Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Reparative Therapy?

I was at school today and dropped off some assignment stuff in one of my professor's offices. He happened to be in and was reading about the unfortunate case of a counselor who was recently found guilty of sexually abusing his client while engaged in reparative therapy. Reparative therapy (also known as conversion therapy) can mean mean several things but usually it is referred to as a formal attempt to change a person's sexual orientation -- typically from homosexual to heterosexual. Usually a client will come in claiming they are gay, but don't want to be and ask the counselor to help change them.

Here is where the proble
m lies. Many conservative Christians individuals, therapists, ministries, and groups believe that homosexual behavior is abnormal, unnatural, chosen and sinful. They promote reparative therapies as helpful and safe techniques to "cure" homosexuality. Homosexuality is seen as an behavior/action and a choice.

On the other side almost all secular mental health professionals, human sexuality researchers and religious liberals accept that a homosexual orientation is normal and natural for a minority of people. They believe that sexual orientation cannot be changed, that is an orientation. They generally believe that both heterosexual and homosexual behavior can be either sinful or not, depending upon the circumstances. They regard these therapies to be non-productive, unethical, and potentially dangerous.

As you could guess there is strong enmity between these two groups! My professor was telling me his opinion, he believes that reparative therapy is unethical and ineffective. Since research has shown that it is pretty much impossible to change someone's sexual orientation, he instead focuses Christian homosexuals on first accepting their orientation and then he helps them to get rid of their homosexual behavior (become celibate/not practicing). Yet, he also prays for them that there would be a miracle and be "healing." He believes this is the most Christian response we can have to this difficult issue. It was a very interesting conversation.

I am not sure where I am on the topic. I agree with the research; besides the occasional "case study" there is pretty much no clinical evidence of being able to change people's basic sexual attraction once it is established. This is not just for homosexuality but for other sexual preferences (paedophilia for example). On the other hand it is difficult to accept that the dark reality that God has made some people with a genetic predisposition to homosexuality. Why would God do that (although why would he do it with other mental illnesses that lead a person to break ethical commandments)? I want to believe that there is some way to help those with homosexual desires but desperately not want them. I want to believe that there is way to help them. The church has so far been very good at condemning homosexual behavior/desires, but done horribly at ministering to those who are experiencing it. The question isn't whether or not people change their sexual preferences (or some would say; orientation) because the evidence is obvious that they do. The question is whether reparative therapy can bring about that change.

If you are interested in this subject, I suggest you try the links above to get more information on the topic (especially the one on reparative therapy as it does a good job of presenting the issue from a mostly non-judgmental viewpoint. After that, feel free to weigh in! Just please be respectful . . .

May Light increase!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link.

I find it interesting THAT in asking why God would... you'd put homosexuality into the same sentence as mental illnesses.

As orientation continues to be a political football in the US, and reparative therapy makes economic sense in sub-religious communities; (it's a big bucks industry) more people who were involved in the reparative therapy movement in the US are stepping forward as the political cycle plays out. (SoulForce, beyondex-gay).

Blog on!


Anonymous said...

Good for you Mark, this ain't no easy topic to bring up especially since there is a broad variety in your readers backgrounds.

I'm not even sure I can comment. So hard. I am thinking about a few things:
1) Why do we get to be the judge, God will deal with sin in the lives of his people as his people open their hearts to Him...but this is a lifetime process, opening those hiding places even to God.
2) The heartache I think some of these homosexuals must have because the way the church has rejected them. It takes some radical Christ followers to welcome people in and love them, and to trust that as God began a good work in us, He has also begun a good work in (them). (don't prefer the us and them thing, but didn't make sense written differently.)


Mark said...

BD: Hmmm, I didn't event notice I had written that. Although the DSM used to say homosexuality was a mental illness, it doesn't anymore and I'm not sure that I would categorize it that way (even though it appears I wrote it that way). My thing that I struggle with is the idea of orientation. Are homosexuals born with a genetic orientation towards homosexuality or is homosexuality a choice? I lean mostly towards not using the word orientation but a genetic disposition. This allows me to recognize the genetic component but also realize that choice and other factors are also in there.

Anonymous said...

Apologize for the caps, a key got stuck and I didn't spell check.

Why is it either/or?

You are obviously versed on why this has not been in the DSM for years, you are aware of situational homosexuality so why are you framing this as a discussion on orientation?

Until we know whether or not there is as you say 'a genetic disposition' or 'genetic component' what is wrong with what we do know?

I can appreciate you are struggling with orientation versus free will, especially if those around you expect you to frame the debate that way.

I think any of us who claim Christ have to work out our understanding, and I commend you for trying.

Genetic disposition, genetic component...versus free choice.

It is the same political twisting we see in reparative therapy.

Let me ask you this.
What does 'other factors' mean to you?

What if a gene is found?
Are evangelicals going to repent, stop seeing others as a 'difficult issue' stop economically ripping off GLBT, guilting, shaming and crushing with various kinds of reparative therapy programs?

We both know the answer to that.

I believe you are sorting out what you've been taught or have absorbed. Good luck with that. You used the word liberal like it's a disposition that needs a cure.;^)

As a side note - if you follow these things - the current head of Exodus International came out with a statement regarding their role in US polity today.


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