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 website, 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 Thursday on the campus of Concordia University Irvine, Chambers said he believed Exodus International had helped many Christians with same-sex attractions, including himself. However, 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.”
The closing of Exodus International signals a major upheaval for the ex-gay movement, which has been the target of increasing criticism.
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 Chambers — who gave up same-sex relationships to marry a woman — announced that he no longer believed homosexuality could be cured, Exodus’ fundraising 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 Chambers’ announcement, will hold its own conference this weekend in Oklahoma, competing with the annual Exodus conference.
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, Chambers said. They are setting up a website called reducefear.org.