21 Jun 2013

Gay ‘cure’ leader says sorry and shuts down his church

The Florida-based Exodus International has shut its doors, after a dramatic apology by its leader – who said decades of trying to turn gay people straight had been wrong.

gay pride march (reuters)

The apology, in a statement on the Exodus International website, was as unexpected as it was dramatic. Alan Chambers, who for years had been one of the leading proponents of “gay conversion” therapy, declared it had all been wrong.

Gay people, he said, should not have been made to feel that they had been rejected by God, nor that they were somehow less worthy than anyone else.

“I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change,” he wrote. “I am sorry that I 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 I know. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.”

We’re not going to control people any more. We’re not going to tell them how they should live. Alan Chambers

The change of heart was revealed at the Exodus annual conference this week, in an hour-long keynote ddress by Chambers, repudiating 37 years of work by the ministry and its 260 branches across the United States.

Chambers admitted that 99.9 per cent of those who had gone through he gay “cure” had not lost their same-sex desires. “We’re not going to control people any more. We’re not going to tell them how they should live… it’s not our job.”

Gay rights campaigners welcomed the announcement, although they said it showed that the evangelical churches were not immune from the huge shift in cultural opinion that has swept the rest of the country.

Out and loud

Ross Murray, director of news at the gay rights group GLAAD, said it showed how far society had changed. He said Alan Chambers had “come to the realisation that their so-called ‘ministry’ has done harm to thousands of people. They are coming to the right decision to end that harm now”.

But Russell Moore, from the southern Baptist convention, told the LA Times the issue was with Exodus itself: “What you have is an organisation that has some confusion about its mission and purpose… what is not happening here is an evangelical revision of a biblical sexual ethic.”

There are still plenty of examples of “conversion therapy” which are still going on, even though most of its main proponents have now recanted. The man who first championed the idea, psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, renounced it more than a decade later, calling his study “fatally flawed”.

Dr Spitzer published a full apology to the gay community in the academic journal that had published his earlier research. “I… apologise to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works”.

Cultural change

And after widespread criticism by a host of medical professionals and organisations, California became the first state to ban the practice outright. Governor Jerry Brown, as he signed the ban into law, declared: “These practices have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”

Evidence shows that trying to force gay and lesbian people through therapy that purports to “cure” them, increases the risk of suicide, depression and anxiety.

Alan Chambers, who describes himself as an “ex-gay” and has a wife, Leslie, and two adopted children, had one more confession: he is still attracted to men, he said – but manages to live with the tension within his personal life.

“Life is so difficult,” he told the Exodus conference. “I’ve begged God so many times to let me be a decorator”.

Felicity Spector writes about US affairs for Channel 4 News