I have known Alan Chambers a long time. I met him at the very beginning of my tenure with New Direction when he was newly the president of Exodus. I’ve read the two previous books that Alan authored and so when my complimentary copy of My Exodus: from fear to grace arrived in the mail yesterday, I was curious to see if it would be distinct. Alan, Leslie, and I had shared long overdue cocktails together last February in California and he told me how much he had appreciated working with his editor and how freeing it was to tell his story in way that was very different from his well-rehearsed Exodus testimony.
My Exodus was written in the aftermath of the decision to close Exodus International in June of 2013. My guess is that the many people who have some personal connection to the notorious ex-gay motif have mixed feelings about whether or not to read the book. Matthew Paul Turner wrote a review entitled, “Love him or hate him give Alan Chamber’s book a chance….” disclosing that if the publisher had not compensated him for an honest review he likely would have never given the book a chance. Even Lisa Ling, who writes the forward, seems a little unsure citing that her decision to contribute wasn’t made easily. She calls Alan Chambers a controversial man – and for many people that rings true.
I also had some mixed feelings while reading and now thinking about how to write a review. Zondervan hasn’t compensated me – so that isn’t it. I’ve had a complicated relationship with Alan and with Exodus. And one’s reactions to the system and the man who headed it up for its last 13 years seem to communicate different things to different people. Either / or responses, like the title of Matthew’s post, are a lot clearer. But I don’t have the luxury of such simplistic compartmentalization. Alan and I have gone through too much for my response to ever be simplistic.
To me, Alan is the guy who in his verbal processing has said some things that by turn have been outrageous, prophetic, hurtful, encouraging, shrewd, or grace-filled. He’s human. And that is the strength of this book. I could tell that Alan worked really hard to abandon the scripts that had become second nature in his Exodus days and find a fresh level of honest sharing about the good, the bad, and the undefined of his life. At points I wondered if Alan was a little too vulnerable in ways that impact not only him – but his wife and as he acknowledges in the book his children as well. People have challenged Alan for years about his sexuality and his marriage to Leslie – and as a couple, they have really tried to be transparent. Truth is, Alan doesn’t have anything to prove. The man is attracted to men, loves his wife, and closed Exodus – deal with it. No one gets off the treadmill by demanding evidence of something that simply doesn’t really matter anymore.
Alan and I have had a few opportunities to connect in person the last few years. And when we do I encounter someone who loves Jesus and is really trying to live immersed in grace. Someone who is still trying to deconstruct religious systems that have had a lot of power in his life over the years. Someone who had deeply ingrained scripts about not only his own journey, but what the journeys of all other LGBTQ+ people ought to be. That isn’t distinct to Alan, of course, but given his public influence when president of Exodus, he does end up being a lightning rod in the midst of this turbulent time of re-evaluation and receptivity to new wineskins. And this is where I wish Alan had done more with this project. The first part of the book has a freshness in the story telling. I’ve heard Alan tell his story a lot over the years – but this was a lot less agenda-driven and was therefore personable and interesting. As the chapters began to address more about the Exodus organization and Alan’s role in it, there were some subtle shifts. I found myself wondering if Alan had written these portions when all of the events were fresher in his mind but before he’d had become seasoned in his reflections and learnings. Maybe he wrote as directed by his editor, but I know I was looking for more. I wanted to know more about the “why” and the “what now” of the things that led to the June 2013 announcement.
I can only imagine the tension Alan must have felt. He wants to be honest, he doesn’t want to needlessly disparage former leaders and colleagues, he wants to demonstrate the intent and make meaning of the work that was such a tremendous part of his life and identity, he wants to honour past participants in Exodus – but not only is that a diverse group, different factions deeply distrust each other. And he wants to connect with LGBTQ+ people. Alan would have known, of course, that there could be no way that he could “please” all the people who could potentially make up the audience for this book. And perhaps that’s why the book mainly focuses on his personal story.
I wish however, that he’d unpacked even more of what he refers to as grace. It has become such an internalized way of being for Alan and Leslie that perhaps it is hard to know how to articulate it without seemingly minimizing its impact. But when he refers to Leslie’s epiphany that “grace might cost us everything,” breaking that down more specifically may have driven that home a little more.
The book gave me the sense that Alan is still in a necessary time of waiting and listening and learning. I’m glad, actually, that the book was written “in process” given that so many Christian authors tend to write from the place of having “arrived.” I think this is more authentic and more real.
As complicated as my relationship with Alan is, he is my brother in Christ. We share a deep love and reliance on Jesus. We both rest in being the Beloved. And so just like I used to do with my own siblings at track meets, I’m there running along the side screaming, “You can do it – go, go, go!!!” I hope God uses the book to especially break the shame and fear of those who got enmeshed in the Exodus system. And I wish Alan, Leslie, and their awesome kids all the very best as they look towards the next season with expectant hope and wise discernment.