It was a foretaste of heaven to stand in Toronto’s Convocation Hall with five hundred people, most of them former ‘gays’ and lesbians, and sing in unison, “Amazing Grace.”

“It didn’t seem to matter what background we came from, gay, ex-gay, straight, alcoholic, we all had the same love for the Lord and it shone through,” one delegate said.

University of Toronto’s Medical Science Building and Convocation Hall were the sites for the 16th Annual Exodus International Conference held the last week of June.

Sexual problems

Exodus International is a world-wide network of Christian organizations which ministers to those overcoming homosexuality and other life-dominating sexual problems.

While upholding the Scriptures which point out homosexuality’s error, Exodus proclaims the transforming love of Christ and His church, which enables the homosexual to shed his or her old identity, and learn new ways of relating.

Since its formation in 1976, Exodus has sponsored a yearly conference, a week of personal renewal and practical training for those desiring to minister effective healing to homosexuals.  Delegates came from not only Canada and the U.S. but also Britain and South America and represented over 70 affiliated agencies.

Exodus ministers not only to homosexuals but also to their families.  This was the first year the conference was held in Canada and it was hosted by the Toronto agency, New Direction for Life Ministries.  New Direction runs support groups for parents and spouses of homosexuals as well as HIV support groups.

The one hundred calls a month to New Direction increased significantly after the conference receiver negative coverage in the Toronto Star.

“People didn’t know we existed until the Star blasted us.  Many were grateful to find us,” said one New Direction staff member.


Gay activists also turned up at the conference, sometimes with amusing results.  One group of demonstrators with a megaphone managed to enter a classroom chanting, “You’re all gay and you’ll stay that way” only to discover that they had entered the workshop for “Heterosexuals as Encouragers in the Recovery Process.”

Twenty protesters stood outside the Convocation Hall on Wednesday night blowing whistles while the crowd inside sang, “It is well with my soul.”  Some conference delegates met with the demonstrators.  “They were very angry people.  We understand that anger,” said one ex-gay.

“Exodus is for those who are dissatisfied with their homosexuality and want to change, not for those coerced by family members to change,” said Bob Davies, executive director of Exodus in San Raphael, California.  “Our ministry needs to network with clinicians and pastors to be fully effective.”


One conference day was especially for psychiatrists, psychologists and other therapists.  Dr. John McCormick, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, was very impressed.

Did ministries like Exodus and New Direction cut into his work?  “People need group and individual help.  This ministry is invaluable.”

Another day was earmarked for pastors.  Bob Davies warned that the church often puts up a barrier of silence, presuming nothing can be done or it assumes a prayer for healing will suffice.

Toronto psychiatrist, Dr. George Slater, offers a word of caution.  “Most effective ministry with deep-seated problems such as homosexuality requires sustained and patient working through.  Sudden and euphoric breakthroughs should not blind the person to the need for persistence in faith and discipline.  Healing is a growth process whereby old symptoms give up gradually.  This underlines the need for a strong support system that ca n be depended on over time.”

Appropriate same-sex relationship

Gail Levin in her work-shop, “Heterosexuals as Encouragers in the Recovery Process,” stressed the importance of having same-sex. “ever-straight” Christians as friends.  “They should begin the process of integration into the church and would model an appropriate same-sex relationship.  Recovering homosexuals need to find supportive people outside the ex-gay environment.”

One Louisiana nun and social worker agreed.  She attested to the help Exodus had been in her work.  “We’ve moved beyond white knuckle celibacy to real joy.”

My last impression of the conference was of a healing service in Knox College.  Here were people who understood that homosexuality had been a destructive force in their lives and were seeking freedom from it.  That freedom would come through Christ’s forgiveness and be ministered through ‘ex-gays’, ‘ever-straights’, pastors and clinicians.

Amazing Grace!