Exodus International is a worldwide umbrella group for ex-gay organizations and has more than 100 affiliated ministries or counselors. The Orlando-based organization has a one million dollar annual budget and fifteen staff members. Its Executive Director is Alan Chambers, whose tenure is marked by increasing the group’ political lobbying efforts. The organization is deeply religious and claims to offer “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.”
Exodus in intimately associated with right wing Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family. Chambers is a featured speaker at Love Won Out, their quarterly ex-gay symposium. The two organizations also have joined forces in advertising campaigns and political activism. “They’re [Focus on the Family] a tremendous support to us now,” Exodus ministry leader Alan Medinger told Christianity Today on Sept. 13, 2007.
In June 2006, Chambers and Exodus Vice President Director Randy Thomas were guests at the White House to help President George W. Bush in his failed efforts to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment. The group was also very active in opposing hate crime legislation on Capitol Hill. Thomas even appeared in a print ad targeting Florida’ U.S. Senator Bill Nelson with the headline, “Hate Crime Laws Say We Are More Valuable as Homosexuals, Than We Are Now As Former Homosexuals.”
While it portrays itself as an “ex-gay” organization, Exodus is inconsistent in whether it can turn one from gay to straight. For example, in a June 2007 Christian radio ad aimed at getting ex-gays to attend its annual conference, Exodus proclaimed that it offered, “sudden, radical, complete change.” Yet, in a June 18, 2007 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Chambers said, “By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete” and that sexual orientation “isn’t a light switch that you can switch on and off.”
Perhaps such reticence comes from the high profile defections of once prominent ex-gay leaders. For instance, John Paulk, the organization’ former chairman was photographed in a gay bar in 2000, only three years after he appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine. Two of Exodus’ married founders, Gary Cooper and Michael Bussee, fell in love in 1978, left the organization and held a commitment ceremony.
In 2007, the website “Beyond Ex-Gay” was founded by Peterson Toscano and Christine Bakke, who were both involved in Exodus for several years. The two convened an Ex-Gay Survivors Conference in Irvine, California with more than a hundred victims of ex-gay organizations.
Exodus uses scare tactics to recruit new clients. In the early 1980s-and-1990s, the organization relied heavily on fear of AIDS to attract members. “The impact of AIDS on the work of Exodus has been profound,” former Executive Director Sy Rogers said in the documentary “One Nation Under God,” which aired on PBS.
Today, Exodus uses stereotypes and distortions of GLBT life to fuel its growth. For example, on the Fox’ “The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet,” Chambers said, “What I found was that homosexuality was for the young. There was a time when I wasn’t going to have hair anymore. There was a time when I wasn’t going to work out every day, and lay out in the sun, and be as much a commodity as I was when I was eighteen.”
Once Exodus has attracted new clients, prayer and denial are the tools they use to supposedly “change” GLBT people into heterosexuals. This process can involve mind control that alters behavior, but not sexual orientation. For example, Exodus ministry director John Smid told the Memphis Flyer in 1997 how he changed from gay to straight.
“I’m looking at that wall and suddenly I say it’s blue,” Smid said, pointing to a yellow wall. “Someone else comes along and says, ‘No, it’s gold.’ But I want to believe that wall is blue. Then God comes along and He says, ‘You’re right, John, [that yellow wall] is blue.’ That’s the help I need. God can help me make that [yellow] wall blue.”
Indeed, former ex-gay Steve Lee told the ABC news magazine 20/20 on Sept. 21, 2007 that he thought these groups practice mind control. “I would definitely call it brainwashing,” he said. “It was an exercise in humiliation.”
The ex-gay organization also engages in a lot of double-talk about “loving” gay people. However, Exodus has a television show on the Christian Sky Angel network, where they repeatedly berate GLBT life as “perverse” and “sexual brokenness.” Chambers has also denigrated GLBT people of faith by telling a Phoenix crowd at Love Won Out on February 10, 2007, “The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’ holiness.”
Exodus’ also speaks out of both sides of its mouth on the issue of child abuse. On one hand they say that they, “cannot presume that all homosexuals are at a higher risk level to molest children or develop into pedophiles than are heterosexuals. However, in the same paragraph, they smear GLBT people by suggesting that there may, after all, be a link.
“At the same time, homosexual men who are unable to sustain healthy peer relationships might well find the potential for age-inappropriate attractions more real than they thought possible,” Exodus writes on its website, while providing no evidence to back its false assertion.
Additionally, Exodus promotes “spiritual warfare,” believing that, in some cases, homosexuality is demonic. One of Exodus International’ most celebrated leaders is Andy Comiskey of Desert Stream ministries. In his book “Pursuing Sexual Wholeness,” he calls homosexuality “spiritual disfigurement” and believes that “Satan delights in homosexual perversion because it not only exists outside of marriage, but it also defiles God’ very image reflected as male and female…Another related source of demonization is the homosexual relationship itself…That attachment and communion are indeed inspired, but their source is demonic.”
Exodus also sells Jeanette Howard’ book, “Out of Egypt: One Woman’ Journey Out of Lesbianism.” In her book she writes, “Choosing to leave the lesbian life brings us into direct conflict with the satanic realm….only when we understand and implement spiritual warfare can our walk into wholeness be successful.”
Chambers has also promoted spiritual warfare saying in a 2005 Exodus Newsletter, “One of the many evils this world has to offer is the sin of homosexuality. Satan, the enemy, is using people to further his agenda to destroy the Kingdom of God and as many souls as he can.”
At the “Family Impact Summit,” a right wing conference in Brandon, Florida held on Sept. 21, 2007, Chambers told the crowd of social conservatives, “We have to stand up against an evil agenda. It is an evil agenda and it will take anyone captive that is willing, or that is standing idly by.”
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Exodus is that it keeps no statistics to document its failure rate. Instead, the group relies on anecdotal testimonials, usually from people who work for an ex-gay ministry, presenting a conflict of interest.
There is no evidence to support the efficacy of the techniques or therapies employed by Exodus, but there are mounting examples of people who claim to have been harmed by the organization. Attempts to change sexual orientation are also deemed to be ineffective and potentially dangerous by mainstream mental health professionals.
Exodus International is a radical organization with a right wing political agenda that seeks to deny GLBT Americans basic equality.