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Exodus interview: what leaders of defunct 'gay conversion' group are planning

Leaders of Exodus International, which announced it is closing this week, are starting a new group aimed at finding common ground within conservative churches and fostering acceptance of all sexual orientations. 

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Chambers came to Exodus International in 1991 as a 19-year-old college student, and he served as its president for 12 years.

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“I think our sexuality is complex, and for me, I do experience same-sex attractions, but most married people I know have some sort of sexual attractions that they put aside,” he says. “They love their spouse and want to be faithful and are called to be faithful.”

Chambers has been married for 16 years, with two children, and has “never been tempted to be unfaithful to my wife,” he says. “We have an amazing Garden of Eden-type relationship.”

On Wednesday, Chambers issued a stunning apology to the gay community for “years of undue suffering and judgment at the hands of the organization and the Church as a whole.” Then, Exodus International announced it was closing its doors, after 37 years as an umbrella organization over ministries that engage in Christian “conversion therapy.” He no longer believes it's possible to change someone’s sexual orientation through therapy and regrets the harm he has seen it do to some people, including drug abuse and suicide.   

In 2009, the American Psychological Association condemned the practice of conversion therapy. In January, California became the first state to ban its practice on minors.

Still, many social conservatives and religious faiths believe it is possible to be healed of same-sex attractions.

"The ex-gay movement has nothing to apologize for,” said Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council in a statement to the Monitor. “The message that 'change is possible' is a modest one. It does not mean that change is easy, nor that change is mandatory. But to apologize for saying 'change is possible' is to deny both human freedom and the transforming power of the gospel of Christ."

Tony Moore, a member of Exodus’s board, says he was helped when he came to the organization 13 years ago as a long-married man with children who had never told anyone about his childhood sexual abuse or continuing same-sex attractions.

“There was this cathartic release from having a group of people I could talk to without worrying whether they would accept me or reject me,” says Mr. Moore, speaking by phone from the Exodus conference in California. Today, he is still more attracted to men than to women, but “I find myself most attracted to my wife.”

Moore, a pastor at a nondenominational Christian church in Greenville, S.C., plans to be involved in Chambers’s new organization.

“Obviously it’s not all worked out yet, but I think the primary thing that we’re looking to do is create a place for conversation between people of all different sides and views – bring them to a common table so that we can break down the animosity between the groups,” he says.

“This issue is so polarizing in and out of the church and in society,” he says. “We want to do what we can to bring all the groups together, because we want people to be aware that there are gay people in their families and churches and neighborhoods and schools, and they deserve the same respect that they give everybody else, instead of seeing them as second-class.”

“We think that Jesus has made a way for all of us to have a relationship with God that doesn’t leave anybody out,” he says. 

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