchener, Ontario
Soundtrack: Shania Twain's Greatest Hits

A few Sundays ago, an older gentleman - one of the foundations of my Unitarian  congregation - came up to me at coffee hour after church. I was having a particularly shitty day, feeling quite depressed. But he came up to me and said "Mark, do you know what I see when I look at you? A minister." His encouraging words automatically lifted my sullen spirits; it's amazing what just a few words will do at the right time.

A few minutes ago my friend Alison and I were having coffee and I mentioned that I can see myself going to seminary one day. This comes after having attended her graduation from the Masters program there this past Friday.

I've sort of wandered for, oh, a decade when it comes to a career. I attended Bible college when I was 19 - which seems like a lifetime ago (I'm almost 35 now) - but left without completing when my religious beliefs radically shifted. Then I immersed myself in my job and reading and writing at coffee shops. It worked for awhile, but then I became very dissatisfied. Add to that problems with depression and anxiety and eventually self-medicating myself with alcohol, and years went by very quickly. I am often very thankful that I am still only 35 years old.

I believe that it is very important that we do what we are passionate about. So many of us get stuck - or become resigned to - jobs that we don't like just so that we can pay the bills. Meanwhile we're dying inside little by little.

Maybe you're in this position. Perhaps it's been for a year or two, maybe it's been for twenty years.

It's never too late to do what you are passionate about. Perhaps that means a change in occupation, or perhaps not. Perhaps it means pursuing an activity or volunteerism on the side. Something that makes you come alive. Is there a poet, a singer, a dancer inside of you?

As for me, a few Sundays ago wasn't the first time that someone told me they saw a minister in me; I used to hear it all the time when I was just a boy growing up. I have a feeling that one day that very well may come true - that or chaplaincy.

Maybe it's time to start looking at finishing a Bachelors degree. Stay tuned!

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Monday, June 10, 2013

For The Disappointed And Downtrodden Heart

Monday, June 10th, 2013 - 1:30pm
Matter of Taste Coffee Bar
Kitchener, Ontario
Soundtrack: Ella Fitzgerald - The Cole Porter Songbook

What is the first thing that most people ask of each other upon meeting? Perhaps it is "How are you?" which is often a superficial inquiry if you're strangers. But for the most part the question is "What do you do?" Our answer, as it goes, goes a long way in defining for the other person who we are. We're architects, or teachers, or factory workers perhaps.

But what of people who are unable to work, either temporarily or for a long-term or permanent basis? Who are they if they are not defined by their occupation? Are they second-class citizens? To put it personally,  since I haven't worked for quite some time, am I a second-class citizen? What of those who are born without the ability to speak or hear or practically do anything for themselves? What is their value?

That's why the first question that I like to ask of people is "What are you passionate about?" Or perhaps "What is it that gets your heart most excited?" or "What do you dream of?" Questions like these really get the ball rolling. A lot of people despise what they do for money from 9 to 5, yet ask them what their passions are and you'll light up their eyes. "I want to be a leader," "I've always wanted to take singing lessons," "I want to go to another country and teach English to kids."

But let's take it another step further. What if we were unable to do absolutely anything. Many of us know people, or at least of  people who seemingly can't do anything on their own. They can't see or hear, they can't eat on their own, they have to be bathed. They can't even articulate their dreams in a way we could understand them. What of them?

And this is the value of the human heart. I believe that if you or I were completely incapacitated today - even for the rest of our lives - we would still be able to love and be loved.  I believe that our hearts are made of love and for love. There is no heart that can not change their ways and choose to love and be loved. I have very few concrete answers to the mysteries of life, and that's ok with me. Recently I attended a funeral, and it got me thinking again of how few answers I have about life and death. All that I can say is this: From love I came, in love I live, to love I will return.

My encouragement to you if you're overwhelmed or disappointed by life, or if you feel that your life really doesn't make a difference is this: It is not what you do that defines you. Your heart defines you, and within it is a storehouse of love. You are love.


Mark Andrew Nouwen

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When Nothing And Everything Is Alright

It's funny how something can happen to us as grown-ups and automatically we feel like we are 8 years old again. Our heart palpitates, we break into sweats, we feel like we're going to throw up.

Actually, it's not funny at all. We often wonder "Why am I feeling this way again? I'm making too big of a deal of this. Just snap out of it!"

I feel this particularly with my anxiety disorder (I also deal with chronic to major depression and bi-polar).  When a tense moment happens, even now when I am approaching 35 years old, I feel almost exactly like I did when I was a boy.

And the coping mechanisms were quite helpful back then. The shutting off of emotions, the bottling of anger deep inside, the daily worrying that things would get even worse. Keeping quiet.

They were helpful as I listened to my father, almost nightly, yell and yell at my Mom, and secondarily at me. They were helpful when he didn't want to go out and spend time with other people, preferring to preoccupy himself with pen and paper for hours on end. They were helpful when we would drive the 20 minutes to buy groceries and the quiet tension was so thick you could feel it in your chest. They were helpful when I was ferried off to a church leader's home on many nights when he was too angry to be around. I lived under this abuse for my entire childhood and into my teenage years.

These were helpful coping mechanisms when I was a boy and a teenager. But I am not in those situations anymore and rather than help, those coping strategies only hurt. The anxiety doesn't need to be there, the dread, the fear. Rather than helping, they can ruin relationships, careers - it just goes on and on.

