Good riddance [Updated]

Please excuse me while I do a little happy dance.  You see, Exodus International is shutting down.

Exodus International, the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality announced tonight that it’s closing its doors after three-plus decades of ministry. The Board of Directors reached a decision after a year of dialogue and prayer about the organization’s place in a changing culture.

“We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, but a new generation of Christians is looking for change – and they want to be heard,” Tony Moore, Board member of Exodus. The message came less than a day after Exodus released a statement apologizing ( to the gay community for years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole.

For those of you having trouble parsing “dealing with faith and homosexuality,” let me unpack it for you.  Exodus International told gay people that they could stop being gay if they prayed hard enough, that God would turn them into the straight people they were meant to be.  That’s what “dealing with faith and homosexuality” meant to them.  Getting rid of the latter by doubling down on the former.

It didn’t work, as they now seem to be acknowledging.  In fact, it seems they’re really, really sorry about that whole “telling people God wants them to be straight and will make them that way if they try hard enough” thing.  (I am trying to get an excerpt of the apology statement linked above, but at the time of this writing their servers seem to be a wee bit overwhelmed.)

Now, it is deeply tempting to use this opportunity to discuss the bottomless depths of disdain I have for this organization, to express the unmitigated contempt I have for it and its mission.  But I will refrain.  I will take them at their word when they say they’re sorry, and will try to meet them in a spirit of grace and charity.

Because it doesn’t really matter.  It doesn’t matter how much I have despised the work they have done.  It doesn’t matter what their intentions were as they went about it.  None of it matters, not anymore.

What matters is that they are gone.  What matters is that one of the “ministries” that social conservatives have gestured toward when they told gay and lesbian people that they could pray their natures away is shutting its doors.  What matters is that one of the loudest voices proclaiming a poisonous narrative about how God’s love works has lost too much of its audience to keep talking.

In the end, it doesn’t matter why they did what they did.  All that matters is they won’t be able to do it any more.  “Goodbye” is the best thing they’ve ever said, and I’m so happy to have been here to hear it.

[Update: Andrew Sullivan offers some gracious and charitable thoughts.]

[Update II: A decidedly less charitable collection of thoughts, closer to my own,  from John Shore. (Via @fakedansavage, who doesn’t seem to buy it either.)]

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. It points to the full-scale collapse of the religious right on this issue.

    Everything else they do here almost necessarily implies the existence of a credible ex-gay movement. Without it, what to do about gays? In decades of trying, they’ve never been able to supply any other answer.

    Without a purportedly substantial number of ex-gays, most of their views on the subject become incoherent — or, best, not statements of public policy at all, just individualized personal preferences.

    • Were I inclined to cynicism, I would ponder whether they are shutting down because they’ve really seen the error of their ways, or if it’s just because too few people have been supporting them lately to sustain their business model.

      Good news, either way.

      • No, I think it’s definitely “error of their ways”:

        “In his statement Thursday, Chambers said the board of Exodus had decided to close it and form a new ministry, which he referred to as “Our goals are to reduce fear and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities,” he said.”


        This new website isn’t completely up yet.

        • Yeah, but that could well be ex post facto rationalizing once the money dried up, rather than a genuine reflection of a change of heart.

          Or at least, that would be what I would say if I were the cynical sort.

          • Cynicism is probably the right way to go if there’s money involved.

            Let’s face facts there: There’s still lots of homophobes in America. Given religious demographics, most of them are Christian. There’s still money there. Plenty to keep things running. (Westburo, for instance, is about a million times less popular among Christians and the American public than anti-gay therapy, and they’re still running around being, you know, what they are).

            But not t enough to be movers and shakers in the Christian world. Not enough to be important.

            True believers wouldn’t stop believing because the money isn’t there. But folks happy to ride the gravy train of belief, to get to be big political movers amongst Christianity? Yeah, they’d get out of Dodge as soon as the wave started to sag.

