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The Last Word
updated 6/20/2013 6:18:19 PM ET 2013-06-20T22:18:19

A controversial Christian ministry that offered gay people "change therapy" is closing its doors and has apologized to the LGBT community.

Exodus International, a large Christian ministry that offered so-called “reparative” therapies for gay Christians, issued a series of apologies to the LGBT community and has decided to close its doors after 37 years of working with Christians “struggling with same-sex attraction.”

In a statement Wednesday, the board of directors voted unanimously to close the organization due to “a changing culture,”  posting the announcement to the ministry’s website. The Orlando-based ministry’s president, Alan Chambers, offered an open apology to the LGBT community, saying he was “deeply sorry” and admitting he “omitted [his] ongoing same-sex attractions.”

In 2007, Chambers presented himself as a success story for Exodus’ methods to “cure” homosexuality. ”Exodus is here for people who want an alternative to homosexuality,” he told The Associated Press. “There are thousands of people like me who have overcome this.” Last year, Chambers decided to stop endorsing the practice of  “reparative therapy.”

“I was afraid to share [my feelings] as readily and easily as I do today,” Chambers said in his apology Wednesday. “They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. … The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does.”

“Please know that I am deeply sorry,” Chambers added. “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. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.”

Related: Although discredited, gay conversion therapy remains an option for minors

Randy Roberts Potts, the grandson of televangelist faith healer Oral Roberts and a gay rights advocate, weighed in on the news.

“The status quo among this community too often involves shaming and denigrating these young people, a status quo that comes specifically from national leaders and trickles down to the thousands of pastors, youth leaders, and others in the evangelical community who deal with gay and lesbian teens on a daily basis,” Potts said in a statement to MSNBC.com. “Because of this status quo, the church is often the LEAST safe place for a young gay teen to come out. Alan began to see that Exodus was merely another arm of the church and no safer for gay teens, especially in its insistence (until last year) that sexual orientation would change with enough prayer and the right amount of faith.”

Truth Wins Out, a non-profit organization that fights anti-gay religious extremism, praised Chambers’ decision to shut down Exodus International.

“We applaud and congratulate Alan Chambers for his willingness to approach this decision with honesty, integrity and authenticity,” said Truth Wins Out’s Associate Director Evan Hurst. “It takes a real man to publicly confront the people whose lives were destroyed by his organization’s work, and to take real, concrete action to begin to repair that damage, and to work to ensure that no more lives are destroyed by harmful, discredited ‘ex-gay’ therapy. We look forward to a day when we can truly consider Alan to be an ally.”

The apologies coincide with the organization’s annual Freedom conference in southern California. The full text of Chambers’ personal apology can be found here.

Related: Anti-gay organization apologizes to LGBT community

“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,” Exodus board member Tony Moore said in a press release. Chambers’ lengthy apology also noted that while he regretted the church’s approach to the LGBT community, he would not apologize for his “biblical beliefs” regarding sexuality.

“I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them. I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek,” Chambers wrote.

Potts, who has written extensively about his coming out experience, told MSNBC.com: ”The damage caused by Exodus to countless gay teens over the last thirty years cannot be fixed by the apology of one man, but it is a great starting place. I didn’t see the need for Alan in his apology to double down on his particular interpretation of the Bible, but it’s understandable if not wholly constructive.”

The organization plans to launch a separate ministry that aims to be more welcoming, but has announced that local affiliated ministries promoting anti-gay therapies would continue without the Exodus affiliation.

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