Alan Chambers of Exodus International tells The Associated Press Thursday that the church has "waged the culture war, and it's time to put the weapons down."
He said Exodus — whose work infuriated may gay-rights activists — will be closing down. He and his allies will be forming a new ministry seeking to open a conversation among those who've been on opposite sides in the debate over gay rights.
He says they want "to see bridges built" and "want peace to be at the forefront of anything we do in the future."
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
The president of a leading Christian ministry dedicated to helping gays repress their sexual urges through prayer has apologized to the gay community and says the group is shutting down.
Alan Chambers, in a statement posted Thursday on Exodus International's website, said the group wants to apologize to the gay community "for years of undue suffering and judgment at the hands of the organization and the church as a whole."
Chambers also made an apology in a speech to his ministry's annual conference, saying, "We've hurt people."
"While there has been so much good at Exodus, there has also been bad," he said. "We've fought the culture war, and we've lost. It's time for peace."
Exodus International, which is based in Orlando, Fla., was founded 37 years ago and claimed 260 member ministries around the U.S. and internationally. For decades, it offered to help conflicted Christians rid themselves of unwanted homosexual inclinations through counseling and prayer, infuriating gay rights activists in the process.
Exodus had seen its influence wane in recent years as mainstream associations representing psychiatrists and psychologists rejected its approach. However, the idea that gays could be "converted" to heterosexuality through prayer persists among some evangelicals and fundamentalists.
The announcement that Exodus would close was not a total surprise. Last year, Chambers — who is married to a woman but has spoken openly about his own sexual attraction to men — said he was trying to distance his ministry from the idea that gays' sexual orientation can be permanently changed or "cured."
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 reducefear.org.
"Our goals are to reduce fear and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities," he said.
Gay rights activists welcomed Chambers' apology, while reiterating their belief that Exodus had caused great damage.
"This is a welcome first step in honestly addressing the harm the organization and its leaders have caused," said Sharon Groves, director of the Human Rights Campaign's religion and faith program. "Now we need them to take the next step of leadership and persuade all other religious-based institutions that they got it wrong."
Truth Wins Out, another gay rights group that had been harshly critical of Exodus, praised Chambers for "integrity and authenticity."
"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," said the group's associate director, Evan Hurst.
However, Hurst noted that some of Exodus' former followers — disenchanted by Chambers' evolution — had formed a new group called the Restored Hope Network, which calls itself an "ex-gay ministry" and continues to promote the idea that gays can be converted to heterosexuality.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.