The largest “ex-gay” group in the world seems to be moving away from the claim that anyone is ever “cured” of being gay and is acknowledging that the best that can be done is that someone can force themselves, with great difficulty, to suppress who they really are for religious reasons.
The president of the country’s best-known Christian ministry dedicated to helping people repress same-sex attraction through prayer is trying to distance the group from the idea that gay people’s sexual orientation can be permanently changed or “cured.” That’s a significant shift for Exodus International, the 36-year-old Orlando-based group that boasts 260 member ministries around the U.S. and world. For decades, it has offered to help conflicted Christians rid themselves of unwanted homosexual inclinations through counseling and prayer, infuriating gay rights activists in the process.
This week, 600 Exodus ministers and followers are gathering for the group’s annual conference, held this year in a Minneapolis suburb. The group’s president, Alan Chambers, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the conference would highlight his efforts to dissociate the group from the controversial practice usually called ex-gay, reparative or conversion therapy.
“I do not believe that cure is a word that is applicable to really any struggle, homosexuality included,” said Chambers, who is married to a woman and has children, but speaks openly about his own sexual attraction to men. “For someone to put out a shingle and say, ‘I can cure homosexuality’ — that to me is as bizarre as someone saying they can cure any other common temptation or struggle that anyone faces on Planet Earth.”
Chambers has cleared books endorsing ex-gay therapy from the Exodus online bookstore in recent months. He said he’s also worked to stop member ministries from espousing it.
Chambers said the ministry’s emphasis should be simply helping Christians who want to reconcile their own particular religious beliefs with sexual feelings they consider an affront to scripture. For some that might mean celibacy; for others, like Chambers, it meant finding an understanding opposite-sex partner.
“We appreciate any step toward open, transparent honesty that will do less harm to people,” said Wayne Besen, a Vermont-based activist who has worked to discredit ex-gay therapy. “But the underlying belief is still that homosexuals are sexually broken, that something underlying is broken and needs to be fixed. That’s incredibly harmful, it scars people.” …
“I guess I’d like to see some sort of apology from leaders of Exodus for all the people they misled,” said Jeffry Ford, a St. Paul psychologist who worked for an Exodus-linked group in the 1970s and ’80s before splitting with his wife, coming out and strongly disavowing his past work.
Ford and other gay activists have planned a Thursday news conference to criticize Exodus for holding its conference in Minnesota just months before a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.
“These kinds of conferences help put fears in the world about what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” said Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota, the state’s chief gay rights group. “For people who are questioning or LGBT, it sends them a message that there’s something wrong with them.”
And that’s exactly the wrong message. Be who you are, for crying out loud.