Amid Bachmann controversy, many Christians cool to conversion therapy for gays
Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus, who says his counseling business uses conversion therapy for clients who request it.
July 18th, 2011
11:25 AM ET

Amid Bachmann controversy, many Christians cool to conversion therapy for gays

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - When presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, addressed accusations that his Christian counseling business encourages homosexual clients to try to change their sexual orientation, he appeared to play down the role of so-called conversion therapy at his clinics.

"Is it a remedy form that I typically would use?” Bachmann told Minnesota’s Star Tribune newspaper. “It is at the client's discretion.

"We don't have an agenda or a philosophy of trying to change someone," Bachmann said, noting that such therapy was not a focus of his two clinics.

Michele Bachmann officially quits her church

Bachmann’s seeming ambivalence about conversion therapy - sometimes called reparative therapy - after a week’s worth of news stories that raised questions about whether his clinics promote the practice may illustrate a broader trend in the conservative Christian subculture.

While many evangelicals once viewed conversion therapy as key way to deal with homosexuality, many of the religious movement's leaders and organizations have cooled to the practice in recent years, as more science suggests that homosexuality may be innate and as new therapeutic approaches have emerged.

“Evangelicals, in quiet ways, are shifting to this position to where there is just not a lot of support for the change paradigm,” said Warren Throckmorton, an influential voice in the world of Christian counseling, referring to so-called change therapy.

“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,” said Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College, an evangelical school in Pennsylvania.

One sign of that shift, Throckmorton says, is the influential evangelical group Focus on the Family’s 2009 decision to stop funding a program teaching that “transformation is possible for those unhappy with same-sex attractions." (Focus, which said the move was due partly to financial pressures, handed the program off to another Christian group.)

The head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, meanwhile, a leading conservative Christian, has recently chided some evangelicals for characterizing homosexuality as a choice that’s relatively easy to change.

“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,’ ” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler said. "We have to know better.”

“We understand that sexual attraction and a profile of someone’s sexuality is a complex of factors, some of which are certainly not chosen,” he continued. “It’s not just a matter of choice. It’s not something that’s turned on or turned off.”

Exodus International, the national Christian organization that promotes "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ," has de-emphasized conversion therapy in recent years as more of the counselors in its network have abandoned the practice.

“In the 1980s and '90s, the counseling emphasis was heavier than it was today,” said Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus. “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.

“But we 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,” said Chambers, who once identified as gay but who says he no longer does.

Most conservative Christians point to biblical passages that condemn homosexuality and believe the Bible teaches that sex is to be reserved for married men and women.

The American Psychological Association adopted a resolution condemning conversion therapy in 2009, saying that “mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.”

But the same resolution also encouraged therapists to consider the religious beliefs of clients who say such beliefs are important to their views of homosexuality.

Some Christian counselors have moved away from reparative therapy and have adopted a therapeutic approach that Throckmorton describes as a “congruence paradigm.” The model encourages counselors to appreciate a client’s wishes to harmonize their values, often shaped by religion, and their sexuality.

Under the congruence approach, a religious person who considers homosexuality sinful could attempt to square their beliefs and sexuality by trying to remain celibate. A bisexual client who perceives a similar conflict could try to focus on heterosexual relationships.

But under the congruence model, it’s up to the client - not the therapist - to decide how to view his or her sexual orientation. “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,” said Throckmorton.

Evangelical re-examination of conversion therapy is part of a larger conversation under way among conservative Christians on how to respond to homosexuality at a time when more gay people are coming out, when there's a new awareness of the bullying that many young gay people face and when the gay rights movement is making some big strides, including, in some states, legalized gay marriage.

“We’re silly to think that there are not gays coming to church, part of our congregations,” said Marcus Yoars, the editor of Charisma, a popular Christian magazine. “It’s the elephant in the room. Its ridiculous that we can’t address it in a manner of love first, which doesn’t mean watering down biblical teaching.”

For the first time in years, Charisma put the issue of homosexuality on the cover of its magazine for the July issue, in a package that includes a story of a woman who says she was “rescued from lesbianism.”

But Yoars said that conversion therapy should be seen as only a small part of the Christian response to homosexuality.

“We have to realize that reparative therapy is a fraction of what’s out there, especially in Christian counseling,” he said. “When it’s reduced to sound bites, it gives (the therapy) a bad rap and falls into the stereotype of all Christians feeling that this kind of therapy is what all Christian counselors should use.”