            Christianity in America — Protestant Christianity in this case, with it’s lack of a unifying leader (Catholicism has a much different structure), well — there’s a lot of politics and power to be had among the half-dozen major evangelical branches and the many more sub-sets. A lot of money. A lot of influence.

            Whether you want it for good or ill (to promote Christianity as you think God wishes it or just because hey, money and power), it’s there.

            And if these folks are bailing, it’s not because they suffered a theological shift en masse. It’s because they’re losing more power through bigotry than they’re gaining. Of influence. Of money.

            Gay-bashing just isn’t as profitable in America as it used to be. Not a growth industry.

          • Yeah, but that could well be ex post facto rationalizing once the money dried up, rather than a genuine reflection of a change of heart.

            Maybe so, maybe not. But rationalizations do sometimes have a way of coming true. We still know nothing about the enigmatic “reduce fear” initiative, so waiting seems in order.

        • Reduce fear.

          What on earth (or in heaven) does that mean? Fear of what? The church? Are they admitting that they’ve frightened the sheep away?

          • It could mean they’re going to work with other churches to show that there is nothing to be frightened of living with gay people in the community.

            Geez, what would it take to give these people the benefit of the freaking doubt? They’re making a huge public apology for past thinking and actions and are probably getting vicious feedback from their fellow “Christians” for this?

            Russell: didn’t you write a post a couple of months ago criticizing an actor because he was down on people who were late-arrivals to the gays-are-human-too effort? I’m kind of disappointed in this post.

          • You don’t get IMMEDIATELY get the benefit of the doubt when you’ve spent a significant amount of time trying to ruin people’s lives.

          • And I might point out it’s a real apology – “We’ve hurt people” – not the usual “If anyone was offended by our work…” blah blah.

          • One apology once – even one that does the bare minimum to acknowledge the incredible pain that the group has caused – is insufficient to earn these guys the benefit of the doubt that they’d apparently like. They can earn it over the course of weeks and months and years of doing genuinely good work which isn’t specifically designed to ruin lives.

          • Sam: I missed the memo that explained why you get to decide that for the rest of us.

          • I’m baffled that a single apology, offered once, is sufficient. If it is for you, so be it.

          • Well, it wasn’t a “single apology”, was it? They shut down their ministry.

          • Sam,

            I’m not sure that is the benefit of the doubt at that point.

          • Kazzy – I don’t get your meaning.

            DRS – and what have they done or will they be doing for the thousands of people who came through their doors before the closure? Will those people get their time (and, presumably, money) back? Will they pay any substantive price for the pain they’ve caused? Or will this apology settle the debts, such as they are?

          • I am more with Sam than you on this one, DRS.

            Yes, I could more immediately accept this as entirely sincere and genuinely contrite. I could. But I don’t. Because I really don’t feel like it.

            I do not know your story or what interaction, if any, you may have had with this organization. I, personally, have been given materials from the organization in the expectation that I adhere to their prescriptions and change accordingly. I, personally, have been told that God wanted me to be straight and that this organization would help me get there. I, personally, have been confronted by countless people in my own life who looked at this organization’s work and used it as a justification for their continued belief that being gay is a mere choice, made by the perverse.

            Yes, I could accept this apology immediately and without reservation. Perhaps it is a flaw in my character that my primary reaction is one of unalloyed happiness that this organization is folding, and not a more gracious one like Mr. Sullivan’s. But he wasn’t raised fundamentalist Christian in America’s heartland, and I was. So my response is “good riddance,” and I will wait to see what amends these people make for the harm they have done.

            “I’m sorry” isn’t sufficient for an organization like this, as far as I am, personally, concerned. I am blessed to have family who very quickly came to love and celebrate me for who I am after an initially rocky coming-out, and even I have been hurt by this organization. I shudder to think about those whose families were not so sane and loving as mine.

