Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…

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Summer is over. Yes, I realize the arrival of fall is still a couple weeks away and yes, it’s still hot, humid, and semi miserable outside. But still, it’s after Labor Day. By most accounts, summer has ended.

And I’m not the least bit sad about that, either.

Because my summer was amazing.

Not epic.

Not the best ever.

But awesome… real… alive.

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This was the kind of summer that allowed me to spend lots of time with my family, especially with my two older kids, Elias and Adeline. But all of us spent lots of time together—quality time, lazy time, silly time, sometimes, too much time. But time… lots of time.

And we did a lot of fun stuff. As you might know, my wife is basically the Alpha & Omega of natural family event and activity planning. For the second year in a row, she and the kids made a summertime bucket list. Now, I’m not usually a fan of list making—I find them mostly to be guilt-inducing recipes disguised as treasure maps—but the summertime bucket list was pretty awesome as it encouraged us to do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do. And yes, even though we didn’t accomplish every item on the list—which did cause us to feel a wee bit guilty—we did do most of the activities and for the most part, we had fun and we made some good memories.

I also carved a lot this summer. For just a little more than two years, I’ve been wood carving. I started out carving mostly basswood. But last summer, I discovered cottonwood bark and I’ve been carving only cottonwood bark ever since. Cottonwood bark is a very soft wood to work with, but it’s also quite temperamental. Sometimes it’s very easy to carve and other times, it’s so soft that it falls apart in your hands. Moreover, there’s only so much you can do with cottonwood bark. And yet, for some odd reason, it’s limitations are what I’m drawn to. There’s something about working within the medium’s boundaries that excites me.

For a long weekend in July, I hung out with like 10 of my closest friends in the mountains of North Carolina. It had been a long time since I’d had the chance to do that and we had an absolute blast. We talked, ate, drank, and laughed the entire time we were together. It was amazing. So energizing. Relaxing. Life giving. I’m hopeful that my friends and I will be able to make that something we try to do annually. Because I think all of us needed that time…

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This summer was also the beginning of a new journey for me as I started to focus more on photography as opposed to writing. While I’ll always write in some capacity, photography has, since 2009, been a creative outlet for me, something that I’ve long believed I’d enjoy doing professionally. And I wasn’t wrong. The last three months have been a rollercoaster of photography experiences, scenarios that have fed my creative soul, challenged me professionally, and offered me numerous opportunities to be around people. While there have been a couple of photography jobs that have certainly been less than thrilling, I’ve learned something from every experience. But most of all, I have thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to see and experience and photography people’s most amazing—usually some of their happiest—life moments. (If you’re in the Nashville area and would like to book a session, email me at

It’s been a good summer. But I’m not sad that it’s over. I’m excited for what the new seasons will bring…

What did your story entail this summer? What are you looking forward to in the weeks ahead?

Domino effects of hope-you never know what you might start


Many years ago, an American family made a decision to sponsor a child named Jose Nicolas Ramirez.

At the time, all that family knew about Jose (nicknamed Jacobo) was what World Vision had printed on his sponsorship folder, a picture, a name and age, and a country in which he lived, the Dominican Republic.

Choosing to sponsor a child from the DR probably didn’t change that family’s life all that much. Sure, it may have been a sacrifice. And yes, it may have even sparked dinner time conversations about poverty or helping other people. But chances are, it likely didn’t change the course of their lives, not like it affected Jacobo.

Though Jacobo was, at the time, much too young to fully grasp the impact of becoming a sponsor child with World Vision, he does remember feeling happy mostly because members of his family were happy.

As sponsor child, Jacobo became fully engaged in all that his local World Vision program offered—from anti-bullying campaigns and education workshops to sex-education programs and community-wide holiday celebrations—Jacobo’s journey began to change, his life path began filling up bigger and more exciting opportunities.


As a teenager, Jacobo started volunteering as a youth promoter for a community health and wellness program, a World Vision-sponsored initiative in his community. Over time, while advocating healthy life choices to his peers, Jacobo’s interest in health care, medicine, and helping people. His experiences as a youth wellness promoter led him to begin volunteering at a World Vision-sponsored wellness clinic, a health program that treated and cared for orphans who were HIV positive. Jacobo’s love, concern, and desire to help people flourished here. Rather than settling down after high school, Jacobo decided that he wanted to be a medical doctor.

World Vision helped Jacobo pay for tuition. Moreover, World Vision not only helped pay for his education and provided him with extra money for living expenses, World Vision also purchased the med student a motorbike so he could commute back and forth to school.

Last month, I visited Jacobo’s hometown, Batey Altagracia, Dominican Republic. Fifteen minutes after we arrived, I was photographing a father and his beautiful baby when the familiar roar of a motorbike approaching sends both of their heads turning toward the noise. Through my lens, I saw the father’s face showcase faint but very real relief upon realizing who it was riding that bike.

