Exodus International: From ‘pray away the gay’ to acceptance

Exodus International President Alan Chambers on Thursday at a chapel at Concordia University in Irvine. Exodus International, the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality, announced that it's closing its doors after three-plus decades.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

It’s really worth watching the heartfelt speech that Alan Manning Chambers gave Wednesday as he announced the demise of Exodus International, the controversial Christian ministry founded 38 years ago in Anaheim to — as one often hears — “pray away the gay.”

Chambers, who has led the Orlando, Fla.-based group for 11 years, said he thinks the church is becoming a more welcoming place for gays, and that Exodus, founded as a refuge for Christians battling their same-sex attractions, has simply done more harm than good.

“While there has been so much good at Exodus,” said Chambers, who credited the ministry for saving his life at 19 when he was a suicidal because he could not reconcile his sexuality with church teachings, “there have been people that we’ve hurt. There are horror stories.”


Still, he opened the Irvine conference by reminding people of whom Exodus International serves: “Most of us … are here as Christians with same-sex attractions. We’re believers, like me, who believe sexual expression is reserved for one man and one woman in marriage. Or we’re here as Christians with gay and lesbian loved ones who desperately want to love without conditions.”

I take Chambers at his word when he said that he and his wife, Leslie, are “more in love than ever.”

He did, however, acknowledge that “99% of the people that I have met [at Exodus] continue to struggle with or have same-sex attractions. For the majority of people, those things don’t go away.”

Perhaps this is why he seemed entirely comfortable in his skin when he joked about almost reading the word “transactional” as “transsexual.” He told the crowd, “I love glitter,” and confessed that over the last 18 months as his views on homosexuality have evolved away from church teaching, that he has “begged God so many times to let me be a decorator.” (“God said no.”)

Tonight, on OWN’s “Our America with Lisa Ling,” Chambers will face a group of people he described as “ex-gay survivors” who will confront him about the failures of so-called “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapy, which seeks to change individuals’ sexual orientation through prayer.

The encounter, said Chambers, “was excruciating. They told their true stories in a way that I will never forget. Stories of abuse, and pain, missed opportunities, awful words spoken to them.”


It’s heartening that someone who has led the charge against gay self-acceptance for so many years has had such a potentially influential change of heart.

“I believe we’ve come to a time in the church when it’s time to lay our weapons down,” Chambers said. “We’ve fought the culture, and we’ve lost. But I think we’ve lost for a good reason.”

Time to spread the good word on that, brother.


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Twitter: @robinabcarian