June 20, 2013 — -- A Christian ministry that claimed people could change their sexuality through faith, prayer and therapy is shutting down its operations, and the group's president issued an apology for causing the gay community "pain and hurt" through its past work.
Exodus International's board of directors said the decision to close the doors of the 37-year-old ministry came "after a year of dialogue and prayer about the organization's place in a changing culture," according to a statement posted on the group's website late Wednesday.
Once comparing homosexuality to obesity in a 2011 interview with ABC News, the group's president, Alan Chambers, issued an extensive apology this week to the LGBTQ community reflecting his change of heart.
"I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn't change," Chambers said.
"I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents," he added. "I am sorry that there were times I didn't stand up to people publicly 'on my side' who called you names like sodomite -- or worse."
The group's "conversion therapy" was based on the belief that people are not born gay, but rather choose to act on same-sex inclinations, making it a "condition" that could be "cured."
In a 2009 report, the American Psychological Association concluded that "there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation."
Chambers, who is married to a woman, said in his apology that over the years, he had "conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions."
"They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away," he said. "Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there."
Since 1976, Exodus International has grown to more than 220 ministries in the United States and Canada, according to its website.
While local affiliated ministries can continue to operate, they cannot use the Exodus name, according to a statement from the group.
Chambers said he and the Exodus International team plan to start a new, re-branded ministry for a "new generation."
"Our goals are to reduce fear and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming and mutually transforming communities," Chambers said.
The decision to shut down Exodus International was heralded by LGBTQ groups and supporters, who called on the group's leadership to persuade other institutions to end the practice of "reparative therapy."
"This is a welcome first step in honestly addressing the harm the organization and its leaders have caused over the past 37 years," Dr. Sharon Groves of the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement.
"Now we need them to take the next step of leadership and persuade all other religious-based institutions that they got it wrong. This is the right kind of reparative work that is left for them to do."