A Christian ministry that led the so-called ex-gay movement, which professes to rid people of their homosexuality, has announced that it will shut down, and its leader apologized extensively to gays for causing “pain and hurt.”
The ministry, Exodus International, was founded in 1976 and claims more than 200 branches, churches and counselors in the United States and Canada. It had insisted that people could overcome same-sex attraction through prayer and therapy.
Mainstream psychiatric and medical groups have said that the movement, also known as reparative therapy, is unfounded in science and can be harmful. The American Psychiatric Association said 15 years ago that it could cause depression, anxiety and self-depressive behavior in patients.
The president of Exodus, Alan Chambers, said late Wednesday on the ministry’s website that he had “conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions” but now accepts them “as parts of my life that will like always be there.”
Addressing gays, Chambers, who is married to a woman, wrote: “You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours.”
“I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced,” he wrote. “I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change.”
He added that he could not apologize for his own biblical beliefs about sex and marriage but would not fight gays on their own beliefs or their push for rights.
In a statement, Exodus International, which describes itself as the oldest and largest group of its kind, said that its board of directors had decided to close down after a year of talking and praying about its place in a changing culture.
Polls show that a narrow majority of Americans, a steadily growing share, support gay marriage, which has been legalized in 12 states and the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court is preparing to rule on two landmark gay-rights cases.
“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,” Tony Moore, an Exodus board member, said on the organization’s website.
Chambers, over the past year, had caused turmoil in the ex-gay movement by changing course and saying that reparative therapy could hurt gays and that there was no cure for same-sex attraction.
"I do not believe that cure is a word that is applicable to really any struggle, homosexuality included," Chambers told The Associated Press last year. "For someone to put out a shingle and say, 'I can cure homosexuality' — that to me is as bizarre as someone saying they can cure any other common temptation or struggle that anyone faces on Planet Earth."
Evan Hurst, the associate director of Truth Wins Out, a leading organization opposed to the ex-gay movement, applauded Chambers on Thursday for “honesty, integrity and authenticity.”
“It takes a real man to publicly confront the people whose lives were destroyed by his organization’s work,” he said.
"Alan Chambers, and the rest of the Exodus leadership, has fully and completely come to the realization that their so-called 'ministry' has done harm to thousands of people,” said Ross Murray, of of gay rights advocacy group GLAAD. “They are coming to the right decision to end that harm now."
California last year become the first state in the nation to ban such therapy for teens under 18 years of age. New Jersey's state legislature is weighing similar legislation.
Christopher Rosik, president of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, a group of therapists who believe sexual orientation can be changed through various approaches including reparative therapy, said he wasn't surprised by the decision.
But he didn't think it would mean the end of the practice, either.
“Reparative therapy ... does capitalize on certain insights that I think can be applicable for some men, maybe not every man or woman, but are applicable to some,” he told NBC News. “And these men and women would attest to that.”
He said the move wouldn't impact his association's mission to help individuals experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction and behavior but felt it could help make clear the difference between the work being done by religious groups and professional therapeutic organizations.
Did you undergo therapy at Exodus International? Want to share your thoughts on Exodus' decision to shut down? We may want to use your comments in a follow-up article, so please specify if your remarks can be used and provide your full name, phone number and hometown. You can write reporter Miranda Leitsinger with feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was originally published on Thu Jun 20, 2013 5:36 PM EDT