Ex-gay history: Richard Cohen’s 2000 Exodus Conference presentation

Exgaywatch has posted a letter from Alan Chambers from earlier this year, describing Alan’s account of a presentation by Richard Cohen at the 2000 Exodus Conference. The letter was provided anonymously and was addressed to an Exodus parents’ group. Here is the entire letter which I have also verified.

Dear Parents Group,

Many of us within Exodus initially read Coming Out Straight, as we do most new books on the topic of overcoming homosexuality. Those of us who read the book began to talk amongst ourselves about the legitimacy of holding therapy, a practice Richard both uses and endorses.

At the time this discussion began (2000) I was not the President of Exodus nor was I even a board member. However, as the leader of an Exodus Member Ministry, I was deeply concerned about the implications this would have on Exodus as a whole if we endorsed such a controversial technique. Too, I worried about the possibility of leaders exposing themselves to temptation via the practice of “holding” a client.

That year (2000) at the Exodus Annual Freedom Conference Richard Cohen was invited by the Leadership at the time to teach a workshop on holding therapy. During that class, which I attended, he asked for a volunteer to demonstrate on.


His volunteer was a seasoned Exodus leader. This leader was instructed by Mr. Cohen to lay on the floor and spread his legs wide open. Dr. Cohen then laid down on top of this other man face to face and embraced him.

Mr. Cohen made the comment, “This might cause some stimulation. However, what goes up must come down, I always say.” He made other vulgar comments of this nature.

Mr. Cohen came out of homosexuality as did the leader that he violated. This leader was so taken back and embarrassed by the event that he wondered if his ministry status was at stake.

I joined the board of directors of Exodus that year and I made it very clear that I wanted to ensure that Dr. Cohen was taken to task for this breach of trust. A letter was sent to him and to my knowledge he had some  conversations with Bob Davies, my predecessor. The tapes of his workshop were pulled and he was told that he could not teach at any future conferences.

However, his book continued to be sold by the Exodus office until I was hired and I stopped that, as well.

It is because of all that I have shared and more that Exodus International does not and will not endorse or work with Mr. Cohen. His recent lack of judgment in the area of media interviews has only served to reinforce my belief that he is not someone Exodus should highlight as a valuable resource to the people that look to us.

As for the practice of holding therapy, under my leadership we decided to adopt the NARTH (www.narth.com) position banning our ministries from practicing this technique. Regardless of any benefits that this therapy is purported to have, I firmly believe that it is a stumbling block for all parties involved.

I appreciate each one of you and as someone who battled homosexuality myself, I believe it is my obligation to only promote the ministries and resources that will bring forth life long term and not simply every resource out there.

God bless each and every one of you,


Alan Chambers


Exodus International

The incident has become a part of ex-gay lore, although this may be the first mention of it in a public forum. I first heard about it at a Narth conference, when I asked an Exodus old-timer why Richard Cohen and Exodus did not seem to collaborate. My informant told this story as an eyewitness and indicated that the Exodus leadership had wrestled with how to handle it. And as the letter above notes, Exodus leaders determined that such methods were at odds with their views of how Christian ministry should operate and led to this Exodus statement on their website:

Statement on Richard Cohen

Exodus International does not endorse the work of Richard Cohen or the methods utilized in his practice. Some of the techniques Mr. Cohen employs could be detrimental to an individual’s understanding of healthy relational boundaries and disruptive to the psychological and emotional development of men and women seeking clinical counsel and aid.

For his part, Richard has said that he no longer does counseling but rather focuses on counselor training such as a recent one in Ireland and one to come in Mexico in early December.