          • Russell: I’m going to ignore the suggestion that I might have been a part of an anti-gay group. I’m sure you didn’t really mean it.

            My “involvement” consists only of reading about this event in your post and in today’s Toronto Star.

          • Instead of “involvement” I should have quoted “interaction”.

          • The benefit of the doubt, as I’ve always understood it, is based on making a certain presumption. It is to say, “I can’t be certain that X is true, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume as much for now.”

            It seems that you are demanding years of good deeds before you’ll look favorably upon this group. At that point, I’m not sure you’d be giving them the “benefit of the doubt” as much as you’d simply be responding to years of good deeds.

            None of this is to say that you should or shouldn’t give them the benefit of the doubt now; each person must make that call for his/herself. But demanding years of good deeds to earn the benefit of the doubt seems to miss the point of the benefit of the doubt in the first place.

          • Kazzy,

            To my mind, without any further actions beyond the apology and locking the front door, the benefit of the doubt hasn’t been earned. Maybe that’s just me.

          • DRS,

            At the risk of speaking for him, I trust that Russell would use “interaction” to describe this statement:
            “I, personally, have been given materials from the organization in the expectation that I adhere to their prescriptions and change accordingly. I, personally, have been told that God wanted me to be straight and that this organization would help me get there. I, personally, have been confronted by countless people in my own life who looked at this organization’s work and used it as a justification for their continued belief that being gay is a mere choice, made by the perverse.”

            I assume him to be saying that he knows not what you know of this group, but he, personally, knows all that is quoted there. I don’t think for a second he meant to imply you had any formal positive relationship or endorsement of the group.

          • DRS, let me clarify what I meant. I would never in a million years mean to imply that you were a member of an anti-gay group. Quite the opposite. I don’t know if, for example, you have a gay or lesbian loved one who has been hurt by this group and thus also have a personal stake in its apology. That’s what I meant.

          • Sam,

            That’s entirely your right.

            A quick Google search defines the benefit of the doubt as “choosing to believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you have the possibility of doing either”.

            I don’t love that, but it’s workable.

            Right now, with Exodus, we can look at their history and say, “Bunch of jerks!” Or we can look at their apology and say, “Maybe they’re not the jerks they once were.” We can believe good or bad about them.

            I think it is entirely fair to believe bad about them; the vast majority of their record supports it.

            I guess my point is that a mea culpa followed by years of good deeds would seem to remove the possibility of believing bad about them. Rather than asking for the benefit of the doubt to feel good about them, they simply would have earned your good feelings.

            But this is really just a semantic issue. I take no issue with your or the Good Doctor’s response to their apology.

          • Kazzy: I think the comments I have made on this site do not include anything that might suggest I’m anti-gay. I live in a country where gay marriage is legal and has been for some years, where gay people do not face immigration restrictions or obstacles to citizenship. Russell may remember that last fall I urged him to move to Canada where he and his family would find a lot more acceptance, and suggested good honeymoon sites as well.

            My view is that Exodus International’s announcement just punched the anti-gay forces in the nose good and hard, and there’s no wiggle-room in their apology for anyone to claim otherwise. This is a Good Thing, and a major victory. I think it’s shortsighted not to see it that way.

          • DRS,

            I’ve got no beef with you. You’ve given no reason for me to think you are anti-gay or otherwise hold a hostile attitude towards LGBTQ folks. I was only hoping to clarify what I saw as a misunderstanding.

        • It’s not for me to accept or reject, but it’s a heckuva good apology.

    • This sounds about right. The tides are turning and the money is not coming in anymore.

      That being said there are still plenty of social conservatives out there and they still control the GOP. There are many fights ahead.

    • Their views are not incoherent. They’re the views of people that hate gays and gloss the hatred because they recognize that expressing such a feeling outright wouldn’t make for successful politics.

      • What I mean is that the traditional socially conservative approach to gays all but requires the existence of an ex-gay movement.

