Evangelicals Losing Interest in ’Reparative Therapy?’
Evangelicals may be losing faith in the idea that gays choose their sexual orientation and can be converted to heterosexuality using so-called "reparative therapy," according to a July 18 CNN article.
In part, the evangelical community is responding to mounting scientific data that strongly suggests that gays and lesbians are born, and that homosexuality is not the result of early life trauma or a decision to embrace a "sinful lifestyle." As such, it makes little sense to approach the issue as one of personal choice.
The CNN article also said that other therapeutic avenues have become available, making "reparative therapy," with its unpleasant associations, less attractive than it used to be.
"Evangelicals, in quiet ways, are shifting to this position to where there is just not a lot of support for the change paradigm," said leading Christian psychologist Warren Throckmorton, who holds an associate professorship at Pennsylvania’s evangelical Grove City College.
"In the late 1990s, the debate was clearly, ’Could gays change from being gay?’ and the focus was on orientation, and it was a big part of politics," added Throckmorton.
Meantime, another influential evangelical leader has issued a statement on the inadequacy of the faith tradition’s lack of understanding when it comes to GLBTs and the issues they face, the article said.
"We have spoken carelessly and unknowledgeably in the past to just say, ’Just change. Just decide right now your pattern of attraction is not homosexual but heterosexual,’ "noted the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Al Mohler.
Mohler went on to make a major concession to GLBTs who have taken affront at the suggestion that they have simply selected homosexuality as one of an array of options.
"We understand that sexual attraction and a profile of someone’s sexuality is a complex of factors, some of which are certainly not chosen," Mohler said. "It’s not just a matter of choice. It’s not something that’s turned on or turned off."
However, that adjustment in how evangelicals views gays does not mean that the faith tradition is prepared to embrace GLBTs and their families, or to recast their view of homosexuality as a "sinful" form of conduct condemned by the Bible.
"Transformation in Christ is possible, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will never be tempted or completely move beyond a certain struggle that we might have," the head of Exodus International, Alan Chambers, told CNN.
Exodus International claims that gays can "leave homosexuality" and lead "normal" lives as heterosexuals -- an attitude that clings to the notion that to be gay is be broken or incomplete in some way.
"[W]e can live through the filter of our faith and abide by that most, and leave behind all sorts of things that have power of us," Chambers went on to say.
Still, there are signs that the evangelical faith is becoming more open to allowing GLBTs to make their own choices, rather than seeking to impose a moral imperative upon gays to "change" either their innate nature or their sexual conduct.
A new therapeutic approach, the "congruence paradigm," focuses on what is possible for, and desired by, the individual. Noted Throckmorton, "If they say ’I think being gay is OK and it’s what I want to pursue,’ we’ll work with them to do that, too."
The very nature of that paradigm stands in stark contrast to harsher anti-gay viewpoints. Marcus Bachmann, the husband of 2012 presidential nominee contender Michele Bachmann and the owner of two Christian counseling clinics, told a Christian radio program last year that gays are "barbarians" in need of "discipline" rather than support from therapists and other "authority figures."
"What should drive us is the undeniable truth and the Godly principles of truth in God’s word," Marcus Bachmann said during a September, 2010, appearance on radio program ’Point of View.’ "I think we really need to call sin, sin. And too often we find counselors and friends that will absolutely excuse a person and allow their feelings to take charge... "
Such changes in how the faithful perceive and respond to gays may be inevitable, as more GLBTs emerge from the closet, spurring greater social acceptance -- and, in turn, encouraging still more gays to come out.
Homosexuality has no bearing whatever on class, socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, or religious faith. Even the strictest antigay churches can be expected to include as many gay members, closeted or otherwise, as any other group.
Evangelicals are starting to realize this -- and accept that gays are not only part of their religious culture, but also a vibrant and faithful part of it.
"We’re silly to think that there are not gays coming to church, part of our congregations," Marcus Yoars told CNN. Yoars serves as the editor for religious publication Charisma, the article said.
"It’s the elephant in the room," added Yoars. "It’s ridiculous that we can’t address it in a manner of love first, which doesn’t mean watering down biblical teaching."
That teaching itself may be subject to new interpretation, and less selectivity. Yale divinity graduate and biblical scholar Jonathan Dudley was still a student when he penned a series of columns for the Yale Daily News examining the way in which scripture has been re-interpreted, distorted, taken out of context, and misappropriated by politicians and by religious leaders for political purposes. Those writings form the basis of a recently published book, "Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics," in which Dudley notes the ways in which evangelical leaders have cherry-picked biblical passages in order to use scripture as a weapon against GLBTs and their families. At the same time, Dudley noted, those same leaders indulge in strategic silence about what the Bible has to say about heterosexual divorce.
"Although the New Testament contains one uncontested reference to some form of same-sex intercourse, it contains five unambiguous condemnations of divorce," Dudley told EDGE in a recent interview. "The earliest occurs in the gospel of Mark, where Jesus declares: ’Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.’
"This general prohibition is repeated once in Luke and twice in Matthew, where a possible exception is made only in the case of adultery," Dudley continued. "The Apostle Paul also repeats the command in 1 Corinthians, stating that ’a husband must not divorce his wife.’ And few questions are left about what the God of the Old Testament thinks about the matter. We read in Malachi: ’ "I hate divorce," says the Lord God of Israel.’ "