Christian Ex-Gay Ministry Hosts Chicago Conference
CHICAGO, IL -- While gay activists picketed outside an auditorium, 1,200 Christians who claim to have once been homosexuals convened on Monday in Wheaton, Ill., outside Chicago, to host the largest Exodus International conference since the ex-gay ministry began in 1976.
Based in Seattle, Exodus represents 131 independent ex-gay ministries located in 38 states and the District of Columbia. Delegates from related ministries in 15 foreign countries also are at the conference this week. The group is dedicated to persuading homosexuals to embrace healing in Christ, forsake their lifestyle and if possible marry someone of the opposite sex.
Exodus teaches that "freedom from homosexuality is possible through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ" and seeks to provide help for "men and women who desire to overcome their homosexuality." A report released by the Associated Press this week said the organization recognizes that some homosexuals cannot change their orientation and should practice celibacy.
Presbyterian layman Bob Davies, leader of Exodus in the United States, told the rally that "a whole new chapter has opened" for the ministry because of higher visibility and significant support from other U.S. Christians. He referred to an ad campaign in major newspapers last year promoting the message of sexual change through Christian conversion.
The campaign was paid for by $500,000 in donations from the Christian Coalition and other conservative groups. Davies, a former homosexual who is now in a heterosexual marriage, thinks publicity from the ads is the main reason attendance increased from last year's 850 attendees.
But the message has not been welcome by the secular gay and lesbian movement, the AP reported. Outside the conference, Bradley Mickelson of the pro-gay Metropolitan Community Church of the Incarnation in Oak Park, Ill., led 50 people in a quiet protest outside. Placards read, "Gay and Created by God" and "Gay Christians Called to Do Justice."
Cynthia Marquardt, a member of the Oak Park congregation, said sexual conversion is impossible and that Exodus' message contributes to violence against gays and lesbians. "Exodus has a right to their message, and we will continue to proclaim that God loves us just as we are," she said.
Exodus is closely affiliated with Homosexuals Anonymous and with the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, made up of psychological counselors who work for change through what is known among Christian psychologists as reparative therapy.
Both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association have recently denounced Christian-based reparative therapy, saying it does not work and can cause psychological damage.
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