CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A controversial group that says it can help gay people find "the freedom to grow into heterosexuality" is set to visit West Virginia in May to meet with pastors and other church leaders.
Exodus International plans a May 10 event at CMA Church in Morgantown to teach religious leaders how to minister to people who don't want to be attracted to members of the same sex. The Family Policy Council of West Virginia invited Exodus to hold the seminar, the first of its kind that the Orlando-based group has held in the state.
Fairness West Virginia, a statewide group that advocates for gays and lesbians, calls Exodus' teachings "junk science" and plans to counter the organization's visit with an event called "Fairness in Faith: Fighting the Ex-Gay Myth and Propaganda Machine" at West Virginia University.
Fairness will host Wayne Besen, founder of the national think tank Truth Wins Out, which fights anti-gay religious extremism. Besen has extensively researched so-called "ex-gay" groups such as Exodus.
As part of the Fairness event, the First Presbyterian Church of Morgantown will host a session called "Let My People Go: A Liberating Faith for People of All Sexual Orientations."
The Exodus session is designed for pastors and other church leaders, educators, seminary students and counselors.
"During this day-long seminar, you will learn how to effectively address the hot topic of homosexual behavior within our culture and minister to students, friends, family and churchgoers struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions," says an announcement on the Family Policy Council of West Virginia's website.
The group's planned topics include "Understanding Male Homosexuality," Ministering to the Struggling Student," and "Homosexuality In A Post-Christian Culture."
Family Policy Council of West Virginia President Jeremy Dys said the event is meant to teach leaders how "they can begin to learn to minister to those issues in a loving and gracious way.
"They are here to walk beside people who want to leave the homosexual lifestyle," Dys said.
In 2007, a task force of the American Psychological Association reviewed scientific literature on efforts to change sexual orientation. The task force concluded that "efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm," the APA states on its website.
Exodus teaches that "reorientation of same sex attraction is possible."
"This is a process, which begins with motivation to, and self-determination to change based upon a personal relationship with Jesus Christ," it says on its website.
The organization describes itself as a ministry. It also refers people to counselors who conduct "reparative therapy," which supporters say can help people get rid of their attraction to members of the same sex.