National Religious Leadership Roundtable responds to closing of Exodus International

The National Religious Leadership Roundtable, convened by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, today responded to the closing of Exodus International, a large Christian ministry that claimed to falsely offer a “cure” for homosexuality.

Responses from National Religious Leadership Roundtable Members

Rev. Dr. Rebecca Voelkel, Faith Work Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:
“As a Christian, I am called to follow the Scriptural injunction to be ‘as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.’ The actions of Exodus International evoke both of these attributes. I am deeply grateful for the apology issued by Mr. Chambers because it begins to acknowledge the abuse, false witness and torture that Exodus International has perpetrated for decades. Such acknowledgement is critically important. My gratitude goes to the countless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and families that have worked for years to combat the real horror that has been the result of Exodus International’s work.

“But these steps are only the first ones, there is much, much more to be done. True repentance and remorse are followed with acts of justice and restitution. At the moment, it appears that Exodus is not responding with these acts that Scripture calls us to engage. Instead, it appears as if they are simply rebranding, moving their abusive work overseas and are making plans continue to bear false witness against the dignity and beauty of God’s LGBT children.”

Dr. Michael J. Adee, Director, Global Faith and Justice Project, Horizons Foundation:
“The closing of Exodus International is a helpful step forward in ending the harmful message causing LGBT persons to doubt that they are part of God’s good creation. ‘Ex-gay’ therapy is bad theology and bad medicine. We must stay vigilant to end the life-threatening export of homophobia through the promotion of ex-gay therapy around the world.”

Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., Co-Director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER):
“Religious progressives applaud the honesty of Exodus people who acknowledge that the world has changed, that human diversity is a plus. Where Exodus has gone may other such ministries follow in rapid succession.”

Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, Moderator, Metropolitan Community Churches:
“For decades, Exodus International has been synonymous with the idea that people need to be ‘cured’ or ‘healed’ of homosexuality. This week’s historic apology from Exodus leader, Alan Chambers, for the harm done to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people by Exodus is encouraging. Sadly, nothing will bring back the lives lost to suicide based on pseudo-psychology and corrupt theology. Any apology for past suicides, lost years and damage to families is only as good as real actions to counter the lies spread throughout the world by past Exodus action.

“What is needed is true repentance and a conversion to truth telling. The theology of condemnation must be replaced with a theology of grace in the service of God’s good creation — including LGBT people. The trail of emotional, psychological and spiritual damage must be mitigated by evangelistic outreach around the world where the lives of LGBT people hang in the balance at the hands of religious and political leaders who would shed their blood, rape their bodies, and crucify their spirits for their own careers.

“We will not be satisfied until we see Evangelicals bring the same fervor to saving our lives as they have to trying to separate our souls from our God-given sexual orientations and gender identities.

“Around the world, MCC is known as ‘The Human Rights Church’ because we are sometimes the only faith tradition standing up for the lives of LGBT people.  Exodus has the opportunity to join us.

“Words are cheap. Lives are precious. Do not disappoint us.”

Rev. Mary Lynn Tobin & Rev. David Van Dyke, Co-Moderators of the Board of Directors, Covenant Network of Presbyterians:
“The Covenant Network of Presbyterians is grateful to the leadership of Exodus International this week for ending the organization’s operations and apologizing for the hurt it has caused. We agree with Exodus president Alan Chambers that so-called ‘reparative therapy’ has proven to be harmful and we lament the hurt that the efforts of Exodus and other ‘ex-gay’ operations have inflicted over the years.

“We rejoice that across the theological spectrum, more and more voices are speaking out to promote the gracious welcome of all people and to fully include LGBTQ people in every aspect of life and leadership in our congregations and communities. We pray that these words from Exodus International will be joined by actions and that all Christians, churches and organizations will foreswear any attempt to oppress, exclude, alter or demean their LGBTQ sisters and brothers. We call for an end to all efforts to ‘heal’ anyone’s sexual orientation, either within the Presbyterian Church (USA) or any other church, and we call upon all Christians to join us in seeking to make the whole Church of Jesus Christ as generous and just as God’s grace.”

Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls, Prelate of the Southern Jurisdiction, Unity Fellowship Church Movement:
“Time after time throughout history, the church and those it influences has stood on the wrong side of God’s unconditional love and inclusion. One of the things that is special about love is that it never gives up on us. Exodus’s president, Alan Chambers, and board showed great courage in their willingness to right an awful wrong. Our prayers must now be turned toward the families of the hundreds of people who killed themselves; the thousands of others who attempted suicide; those that lost the comfort and support of the families they loved; those who turned to drugs, alcohol and high risk behavior; those who endured emotional torment; and others who walked in the fear that even death could not offer the hope they held for eternal life after death. May the church and other faith communities use this moment to reflect upon, and where appropriate, be courageous enough to change those positions and policies that do not welcome and affirm all of God’s children. Healing is needed and it begins today.”

Rev. Dr. Neil G. Thomas, Founders Metropolitan Community Church:
“Today we welcome the announcements made by Alan Chambers and Exodus International that they will be shutting down and ceasing their harmful and damaging ministry toward God’s LGBT children. This brings to an end nearly four decades of theological, spiritual abuse and dishonesty, asserting that being gay is a sin, curable and an offense to God.

“We further welcome the personal and institutional apology offered by Mr. Chambers and his acknowledgment that his work has caused much harm, separation from family, friends, communities of faith and, in some cases death by suicide. While this apology will not undo the devastating damage caused, this acknowledgment begins to help those most affected find healing and peace with themselves and, hopefully the God who creates us all, just as we are.

“We pray that Mr. Chambers will now work on both sides of this dialogue, with those who have, for many years offered a place of love and acceptance, and use his voice to assist those who will continue this damaging ministry to come to the same conclusions that he, and Exodus International have today stated.  “As a community that has worked hard to support those who have gone through the ministry of Exodus International and its affiliated ministries, we witness and live first hand the damage and hurt it has done.

“While we celebrate this confession and apology we urge him to continue his theological understanding of the older prodigal son analogy. We hope that Mr. Chambers will follow through on this new understanding that ‘God is calling us to welcome everyone, to love unhindered;’ and that being homosexual or heterosexual, neither are more or less worthy of God’s Kingdom.

“Founders Metropolitan Community Church will continue to raise its voice in the public arena and within the Christian community to clearly demonstrate that there are thousands and thousands of LGBTQ people of faith; people who have a vibrant relationship with God that transforms lives and holds true to the faith of its founder and teacher, Jesus. This Jesus calls us all to lives based on His values of love, acceptance, compassion, kindness, service and a hope for a better world.”

Rev. Dr. Rev. Cindi Love, Soulforce:
“After almost 40 years, Exodus International has closed its doors. It was the oldest Christian services group of its type and the market leader in reparative/ex-gay/sexual orientation change therapy. Throughout its tenure, Exodus claimed that its professionals and programs could heal people of homosexuality and they were very successful in enrolling eager clients.

“Unfortunately, they misled their customers. Last year Exodus CEO Alan Chambers reported that 99.9 percent of people who engaged in reparative therapy did not change their orientation.  “Earlier this week, Chambers issued a public apology for trying to fix people who weren’t broken. He enlisted Lisa Ling of Our America in broadcasting a meeting Thursday, June 20th in which he could formally apologize to those who felt deceived and defrauded by Exodus’ practices and to announce that the organization will cease to be an “ex gay” organization.

“On June 19, the Exodus Board of Directors officially announced that they were shutting down the organization.  Simultaneously they announced the launch of a new ministry with the goal of reducing fear and working alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.  “Unfortunately, human lives can’t be ‘recalled’ to the factory for in-warranty repair like cars. While Chambers and Exodus have taken the first and very critical steps in restorative justice, it is not clear how they can make reparations.

“I trust that Chambers is truly remorseful about the damaged lives and lost lives as a result of Exodus interventions. I also trust that Chambers was motivated by the relentless pressure by whistleblowers like Michael Busse, one of the founders of Exodus. Busse has repeatedly confronted Chambers and most recently said that Exodus should just shut down.