It was 3:15 p.m., and Jose Nicolas Ramirez, the birth name of that onetime World Vision sponsor child, had just finished a full-day’s work at one of the government’s hospitals.

As he gets off his bike, I hear several people holler his name—“Dr. Jacobo!”

Jacobo is 29 now. And yes, he’s a physician—Doctor Jacobo. He was offered some residency assignments at the major hospitals in Santo Domingo, where he studied. But he turned them all down so he could help people who couldn’t afford to come to the big city hospitals for treatment.

Though he’s wildly smiling and generously greeting members of his community, it’s also obvious that he’s warn out, exhausted by the day’s work, by the stories he encounters, the stories of people who came to him in hopes of finding healing.

Rather than going home to sleep, Dr. Jacobo has driven 45 minutes to his hometown, where’s he’s met by more people, more stories, more seekers of healing. A small crowd gathers around the doctor as he walks a quarter mile toward a small pink and green building. He unlocks its doors and windows. People form a line at the door. And soon, one by one, Dr. Jacobo examines each person. He listens to every story. And to the best of his ability, he tries to offer the people of his town some hope, some healing.


And he doesn’t charge a dime. Three days a week, every single week, Dr. Jacobo donates several hours of his time.

And that’s not all—Dr. Jacobo is also a community leader, a vocal advocate for the people of his town, a voice who speaks up on behalf of the needs and demands of the people living in Batey Altagracia.

That’s the power of child sponsorship through World Vision. Jose is one child who’s story was forever changed, and now, because of his story, hundreds of people’s stories are being changed.

Change a kid’s life. Change a community’s life. Sponsor a child from the Dominican Republic.

Poverty isn’t black and white; and neither is World Vision…

DR_2This week, I’m in the Dominican Republic with World Vision.

Since 2010, I’ve traveled with World Vision to places all over the world—Uganda, the Philippines, Bolivia, Armenia, and many other places…

On every trip, I’ve witnessed firsthand the vivid and unique aspects of poverty.

I’ve learned from experience that poverty is never black and white. Solutions are rarely simple or perfect. To say the least, poverty is complicated, and fighting poverty is messy and sometimes it feels a bit hopeless.

Because no matter where you go in the world, poverty and the longstanding effects of poverty are shaped and colored by a country’s culture, climate, politics, and economy.

And oftentimes, hope—even the best kind of hope—will work beautifully in one community and fall flat in another community only a few miles down the road.

Sometimes, despite being a well-traveled progressive thinker who has long advocated on behalf of the poor, I can quickly turn into that Americanized social justice tourist who gets caught up in observing a country and a country’s poverty from a macro level, a perspective from which I miss both the detailed effects of poverty as well as the vivid hopes that many people experience because of organizations like World Vision.


Like poverty, World Vision isn’t black and white, either. It’s not a one-trick organization that copies and pastes a certain idea or one kind of hope in community after community. For one family, the aid that World Vision provides and/or strategizes is often different and/or unique from the aid it provides to another family. Through its child sponsorship program here in the Dominican Republic, World Vision is able to offer communities and the families of these communities a kind of hope that caters to the specific needs of individual children as well as their families.

One of the things I love most about World Vision are the beautiful people who work for them on the ground in each individual country. Nearly every person who works for World Vision is locally hired and university trained in their whatever line of work they do for the organization. They aren’t simply people who are passionate about helping others, they are people who are educated, trained, and empowered to help people who live and suffer in their own communities.


My wife and I sponsor 5 kids through World Vision, one of which—an 11-year-old named Juan—lives right here in the DR. And while it’s not always perfect and doesn’t fix every individual need, child sponsorship through World Vision works.

I’ve seen it working all over the world.

I saw it working today in the Dominican Republic.

Will you please consider sponsoring a child? It will change not only a child’s life, but also a family’s life and help to shape and better the community in which that child and family live.

Click here to sponsor a child today. Help me get 20 children sponsored!

Watch the first 5 minutes of #StoryOfGod with Morgan Freeman


This week, Entertainment Weekly released the first 5 minutes of National Geographic Channel‘s “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman.”

For me, as someone who experienced firsthand all of what viewers will see during this 6-part documentary, I believe that most people, regardless of their spiritual beliefs or background, will glean new wisdom from this series.

What I love most about this series is that it’s not about offering conclusions, but rather, it’s about offering insight and understanding about how the world’s most popular religions believe and process ideas like death, the afterlife, heaven, the End, and so much more.

The first episode, which debuts on April 3, is all about the question, what happens when we die

Watch the first 5 minutes of that episode right now….

If you’d like to know more about some of the themes of Episode 1, you can read THIS, which I wrote for NatGeo Channel and USAToday…


Rob Bell is ‘Here,’ and he’s happier and more hopeful than ever…


I’m a fan of Rob Bell.

