'Gay cure' ministry closes down after its leader apologises
A Christian ministry in the United States that offered to help gay people "overcome" their sexuality through prayer has shut down, after its leader offered an apology to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and admitted that he was attracted to men.
Exodus International, a group of 260 churches based in Florida, was until now the largest so-called "ex-gay" ministry in the US. Its closure was announced on its website this week, as the group's annual conference began in Irvine, California. It followed an extended apology from Exodus president Alan Chambers for the "hurt" its work had caused to members of the LGBT community.
Within the apology, Mr Chambers said he had "conveniently omitted [his] ongoing same-sex attractions" for several years and was sorry for the trauma that he had caused to other homosexual people. Mr Chambers was appointed president of Exodus in 2001. In his 2009 memoir, Leaving Homosexuality, he detailed his own history as an openly gay young man and his decision to marry a woman.
Last year, Mr Chambers announced that ex-gay therapy was ineffective, and confessed he had never met anyone who had successfully altered their own sexual orientation. His comments caused outrage among more conservative ex-gay Christians, but in his statement this week Mr Chambers said his decision to close Exodus had been inspired by "a new generation of Christians looking for change".
He went on: "For quite some time we've been imprisoned in a world view that's neither honouring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical."
Exodus was founded in California, in 1976. Three years later, two of its founders, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, left the group after falling in love with each other. Mr Bussee, now a family therapist, regularly speaks out against ex-gay therapies, which have long been discredited by public bodies representing psychiatrists and psychologists. Last year, California became the first US state to introduce legislation banning ex-gay therapy for people under the age of 18.
Gay rights activists applauded Mr Chambers' apology and the closure of Exodus. Evan Hurst, Associate Director of the Truth Wins Out group, an organisation that monitors anti-LGBT groups, said, "It takes a real man to publicly confront the people whose lives were destroyed by his organisation's work, and to take real, concrete action to begin to repair that damage."
Other ex-gay Christian ministries were not so forgiving. The Restored Hope Network, which was established last year, is hosting a rival conference this weekend in Oklahoma.
Its chairman, Andrew Comiskey, the author of several books including Pursuing Sexual Wholeness: How Jesus Heals the Homosexual, tweeted: "How merciful of God to shut down Exodus, which under Alan Chambers leadership had completely veered off the course of its mission."
Change of heart in Alan Chambers' own words
2008 "The land of the free and the home of the brave is morphing into a homosexual haven… Just look at the top programmes on television or listen to the most popular actors and musicians. They are celebrating all things gay: gay marriage, gay adoptions, gay cruises, gay politics...and, of course, gay churches… Pro-homosexual leaders realised the same truth employed by Hitler and Marx: To advance their agenda they must radically influence the hearts and minds of young people."
2013 "Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. 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 that there were times I didn't stand up to people publicly... who called you names like sodomite - or worse."