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 counselling 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 gays could be "converted" to heterosexuality through prayer persists among some evangelicals and fundamentalists.
The announcement Exodus would close is not a 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 gays' sexual orientation can be changed or "cured."
In his statement Thursday, Chambers said the board decided to close Exodus and form a new ministry, which he referred to as reducefear.org.
He told the AP the new initiative seeks 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.
Gay rights activists welcomed Chambers' apology and reiterated their belief Exodus caused great damage.
"This is a welcome first step in honestly addressing the harm the organization and its leaders have caused," said Sharon Groves, director of the Human Rights Campaign's religion and faith program.
"Now we need them to take the next step of leadership and persuade all other religious-based institutions that they got it wrong."
Chambers said the decisions announced this week had been under consideration by Exodus' board for a year. Regarding the timing, he said it was not linked to rulings from the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage that are expected within the next week.
"I hold to a biblical view that the original intent for sexuality was designed for heterosexual marriage," he said.
"Yet I realize there are a lot of people who fall outside of that, gay and straight. It's time to find out how we can pursue the common good."
He said there were many influences on his personal decision.
Among them, he said, was the interfaith work overseas of the U.S.-based Christian relief group World Vision, which he praised for its co-operation with Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist groups to aid at-risk children.
-- The Associated Press