US gay-cure group Exodus apologises for its hurtful mission and closes
Christian group Exodus International, which has promoted 'conversion therapy' since 1976, accepts its mission has been hurtful, ignorant
Reuters in Los Angeles and New York
An American Christian group that promoted "conversion therapy" to reverse the sexuality of gays and lesbians has closed its doors and apologised to those who underwent its treatment, acknowledging its mission had been hurtful and ignorant.
Exodus International billed itself as the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality, and had operated since 1976. Its board unanimously voted to cease operations and begin a separate ministry, Exodus International said on its website.
"We have made a number of mistakes with how we treated people, based on our beliefs," president Alan Chambers said on Thursday. "I recognise that our beliefs have to change, but I'd never distance myself from the church."
Chambers declined to estimate how many people underwent therapy, saying it was impossible to calculate because it was practised by some 260 Exodus International-affiliated ministries across North America.
"I am sorry for the pain and hurt that many of you have experienced," Chambers, who said he was part of a "system of ignorance", said. "I am sorry some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt when your attractions didn't change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatised parents."
Chambers, who lives in Orlando, in the state of Florida, with his wife and two children, said that for several years he "conveniently omitted" his own "ongoing same-sex attractions".
"I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today."
Exodus International has closed at a time of shifting attitudes in the United States, with public opinion polls tilting in favour of same-sex marriage.
Twelve states and the District of Columbia have legalised same-sex marriage. The US Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June on a challenge to the Defence of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that restricted federal recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples, as well as a challenge to a 2008 Californian referendum that banned same-sex marriage in that state.
Ross Murray, a spokesman for gay rights group GLAAD, called the closing of Exodus International a step in the right direction and welcomed Chambers' move away from "divisive and demonising rhetoric".
"But it's going to take a long time for healing to come, especially for the people who have gone through Chambers' programme and have suffered because of it," Murray said.
Exodus International's mission statement was "mobilising the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality".
The group appears to have changed its views incrementally, culminating with the announcement of its closure at its 38th annual conference on Wednesday.
In interviews last year with The New York Times and MSNBC, Chambers said churches had shown an overemphasis on sexuality. A television programme scheduled to run on the Oprah Winfrey Network on Thursday was to show Chambers meeting people who said they were harmed by his therapy.
"Mine was not a change of heart, but it had been a change of how we talk about what we have in our hearts," Chambers said. "So often the religious message is that gay people aren't welcome, and it became something I just couldn't stand by."
California last year became the first US state to ban such therapy for minors.