After 37 Years of Trying to Change People’s Sexual Orientation, Group Is to Disband
New York Times, June 20, 2013
By Ian Lovett
IRVINE, Calif. — For 37 years, Exodus International was the leading beacon of the “ex gay” movement, which maintained that gay men and lesbians could change their sexual orientation through prayer and psychotherapy.
But on the opening night of the group’s 38th annual conference here, Exodus International announced that the organization would disband, amid growing skepticism among its top officials and board members that sexual attractions can be changed.
For the past year, the group’s president, Alan Chambers, has been increasingly vocal in proclaiming that therapy could not change a person’s sexual orientation. In a statement posted Wednesday on the group’s Web site, he cited a recent letter he had written to gay men and lesbians.
“I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced,” he said in the letter. “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.”
In an interview on Thursday on the campus of Concordia University Irvine, Mr. Chambers said that he believed Exodus International had helped many Christians with same-sex attractions, including himself. But, he added: “Any good we could do in the future would be greatly overshadowed by the real stories of trauma and real stories of shame. So we decided, we can’t do anything but close this down. We can’t just change our name or change our mission.”
The closing of Exodus International signals a major upheaval for the ex-gay movement, which has been the target of increasing criticism.
Professional associations have denounced its focus on reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality as not only ineffective but potentially harmful. At the same time, polls have shown a rising number of Americans are more accepting of homosexuality and approving of gay marriage. Last year, California banned gay conversion therapies for minors, although a legal challenge is pending.
Still, as Exodus has backed away from efforts to cure homosexuality, other conservative Christian groups have moved to fill the void, and have continued to assert that homosexuality is not innate but an immoral choice.
Since last year, when Mr. Chambers — who gave up same-sex relationships to marry a woman — announced that he no longer believed homosexuality could be cured, Exodus’s fund-raising has dwindled, officials conceded. Some affiliated ministries and churches have also cut ties with the organization.
The Restored Hope Network, which was founded last year after Mr. Chambers’s announcement, will hold its own conference this weekend in Oklahoma, competing with the annual Exodus conference.
Andrew Comiskey, a Restored Hope board member, wrote on Twitter, “How merciful of God to shut down Exodus, which under Alan Chambers leadership had completely veered off the course of its mission.” The Restored Hope Network did not respond to requests for comment.
Aaron Bitzer, a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging California’s ban on gay conversion therapy, said that Exodus’s closing would do nothing to diminish his faith that such treatment can work, as he said it had for him. A Christian who said he had been attracted to men all his life, he still hoped to one day marry a woman.
“Will the orientation change completely? I don’t know,” Mr. Bitzer, 36, said. “I don’t think any organization should ever promise 100 percent change. But I have noticed changes in myself. I am satisfied with what I’ve experienced so far with reparative therapy.”
Exodus officials said they did not know exactly when the organization would be shut down. The board members plan to start a new ministry whose doors will be open to everyone, including openly gay members, Mr. Chambers said. They are setting up a Web site called reducefear.org.
Many gay rights advocates applauded Exodus’s closing, as well as Mr. Chambers’s apology to gays and lesbians.
“This is an earthquake that changes everything,” said Wayne Besen, director of Truth Wins Out, a group that rebuts what it considers misinformation about gay men and lesbians. “This is like McDonald’s shutting down and saying they reject hamburgers. It really highlights the futility of trying to change your sexuality.”
Yet Mr. Besen remained critical of the views expressed by Mr. Chambers, who has said he still believes that acting on homosexual desires is not condoned by Scripture. Mr. Chambers said he would not push his personal belief on others, but several other Exodus officials, at least, shared his view.
Julie Rodgers, 27, said she came to Exodus 10 years ago, hoping to rid herself of same-sex attractions. Speaking on the lawn of the Concordia University campus where she was one of about 250 attending the Exodus conference, she said she no longer believed her attractions could be changed, nor was she willing to date women.
“Right now, that means a call to singleness,” she said. “In the future, I’ll trust the Lord.”
Robbie Brown contributed reporting from Atlanta.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/us/gr ... h_20130621