In an extraordinary about-face, a leading Christian “gay conversion” ministry in the US – Exodus International – has decided to close its doors, after its president apologized for what he called the “pain and hurt” his organization has caused people.
For 37 years, Exodus International and affiliates have engaged in the controversial practice of “conversion therapy,” aimed at helping people curb their same-sex attractions or eliminate them altogether. The umbrella organization, Exodus International, is dissolving, the group announced during its annual conference Wednesday in Irvine, Calif., adding that its 50 affiliates are autonomous and plan to continue.
In Exodus’s announcement on closing down, the group said its board had spent a year of “dialogue and prayer” about its place in a “changing culture.”
“Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” Exodus president Alan Chambers said late Wednesday. “For quite some time, we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings nor biblical.”
The Exodus move comes amid intense public discussion of gay rights in America and growing acceptance of gay marriage, even among young Evangelical Christians. On Wednesday, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska became the third Republican senator to back the right to same-sex marriage. The US Supreme Court is expected to rule in two highly anticipated gay marriage cases by the end of the month.
Mr. Chambers also posted online a 1,600-word apology to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning, or LGBTQ, community, a stunning repudiation of conversion therapy by one of its chief advocates – a man who is married to a woman and has children but openly acknowledges his own same-sex attractions. In January, California became the first state to ban conversion therapy for minors. New York is considering a similar move.
In his apology to the gay community, Chambers said he was “deeply sorry” for the pain many have experienced and noted that some had committed suicide.
“I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change,” Chambers said. “I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly ‘on my side’ who called you names like sodomite – or worse.”
“I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know,” he continued. “I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart.”
Chambers then went on to say that he will not apologize for his “deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex” – a suggestion that he still believes gay sex is a sin – but will treat those who disagree with him with respect.
“I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage,” he said, suggesting that he still opposes same-sex marriage. “But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.”
An Exodus board member, Tony Moore, put a somewhat more positive spin on the organization’s work over the years. “We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, but a new generation of Christians is looking for change – and they want to be heard,” Mr. Moore said in a statement.
The board announced that it is opening a separate ministry, providing a link to a website called reducefear.org, but the site says only that it is “in development.”
“Our goals are to reduce fear … and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities,” Chambers said.
Gay media reacted to the news about Exodus International cautiously.
“Decades after leading US mental health organizations agreed that being gay is not a disorder, a small segment of American society, driven largely by religion, has persisted in saying homosexuality is something that can and should be ‘cured,’ ” the Advocate newspaper wrote Thursday. “While there has always been ample skepticism about the ‘ex-gay’ movement, recent developments indicate the movement is becoming more marginal than ever – it’s not dead, but it’s certainly in critical condition.”
A leading social conservative organization, the Family Research Council, was dismissive of Exodus International’s announcement.
“The closing of Exodus International is probably for the best, since it had already ceased to perform its original function of offering hope for changing one’s sexual orientation,” said Peter Sprigg, FRC’s senior fellow for policy studies, in a statement. “Many of its affiliated ministries had already left, and have now affiliated with a new organization, Restored Hope Network, whose first annual conference begins June 21 in Oklahoma City.”
“The ex-gay movement has nothing to apologize for. The message that ‘Change Is Possible’ is a modest one. It does not mean that change is easy, nor that change is mandatory. But to apologize for saying ‘change is possible’ is to deny both human freedom and the transforming power of the gospel of Christ.”