'Pray the gay away' ministry closes, leader apologizes to LGBT community

(Photo: Exodus International)Alan Chambers at the opening address of the annual Exodus Freedom Conference on June 19 before apologizing for hurting the LGBT community and announcing his organization would shut down.

After 37 years of standing as the world's largest ministry that helped those "struggling" with same-sex attraction, the Orlando, Fla. based Exodus International is closing its doors and Alan Chambers, Exodus International President for over a decade, has issued a long apology to those that were hurt by the organization.

"It is strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the church's treatment of the LGBT community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt," Chambers wrote on the Exodus International's blog in an entry titled, 'I Am Sorry.'

"Today it is as if I've just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church."

Chambers issued the blog Wednesday before the Thursday release of his formal apology to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transvestites while doing an interview with Oprah Winfrey's OWN Network.

"More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God's rejection," said Chambers. "I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives."

During the interview his apology included, "My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God's command to love my neighbor as I love myself. You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours."

With that, Chambers announced the shutting down of Exodus International.

"Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we've ceased to be a living, breathing organism" said Chambers. "For quite some time we've been imprisoned in a worldview that's neither honouring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical."

Chambers had long considered himself a model example of Exodus International values. Admitting to having same-sex attraction, Chambers lived how he viewed the Bible informed him to live.

He says he is happily married to his wife and though he still has same-sex attractions, he has never been tempted to stray.

Yet, he admits that over recent years, he felt obligated to make a change to the organization that became synonymous with the phrase "Pray the gay away." In an interview with The Orlando Sentinel on Friday, Chambers admitted that he and the church had gotten away from Christ's teachings.

"There's a song we sing in church - 'They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love'- and I think we've gotten so far away from that," Chambers said. "Most people know the church because of what we're against, and I want to be known because of what we're for."

For the last 10 years, Exodus presented Chambers as the norm for controlling urges, but as the church closes more progressive leaning churches are using this as evidence of a shift in the Christian community.

"I am ecstatic for all those folks who somehow survived the Exodus International's brainwashing and can now claim that same victory of truth," the Rev. Terri Steed of Joy Metropolitan Community Church in Orlando wrote in an email.

Steed added that they have welcomed many former traumatized members of Exodus International into their flocks.

This week's announcement follows the trend of years of Exodus International slowly moving away from its more negative connotations.

For example, the church had already long ended its controversial "reparative therapy" for those "suffering" from same-sex attraction.

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