The leader of Exodus International, a Christian ministry that worked to help people repress same-sex attraction, has apologized to the gay community for inflicting "years of undue suffering." He plans to close the organization while launching a new effort to promote reconciliation.
"The church has waged the culture war, and it's time to put the weapons down," Alan Chambers told The Associated Press on Thursday, hours after announcing his decision at Exodus' annual conference and posting his apology online.
"While there has been so much good at Exodus, there has also been bad," Chambers said at the conference. "We've hurt people."
Based in Orlando, Fla., Exodus was founded 37 years ago and claimed 260 member ministries around the U.S. and abroad. It offered to help conflicted Christians rid themselves of unwanted homosexual inclinations through counseling and prayer, infuriating gay rights activists in the process.
Exodus had seen its influence wane in recent years as mainstream associations representing psychiatrists and psychologists rejected its approach. However, the idea that gays could be "converted" to heterosexuality through prayer persists among some evangelicals and fundamentalists.
The announcement that Exodus would close was not a total surprise. Last year, Chambers — who is married to a woman but has spoken openly about his own sexual attraction to men — said he was trying to distance his ministry from the idea that gays' sexual orientation can be permanently changed or "cured."
In his statement Thursday, Chambers said the board had decided to close Exodus and form a new ministry, which he referred to as reducefear.org.
He told the AP that the new initiative would seek to promote dialogue among those who've been on opposite sides in the debate over gay rights.
"We want to see bridges built, we want peace to be at the forefront of anything we do in the future," he said.