The leading U.S. Christian ministry that advocated prayer as a "cure" for homosexuality has apologized for causing "trauma" and is shutting its doors.
The board of directors of Exodus International announced it was closing late Wednesday, saying the unanimous decision came "after a year of dialogue and prayer about the organization's place in a changing culture."
The move came on the heels of an apology by the group's president, Alan Chambers, who said its mission – which held that homosexuals could be "cured" through a combination of prayer and conversion therapy – was misguided and even harmful.
"I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn't change," he wrote in a statement posted to the group's website on Wednesday. "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."
The controversial so-called ex-gay movement has been widely discredited. In 1998, the American Psychiatric Association said there is no evidence that conversion therapy works and warned it can cause depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviour.
While Exodus International will close after 37 years, the board of directors plans to begin a new ministry and has set up a website called reducefear.org. It did not release any details about the venture.
Mr. Chambers' apology is not entirely unexpected. Last summer, he publicly disowned some of the movement's key principles. And in May, Exodus International withdrew from Exodus Global Alliance, a network of ministries focused on homosexuality. The network, which has a Canadian office in Ajax, Ont., continues to maintain that gay and lesbians can "overcome their homosexuality."
In his apology, Mr. Chambers said many people who sought help from Exodus-affiliated ministries instead experienced "more trauma," including "shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope." He said "swift action" had resulted in the removal of blameworthy ministers or their organizations, but acknowledged that some people had been driven to suicide.
Many in the gay community welcomed Mr. Chambers' apology, while reiterating their belief that Exodus had caused great damage.
"This is a welcome first step in honestly addressing the harm the organization and its leaders have caused," Sharon Groves, director of the Human Rights Campaign's religion and faith program, told the Associated Press. "Now we need them to take the next step of leadership and persuade all other religious-based institutions that they got it wrong."
However, Dan Savage, a gay rights advocate, said on Twitter: "Alan's work destroyed people. Sorry is … nice, I guess, but it won't raise the dead."
Mr. Chambers, who has previously said he "overcame" attractions to other men, acknowledged "there were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions."
"Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop," said Mr. Chambers, who is married to a woman. "Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there."
Despite his apology, Mr. Chambers said he still believes homosexuality is a sin.
"I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them," he wrote. "I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek."