Willow Creek Splits With Exodus International
The following article was written by one of our long time and much loved commenters, episcopalienated. Here’s a link that will tell you a little about him in case you are new here . He brings much to the discussion and we at Stand Firm are honored to call him friend. It is with delight that I post his article—hopefully the first of many.
Many conservative Christians were surprised and dismayed recently to learn of the decision made by Willow Creek Community Church to sever its longstanding relationship with Exodus International, the world’s largest and most successful Christian outreach ministry to those who are seeking freedom from a homosexual lifestyle. Willow Creek is an Evangelical mega-church located in South Barrington, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, and was founded in 1975 by Bill Hybels who still serves as its senior pastor. With a weekly attendance of more than 20,000, it has been identified as “the most influential church in America” in opinion polls among Christian pastors nationwide in recent years.
A controversy has apparently developed around the issue of reparative therapy, which Exodus supports and recommends, and a concern on the part of Willow Creek Church with how its message is being perceived by members of the gay community. My own view of reparative therapy is that there are two opposite but related errors people can make about it. One is to argue that this form of treatment is fraudulent, or even downright harmful, and simply doesn’t work. Nothing could be further from the truth. The other is to insist that it is somehow supposed to work for everyone and that those for whom it does not work are either out of luck or doing something wrong. I think that position is equally nonsensical.
Reparative therapy can have a successful outcome even for those who feel sufficiently conflicted about their sexuality but who have no interest whatsoever in embracing Christianity. It is highly desirable in itself and beneficial to many, but it is never a substitute for Christian conversion, nor is it any kind of alternative to the daily struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil which all Christians are called to undertake, aided by God’s grace, which is the one and only thing that can save any of us anyway.
But Exodus International isn’t guilty of promoting any kind of pious quackery on this issue and the position it takes is eminently reasonable. In the “What Does Exodus Believe?” section of its website, Exodus acknowledges the fact that reparative therapy is “not religious” and correctly states that its “principles are derived from psychoanalytic psychology.”
It further describes reparative therapy in this way: “There are many clinical approaches to dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction within the world of psychology. Reparative therapy is only one, but the most widely known. It is a therapeutic, clinical process that operates under the premise that men and women dealing with same-sex attraction are attempting to restore broken familial relationships in an insufficient, unhealthy way. The therapy attempts to re-direct this drive towards healthy, nonsexual relationships with same sex peers and to explore other underlying personal issues in the counseling process. Some within the Exodus network have found this type of therapy to be beneficial.”
A “Christianity Today” article about Willow Creek‘s decision to disaffiliate from Exodus contains this response from Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus, who stated that “his main regret about the split is that it was predicated on a false perception that for Exodus, ‘freedom from homosexuality’ means changing orientation and eventually being in a heterosexual marriage. ‘In reality, the majority of people we minister to at Exodus are single, and marriage isn’t the answer—it’s just one part of our ministry.’” A growing maturity in recent years has also helped many in the ex-gay support movement to understand that true deliverance from the effects of same-sex attraction involves a great deal more than a pietistic approach that is somehow designed to simply “pray the gay away.”
There is no indication so far that Pastor Hybels and Willow Creek Church have taken a step away from a Biblical view of human sexuality and the church itself will continue to provide support for those struggling with this dilemma. Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering what a wrenching effect this decision may have on those members of Willow Creek who are currently participating in and benefiting from the ministry offered by Exodus, along with how it will impact the church‘s ability to reach the larger community with a gospel message that is truly transformational in nature.
Mr. Chambers expresses what I think is a very legitimate concern: “The choice to end our partnership is definitely something that shines a light on a disappointing trend within parts of the Christian community,” he said, “which is that there are Christians who believe like one another who aren’t willing to stand with one another, simply because they’re afraid of the backlash people will direct their way if they are seen with somebody who might not be politically correct.”
What is certain is that Soulforce, a group that describes itself as “committed to freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people from religious and political oppression through relentless nonviolent resistance,” is celebrating Willow Creek’s recent action and had sought to influence the Church to move in this direction. They are actively engaged in promoting the “gay is OK” political and religious agenda.
Although Soulforce isn’t taking full credit for the outcome, Executive Director Rev. Cindi Love enthusiastically welcomed Willow Creek’s decision in a response she gave at the Huffington Post: “Those of us who long for the Church Universal to equip its saints in the walk of peace and justice and inclusion are celebrating today that Willow Creek has found a door in the wall of religious bigotry and walked through it in such a public way. The leadership of the church and its congregants may still disagree doctrinally with any position that affirms LGBT people as whole children of God entitled to full membership and relationship within the Beloved Community. We have not yet heard where they stand on these issues. Yet, their disaffiliation with Exodus and its harmful reparative therapy is a blessing that I want to affirm and thank Bill Hybels for doing.”
The bottom line for me is that I’m convinced Willow Creek has made a potentially disastrous mistake by bending under pressure from the “you’re all a bunch of homophobes” crowd, one which could undermine the credibility and effectiveness of its message and ministry. That isn’t going to do them any good in the long run anyway, no matter how hard they try, because the architects of the gay rights agenda can’t be placated by anything short of total agreement with everything they have in mind. The religious component of that movement is no exception, even if they occasionally resort to use of the carrot rather than the stick.
I believe that we would do well to lift up the congregation at Willow Creek Community Church in prayer while standing against this undue compromise. —epsicopalienated
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