There is a tremendous hunger among young people for the message Exodus International preaches – that freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ is possible, according to the ministry's head.
Exodus International, which claims to be the world's largest Christian referral and information network dealing with homosexual issues, is holding its annual Freedom Conference in Asheville, N.C., beginning Tuesday. For 33 years, Exodus has seen thousands of people seek answers at its conference as they, or loved ones, struggle with same-sex feelings.
Over 700 people, including many from outside the United States, are expected to attend this year's Freedom event. Part of this year's speaker line-up is evangelist Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham.
"We are always trying to bring in respected Christian leaders to our conference," commented Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, to The Christian Post. "It's also a chance to introduce them to an often overlooked ministry group-people who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction."
The ministry's annual conference caters to a wide range of groups, from men and women, youth and parents, to married couples where a spouse has homosexual attraction. Forty percent of this year's conference attendees are men and women personally struggling and 14 percent are youths.
And this year's event comes just months after the California high court ruling that legalized same-sex "marriage," and months before California voters head to the polls in November to decide whether to overturn the court decision and protect traditional marriage.
"While the culture wars over the issue of homosexuality are hotter than ever with the marriage issue, Exodus is growing and more people are seeking help," Chambers said.
The Exodus International network has grown by 71 percent in five years, Chambers noted. The ministry has over 120 local ministries in the country and Canada is also linked with other Exodus world regions outside of North America, totaling over 150 ministries in 17 countries, according to the Exodus Web site.
But with growth, Exodus continues to meet protesters especially around this time of year when it holds its Freedom Conference. A group of local gay rights advocates, who are calling themselves Equality Asheville, plan to sponsor a series of events titled "You're Fine Just the Way You Are," according to Asheville's Citizen-Times.
Noel Nickel, who's organizing the competing events, wants to give people the "whole spectrum."
"I think (Exodus') intentions are harmful, because it's cloaked in the message of love," Nickel said, as reported by the local newspaper. "We're trying to make sure that there is a full spectrum of educational aspects."
Jaye Thomas, who turned away from homosexuality with support from Exodus, acknowledged that Exodus "is no stranger to opposition."
"But neither was Jesus," he said. "Exodus is not in the business of converting anyone. We just offer a hand to walk beside people who want freedom from the bondage of sexual addiction."
Many have found "freedom" from homosexual feelings through Exodus. But in addition to serving those personally struggling, Exodus has also helped family members and pastors learn how to love their loved ones or congregants who are struggling with gay or lesbian attraction.
"There is a right to choose one's passage in life," Chambers, who left homosexuality more than 14 years ago, told the Citizen-Times. "I didn't choose those feelings [of same-sex attraction], but when I was old enough, I did choose my behavior."
This year's Freedom Conference on July 15-20 is themed "A New Day" and 41 percent of conference participants are reportedly attending for the first time.