The head of a Florida-based, ex-gay Christian organization, which for decades has promoted a message of “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ,” told an Orlando conference that the majority of people he has met are still gay.
“I would say the majority, meaning 99.9 percent of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted, or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction,” Alan Chambers told a Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference on Jan 6.
Chambers’ statement is a marked departure from one he made during an April 2004 University of California same-sex marriage debate, in which he claimed he was “one of tens of thousands of people whom have successfully changed their sexual orientation.” The statement is posted on the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) website.
“Change is possible and I am living proof. I used to be homosexual and today I am not,” Chambers said in that statement.
“To be clear,” he continued, “I did not choose my same-sex attractions nor did I willfully adopt a homosexual orientation, but my response to both, my behaviors, were a choice.”
At this month’s conference, however, Chambers clearly distanced himself from his organization’s longstanding “Change is possible” mantra.
“We’re not using change as a slogan anymore,” he said. “I’m very, very clear to say, we used ‘Change is possible’ for so many years, and it was used on me, and we used it, and the people who used it wanted it to mean something more than it did . . . but we don’t use that phrase anymore.”
“I am sorry that that is something we used,” he said when asked by a GCN conference panellist if Exodus had apologized for using the phrase over a 30-year period. “This is something we regret very much being ambiguous about, because I don’t think ambiguity with this subject is helpful, so that is something that we’re very, very sorry about.”
Wayne Besen, the founder and executive director of Truth Wins Out, a non-profit organization that challenges ex-gay ministries, is skeptical of Chambers’ sincerity.
“This is somebody who is so serially dishonest, and changes what he says so frequently, his words are essentially meaningless,” Besen alleges. “We’re gratified that he has confirmed what we’ve been saying since the founding of our group in 2006: that efforts to change are ineffective.”
Besen feels the big test that will determine if Chambers’ views have really evolved will come on Feb 18. That’s when Exodus will stage one of its signature Love Won Out conferences in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Will there be a change in the divisive rhetoric?” Besen asks. “If the message is exactly the same as all the other Love Won Outs, Mr Chambers was just, as he tends to do, morphing his message to fit his audience, rather than legitimate,” he alleges. “What happens when he gets in front of either a red-meat crowd of conservatives or parents who are paying his salary to help their kids try to change?”
Tailoring messages to specific groups is nearly impossible in the contemporary communications landscape, Besen points out. “The internet’s been invented,” he quips. “You can’t do that anymore. The whole world hears you.”
For Besen, there’s a larger question at play.
“If 99.9 percent of people don’t change — it’s probably 100 percent — why is Exodus still in business? It seems to me that if they’re not effective at praying the gay away, as they once promised . . . why?”
Chambers’ executive assistant, Chris Stump, told Xtra on Jan 19 that neither Chambers nor Exodus vice-president Jeff Buchanan were available for comment.
Stump says Chambers will be “writing something for our website on his experience [at GCN]. I’m just not sure when that’s going to be up, hopefully sometime next week. Honestly, that’s the best we can do right now.”
Stump says he doesn’t know if Chambers plans to repeat his remarks at the Love Won Out conference next month.
Exodus International’s website still promotes titles like Straight Answers: Exposing the Myths and Facts about Homosexuality from its Love Won Out series and purports to help young people “learn the truth to help either themselves or their friends who may be tempted by same-sex desires.”
Conference recordings, like “The Power of Praying for Your SSA Children,” are also available for purchase. Described as a workshop, it provides “steps on how to partner with God to see His will done in the lives of our children affected by same-sex attraction.”
And the mission of the organization’s student ministries still reads, “Mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality.”
Besen isn’t taking any chances. He says his organization will partner with GetEqual, an American queer advocacy group, to counter Atlanta’s Love Won Out conference next month with a seminar and protests.