        Take away that movement, and it would have to be re-invented. Without it, the whole thing doesn’t make sense — because what else are gay people supposed to do?

        • The whole thing makes sense if it is understood that bigotry underpins the entirety of the socially conservative movement. The issue isn’t what gays are “supposed” to do, nor way it ever. The issue is that gays aren’t supposed to be.

        • I’m certain it does actually still exist, and will continue to exist for as long as the religious right does.

          Because they need someone to demonize, and they also seem to get off on worshipping rules that are hard to follow. Enough of them are in the closet, anyway…

          The real problem with the ex-gay movement is that a lot of parents were signing their kids up involuntarily… (or, worse, actively looking for gay orphans to adopt and set straight). I don’t give two flying fucks if a gay person decides to marry someone of the opposite sex and start a family. Not affecting me, so it’s none of my business. I do care when parents start abusing their kids. But I’d better stay off that topic, as a lot more than folks think is actual abuse.

  2. Good. I think I agree with Jason that this demonstrates the collapse of the religious right’s influence on this issue. The anti-gay religious right will still exist, including some shockingly virulent people, but what do they have to point to now? I think the trend will increase toward at least the United Methodist model, which is to still see homosexuality as a sin, but just a sin like so many others, and to emphasize that homosexuals are above all children of God who deserve to be ministered to and welcomed in to the church just as all us other sinners are.

  3. When the Southern Baptists desegregated, they issued this statement, condemning their former practices. This was just about the time when the reasonable Southern Baptists (my father was ordained Southern Baptist and split with them over their racist policies) were refusing to give them any more money.

    Now cometh Exodus International, heartfelt apology at the ready, under the same set of circumstances — when the money runs out, suddenly they see reason. I am not impressed. When you have these bastards by the Short and Curlies, their hearts and minds will surely follow. Focus on the Family and the rest of these intolerant swine are still doing land office business in the Bigotry Biz.

    • I dunno, Blaise. The resolution says everything anyone could have asked of the SBC. The only criticism I have of it is the date. Had it been, say, thirty years earlier, it’d have been a truly brave thing to have done. But better late than never. And for all their apparent transferrence of the same racial energy towards gays, the SBC seems to have put its rubber to the road with respect to race.

      Maybe the folks who used to be at Exodus have really and truly changed their minds. This may not be enough, but I think social charity requires us to keep an open mind about what they do next to see if they’re really sincere about healing where they used to hurt.

      • I am now grown old and crusty in cynicism and misanthropy. While not entirely germane to this topic, my opinion of the human race has reached a new nadir with Salinas v. Texas, upon which I hope you will find time to comment. I swear, just about the time I think my opinion of humanity and justice can go no lower, sure as hell, some new hellish abyss doth gape wide before me.

          • Yes, and thank you for that post. Yet I am sure we would both be instructed by Brother Likko’s exegesis upon this topic, as neither of us are lawyers and he said hasn’t read the case. I always look forward to his summaries: they’re among the best things on LoOG.

  4. Anther casualty of the war on traditional bigotry.

    • I think that’s actually a really good point, since you said “the war on traditional bigotry” rather than “the war on bigots.” Things like this show both the bigots and the anti-bigotry folks that people can change, and can be changed. Just because there is hate in their hearts now doesn’t mean that, at some point in the future, someone can’t exorcise it.

  5. Maybe it’s just my own observation bias, but I’ve noticed a number of subtle shifts from the right, much as this one, on the question of those troublesome gays recently.

    I can’t help but wonder:

    1) this is anticipation of the SC making it the law of the land; the money’s guessing the outcome or;
    2) this is to soften the troops because folks know it’s going to become the law of he land, and the money dudes want to shift their spending to a new message without too much effort; so there’s actual knowledge of the decision about to be handed down, or
    3) this is some form of signaling to the SC that a pro-SSM marriage would be okay.

    the timing here leads toward 1 or 2.

