Exodus International, the controversial evangelical Christian organization that since the 1970s has promoted "reparative therapy" as a cure for homosexuality, announced Wednesday that it is shutting down, with president Alan Chambers disavowing the group's mission and offering an apology to the LGBT community on the organization's website. It's a major story for the U.S. gay rights movement, obviously, but there are global implications as well.
This isn't the first time Chambers has offered a major public apology. In 2010, he put out a contrite statement following reports that one of the group's board members had participated, along with other prominent U.S. evangelicals, in a conference on homosexuality in Uganda, one month before the country's legislature proposed legislation that would have made being gay a criminal offense, punishable by death. While the board member, Don Schmierer, said he had no knowledge of the bill, didn't support it, and felt "duped," the New York Times reported that the American visitors had "discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how 'the gay movement is an evil institution' whose goal is 'to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.'" Some of the Ugandan organizers of the conference were involved in drafting the bill.
Despite yesterday's announcement, vestiges of Exodus may survive internationally. As Box Turtle Bulletin explains, "Despite having 'International' in its name, Exodus International has mainly confined its organizational activities to North America, although several Exodus officers, board members and member ministries have traveled throughout the world to participate in conferences, church missions, and other activities to spread the ex-gay message."
Since 1995, Exodus International has been part of a worldwide umbrella organization called the Exodus Global Alliance, which has ministries throughout East Asia, the Pacific, and Latin America. The North American group actually announced it was withdrawing from Exodus Global Alliance last week, in what turned out to be a sign of bigger things to come. In a statement, the Global Alliance said that "This change in relationship ... releases both ministries to serve the Lord, the church and the people impacted by homosexuality according to each ministry's specific calling." The non-American branches will presumably keep operating for the time being.
Like former gay marriage opponent David Blankenhorn last year, Chambers and co. will likely now make the talk show rounds to discuss their conversion. Clearly this will start in North America, where they've been most active, but hopefully they will be just as enthusiastic about taking their new message to an international audience as they used to be in accepting the invitations of anti-gay groups from around the world. At a moment of enormous progress on gay rights in many countries, and disturbing setbacks in others, this can't just be treated as an American issue.
There's some evidence from Chambers's statement that all the traveling he's been doing was a factor in changing his point of view. He discusses recently meeting with Elias Chacour, the Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Israel. "He is an Arab Christian, Palestinian by birth, and a citizen of Israel. Talk about a walking contradiction. When I think of the tension of my situation I am comforted by the thought of him and his," he writes.
Maybe travel broadens the mind after all.