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Ex-gay ministry Exodus International to close its doors

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — NBC News reports that ex-gay ministry Exodus International, which for more than 30 years claimed that people could rid themselves of homosexuality through prayer and therapy, is closing its doors, its leader apologizing yet again to gay people for causing "hurt and pain." 

“Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” president Alan Chambers said. “For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”

He said the organization's board of directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry. “This is a new season of ministry, to a new generation,” he added. “Our goals are to reduce fear (reducefear.org), and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

In a June 19 statement titled "I Am Sorry" posted on the Exodus website, Alan Chambers, who is married to a woman and admits to having "ongoing same-sex attractions,"  says it is "strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the church’s treatment of the LGBT community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt."

In what he called an "expanded version" of the apology he issued during an interview about Christianity and the queer community with Lisa Ling of Our America, Chambers saus he has been privy to "many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors; stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma.  

"I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope. In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me," he notes in the statement. 

Chambers adds: "Then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there. The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does. As my friends do. As God does."

He continues: "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. 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. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine."

Still, Chambers says he "cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex," but says he will exercise his beliefs with "great care and respect for those who do not share them."

"I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek," he adds.   

Chambers has been repeatedly distancing himself from the Christian ministry's "change is possible" mantra," saying to a Gay Christian Network (GSN) conference last January that the majority of people he has met are still gay.

It was a marked departure from a statement 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.”

In that statement, he claimed that "change is possible and I am living proof. I used to be homosexual and today I am not." 

But at the GCN conference, he said Exodus was not using the change slogan anymore. “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.” 

In a July 2012 story, The New York Times quotes Chambers as saying there is no cure for homosexuality, and so-called reparative therapy is an exercise in false hope for gays, and might even be harmful. 

According to The Times, accusations of heresy have been levelled against Chambers for his reevaluation, seen as causing a rift in the ex-gay movement.   

On April 24, former chairman of ex-gay organization Exodus and a founder of Focus on the Family's Love Won Out conference, John Paulk also issued a public statement, apologizing for the harm he has caused.  

"For the better part of ten years, I was an advocate and spokesman for what’s known as the 'ex-gay movement' where we declared that sexual orientation could be changed through a close-knit relationship with God, intensive therapy and strong determination. At the time, I truly believed that it would happen. And while many things in my life did change as a Christian, my sexual orientation did not."

Apart from Chambers and Paulk, other well-known proponents of conversion therapy have also apologized

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