This week's announcement that the "ex-gay" group Exodus International would shut down and reemerge as a different type of organization is drawing not only denunciation from the religious right and praise from LGBT rights advocates, but admission from some conservative Christians that efforts to change sexual orientation are ineffective.
Not that the latter group is endorsing same-sex relationships. "I do appreciate that Exodus no longer promotes orientation change. Although God does not bless homosexual sex or same-sex romantic relations, heterosexuality should not be the goal," said author Christopher Yuan, according to Christianity Today. "One weakness of Exodus (whether intentional or unintentional) had been a lack of emphasis upon biblical singleness, resulting in an overemphasis upon heterosexual marriage." Yuan's book Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God urges celibacy for anyone not in a heterosexual marriage.
Exodus's move "doesn't mean the folding of an evangelical sexual ethic, though it does mean a move away from a therapeutic model of sexual sanctification," said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination that strongly opposes gay relationships, in an interview with the Baptist Press news service. He continued, "The Christian church has always maintained that sexual expression is directed only toward the one-flesh union of male and female in marriage. Anything else is to be turned away from, regardless of how difficult that is."
These remarks seem to bear out what some LGBT people and allies have perceived in Exodus's year-old announcement that it would no longer endorse "reparative therapy," which is aimed at turning gay people straight, and president Alan Chambers's more recent apologies for the pain such therapy has caused: that if the organization was no longer promoting ex-gay therapy, it was merely promoting celibacy or the closet.
Some religious right figures, meanwhile, denounced Exodus harshly. Exodus's action is "something like a surrender to the cultural currents of the day," Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. told the Baptist Press.
Andrew Comiskey, a board member for the ex-gay group Restored Hope Network, tweeted that it was "merciful of God to shut down Exodus," as it "had completely veered off the course of its mission" under the leadership of Chambers.
And National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, the leading group promoting so-called reparative therapy, downplayed Exodus's announcement. "As we understand it, Exodus was a public relations voice and referral clearing house for hundreds of individual, primarily evangelical ministries who serve church members who are experiencing unwanted homosexual feelings," said a statement on NARTH's website. "These hundreds of individual evangelical Protestant ministries along with the outreach ministries in the Catholic, Jewish and Latter-day Saint faith communities still exist and we imagine that they will always exist as long as we have individuals who find homosexual sex incongruent with their personal or religious values." NARTH also defended "therapeutic assistance for unwanted same-sex attractions" while saying its work is not religious in nature.
LGBT advocates and allies applauded Exodus's action but said much work remains to combat antigay forces. "While we are overjoyed to see Alan Chambers and the board of Exodus do the right thing by closing their doors, there is still far more work to do to put an end to the awful practice of 'ex-gay' reparative therapy," said Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, which combats ex-gay groups. "As we've seen with the recent formation of the Restored Hope Network, there are still enough charlatans and hucksters out there committed to pushing their discredited worldview, at the expense of LGBTQ people and their families, to keep us busy."
And the Reverend Cindi Love, executive director of the pro-LGBT religious group Soulforce, wrote a letter to Chambers, also posted on the Soulforce website, welcoming the closure of Exodus but calling on its leaders "to take the next step in restorative justice," including, among other actions, efforts to "ensure the closure of every ex-gay ministry in the world."
Read The Advocate's article on the state of the ex-gay movement here.