As we have witnessed changes at Exodus International in their approach to ministry, their view of reparative therapy, and other developments, I want to reflect a little not on Exodus as such but on how Christians and various institutions and ministries evolve in response to a rapidly changing sociocultural climate. It is important that an organization is clear about what it believes and why, so that its primary motivation is to provide clarity about its brand.
One unintended consequence of organizations revisiting their brand is related to the positive feedback they receive from others. If that becomes the focus, they can get themselves into a dilemma. They do well to keep in mind that not everyone will support changes that fall short of a ministry reflecting a completely different conclusion than the one they hold doctrinally.
To return to the example of Exodus, consider the post over at ThinkProgress titled: “Ex-Gay Group’s Rebranding Makes it No Less Dangerous or Wrong.” There has been so much pressure on Exodus and other ministries to move away from a focus on change of sexual orientation that you would think that if they made that shift it would be seen as a welcomed development. The reality is, for some people and organizations, no shift will be sufficient if it falls short of a fundamental change in formed moral evaluation of all aspects of homosexuality, including same-sex behavior.
At its core, the organization clearly still believes that homosexuality is the cause of a person’s struggles, not the anti-gay society in which they live. Regardless of how these therapists attempt to treat homosexuality, they are still causing harm by trying to treat it at all — in complete violation of all social science research and ethics. As Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen notes in the AP article, “The underlying belief is still that homosexuals are sexually broken, that something underlying is broken and needs to be fixed. That’s incredibly harmful, it scars people.”
I haven’t really said much about the developments at Exodus. Generally speaking, however, I see a focus on identity, behavior, and spiritual maturity as a more constructive framework than a narrow focus on orientation, in part because that focus can become the measure of self-worth and spiritual maturity, which is a mistake in my view. That said, if a group makes changes in anticipation that others will cease to criticize them, they will be in for a rude awakening. (I’m not saying that is what happened with Exodus; I am saying that as a principle for Christians and ministries to consider.)
As Christians (and Christian institutions and ministries) take in new information, new data, respond to shifts in culture, and consider how they want to position themselves in relation to the topic and the people who are represented by that subject matter, they will benefit from making changes that truly reflect who they are, what their brand is. At the same time, keep in mind that the new brand–as accurate as it may be–will still be utterly rejected by some.
The question will arise: Can you hold convictions independent of the approval of others?
On the upside, these pressures help provide clarity about what people (and institutions/organizations/ministries) believe and why. It can be seen as a kind of pruning back the extra things that a person does not really see as critical, with the idea that what remains is essential.