Exodus International’s President Does the Unthinkable, Explicitly Apologizes to Gay Community

Although Exodus International, America’s premiere religious “conversion therapy” organization, has been backpedaling for some time, probably no one expected to ever see what happened today: Exodus’s president, Alan Chambers, has posted a comprehensive apology to the gay community on their website.

The apology, titled simply “I Am Sorry,” seems genuinely heartfelt in many regards, and speaks to specific instances which Exodus apparently now realizes it’s responsible for.

Friends and critics alike have said it’s not enough to simply change our message or website. I agree. I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today. I understand why I am distrusted and why Exodus is hated.

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.

More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.

Does this mean that Exodus will disband or that it now opposes conversion therapy? Probably not. Chambers also wrote that “Because I do not completely agree with the vocal majorities in either group and am forging a new place of peaceful service in and through both, I will likely continue to be an outsider to some degree,” and “I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex…  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage.” While Chambers can’t necessarily speak for all of Exodus, it seems like he’s saying that his beliefs about issues like the sinfulness of homosexuality remain unchanged, and perhaps his views about the efficacy or worthwhileness of conversion therapy — the wording of his apology was careful in that he talks about how “some of you” felt shame when conversion therapy proved ineffective. But it does seem like Chambers wants to change how those beliefs affect other people, saying that “…I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.”

chambers

alan and lisa chambers/ photo credit Associated Press

Although Exodus made a statement last year that it would no longer use language that suggested it could “cure” or “change” homosexuality, that’s a far cry from actually acknowledging the lives that have been irreparably damaged and, in some cases, ended by the pseudoscience attempting to “fix” sexual orientation for religious or gay-panic-related reasons. Chambers’ language in this apology implies that he actually has learned something about what the repercussions of his work have been. He’s also taking steps for active reconciliation — this apology coincides with a television broadcast of “God & Gays” with Lisa Ling, during which Chambers will sit down with people affected by his organization in a process that’s similar to a formal restorative justice process.

Of course, while this is undeniably a positive step, it may ring hollow for people who are still struggling with the problems Chambers is apologizing for. Acknowledging the incredible harm wrought by ex-gay programs doesn’t make it go away; many might argue, very fairly, that paying for therapy would be a more meaningful gesture. But especially for people whom have carried shame their whole lives about feeling unwelcome in their religious communities, hopefully this statement can be affirming. And although Chambers gives us the disclaimer that “…some within the communities for which I apologize will say I don’t have the right, as one man, to do so on their behalf,” hopefully other leaders within the religious right will find this example inspiring, if not in a way that actually changes their views, perhaps in a way that calls into question the degree to which other people need to suffer for them.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 749 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. Thumb up 17

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    Um, it’s my belief he’s doing this because California and a number of other states either have or are considering legislation which would remove Exodus’s non-profit status and make it against the law for medical/therapeutic professionals to refer patients to “reparative” programs. As when David Duke (former Grand Wizard of the KKK) cleaned himself up and represented himself as a ‘professional’ when he ran for political office, this is an attempt to smooth out their well-earned status as a hate organization. There is absolutely NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM they can do restitution for all the harm they’ve done. What, are they planning on bringing people back from the dead who had their minds and souls eff’d up by these charlatans and ended up taking their own lives?

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      Yeeeeeaaaaaah, I want to think this is good news, but your estimation of what’s going on is probably 100% accurate. Maybe with this public statement of “I was kinda wrong,” will mean that fewer people will have to suffer from Exodus/ex-gay bullshit because of public scrutiny and the fact that he probably desperately wants to maintain that not for profit status. Just the fact that they ever reaped the same benefits as other non-profits makes my blood curdle.

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      I was wondering what the catch might be… ugh. On the one hand, yeah, I’m glad that these assholes seem to be closing up shop and fewer people will be hurt by them, but I’m not surprised to find my skepticism over its sincerity validated.

  2. Thumb up 6

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    I want to say “Good” and “It’s about fucking time”, but I don’t know if this is enough. I can applaud him for owning up to his mistakes, but unless he’s done a 180o and is going to actively try to help restore the lives he actively destroyed, I don’t know how far this apology can go.

  3. Thumb up 5

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    To me, this signals the beginning of a profound cultural change. It’s not perfect, it’s not good enough, but it’s huge. We cannot ever be treated as complete equals in society with large “christian” groups actively creating stigma against us. I had chills reading his apology. It’s good to have hope for the future.

    • Thumb up 3

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      I have a friend who works for a charismatic church here in South Africa which has a very backwards view towards gays – she recently enthusiastically told me about an “ex”-gay man who delivered a testimonial at the church that she attends about how being gay is a bad habit (“a habit is learned/unlearned in 21 days”) and how therapy cured him of his affliction. While I can’t comment on what drives the guy delivering testimonials on how he was cured, I know my friend. She is an educated, smart young woman who knows many gay people and is generally quite open-minded. Moreover she is fundamentally a good person and a very good friend. Yet, she 100% – completely and fully – believes the testimony that she heard and her church’s view that homosexuality is a life choice and a sin.

      Smart, good people take on oppressive views when urged to do so by their churches.

      “We cannot ever be treated as complete equals in society with large “christian” groups actively creating stigma against us.”

  4. Thumb up 2

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    When I read the title of this article, I literally cried, “What the FUCK?!” I couldn’t believe it. I’m still kind of baffled this happened, especially after all the research I did on reparative therapy this year.
    It’s not perfection no, but it’s a step in the right direction. Even saying that one fraction of what they stood for is wrong is a good thing.

  5. Thumb up 3

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    i grew up being told that my mom should have tried exodus international before coming out–also grew up terrified that someone would find me out and send me to them. i talked to them a couple of times at various christian venues, and always ended the conversations so wistful and sad that their version of christianity could let them come so close to loving people without ever quite allowing them to accept them. this is incredible to me.

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    I know two guys (both 26 yrs old) who tried Exodus International. One of them told me his story in depth, and while he still maintained that his homosexuality was a “sin that I believe I can overcome with God’s help,” there was always so much shame in his expression that I couldn’t stand it. Shortly after that I left the church and came out–if God really is Love, then everything that Exodus was trying to do was not only wrong, but totally irrelevant. I’m so glad they’ve finally realized the pain they’ve caused and decided to apologize and rethink their “ministry”. Love is love. Period. Duh.

  7. Thumb up 3

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    Frankly unless they are sorry enough to invent a time machine go back in time and wipe their ridiculous organisation from the face of the earth and sweep its smouldering ashes into the ugly constipated bowels of crazy au history fanfic where they damn well belong then THEY AREN’T SORRY ENOUGH

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      Well said. Anyone who lets a cult of people who believe in invisible friends after the age of 8 is deluded. The “exodus” thing sounds like a scam. Not sure if I should be jealous I can’t make money by being an asshole like him or glad I’m not an asshole. Just for the record, I am not homosexual … I just have a thinking brain like homosexuals and non-homosexuals …. other than cult followers.
      Even though the only Gods are those we invent, those invented Gods would only be worth anything if they acted God-like, in contrast to many of the teachings in the bible and Koran, etc.
      Peace !

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    I feel like this is a huge step, but the fact of the matter is the organization is so tainted by the things they have done they should disband. If they stay formed they are still saying, “In case there is a “cure” one day we will be there.” That’s just my thoughts on it though.

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