Always have been.

His new book, How To Be Here, might be my favorite book that’s he’s written. I loved Love Wins and Velvet Elvis, but How To Be Here is practical hope that I have been able to apply to my everyday life–specifically how I think about myself and what I believe to be true about me.

Because I’m a fan, I was thrilled that he agreed to join Ben and me on this week’s episode of That God Show…

Amid our interview, Ben asked Rob this question: Rob, what do you say to the people who just aren’t sure what they believe anymore?

The first thing that happens when the rug gets pulled out is people are most acutely aware of what they no longer believe or think… They say, “I don’t know what I believe anymore” but that’s not actually true, because the reason why you are walking away from that previous framework is because it didn’t work…

We do not move to later stages of consciousness without loss, pain, suffering, or some–usually cross-cultural–experience where our previous categories and labels no longer work. Generally in times of stress, loss, pain, or when we’re confronted with some new experience that doesn’t fit our previous categories, we will either dig in our heels and entrench, or we will break through to greater expansiveness, freedom, complexity, or inclusion… So to the person who’s like, “Oh man, I’m just taking the whole thing apart, nothing works like it used to, up is not down, right is not left… that’s the only way that growth happens. And so, celebrate it! Because it means the old is going and the new is coming.

So, the first thing I would say is it’s not entirely true that you have no idea what you believe anymore. It just happens that in this moment you are acutely aware of some things you no longer believe, but the only reason you don’t believe them is because there’s something better that is pushing them out… This is how people grow— it’s totally normal, and you should celebrate it.

Whether you’re a fan of Rob or not, our conversation might interest/surprise you.

Here’s the interview.

And please, subscribe to That God Show

Phoenix, you have a problem, a really big Mark & Grace problem…


Oh dear… I feel like I need to warn all of the good people of Phoenix, Arizona. Unfortunately, your fine city has been chosen as the unlucky recipient of a brand new church spearheaded by Pastor Mark Driscoll and his wife, Grace. I’m warning you because Mark and Grace’s last church spawned an enormous “faith”-based mess in Seattle. Honestly, “mess” doesn’t even begin to tell the godawful story because it involved fear, manipulation, church abuse, misogyny, spiritual abuse, emotional abuse, slander, homophobia, excommunications, lying, misappropriation of funds, publishing scandals, denial, and the list goes on and on…

Now, you’d think that Mark and Grace would have learned a thing or two from that clusterfundamentalist of a church they created in Seattle. But by all accounts, they haven’t learned anything. In fact, not only have they not apologized or even acknowledged wrongdoing toward the thousands of people whose lives they infected with their brand of bible-wielding god abuse, they actually pretend to be victims.

Now, I have no doubt that their lives have been utter hell since their shit hit the fan a few years ago. But that’s not surprising. And it’s nobody’s fault except Mark and Grace’s. When you use “God” to hurt people and then you’re unwilling to admit that you hurt people, life is going to feel like hell for awhile.

But don’t you worry about Mark and Grace. These two are bible-based stormtroopers. They know how to survive the pain they inflicted upon themselves. They’ve perfected their ability to deflect and deny any wrongdoing. They packed up their kids and Bible and dog and they moved far far away from Seattle and the people they abused. They found a brand new city chock full of new fresh and perhaps naive people looking for a place to worship.

The name of their church is The Trinity Church. In the video at the new church website, Mark and Grace still continue to act like panic-stricken victims who have no idea why God would allow them to suffer in the emotional and spiritual wilderness.

So let this be your warning, Phoenix. Do not be fooled into visiting Mark and Grace’s new church. Don’t go. Make sure your friends don’t go. Keep your kids far away from the influence of Mark and Grace.

Why? Because Mark is a charmer.

I’m telling you to stay away because over the years I’ve interviewed quite a few of the charter members of Mars Hill church, people who joined Mark and Grace close to the very beginning and helped them start their church in Seattle, Washington. There was one thing that every single person I talked to said about Mark.

He was charismatic.

One member said, “he was a master at first impressions.”

Another noted that “he had me at hello.”

One person called him “charming.”

Mark and Grace didn’t grow a 15,000-person church in Seattle by telling the people they met, “hey, we abuse people” or “you’re going to HATE us 6 years from now.”


No, this isn’t Mark and Grace’s first Jesus rodeo. They aren’t stupid people. They play coy and act like they’re not organized or prepared for what God’s calling them to do. But that’s all apart of the narrative they’re writing, the story they’re helping God write about them, the one that will no doubt be something like “the Second Coming of Mark and Grace”! But they don’t want to make you think they’re overly prepared for all that God’s got in store for you, Phoenix! Trust me, Mark has been working like a fiend on outlining all that God is going to do in your lives over the next few years.