    But it feels like there’s expectation of an SC blessing on SSM is afoot, and that makes me hopeful, which makes me question my own confirmation bias.

    • Lisa Murkowski issued a statement supporting same-sex marriage yesterday, the second Republican in the Senate to do so. She’s definitely late to the party and clearly changed her mind in pursuit of votes and in anticipation of Monday’s rulings. Whether she has had a genuine change of heart is unknowable.

      The consensus, though, seems to be that she should be welcomed into the fold rather than scorned out of it. That’s a consensus with which I agree. And if Exodus is gone, that’s good, and if its principals now say that they’ve had a change of heart, well, I’m inclined to take them at their word for the time being.

      If the signal is to SCOTUS that a pro-SSM ruling will be okay, well, it’s a bit late in the game for that. Those votes were cast months ago, and the opinions are mostly ready to go right now, and are being spit-polished by the clerks for accuracy in footnotes. There’s about fifty people who know what the rulings will be; the rest of us will have to wait until Monday morning.

      • I actually believe Sen. Murkowski is the third Senate Republican, after Rob Portman and Mark Kirk.

        And the reason I am much, much more cynical and scornful of Exodus as compared to any number of individuals is that Exodus International was deeply, directly involved in a particularly virulent form of anti-gay bigotry. The pit it dug for itself is much, much deeper than almost any given individual you might care to name, even members of a persistently homophobic GOP. I will cut Murkowski and Co. much more slack than I do Exodus, because they didn’t do nearly the harm it did, and anti-gay zeal was not central to their work the way it was for Exodus.

      • Small point of order: I think Murkowski is the third. Rob Portman and Mark Kirk have also announced support.

      • If the signal is to SCOTUS that a pro-SSM ruling will be okay, well, it’s a bit late in the game for that. That is the timing issue that pointed to 1 or 2. But unlike previous big reveals, the right seems to be moving center here; conceding ground beforehand to soften the blow. If it’s because of 1) anticipation, it’s sort of stunning to witness. They’re conceding the game; though I guess it wouldn’t be difficult to stoke the fires.

  6. I have no intention of telling anyone whether they should accept the apology or not, even when combined with the fact that they’re simultaneously shutting down. That is not for me to decide, and clearly an apology and shutting down the organization are woefully insufficient to even begin to balance out the damage they’ve caused. If they expect more people to accept their apology, they’ve got an awful lot of work to do.

    But I will say that the apology comes across as sincere, and in my view likely provides at least a partially accurate description of the rationale for them closing down. It is, as DRS points out, an actual apology rather than the all too typical justification disguised as an apology. Moreover, if it they really hadn’t started to see the light, but were instead shutting down only – or primarily – because of lack of funds, their explanation would have read much differently and would have given cover for someone else to pick up the fight; rather than being an actual apology, it would have been a giant whine-fest about how unfairly they’ve been treated, which is the typical way militant 0r fanatical organizations go down. At minimum, it would have talked about how they fought the good fight, but ultimately lost.

    If you actually think you were on the right side of history with something like this, you don’t leave a message that directly seeks to undo everything that you’ve ever done. Presumably, there are some people that this organization has worked with who still consider themselves to be “ex-gays.” This message effectively tells them that belief is a mirage, even if it doesn’t go so far as to say “go forth and be proudly gay.”

    • Thank you for this. I will say that your comment and DRS’s above are certainly more charitable than mine, and probably more in line with what I’d want my response to be than what it is.

      Obviously, I have a personal reaction that is informed by my own experience, and thus for me the best thing about this is that an entity for which I have much accumulated ill will is gone. But I concur with you and DRS and others that the apology does seem sincere on its face, and I will accept that it is much more believable than the ones dragooned out of people who clearly don’t mean them.

  7. Churches are at their best when they are doing the “feeding the hungry” and the “comforting the afflicted” and the “clothe the naked” thing.