A person can go their whole life merely surviving if they don't learn to leave the coping mechanisms behind. For me this has required many therapists as well as medication, and a support network of family and friends.

Often I'll be walking down the street and feel like nothing is right. In reality, nothing is wrong.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Dangers Of Christian "Marriage Worship"

The following is an interesting article that I stumbled upon on Huffington Post Religion by Christian Piatt, an author, editor, and speaker.

"I've written before about the seemingly contrasting messages we offer to young people in church about sex and sexuality:

Sex is dirty; save it for someone you marry someday.

Umm, what? Granted, we walk a narrow rhetorical tightrope when discussing sex with our kids. If we tell them it's actually pretty awesome, and then tell them they can't do it, that's a setup for failure. On the other hand, if we focus on the negatives, we risk scarring and shaming them into a life of emotional conflict and struggle when it comes to sexual intimacy.

What we end up with, often times, is a vacuous silence when it comes to the real, difficult issues of sexual identity, impulse and expression. Add to that the Christian emphasis on marriage, and the result in many cases is scads of unhealthy, sexually awkward young people, married far too early with no idea why.

I was interviewed recently by Chelsea Batten for an article on virginity in Converge Magazine (yes, they wanted my opinion on virginity, what of it?), and she asked me about my take on the Church's approach to the matter. This, excerpted from her full article, linked above:

"I think we sometimes conflate institutional systems and structures, and covenant with God, to the point that we believe that signing a marriage license is God's intention." This from Christian Piatt, an author and blogger with Patheos and The Good Men Project.

"You can be married and use someone," he points out. "You can devalue and denigrate someone without ever touching them. You can abuse someone sexually without ever having sex with them."

He reviles the setting of arbitrary sexual boundaries as a means of emotional and spiritual protection in sexual relationships. "Hand jobs okay, intercourse not" is, he says, a Pharisaical reduction of the law to its letter. It preserves personal gratification, rather than reverence for the other person and their body, as the goal of a sexual relationship.

Marriage, says Mr. Piatt, is no magic pill for a righteous sexual relationship. The end of the matter, he says, is being able to say to your partner "'I'm doing this out of love and respect and reverence for you.'"

Before going any further, let's take a step back, say, a couple of millennia. The issue of sex before marriage simply wasn't as big of a deal, namely because young people were married off soon after they were able to make babies. There was little time wasted in active sexual maturity out of wedlock, primarily because there were babies to make -- LOTS of them. Many of the newborns would not be carried to full term, others would die at birth, and lots more would die in their first year or two of life. Plus, an agrarian culture such as this depended on family to maintain one's land and to create a sustainable food source for the whole clan. So children were a kind of capital investment, as it were.
This isn't to say that the notion of romantic love -- and as sex being used to express such love -- was nonexistent. One doesn't have to look any further than Song of Solomon in Scripture for evidence of so much. But whereas sex in today's western culture has taken on so very much with regard to power, identity, personal worth and more, it was mostly about baby-making back in the good old days.
Now, the average age for marriage (compared with 12 to 14 back in the day) has stretched into the mid- to late-20s, with many waiting until their 30s to tie the knot. And though it's tantamount to heresy to say so, we Christians are stuck in large part in the ancient understanding of what it means to be married. Keep in mind, however, that back in those times, it was also thought that the man held the entire human embryo in his semen, and that women merely carried the seed planted in them (patriarchy alert!), and that a man was bound to marry his sister-in law if his brother died. There were even rules about sex with slaves, so let's not go too deeply with our infatuation with "biblical marriage," shall we?  All of this is a rather roundabout way to suggest that our inability to engage a real, contemporary discussion about sex, sexuality and marriage reduces the terribly complex landscape of human intimacy to the same old silver-bullet panacea that marriage fixes everything. Wait until you're married, and then you'll magically know how to treat someone's body with love and respect, and how to express yourself in a way that honors the covenant binding two people together (in theory) for the rest of their lives.
And where, pray tell, does this flash of knowledge come from? God? If so, why is the divorce rate 42 percent among Christians? And what about this statement from the head of one of the leading religious research bodies in the world today:
"While it may be alarming to discover that born-again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time," said George Barna, president of Barna Research Group.

It's not that I'm against marriage. I've been married for nearly 13 years now. But I'm also a child of divorce (with one Christian parent), as is Amy (with a minister as a father). Further, our haste to pressure young people into marriage without endowing them with the necessary tools to understand their own bodies and implications of sexual intimacy creates fertile soil for misappropriation of sex under the supposed cloak of a religiously blessed marriage.

We preach that marriage fixes everything, from sexual infidelity to general moral decline in our culture. But it hasn't, and the way we teach about it, it won't. And it's not marriage's fault. I think it has more to do with what we understand marriage to be than anything else.

When we talk about being a Christian as principally being about the moment at which you accept Jesus as your savior (if you believe that is necessary), we do a disservice to every day that follows, in which the path toward Christ gets nothing but harder. Likewise, when we focus our attention about marriage on the act of getting married, as if some magical mojo rained down from the sky to help us honor that covenant forever after, we're being just as naive and foolish. We're setting up our young people for failure, primarily because focusing on getting them married (so we don't have to talk about sex) is a hell of a lot easier than helping them stay that way."