Nobody needs Mark and Grace’s “God.” Trust me. You don’t need it. And if you give Mark and Grace a second of your time, YOU could likely fall for it. And if you do… I promise—I’ve seen it over and over and over again—You. Will. Get. Burned.

Because Mark and Grace’s “God” hurts people, empowers “yes” men, keeps women “in their place,” and start to turn on you as soon as you start asking questions that “aren’t any of your concern.”

Don’t be fooled Phoenix.





The story about God, Morgan Freeman, and me

I’ve been keeping a secret from pretty much everybody since August, a secret that I’ve been dying to share with everybody. As you might recall, last October I shared the following Instagram…


At the time, that’s all I was allowed to share.

Today, I’ve been given permission to share a little bit more. Here’s the short version of a very long story about a 40-day experience that I embarked on last fall that became one of the biggest highlights of my career.

The assignment I was referring to on Instagram was offered to me by National Geographic Channel. My job? To travel as the exclusive writer/photographer on a trip around the world with Morgan Freeman and a team from his Hollywood-based company, Revelations Entertainment, and cover the “making of” The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, a 6-part documentary that will debut April 3, 2016 on National Geographic Channel.

Today, Entertainment Tonight released the The Story of God trailer. Check it out.

I admit, the trailer brought a tear to my eye.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more about my experience. But this has been a very cool gig. If somebody had told me a year ago that I was going to get the chance to work with National Geographic on a project about God that would be hosted by Morgan Freeman, I would have laughed.

My experience was not only affecting from a career standpoint–pushing me as a writer/storyteller and causing me to consider taking photography a little more seriously–it was also spiritually and culturally affecting. It was both beautiful and powerful to engage God from a myriad of perspectives. I learned things about our world that have forever affected me–I encountered ideas that have made me less afraid, met people and heard stories that challenged my opinions, and engaged histories and cultures that shined new light on my faith.

I could go on and on…

Instead, I’ll shut up and let some of the photos I captured do the talking…

(Photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)

(Photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)


(Photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)

(Photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)


(Photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)

(Photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)


(Photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)

(Photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)


(Photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)

(Photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)


The Story of God with Morgan Freeman.  

(Photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)

(Photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)


(Photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)

(Photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Matthew Paul Turner)




A Letter To My Son: May the Force Be With You


Dear Elias,

Well, son, tomorrow’s the big day—the day that you and I have been talking about for three-and-half-years—it’s the day that we get to go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I cannot wait.

You’d just turned 4 when I read the news online that Disney was making a 7th Star Wars movie. When I walked into your room to tell you the good news, you’d just woken up from a nap. I said, “Elias, guess what? When you’re 7-years old, you and I get to go see a brand new Star Wars movie!”

You jumped up and down like you had no idea how long we’d be waiting. You’ve been excited ever since.

When you turned 5, you said, “Daddy, when I turn 7, we get to go see the new Star Wars movie!”

When you turned 6, you said, “I’m almost 7, Daddy! Only one more year and we’ll get to go see Star Wars!”

When you turned 7, you started counting down the months until December 17. Then, as October started, you counted down both the weeks and the days.

This morning you looked at me with that wild grin of yours and said, “Daddy, one more day–and then it’s Star Wars and buddy time! I can’t wait!”

I cannot wait, son. You have no idea. I. Can’t. Wait.

I love Star Wars–the story, the characters, the elaborate sets, the drama of the force vs. the dark side, the music–I love it all. Since that first time I watched those opening moments of Episode IV, Star Wars has captured my imagination and has never let go.

But as excited as I am about this new Star Wars chapter finally hitting the theater, I’m far more excited that I get to see it with you, dude.

Seeing you become captivated by the same characters and story that have captivated me has been pure joy. Watching you get quiet and awestruck whenever Darth Vader arrives on a scene is beautiful. Seeing you grin at Chewbacca or roll your eyes at C3PO makes me happy. Hearing you shout “Yoda!!” the first time you watched Empire Strikes Back filled my soul up with joy.

One of my favorite moments was dressing up as Darth Vader at your 6th birthday party—seeing the smile on your face as you saw the leader of the Dark Side arrive on our deck was pure magic.

But that’s the power of a good story. It transcends time, demographics, special effects and inspires us to feel, to dream, to fear, and to hope.

In the last three-and-half years, I’ve seen you experience all those things.

And tomorrow, we’ll get to experience all those things together—you and me—watching The Force Awakens.

I cannot wait.

Now, son, I’ll be honest–you might see me shed a tear or two tomorrow night. It might happen during the opening credits when the epic score begins and the introduction to the story begins scrolling across the screen. Or it might happen at a moment when I see your eyes widen as you get lost in the magic of the story. Or it might just happen because I’m with you, experiencing the continuation of a story that has affected me so deeply.

