Hope for Wholeness, a prominent ex-gay ministry that boasts one of the most expansive networks of conversion therapy offerings in the United States, is disbanding.
The Spartanburg, South Carolina-based organization, founded in 1999 as Truth Ministries, told members in an email Monday and obtained by NBC News that Hope for Wholeness would be closing its operations, citing the group’s difficulties in retaining a director to lead their efforts.
“It has been a tumultuous several years for us. We lost the founding director, searched for two years for his replacement, hired a new director and then lost that director as well,” the memo, which was signed by the group’s board, states. “After much prayer and discussion, we have made the difficult decision to dissolve the organization. This was not an easy decision. But we do believe it is the right decision.”
Hope for Wholeness’ credo, prominently displayed across the top of its website, is “freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ.”
Conversion therapy — made up of various universally discredited and harmful methods of counseling and ministry meant to eradicate or suppress LGBTQ identities — has been banned for minors in 20 states and Washington, D.C. California was the first state to prohibit the practice in 2012, but over half of the bans have only been in effect since 2018. In June 2019, data from UCLA’s Williams Institute estimated that at least 698,000 adults in the U.S. have been subjected to some form of conversion therapy.
The Hope for Wholeness memo did not lay out a timeline for the dissolution process, though it implied the action was effective immediately. A representative for Hope for Wholeness declined to comment on Thursday.
The organization pledged in its letter to redirect any remaining funds, though that amount is unknown, to another conversion therapy group called Abba’s Delight in Louisville, Kentucky — which brands itself as a ministry “dealing with unwanted same gender attractions” — in hopes of laying the groundwork for similar programs in the future.
While the collapse of Hope for Wholeness is a major victory for advocacy groups pushing for legislative efforts to ban conversion therapy on minors, their sights are set on what other ex-gay groups stand to gain from Hope for Wholeness’ absence.
“This is enormous for a lot of reasons,” said Mathew Shurka, co-founder of the Born Perfect project, which aims to end conversion therapy in every state. “Hope for Wholeness is a well-known conversion therapy organization that has cheated lots of people.”
Hope for Wholeness was originally an offshoot of Exodus International, which, for decades, was the center of the ex-gay movement and had more than 120 ministries in the United States and Canada. Exodus was dissolved in 2013 after the organization’s leader announced at a conference he would resign and apologized to those who spent “years working through the shame and guilt when your attractions didn’t change.”
Hope for Wholeness would eventually grow to become one of the nation’s most expansive ex-gay groups — Exodus’ heir apparent — with members and affiliates in at least 15 states. Like Exodus, Hope for Wholeness’ main event every year was a national conference that drew hundreds.
How much money the nonprofit has raised and how many people ascribed to its teachings in recent years isn’t entirely clear. Legally, the group isn’t required to disclose how many individuals it “treats” annually — but a tax filing from 2007 shows that the ministry provided more than 500 sessions and 60 group meetings for “religious counseling and training.”
Shurka pointed to what he called the “domino effect” triggered by the closure of Exodus International in 2013. Hope for Wholeness was born only after select members of Exodus wanted to continue the group’s mission after it closed.
“Conversion therapy is an industry, and whether those individuals are licensed professionals or they’re nonprofits, there’s still money to be made,” said Shurka, 32, a survivor of conversion therapy. “All on the false promise that they can make gay people straight, [which] is fraudulent … So the fact that Hope for Wholeness has reserve funds that’s going to go somewhere else speaks to that fraud.”
“It’s a vicious cycle,” he added.
Hope for Wholeness’ founder and former director, McKrae Game, 51, echoed Shurka. Game made waves late last year when he denounced the group he founded and came out as gay himself. He had resigned his post in 2017.
“Everything takes money,” Game said. “And so, you know, not too many people want to throw money at the Titanic as it’s taking water — and that’s essentially what ex-gay ministry is.”