People gathered in Irvine at the annual conference for "gay cure" group Exodus International seemed to embrace the organization's change of course after its leader apologized to gays and said the church needs to be more embracing of homosexuals.
Julie Rodgers, youth leader for Mercy Street Ministries in Dallas, said she and her organization still believe that "God only blesses sexual unions between a man and a woman," but she said it's time for the church to become a more welcoming place.
“The culture has changed, so it's not surprising that people within the church are changing," Rodgers said. adding that Christians "need to enter into a conversation with those who think differently.”
“This is definitely a sign that the church is becoming more compassionate, more gracious and more loving,” she said.
Linda and Rob Robertson, who spoke at the Exodus International conference in Irvine, said their lives were turned upside-down when their 12-year-old son came out to his parents as gay.
“If you follow Jesus, you will have to make hard choices. You will have to live a celibate life,” Linda told her son Ryan.
She said she and her husband forced him to choose between God and being a gay man, and for the next six years he tried everything possible. He went to reparative therapy with Exodus, but nothing worked.
At 18, with no answers, he became addicted to drugs, his mother said.
“We didn’t intentionally, but we taught Ryan to hate himself,” Robertson said.
When Ryan hit rock bottom after his drug experimentation, his parents realized they would lose him and tried to form a more accepting relationship with him.
He went to rehab and was welcomed back into the family. But he relapsed and died of a drug overdose in his father's arms in 2009, his parents said.
Since then, the Robertsons have become advocates for gay and lesbian young adults who feel shut out by the church.
“We have to stop warring. We’ve got to stop fighting,” Rob Robertson said.
Aaron Harris, who works with Northpoint Ministries in Atlanta, said that he has often thought of the church as "teaching truth based on fear."
He thinks that the Exodus announcement will allow Christians to feel more comforted and loved.
“It’s no longer ‘I either have to choose to be a Christian or to be gay.’ Before you couldn’t be both and the truth is, you can be both,” Harris said.
Exodus International President Alan Chambers apologized on Wednesday to members of the gay community for "years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole.” He also said the organization would be closing.
“Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” Chambers said in announcing the church’s closure. “For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”