Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Alan Chambers: Unlock “Prison of Legalistic Religion”

The former head of an interdenominational ex-gay ministry came full circle on Sunday, repenting publicly at the Washington National Cathedral as part of its Pride Week observance for his past work.

“It is a tremendous honor to be standing here in the Canterbury pulpit as the guest preacher for 2016 Pride Weekend,” declared Alan Chambers at the Cathedral’s June 12 worship service. “For those of you who know me and know my story, you know that this is a truly momentous occasion.”

Chambers formerly led an umbrella group of Christian ministries addressing human sexuality and gender. Exodus International in 2013 dissolved a ministry among LGBT persons (some former Exodus affiliates, including United Methodist Transforming Congregations, initiated a new organization, Restored Hope Network, which continues today).

In explaining his changed views on homosexuality, Chambers repeatedly referenced what he termed “The pure Gospel” – an emphasis on God’s grace and command to love one another. Other characteristics of God, including holiness and justice, were unmentioned.

Noting that he and his family have a house church, Chambers interpreted the Gospel differently than the Christians he once conducted ministry among. Pursuit of “The pure Gospel” was shorn of the context of historic Christian teaching.

The mainline Protestant congregation at the Cathedral was polite but cautious: at several points in Chambers’ sermon, obvious laugh lines went unacknowledged by congregants who listened reservedly. The subdued response for Chambers stood in contrast to other LGBT Pride Week speakers, including a 2014 sermon by the Cathedral’s first Transgender preacher which had an ebullient reception.

Chambers thanked Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Budde, Cathedral staff and the LGBT+ community, saying “We do not take your friendship lightly.”

Noting that he is from the Orlando area, Chambers shared his heavy heart following the Pulse gay nightclub shooting by an ISIS-sympathizing gunman earlier that morning which resulted in the deaths of at least 50 persons and injured 53 more.

“The truth is, we do have an agenda – because we believe, through faith in Christ, we, whose sins are many, have forgiveness of sin, forgiveness of guilt, and forgiveness of shame. Because we believe we are justified through faith in Christ and not through works of the flesh,” Chambers explained. The former Exodus official alternated between language familiar to Evangelicals and language at odds with historic church teachings, declaring belief “that we have been crucified with Christ and have new life though we remain in these suits of flesh” – a Gnostic understanding of people as spiritual entities whose physical bodies are of no consequence, rather than an intrinsic part of their humanity.

“Our agenda is to follow his commands: to love God, and to love people,” Chambers outlined. “Admittedly that agenda appears passive to some who want clear answers or position statements, or who want me to wear any number of labels. Conversely, to demonstrate love in certain arenas feels aggressive: to those who believe we have succumbed to an errant theology, a sloppy grace unreflective of Christ, but this is our choice – this is our new life.”

“It is true, we have fallen prey to grace – and it has wrecked us. It is messy, sloppy and troublesome: but we believe it is the only key that can unlock the prison of legalistic religion, the only thing that can set the captive truly free.”

Chambers declared that he was at the Cathedral to celebrate the gift of living in a society “where people are free to live outside of the dark, frightening and lonely closets in which they have been imprisoned.”

The former ministry leader celebrated families that have “finally been given the legal recognition that they deserve” in a nod to the legalization of same-sex marriage. He referred to his family as a “remnant” of the church “hoping the diversity we have in this house this morning will lead others in our body to open their houses of worship to all as well.”

Recalling the first gay pride weekend in Manhattan in 1970, Chambers stated that he was celebrating “a growing movement” of honesty, transparency and pride, declaring that “shame is an antonym for pride.”

Chambers stated that he was seeking to make amends for those “hurt by sexual orientation change efforts”:

“We stand here not as people whose moral pendulum has swung from one side to another, but as people who are joyfully and irrevocably plugged into the tree of life, seeing people as God sees them: redeemed, holy, blameless, righteous and beautiful. Our pendulum has fallen off of its axis, never to swing again.”

Chambers explained that his heart had been expanded to include a community he once felt in opposition to and estranged from. Warning that many have “mixed in the law, and called it the truth” making the Christian faith exclusionary, Chambers noted that Jesus fulfilled the law and that grace came through his sacrifice, decrying the idea of “cheap” grace, instead describing God’s grace as lavish.

Sharing the history of his prior ministry, Exodus International, Chambers stated that he repented publicly of his role in that organization:

“The job of Christian leaders isn’t to usurp the role of God, savior, or the Holy Spirit: it isn’t to condemn. Jesus was the only perfect human to live on Planet Earth, and the Apostle John states that Jesus didn’t come to condemn, but to save.”

Referencing the morning’s Gospel text of Luke Chapter 7:36-8:3, Chambers noted that Jesus rebuked Simon the Pharisee and showed favor to the sinner who gave all that she had out of a pure heart. Asking “why do we condemn, judge, exclude?” Chambers wondered aloud if followers of Christ “have allowed fear to rule us.”

“Fear of the unknown, that which is different, of the other,” Chambers listed. “Fear that God’s judgment would rain down like upon Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Stating that God’s perfect love casts out all fear, Chambers exclaimed that without fear he had more time to trust and to love. He charged that the mandate of the church is to “welcome all” and to preach the Kingdom of God – “The pure Gospel”.

Turning the parable of the Pearl of Great Price on its head, Chambers posited that the merchant in the story is not the Christian giving up everything else of value to follow God, but is God himself giving up his valuable son to purchase us: “that would make you and me the Pearl of Great Price.”

First printed at Juicy Ecumenism.

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