US church for 'struggling' gays shuts down

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Gay rights activists on Thursday welcomed the shutdown of a controversial Christian ministry that claimed to help gays and lesbians wrestling with their sexuality.

Exodus International, founded in 1976 with more than 260 chapters across the United States (US), claimed to be "the largest worldwide ministry to those struggling with same-sex attraction".

In a statement on Wednesday, its president Alan Chambers - who revealed an ongoing attraction to men - said Exodus International had "ceased to be a living, breathing organism".

"For quite some time we've been imprisoned in a worldview that's neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical," he said, adding that he had been part of "a system of ignorance" that generated more hurt than help.

Ms Sharon Graves, director of the religion and faith program at the LGBT civil rights group Human Rights Campaign, said the demise of Exodus International would spare future generations of "psychological and spiritual trauma".

"Exodus was the oldest and largest pseudo-religious organisation telling vulnerable people there was something wrong with them, when in fact they are God's children," she said in a statement.

"But the truth remains there are other organisations out there perpetuating the same myths, telling young people they aren't loved and perfect the way they are, and causing grave harm in so many people."

On its website, largely unchanged Ms Thursday apart from Chambers' announcement, Exodus International defined its mission as "mobilising the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality".

At the same time it denied engaging in what critics call "pray-away-the-gay" practices.

The end of Exodus International comes within days of an expected landmark ruling from the US Supreme Court on same-sex marriage.