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The end of Exodus International brings mixed responses

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Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International has offered an apology for the damage the organization has done in its three-plus decades of operation. Just one day before the airing of Our America with Lisa Ling: God and Gays, Exodus issued an apology and announced its decision to close down. While some people are relieved with the announcement, many are also skeptical about possible motives behind the apology and demise of Exodus.

Exodus was founded in 1976, and has since expanded to include over 200 churches and ministries within the United States and Canada. The goal of the organization was to show "grace and truth" towards LGBT people by sharing "God's word."

Through their teachings and conferences, Exodus led people to believe they could "surrender their sexual struggles to the Lordship of Jesus Christ," and in turn, live "holy and heterosexual" lives the way they believe God intended.

The truth is, this organization caused immense damage to many people desperate to "fix" what these leaders preached was "wrong and sinful" within them.

Many people consider themselves "Ex-ex-gays." These individuals found themselves within an organization like Exodus, realized they couldn't pray the gay away, and turned away to heal from the damage these organizations had done.

 “'Exodus is shutting down.' At the Exodus website I read their official statement. The words were too perfect, so measured", said Jane Brazell, survivor of ex-gay therapy. "I sat stunned."

Along with the announcement ending Exodus International, Alan Chambers also introduced a new organization, Reduce Fear. According to the announcement, their new ministry would have a much different intention than Exodus. “This is a new season of ministry, to a new generation,” said Chambers. “Our goals are to reduce fear (reducefear.org), and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

Survivors are wary about where this might be headed. Re-branding is an issue in the back of minds. Yes, Exodus is no more, but what will be the undermining goals of this new organization?

"Morning came and with it heartache. I saw post after post on my social media and articles galore in the press about Exodus’ announcement. There was praise and accolades for Alan Chambers. People were reading the same statements I had, and they were not troubled by any of it. There was no concern about a new organization with the same core belief. It was new wine in old wineskins. I wanted new wine and new wineskins. I wanted real transformation. Those who did not survive Exodus, or one of the other ex-gay groups in existence, didn’t understand why I was not elated. When I tried to explain that I was hesitant because it was not clear that the new organization would have the same beliefs toward LGBTQ I was told that I wanted too much; I needed to be happy that Exodus was shutting down and Alan Chambers said he was sorry. I was told that I should be concerned with how devastating this was for him and how brave he had been." Brazell, expressed.

Soulforce is a national non-profit that works nonviolently to end the religious and political oppression of LGBTQ people. Soulforce also responded to the announcement even suggesting ways the ministry could go about reversing the work they've been a part of for so long. Once again, they are happy to hear the news about the end of the organization, but the follow up is what's important.

Just because Exodus isn't running its operation, doesn't mean that LGBT equality has been achieved. In response to this event, other fundamentalist "ex-gay" figures have made steps to making their own groups modeled after Exodus. The Restored Hope Network, which had previously broken away from Exodus for backing away from it's "change is possible" promise, released a letter in response to the announcement. "We, the Board of Restored Hope Network, grieve the decision of Alan Chambers and the board of Exodus to close down this venerable organization", the letter states. "It feels like an unnecessary death of a dear friend."

The damage these organizations have is unmeasurable. By rebranding and announcing a "changing culture" many are worried about the deceptive capabilities possible.

Our America With Lisa Ling has followed Exodus since before her Pray The Gay Away episode aired in 2011. During "Pray The Gay Away?" Lisa Ling showed America inside Exodus International. Alan Chambers was a full advocate for his organization and the work they were doing. Now it's three years later, Our America with Lisa Ling: God and Gays airs, and Exodus announces its closing. These are two very different media appearances for Exodus. Only the future will tell if there was a true change in heart.

When Exodus first spoke to Lisa Ling, Our America also showed another organization for LGBT Christianity: The Naming Project Camp. During that episode, Lisa Ling shared my story. I was a camper that spoke out about my experiences as a teen growing up in a Christian church that much like Exodus, expressed the need for me to be "fixed."

It was summer of 2009, my first year at The Naming Project camp, I was seventeen. Ross Murray, camp director, now Director of News and Faith Initiatives at GLAAD, led us in worship. He gave us bare rocks which represented a slate. He then handed us chalk, and told us to write words or things that had hurt us as LGBT teens on the rock. The first thing I wrote: Exodus. Even though I was never directly involved with the organization, just knowing an organization like that existed was enough to hurt me growing up as a teenager that identified as both a lesbian and a Christian. Thankfully, my parents sent me to The Naming Project camp instead of Exodus, the route my church suggested.

As all of the campers held the rocks covered in the things that hurt us most, Ross Murray instructed us to dip them into water of Bay Lake, Minnesota, and wash them clean. This was to signify a "clean slate." This signified us giving our wounds to God. This signified healing.

Two years later, my story aired side-by-side with Exodus on Our America with Lisa Ling Pray the Gay Away? Now almost three years later, and I can write about Exodus closing. This is a clean slate once again. 

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