A bill to outlaw âconversion therapyâ for minors has passed the California Senate and is now before the State Assembly. Earlier this year, a prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, apologized for publishing what he now calls an invalid study, which said many patients had largely or totally switched their sexual orientation.
Defenders of the therapy say that it can bring deep changes in sexual orientation and that the attacks are politically motivated.
David H. Pickup, a therapist in Glendale, Calif., who specializes in the treatment, said restricting it would harm people who are unhappy with their homosexuality by âmaking them feel that no change is possible at all.â
Mr. Pickup, an officer of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, composed of like-minded therapists, said reparative therapy had achieved profound changes for thousands of people, including himself. The therapy, he said, had helped him confront emotional wounds and âmy homosexual feelings began to dissipate and attractions for women grew.â
Some in the ex-gay world are more scathing about Mr. Chambers.
âI think Mr. Chambers is tired of his own personal struggles, so heâs making excuses for them by making sweeping generalizations about others,â said Gregg Quinlan, a conservative lobbyist in New Jersey and president of a support group called Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays.
Exodus International, with a budget of $1.5 million provided by donors and member churches, is on a stable footing, Mr. Chambers said. He said the shifts in theology had the support of the Exodus board and had been welcomed by many of the 150 churches that are members in North America, which increasingly have homosexuals in their congregations. More opposition has come from affiliated ministries specifically devoted to sex-related therapies, with 11 quitting Exodus so far while about 70 remain.
In another sign of change, the vice chairman of the Exodus board, Dennis Jernigan, was forced to resign in June after he supported anti-sodomy laws in Jamaica. The board pledged to fight efforts anywhere to criminalize sexual acts between consenting adults.
Robert Gagnon, an associate professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of books on homosexuality and the Bible, last week issued a public call for Mr. Chambers to resign. âMy greatest concern has to do with Alanâs repeated assurances to homosexually active âgay Christiansâ that they will be with him in heaven,â he said in an e-mail.
Gay rights advocates said they were encouraged by Mr. Chambersâs recent turn but remained wary of Exodus, which they feel has caused enormous harm.
âExodus International played the key role in planting the message that people can go from gay to straight through religion and therapy,â said Wayne Besen, director of Truth Wins Out, a group that refutes what it considers misinformation about gays and lesbians. âAnd the notion that one can change is the centerpiece of the religious rightâs argument for denying us rights.â
Many of the local ministries in Exodus continue to attack gays and lesbians, said David Roberts, editor of the Web site Ex-Gay Watch, and they often have close ties with reparative therapists. He speculated that Mr. Chambers was trying to steer the group in a moderate direction because âthey were becoming pariahsâ in a society that is more accepting of gay people.
Mr. Chambers said he was simply trying to restore Exodus to its original purpose when it was founded in 1976: providing spiritual support for Christians who are struggling with homosexual attraction.
He said that he was happy in his marriage, with a âlove and devotion much deeper than anything I experienced in gay life,â but that he knew this was not feasible for everyone. Many Christians with homosexual urges may have to strive for lives of celibacy.
But those who fail should not be severely judged, he said, adding, âWe all struggle or fall in some way.â