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Alan Chambers apologizes.
On June 19, 2013, Exodus International, the best-known and once the largest "ex-gay" organization, announced that it had ceased operations. The announcement comes a day after its president Alan Chambers apologized to the glbtq community for the pain and suffering he and Exodus caused. "Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we've ceased to be a living, breathing organism," Chambers said. "For quite some time we've been imprisoned in a worldview that's neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical."
The decision to close Exodus International and Chambers' apology comes in advance of a Lisa Lang television special on Exodus that is scheduled to be aired on OWN-TV on June 20. In the special, Chambers is confronted by survivors of the "ex-gay" movement.
The apology posted on the Exodus International website is remarkable for the fact that it is both extensive and unequivocal.
In the apology, entitled simply "I am sorry", Chambers acknowledges that he has "heard many firsthand stories from people . . . who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope."
He says, "Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch."
Claiming that he understands why he is "distrusted and why Exodus is hated," he says, "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 we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn't stand up to people publicly 'on my side' who called you names like sodomite--or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine."
At the organization's annual conference in Oklahoma City on June 19, Chambers startled the attendees by telling them, "Exodus became something it wasn't intended to be. Exodus's major failure is that it became a religious institution focused on rules of behavior, and not focused on what we believe. It's time our message changed to be one of hope and love and grace. For these reasons we believe it's time for Exodus to close."
After the board of directors voted unanimously to shut down Exodus International, Chambers and his board announced that they would begin a new ministry, ReduceFear.org, dedicated not to altering sexual orientation but to work with churches to create "safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities."
The decision to close Exodus International was applauded by Wayne Besen's Truth Wins Out, which is devoted to exposing the harm caused by reparative therapy.
"We applaud and congratulate Alan Chambers for his willingness to approach this decision with honesty, integrity and authenticity," said Truth Wins Out's Associate Director Evan Hurst. "It takes a real man to publicly confront the people whose lives were destroyed by his organization's work, and to take real, concrete action to begin to repair that damage, and to work to ensure that no more lives are destroyed by harmful, discredited 'ex-gay' therapy. We look forward to a day when we can truly consider Alan to be an ally."
The reparative therapy movement is rooted in the work of 1960s psychologists such as Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides, who claimed that homosexuality was both pathological and susceptible to change. When their position was repudiated by the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the category of "illness," they launched a counter-offensive against the views of the psychological and psychiatric establishment.
One of the earliest religious-based organizations to engage in reparative therapy is Love in Action, which was established by Frank Worthen in 1973. By 1976, Worthen and others had formed Exodus as an umbrella for the ex-gay movement. Its member groups have numbered in the hundreds over the years, but most of them have foundered, usually as a result of their clients returning to a homosexual life or scandals involving inappropriate conduct by leaders and counselors.
The disbanding of Exodus International is a major development in the collapse of the ex-gay movement.
I confess, however, that I remain suspicious of Alan Chambers and will view warily any new organization that he establishes. He is, not to mince words, a charlatan. The fact that he has acknowledged his role in the pain and suffering of gay people does not make him less of a charlatan.
In 2012, Chambers appeared on Lisa Lang's Our America and expressed concerns about reparative therapy, anticpating the evolution that was completed with the decision to disband Exodus International.
In the video below, Lang promotes the episode on June 20 in which Chambers is confronted by those who have been harmed by Exodus.