    When they get into the “straighten that which is not straight” territory, they betray themselves usually as being slaves of their time rather than servants of their deity.

    I agree with DRS: Their apology seems to indicate something akin to a legitimate “holy crap, what have we been doing???” moment of clarity having happened. If it happened to them, it can happen to others. Let’s hope this is a beginning.

    • (Note: this is not me saying that you (or anybody) should accept the apology. Saying that they dug a hole certainly makes a hell of a lot of sense and if you have a hell of a lot more skin in the game than I do on this and it’d be easy for me to shrug and say ‘seems legit’. That said, there are a lot of reasons for an outreach program like this one to shutter. ‘We ran out of money’ is a bad one. ‘We effed up’ strikes me as a good one. There are seven more steps after this one, of course…)

      • Hey, DRS… just want to make sure you saw my clarification upthread. It is super-important to me that, whatever our differing reactions to this apology, you know I would never mean to imply that you were ever involved in an anti-gay organization.

        • Yes, I did read it. Thank you for saying this. It means a lot to me to know that you don’t think that I was.

          But a question: as the LGBT coalition comes closer to victory, there will be more of these – surrenders? changes of heart? conversions? – and I’d like to know what a previously unsympathetic group should do to be taken seriously in their new views?

          • Amends. Saying “I’m sorry” isn’t making amends, it’s acknowledging that amends are due.

            Enough people of good faith whose opinions I take seriously, both in this comment thread and in other social media I frequent, have given me a bit of perspective on this, so I’m tempering my initial reaction a bit. But one of the things the folks at Exodus International are obligated to be now is patient, and understand that there are many, many people who have been hurt much worse than I have by what they did, and whose anger will be much more intense than mine. They owe it to them to abide with that anger, to live with it and accept it and not expect people to just let it go once they’ve said they’re sorry.

            I have said before that I would forgive if people like this said they were sorry, and I will. I will forgive them. I will let this go. Whatever my beliefs, underneath all of them is a belief that we could all use a little grace. So I will try to locate it within myself on behalf of these people. But it is not easy, and Exodus International should not expect it to be.

          • Russ,
            Yes, but what you’re asking for them to do is essentially just live their faith.
            Turn the other cheek, and start building a house on a better foundation.

      • Back in the “let’s argue SSM!” days, one of the points I made when it comes to opposition to Same Sex Marriage is that, in the absence of being able to legislate against the whole “What Marriage Actually Is”, Traditionalists would have to legislate against the “Manila Folder Stuff”. Legal privileges, visitations, last wills and testaments, and so on.

        It struck me that, eventually, opposition to these things would get very, very depressing. What “protecting” marriage would entail would involve being a downright shit of a person. Being a shit of a person wears.

  8. And there’s one more thing I thought of.

    Amazing Grace is a much loved song about a guy who used to be a slave trader. People talk about what an uplifting story is behind this hymn.

    Redemption Song is a much loved song (on a much smaller scale) about a guy who used to be a slave. This song is much more difficult to wrestle with.

    Exodus is a lot more like John Newton than Bob Marley.

  9. Reading the update about the guy starting a show on Oprah’s network does suggest that he had been planning this and it is part of building a new business model. Well if he is recanting and doing a 180 good for him even if he is less than pure and made sure his bills are going to be paid. It is still a big deal and good thing.

    • building a new business model.

      Very much brings to mind the belief of non-believers. The most common reason given for non-belief was lack of authenticity and sincerity in churches the non-believing students had attended. I want to believe this has a divine spark; I want to see what has the aroma of ‘new business model’ transform into something genuinely spiritual and healing.

      But it does have the flavor of business model first; belief second. Perhaps like a pasted smile on a grumpy day, the feeling of good will grow with time and practice.

      Yet it’s still a welcomed development.

      I fear a new emotional reality TV format with reunions of once-sundered families and confessions weighing the fear of mortal sin vs. love of child.

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