I don’t care if this new Star Wars is good or bad or just so-so. I know it’s going to be AMAZING because I’ll be seeing it with you.

I’ve waited three-and-half years for this. I’m glad the time hasn’t flown by too fast because I love being a part of YOUR story, a lively and imaginary tale that, far more than Star Wars, has had a deep and profound effect on me. 

So, tomorrow’s the big day, Elias—I cannot wait.

May the force be with you.

And with me.

With both of us—tomorrow and forever.

I love you, Elias.


PS: I’m totally going to wear that Darth Vader hoodie you bought me for my birthday!

My Interview with Alan Chambers, the former president of Exodus International


On Tuesday, I wrote about My Exodus, the new book by Alan Chambers.  After reading Chambers’s book, I had lots of questions. Rather than offering this Q&A laced with my thoughts/opinions, I elected to simply offer you my questions and Alan’s answers.

To order My Exodus, click here.

Matthew Paul Turner: First of all, why write a book? Why did you decide to put yourself in the spotlight again? 

Alan Chambers: Following the close of Exodus, 24 different publishers contacted us and Leslie and I considered what we might have to say. Initially, out of habit really, we wrote a book filled with our opinions but with the help of our dear friends at Zondervan and our editor we chose to start over and simply tell our story. The change fit. After all, an understanding God’s love and grace has taught us to re-think everything

I ask that because I can only assume that having a break from the media frenzy has been nice…

Time is a friend indeed and it has given me rest and perspective. I needed both. I’m also keenly aware that people needed me to go away for a while. With a clearer head and with a focused heart, I’m ready to jump back into the frenzy. I can’t wait to tell people, especially the next generation of LGBT people, about a God who loves and accepts them as they are. In my humble opinion, they can have as vibrant a relationship with Jesus as any straight person.

You write a good deal about your childhood in My Exodus. As you re-enagaged your childhood, what did you learn about yourself or your story or your family’s story that you didn’t know before or had forgotten? 

As a child I was full of dreams that were handicapped by fear and shame brought on by religion, rules, and cultural expectations. For many years into adulthood I held myself back because of those same religious rules and cultural expectations; they were my guiding principles and foundation. I was ashamed of who God made me —the little gender-non-conforming boy who loved fashion and Barbies and dress up was precious and not flawed. My story wasn’t one to be ashamed of but one to view as unique and beautiful. While writing I found myself sad for little Alan Chambers who felt very alone and who spent most of his life hiding in fear he’d be rejected.

Writing the chapters about my youth allowed me to re-live those years from the perspective of a completely restored relationship with my father. My dad went to Heaven in 2007 having fully embraced and accepted me as his son—I feel about my dad in much the same way John felt about Jesus that I was the son my dad loved most.

I think writing helped unearth some of the missing or hidden or rejected pieces of myself. Accepting those pieces and allowing them to fall into place, fills out the puzzle that is my life and now, more than ever, I like the picture it’s portraying.

But most importantly, it’s helping me encourage my kids to see themselves as God sees them and to know they are loved. Not everyone gets or takes that chance and I feel very fortunate.

 For the most part, you don’t write much about your high school years—in the book, you skip from being 11 and letting go of your alter ego “Alice” to your first counseling session at Eleutheros, the local organization associated with Exodus International that you began frequenting when you were 19. Was skipping those years intentional?

Skipping my late middle and high school years in the book wasn’t intentional. I guess they felt unnecessary to the story. But as I think about it they were really my own personal dark ages. During those years I perfected my outward persona. I became an outgoing leader resolving to be voted funniest, best dressed, and friendliest. While those things were true of me, I exaggerated them and they were facades I hid behind to keep people off the scent of Alan Chambers, the gay kid. Don’t get me wrong, I had some fun in high school—a lot of fun, but I also allowed fear to become my primary motivator and hunkered down into a belief that God could never be okay with all of me. It was during those years, I played hard and prayed for God to “fix, cure, heal, or kill me”.

At Eleutheros, you write that you feel at home—that it was a space where you could be yourself. Did everybody who attended those gatherings feel the same way? Did you hear or know of any person whose experience was negative or different than your own? 

Eleutheros’s clientele, not unlike most ministries of its kind, could be broken down into thirds: 1/3 came and went quickly, 1/3 stayed for a significant period of time and became believers in the work that was being done, 1/3 came, went, came again, and went again. It was that last group of people I felt sorriest for—they were tortured souls who desired “freedom” but didn’t find it anywhere and kept going back and forth between gay and legalism. The 1/3 in the middle, people like me, found something that kept them there whether that was sheer legalism and determination to succeed at any cost or like me, a place of happiness and contentment. The 1/3 that came and went quickly might just be, in hindsight, the ones with the highest concentration of success stories. After all, many of them realized gay couldn’t be changed and chose to live their lives accordingly whether embracing gay life, celibacy, or living honestly within their marriages. But, yes, there were people, especially in that middle 1/3, who gave a lot of their time, energy, and emotion to being “free” only to fail at that and become hurt and bitter. During my time as a leader at Eleutheros there were people I loved dearly who left and wouldn’t speak to me anymore. That was very hard.

