ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)--For the second time in four months, Apple has pulled a leading Christian app from its iPhone app store based on pressure from homosexual activists -- a decision critics are calling intolerant and discriminatory and one that could have a societal impact far beyond the realm of iPhone owners.
One of the nation's most powerful and popular companies, Apple pulled the Exodus International app March 22 after 150,000 people signed a petition at Change.org urging the company to remove what the petition called a "hateful and bigoted" app. The petition was started by Truth Wins Out, a homosexual group.
The app, though, only reflected core, historic Christian doctrine, teaching that people -- through the power of Christ -- can be freed from homosexual desires. Often called an "ex-gay" ministry, Exodus is the nation's largest Christian organization dedicated to reaching out to homosexuals.
Ironically, Apple's app store has hundreds of apps for the homosexual community spotlighting everything from dating services to sex tips. ("App" is short for "application" and is simply a software program for a smartphone.) The Exodus app was free and contained news and events about Exodus' ministry.
Late last year Apple also pulled the Manhattan Declaration app, which contained the text of a document with historic Christian teachings on sexuality, abortion and religious freedom. Among other things, the document opposes "gay marriage." Many leading Christian leaders signed it.
"It's alarming where this is headed in our culture," Randy Thomas, executive vice president for Exodus, told Baptist Press. "You have the Manhattan Declaration, you have Exodus. Activists were calling for Oprah to fire Lisa Ling simply for interviewing us [for a segment on Oprah Winfrey's OWN channel]. You have Chick-fil-A who is under fire.
"It seems like if you're a Christian in this culture and you have a moral view that isn't in line with pro-gay ideology, they're seeking to silence you, and silence anybody who would be even willing to even talk to you. That is a very alarming trend that seems to only be growing," Thomas said.
All apps must first be approved by Apple for listing in its app store, and many are wondering why the company -- based on its record -- OK'd it in the first place. It was in the app store only two weeks, and the controversy started almost immediately, with homosexual activists targeting the app's ratings and reviews. Based on if they supported or opposed Exodus, reviewers were rating it either one star (the lowest rating) or five stars (the highest rating). When it was pulled, it had an average rating of two stars.
The controversy grew the weekend of March 18-20 when the popular website DrudgeReport.com linked to a London Telegraph story with the headline, "Apple under fire for 'gay conversion' app." When the app was pulled, it had received 1,300 written reviews -- a number that few Christian apps ever approach. One reviewer called Exodus a "fanatical group" and another said it was "as dangerous to Christianity as al-Qaeda is to Islam."
Apple has a significant influence on the culture. Its iPhone remains the best-selling phone in America, and its iPad the best-selling computer tablet. It ranked No. 56 on the Fortune 500 list of largest U.S. companies in 2010, but its impact seemingly has been even bigger than that.
Apple has relealed little about its decisions to remove the Manhattan Declaration and Exodus apps other than to say they are "offensive to large groups of people." Thomas and others, though, say that's an inconsistent standard, because many of the apps still in the app store would be considered offensive to many if not most Christians. Playboy, for instance, has an app. It says its app does not contain full nudity; it does, though, serve as an introduction to the magazine. Apple, Thomas said, is allowing only "one side" of the debate on sexuality.
"We feel like they suppressed important information that represents a very large part of their customer base," Thomas said. "... While they are a private cooperation and they can do what they want, it's just inconsistent, and they're alienating a large part of their customer base."
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, called Apple's decision "discrimination of thought and belief" and one that "obstructs essential dialogue and authentic diversity."
Many Christian leaders have used Twitter to speak up for Exodus. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, wrote, "The great irony is that while White House leads anti-bullying effort, those w/biblical view of sexuality are bullied out of the app store." Ergun Caner, a professor at Liberty University, wondered, "When liberals attack Apps they disagree with & get Apple to withdraw, are they not 'book burning?' #LeftWingCensorship." Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research pointed to polling and wrote that for "1/2 of US: homosexual behavior sinful" but that Apple "won't tolerate such views." In another Tweet, Stetzer said Apple was practicing "#intolerance."
For Exodus' Thomas, Apple's decision is personal. He once struggled with homosexuality.
"Of course, it impacts me greatly, because I know the freedom that I have found in Christ and I know the joy and happiness and contentment that I have in Christ -- not that everything is perfect, of course," Thomas said. "And so to see gay activists compare us to the Ku Klux Klan and lying about the reality of our testimony and watching Apple cave to those lies without even getting to know who we are ... it's a personal insult. But it also denies a lot of people a very convenient and helpful resource to learn about Christ's love.
"I think Apple has done those people a disservice."