The conference hasn’t started yet, but I’m all signed in, badged, and already meeting friends from last year, which I guess is what happens when you become something of a semi-regular. I’m not sure there are enough people yet to get a sense of the “buzz,” but there are a couple of observations that I think I can go ahead and report.
First, this conference is greatly scaled back in size and scope from previous conferences. I asked one of the volunteers at the registration area how many people had signed up. She gave a number that was fewer than 300. I don’t know how many walk-ins would be expected, but it does seem to be shaping up into a much smaller conference than last year’s in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I think the attendance was somewhere in the 700 or 800 range (I can’t find the exact figure in my notes from last year). Clearly, some of the controversy surrounding Exodus’ change in messaging has had a significant effect.
Second, because the conference is seeing lower attendance this year, the schedule has been significantly re-organized from what had been originally posted online. The newly updated online program shows that Mike Haley, who had formerly been at Focus On the Family and was a regular speaker at Love Won Out conferences, had been scheduled to speak at a plenary session, but is no longer on the bill.
The printed schedule from my conference booklet (Click to enlarge)
Other changes to the schedule may still be in work. In my printed booklet, only one hour on Tursday and Friday is devoted to workshops, although this page (as of 5:00 p.m.) appears to reflect a much larger selection of workshops that had been originally planned. The blocks of time that had previously been set aside for workshops are now devoted to a set of forums, which I understand to be intended for a more open, interactive discussion rather than the more traditional lecture being given by a leader or guest speaker. Forum topics are “Let’s Talk Homosexuality,” “Sharing Your Story,” “God’s Created Intent,” “Embracing Your Story,” “Restoration and Forgiveness,” and “Empowering Your Story.” My booklet shows “Free Time” on Saturday from 3:15 to 7:00, but the online program says “SIGs, Refuge Groups.” I don’t know what “SIGs” are, but Refuge Groups are what they call the small group activity and discussion groups geared toward parents, men, women, young adults, couples, and students. I expect that tonight we’ll hear about more changes to the program schedule.
And finally, I’d have to say that Exodus president Alan Chambers’s apology has generated a lot of interest, both inside and outside the conference:
LaBarbera’s reaction, of course, is to be expected. It’s probably shared by those who are watching from Oklahoma City, where the rival, hard-core Restored Hope Network will begin its conference on Friday. But I think the reaction among many gay activists and ex-gay survivors will disappoint many of those attending the conference. I can’t say I’m surprised, nor can I say I’m disappointed at the reaction. I think it’s to be expected, actually. I don’t think just a single sorry has ever solved a problem, but if there is ever to be steps taken in that direction, it always begins with saying that word. And for more serious transgressions it will take saying it repeatedly, over and over, along with a resolve to fix what was broken to whatever extent may be possible. I think one of our BTB commenters put it nicely:
Although I am no longer a Catholic, it seems to me the concept of confession & reconciliation as taught by the Catholics is instructive here. When confessing an apology would be the beginning, not the end, of the reconciliation. Alan has expressed himself well here, but it will be his future actions that truly indicate whether he has really changed and is willing to do the hard work of making up for the hurt he has caused.
And finally, I think there will be a major announcement at tonight’s plenary session. I don’t know that for a fact, and I could easily be wrong about this, but I have a feeling that there’s going to be much more to talk about before the day is done. If I can live-blog it, I will.
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