Hours before going onstage in Irvine for a religious conference, the leader of a Christian ministry that had long been devoted to fighting homosexuality offered an apology to the gay community.
"We're sorry," said Alan Chambers, president of Florida-based Exodus International. He vowed to transform his mission "to help those who suffered so much pain."
"I am sorry I didn't stand up to people publicly 'on my side' who called you names.... I am sorry I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine," Chambers said in a statement.
"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."
Chambers plans to deliver that message when officials kick off the annual Exodus Freedom Conference on Wednesday night at Concordia College in Irvine.
He first offered an apology in a taped interview on "Our America With Lisa Ling," which airs Thursday.
Chambers said he contacted Ling this spring after months of thinking about "those who shared their very powerful stories with us through the years and the huge hurt we've caused to them. We wanted to do it publicly to reach others. And it was a very uncomfortable. It's something I wouldn't take all the money in the world to listen to again, but it was also something I had to do."
Chambers has served as president of the Orlando-based ministry for more than 11 years.
"To pretend that Exodus is a wonderful organization that never caused anyone trauma is not true. We need to change the way we do things, the language that we use, the truth of our story and how we interact with each other as Christians," he told the Times.
Brad Allen, a former Exodus employee who came out to his family and friends in 2012, and who appears with Chambers on the Lisa Ling show, said, "I was incredibly proud of him for doing this — and he's taking flak from all sides.
"He's being called a 'heretic' and the 'worst kind of sinner' but in his heart, he knows this is right."
Allen, who worked with Chambers as a church network coordinator, later became a pastor in Denver. He lost that job once he revealed that he is gay. He calls the Exodus apology "seismic."
In Southern California, a theology professor ordained two years ago after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America dropped its ban on same-sex ministers won election in May to become the church's first openly gay bishop.
"Here in 2013, with the anti-gay rhetoric ramping up, we do not want to make war," Chambers said in an interview with The Times. "We want to start a conversation. For so long, I've walked a tightrope of diplomacy" compared to this moment, in which he says he feels "free."
He hopes that "changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight" for Exodus — which works with more than 200 member ministries and agencies — "will bring resolution, and show I am serious in both my regret and offer of friendship."
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