“I am proud to be amongst a crowd of witnesses who have relentlessly and non-violently resisted the work of Exodus International: Soulforce and its former executive director Dr. Jeff Lutes & the Equality Riders, Peter Toscano and Christine Bakke, Wayne Beson at Truth Wins Out and the Right Wing Watch.  “I trust that Chambers is a very savvy market analyst.  He read the tea leaves. His product/service didn’t work. America is tired of gay bashing and bullying and tired of the religious right vs. religious left battles in the public square. Maybe Chambers was worried about the challenges coming for the charitable status of groups like Exodus Global Alliance in Canada and the fact that New Zealand denied Exodus Global Alliance (a former affiliate of Exodus International) this status when their value was weighed against any harm that might arise from their activities.

“So, Chambers needed a new, fresh, reframed approach or find another job. Either way, he will land on his feet. He’s a smart guy. He planned all of the announcements this week during the biggest conversation about gay marriage in our history. He scrubbed the Exodus web site of blatantly anti-gay rhetoric. He published public policy statements that denounced the criminalization of homosexuality and bullying, holding and touch therapy and exorcisms intended to heal people of homosexuality. He invited people who had been harmed to speak at the final conference of Exodus.

“Good work. A good start. And, not nearly enough. I hope that Chambers will find it in his heart to confront any ministry in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons are targeted for ‘fixing’ ‘inclusion’ or ‘affirmation’ or “reconciliation.’

“God already included us, affirmed us and reconciled us. And we don’t need fixing.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director, DignityUSA:
“For decades, DignityUSA has counted among our members many who survived ‘ex-gay’ therapies offered by Exodus International and related groups. Having witnessed the tremendous spiritual and psychological trauma suffered by these people, we celebrate the announcement that Exodus International will close its doors. We also welcome Alan Chambers’ apology for the harm his organization has caused, and acknowledgement of their responsibility for the enormous damage they have done to so many, to the point of some of their followers committing suicide. The work of reparation must go on, and we urge Exodus International to make this a priority.”

Testimonial by Joseph Gentilini, Ph.D.:
“I am a member of DignityUSA. It is good news that Exodus is shutting its doors after years of offering false hope to desperate LGBTQ persons. I came out in 1968 and entered reparative therapy with a well-known psychologist in Columbus Ohio. I was fearful of going to hell, knew no other gay persons, and was desperate to be ‘normal.’ While I never was involved in Exodus International or other such groups, the psychological community believed that gay persons could change if a person truly wanted such a change.

“This weekly therapy for six years was painful, from 1968-1974. During the course of these years, I was trained to believe that my homosexual feelings, thoughts, and fantasies were because I felt inadequate as a man. When faced with these feelings and thoughts, I was taught to replace them with the knowledge that I was only feeling inadequate. For a while, I was given medication to stop all of my physical ejaculations which only frustrated me more. I was trained to make love to a female plastic doll, and to date women with a hierarchy of sexual and nonsexual behaviors. I had sexual relations with women which I never found emotionally satisfying. It was believed that if I made ‘positive associations’ with heterosexual behaviors, I would change my sexual orientation. It didn’t work and in time I became suicidal. I had the means to do so in the top drawer of my dresser, telling myself every night that ‘I can always kill myself if it gets too bad.’

“By 1973, I could no longer fool myself that I was becoming heterosexual; I wasn’t. I had prayed every night to be changed to no avail.  The problem was that being raised Roman Catholic, I did not believe I could be a happy gay Catholic man. I had to find a way to do so within my religious tradition. I ‘heard’ of DignityUSA and wrote them for printed material and a priest that I could talk so. I learned of a ‘Gay Christian’ conference to be held in Dayton in June of 1974.  There I met other LGBT people who seemed to be able to reconcile what I experienced as impossible. I finally found a way to be whole.

“My mother and father had encouraged me in my attempts to be heterosexual because they were not able to deal with my homosexuality either. My mother truly believed that if I or she prayed enough, I would become heterosexual. When I finally came out and accepted myself, my mother called me up on the phone and told me she was sorry she every became pregnant with me. We never broke off contact with each other, but our relationship was strained.

“Meeting my partner, Leo, in 1981 brought no positive healing between my mother and myself. Through the efforts of a contemplative Catholic religious sister, my mother reconciled with me in 1987 and Leo was accepted as part of the family after that. I have been with Leo since the fall of 1981, almost 32 years ago.”