There’s a “turning point” moment that you write about when you hear God speak to you. At the time, you’re in your early-to-mid twenties. You’re sitting all alone at a gay bar. In thinking about that moment in hindsight, as you’ve moved from “fear to grace,” has your perception of that encounter changed at all? In other words, 20 years later, what do you believe God was saying to you back then? 

I was 20 years old that Easter Sunday night in the gay bar and the dialogue was powerful for me. God affirmed me, a gay young man, in my identity as a Christian. At the time I knew he was leading me out of a season that was at best distracting for me and at worst destructive. I thought he was also leading me out of a gay identity and lifestyle. He told me, “I love you but I have something better for you.” What I didn’t realize until writing this book, and specifically until Leslie edited the section and gave me her perspective, that he wasn’t calling me out of the bar. He was calling me out of the cauldron where I was mixing law and grace together. Law told me I needed to be straightened out. Grace told me God loved me. I was hot for change one minute and hot for guys the next. It was killing me. Literally. He came so I might have life and he wanted me to live. I cannot add anything to his abundant love. Today I know he would have blessed me whichever way I’d gone. And, he has.

As a progressive, I can list off a hundred ways the American church has failed (and often abused and bullied) the LGBTQ communities—that’s easy for obvious reasons. But as you look back on your experiences and your past career, is there anything that you believe the American church has gotten right as it relates to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters?

As it relates to my past career, and my experience with various churches, I witnessed many churches who lovingly provided safe places for lesbian and gay folks like me who have found their authentic reality to be one that embraces celibacy as the best option for their gay orientation or who have found life-giving opposite sex marriages. They served this population well and without agenda. Many churches also embraced a welcoming and affirming attitude towards gay people. Where we could improve is in the area of loving those with whom we disagree.

Contrary to some of the squeakiest wheels in the Christian Church, I believe we are in the midst of or on the cusp of our finest hours in the American Church. I believe the legalization of gay marriage should be a wake up call for social conservatives – or the religious fundamental right. Because this particular battle is now over, we have been given the opportunity to lay down any weapons we are still holding on to and instead rest by letting God be God. We must follow Jesus and even the Apostle Paul’s example and welcome everyone.

Leslie and I don’t watch the news much, but the day SCOTUS ruled in favor of marriage equality I turned it on and surfed few stations with national coverage. I saw God being glorified by people on the steps of the Supreme Court—LGBT folks who gave God all the glory for their lives and for the decision. I saw spontaneous acts of patriotism and goodness. I watched groups of people holding hands and praying and I felt lucky to be on this side of grace witnessing marginalized people receive a gift. They could have pointed in the cameras and rubbed it in the face of their opponents but they chose instead to thank God.

During your mid twenties, you started talking a lot about your story of faith and “same-sex attraction.” You told your story to individuals, groups, media—have you ever regretted allowing your story to become attached to the narrative of Christianity and “same sex attraction”? 

Hindsight is 20/20. Everyone has regrets. I cannot go back and change how I once told or used my story or allowed it to be used. If I could, of course there are things I’d change, but I have to trust that God redeems the past. I’m not sorry that my story is attached to Christianity because I think Leslie and I have an amazing opportunity to share authentically and help others who are trapped in the same religious system where we were both captive and captor. Had I not been among Exodus’s success stories, I wouldn’t have been president. If I hadn’t been president, I wouldn’t have been among those who closed Exodus. If Exodus hadn’t closed, I wouldn’t have the opportunity I have now to share what I consider to be real freedom. Everyone has regrets but living there is a chosen paralysis that serves no one.

In one of the later chapters in My Exodus, you write about labels and about how different groups of people want you to identify as gay or ex-gay or straight. You wrote that none of the various labels truly reflect your personhood. What are your thoughts regarding labels when, for many people, sexuality seems to be far more fluid than what the labels allow? How has the pressure to fit one or wear one affected you and your story?

I think labels are often used as a symbol of belonging and community. Solidarity even. When minority groups are marginalized, a common name unites them. The black community, the gay community, and others have found strength in numbers and galvanized their communities. Labels engender support and recognition. Labels are used powerfully and necessarily.

My frustration with labels comes when a label overrides or transcends individual identity. The label gay or straight or even bisexual – for me – imply more than is true of me. As such, I have chosen to galvanize my life around other truths.

