Exodus International, the oldest and largest Christian ministry that claimed to have helped “cure” homosexuality for thousands of people through prayer and conversion therapy, announced on Tuesday that it is shutting down its operations.
The announcement came one day after its executive director, Alan Chambers, issued a written apology to the LGBT community acknowledging “the pain and hurt others have experienced” through failed attempts to convert from gay to straight.
Chambers’ announcement and apology also came about a year and a half after he startled leaders of the ex-gay movement by saying conversion therapy doesn’t work for more than 99 percent of the clients who undergo such therapy.
Experts from the nation’s leading, mainline mental health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, have long held that conversion therapy doesn’t work and is harmful to those who undergo it.
“Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” Chambers said in a statement released on June 19. “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 statement, which was released during Exodus’s annual conference in Irvine, Calif., says the organization’s board voted unanimously to close its operations. It says local ex-gay ministries affiliated with Exodus throughout the country that have been autonomous would continue to operate, “but not under the name or umbrella of Exodus.”
Rev. Cindi Love, executive director of Soulforce, an LGBT supportive Christian organization that has long opposed the practice of conversion therapy, called the closing of Exodus International a positive development in the advancement of LGBT equality.
“I pray that Alan Chambers is truly remorseful about the damaged and lost lives as a result of Exodus interventions,” Love said in a statement. “Soulforce will never stop speaking up for our siblings who are vulnerable to the harm and spiritual violence caused by ‘ex-gay’ ministries,” she said.
“We are grateful for this development. God loves us exactly as we are – we need no repair,” she said. “Anyone who continues to try and ‘fix’ LGBT people makes a mockery of God’s love.”
Wayne Besen, founder and director of Truth Wins Out, an LGBT organization that has challenged the “ex-gay” movement, called the action by Chambers and other leaders of Exodus International a bold move and a “crippling blow” to the “ex-gay” movement.
“This will forever cast a looming shadow on the ‘ex-gay’ industry,” Besen told the Blade. “It cuts to the heart of their credibility. This will hang over their heads and diminish their false promises and their false hope that they’re selling to vulnerable and desperate people.”
Sharon Groves, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program, called Exodus International’s decision to close its doors “a welcome first step” in addressing the harm she said Exodus has caused to LGBT people during the 37 years it has been in business in the U.S. and abroad.
“Now we need them to take the next step of leadership and persuade all other religious-based institutions that they got it wrong,” Groves said. “This is the right kind of reparative work that is left for them to do.”
In his written apology Chambers told of how up until recently he “conveniently” concealed his own “ongoing same-sex attractions” while continuing to advance Exodus International’s mission of helping people shed their homosexuality.
“Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there,” he said. “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,” indicating his plans to remain married to his wife Leslie.
“I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced,” he said. “I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents,” he continued.
“I am sorry that there were times when I didn’t stand up to people publicly ‘on my side’ who called you names like sodomite – or worse,” Chambers said.