Alan, one of my biggest frustrations with My Exodus is how you end up defining your orientation. You end up writing something like, “I am a man. I am a son. I am a brother. I am a husband. I am a father. I am a child of God… and my orientation is Leslie.” That’s a frustration for me because it feels like a cop out, like you’re attempting to answer a multiple choice question with an answer that isn’t one of the options. Why offer any answer at all if the one you give really only satisfies you and those who are invested in you? And too, why not identify as bisexual?

I am compelled to give an answer because so many people ask the question. I remember taking tests as a high school student where the teacher gave us the option of choosing “other” with space to explain. That’s my answer and I’ll keep trying to explain.

I have heard from several critics that not everyone needs to claim a label based on their sexuality, but I should. I must wear gay or at least bisexual in order to undo damage from my days as the leader of Exodus. The problem is, the minute I pick up and wear one of those labels, it takes center stage. At this stage of my life, my sexuality – the label I wear in connection with my sexuality – is all about Leslie. With her, I am neither gay nor bisexual. Marriage is committing to one person until death you do part. Your orientation becomes that person. I don’t believe married people who have healthy relationships and sex lives continue to have sex primarily because they are gay or straight. I believe they have healthy relationships and sex lives because of the actual person they are married to, are in love with, and have chosen to share a life with. That is the story of Alan and Leslie Chambers—two people who are madly in love with one another who choose each other above all else. Leslie is my sexual orientation. While potentially offensive to some, this resonates and satisfies others. And even if it didn’t, it satisfies her. And that’s what matters most to me.

One thing you don’t discuss much in My Exodus is the Bible, specifically those verses that people use to suggest that homosexuality is an abomination. Why not?

So much has been written already. The handpicked abominations get enough airtime – notice “haughty eyes” is rarely referred to as an abomination though it clearly is one.  Everyone is guilty of committing one abomination or another from time to time if we are honest. While I love my Bible and spend a great deal of time reading and studying it, I am not a Bible scholar. Leslie and I chose to write our story—to show more than tell. We believe that in our story the goodness of God shines through brightly. Jesus himself used stories to talk about his good Father, we decided his was an example we could follow.

But I have to ask: In your opinion, is gay sex a sin?

Matthew, I’ve stopped being in the sin management business. Right now, I’m in the process of learning how to love my LGBT friends well–with grace and without any judgment whatsoever. I just want to love people–all people–and stay out of their sex lives.

When you were writing this book, who were you writing it for? Was there a face or person you thought of as you put your story down on paper? Was it for you? For your family? 

I thought of my family, my children. I thought of people who were hurt by Exodus and therefore me. I thought of my friends who found Exodus helpful and who loved it. I thought of the Christian Church and how Jesus asked us to love him and to love others. I thought of the Christians who want to “know what to do”.  I thought of LGBT who need to know they are loved and accepted. I thought of people outside of the Church—whether Christian or not, people who don’t, won’t, or can’t go to church. I wanted the book to be something real. Something that would have street cred. Something that my kids would read someday and be proud of. Ultimately, I wanted a story whose protagonist–God–is a good Father and whose moral enables people to know they are loved.

How much have your kids been subject to the Exodus narrative? Have you been able to protect them from the onslaught of negativity you’ve endured? 

We’ve been age-appropriately honest with our kids since before they were able to talk. Leslie and I adopted both Isaac and Molly at birth four and a half months a part. Because they are so close in age we have always been asked, “Are they twins”? From the beginning we’d go through the schpeel, “They are four and a half months a part, both adopted.” When Isaac was two, we overheard him introducing Molly and himself to another child on the playground using those exact words. “Hi! I’m Isaac and this is my sister Molly. We are four and a half months apart. Both adopted.” The other kid quizzically looked at him and then offered to push him on the swings. We have a unique story as a family and we own it.

My kids understand I’m well known in certain circles. They know some people love me and others don’t. They don’t know specifics, but because we are teaching them about Jesus through the reality of grace I’m not anxious as I contemplate the time when all will be disclosed. So far, they’ve been sheltered from the anger and negativity we’ve experienced. They do know we’ve made mistakes related to our understanding of the Bible and are on a journey to making grace the prevailing message of the Church. I think being honest about our mistakes helps them as they learn and grow and make their own mistakes.

What do you hope your critics will take away from reading My Exodus? 

Well, we live in an interesting spot–with critics on every side. I hope our critics in the conservative church will choose to lay down their weapons and opinions and consider the reality of our true story. We’ve seen too many of our LGBT friends leave the Church when they enter into gay relationships because they are dismissed and their stories are not considered or valued. Leslie and I have known too many people who, when they decided to give up trying to be straight, they gave up on God as well. It doesn’t have to be that way.  We hope the Church can be a better representative of Jesus. Jesus did not condemn. Jesus loved and told us to love others. I hope, for those who are critical of us for not taking a firm stance on sin will be inspired to be kinder. More thoughtful. More at peace with themselves and the world in which they live.

For our LGBTAIQ critics, I hope they will feel loved, accepted, affirmed, and experience some healing. I hope it will be seen as a sincere desire for relationship. What I know is that my LGBT friends now champion Leslie’s and my story in a way many evangelicals no longer will. Because we aren’t using our unique and minority story to prove gay people can or should change it’s no longer a threat. My hope is the LGBTAIQ community will see us as friends and allies and no longer as enemies. I hope they will experience the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.


Love him or hate him, give Alan Chambers’s book a chance…


Full disclosure: Zondervan, the publishing house for My Exodus: From Fear to Grace by Alan Chambers (with Leslie Chambers) is compensating me in return for an honest review about the book.

I offer that information upfront because 1) it’s the law that I disclose that information and 2) because (if I’m honest) that’s probably the only way I would have ever given Chambers’s book a chance.

I’ve never met Chambers. Last week, he and I spoke on the phone for more than an hour (because after reading his book, I wanted to interview him, which I’ll post in the next couple days), but that was our first time talking. But again, if I’m honest, though I didn’t actually know him, I didn’t really like Alan Chambers. Despite us never meeting, I had a long list of reasons for not liking him. Up until 2013, he was the president of Exodus International, the Christian ministry well known for its mission to “pray the gay away.” Over the years, I’ve loudly proclaimed my dislike and distrust for Exodus and its plethora of sub-ministries. I did so because I believe that many of their tactics were spiritually and emotionally abusive, counterproductive to the Gospel, and often put the LGBTQ communities in harm’s way. Reading My Exodus changed none of my feelings about that ministry.  I’m happy it’s no longer in existence, however, I also know that its lingering impact still haunts the livelihoods of so many people.

Which is why I expected to hate Chambers’s book. Oh, I’d heard rumors that the former president of Exodus had had a change of heart, that time was softening his public stance against LGBTQ people, and that, underneath that seemingly dogmatic persona I’d witnessed time and time again on CNN or MSNBC or some other media outlet, Chambers was an actual human being.

That might be the best part about My Exodus: the story and prose almost immediately breaks down all of my assumptions about Alan Chambers. He’s not a vampire. You laugh, but that’s not too much of an exaggeration. I did think of him as a bit of a monster, one who wielded chapter and verse like a weapon and desired little more than to raise biblical hell for gay people who loved Jesus and raise a different kind of biblical hell for gay people who didn’t love Jesus.

But that’s why I’m glad I gave My Exodus a chance. Not because I agreed with the book’s every nuance but because I was quickly introduced to Alan, the human being, Alan, the child, Alan the hopeful 19-year-old, Alan, the husband and father, Alan, the man who seems to be grieving his mistakes and evolving into a more gracious and less certain person of faith.

In My Exodus, Chambers writes down his personal story. And for the most part, he sticks to retelling that narrative. Sure, there are moments when he expounds on the lessons he’s learned and what he believes to be true (sometimes newly true) about God; but this isn’t a book about defending his former career or one that passively aggressively aims to save face. This is a story about a man who’s very much in process, a man who is still learning the effects of fear in his life and desires to embrace grace fully. In talking to Alan about his book, I honestly think he reveals more about himself in My Exodus than even he realizes. Which I think is a testament to his desire to be vulnerable and honest in retelling his story.

Now, this book is certainly not a cure-all tale that makes every action or hurt that people have experienced via Exodus International all better. And Alan, I believe, knows that. But this book is indeed one that people on both sides of the Exodus idea–supporters and critics alike–should read. It’s likely not going to satisfy all of people’s questions or address every frustration or concern, but I think many, especially those of us who grew up in the church, will find bits and pieces of our own story amid Alan’s and might be willing, in time, to give “the monster” a chance. And I say that as somebody who, despite rolling my eyes a few times while reading My Exodus and at times, wishing he’d said more or “evolved” more, feels as though Alan Chambers deserves a chance to be heard.

Though you might not agree with every thought, I think, if you give My Exodus a chance, you’ll read about a man who has changed, and one who is still very much changing. In my interview, I ask Alan a variety of questions, ones that focus on his story and offer him a chance to give more detail and I also push him on some of the frustrations I felt while reading his book. But last week, toward the end of our phone call, I said, “Alan, we don’t agree on every detail. And there were certainly moments when your book frustrated me. But despite that, it’s a good book. You’re a good writer, especially for somebody who isn’t a writer by profession. And I really do hope that people, those who hate you and also those who supported you, will give this book a chance.”

And I do hope you will. Because I think this is a beginning of an exodus for Alan, a journey that is in process, an important and crucial part of an ongoing story, one that reveals a man’s heart and his desire to love and support those he once advocated against. 

Look for my interview with Alan on Thursday.

Until then, give his book a chance.