Another factor behind the new evangelical conversation around homosexuality and conversion therapy is a generational shift on attitudes toward the issues. Recent polls show that young evangelicals are much more supportive of rights for gay partners than their parents are, even as they mirror their parents' opposition to abortion.

"Retaining young people is crucial, and a more accepting generation will not tolerate business as usual when it comes to the debate over homosexuality," wrote Jonathan Merritt, a young evangelical leader, in a recent opinion piece. "Pastors need not compromise their convictions, but they can expect congregants to call for a more accepting, forgiving message – a more Christian message.

"If Christian leaders can’t make that transition – and quickly – instead of an awakening," Merritt wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, "evangelicals may be facing an exodus."

–CNN’s Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Homosexuality • Michele Bachmann • Politics • Uncategorized

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soundoff (2,293 Responses)
  1. a6102658

    The concept of curing "The Gay" by using religion is so out there, that one can only think they are just kidding, lets keep in mind that these people are into it because there is a lot of money to be made by scamming other people.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Dan

      Much of teh counseling is actually at a reduced rate or, in some cases free. You dodn't know what you're talking about.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  2. Carolyn

    Why are Republicans obsessed with Michele Bachmann? I'll tell you why - because she is the world's only living heart and brain donor, that's why. She's a medical miracle.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  3. One Radical

    OK folks, (by folks I mean liberals). If people choose to get help to "cure" them from gayness, who are you to tell them no? They can't make up their own mind, make their own choice? You act as if gays are being marched in like Jews in Germany to some camp against their will to be converted. Choice only counts when the choice agrees with your view, no?


    July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • chrisg

      And do you think medicare should pay for "praying away the gay"? That is what is happening at the Bachmann clinic

      July 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      You seem to ignore the fact that the backlash is coming from previously treated patients. You act like this is some liberal plot. Liberals took up the cause after they were informed that the programs were causing psychological trauma which in some cases had fatal results. Lets just forget the track record of the program, its terrible success rate and that many of the so called successes have since gone back to their "sinful ways".

      July 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  4. chrisg

    Teapublicans/teavangelicals like Sister Michelle and the Rev. Rick of TX are the most dangerous things in American politics today – These religiously motivated sociopaths view elected public office and governance as a "ministy for Jesus" not as a secular public service. So if you're not prepared to "kneel down, pray and let Jesus take the wheel running the country" you had better not vote for them...

    July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  5. Recovering Republican

    Please don't interpret the stupidity of the Extreme Right of the work of a loving God. If the words and actions are not forgiving, inclusive, and redeeming, than it is not the work, nor the words, of a Righteous and Loving God. Many zealots and self indulgent false prophets have, and will continue to walk the earth. They claim to, but DO NOT represent God, any more than the Taliban does.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  6. Sen

    Thats one person im not voting for.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  7. God is laughing at us. Yes he is.

    Seems like all the nut cases are in politics. Don't these fools have friends and relatives who can keep them on their meds so we don't have to arrest them and lock them up.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  8. Martin

    Some day the gay minority (which is getting bigger all the time...) will be considered just as normal as the minority of folks with blue eyes. People will be surprised to learn it was ever an issue and a taboo.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  9. kme

    These are the same "libertarians" who want "government out of or lives" then seek to control all "abhorrent" human behavior with rules from their book. So much repression, it hurts to think about.

    On the plus side, the fundamentalist movement within conservative ranks is the greatest long-term threat to its stability. Go Bachmann!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  10. heather

    You can't erase 'gayness' all you can do is bury that in someone's psychy and it will be there hurting. suppose this converted gay person goes out and marries a woman, then figures out they are gay after all? what a sad mess that is

    July 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Carolyn


      July 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  11. Down Syndrome

    Very good PR move for her. very good. But, also unbelievable.
    oh well, PR politics are always ridiculous with only one aim: fool the people.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      She will try to step towards the center more and more but that doesn't change who she is or what she has stood for repeatedly and worse yet voiced politically some absurd notions.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  12. J.W

    The bible doesnt really say too about the topic of being gay. If we concentrate on this there are a million things that we could go back and find that we dont do anymore.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  13. Colin

    Christianity is the belief that an infinitely-old, all-knowing being, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, has a personal interest in my $ex life.

    Atheism is the belief that the above belief is ludicrous.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • RAWoD

      Agnostic is a position that says you are full of yourself.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • AtheistDude

      Right On!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  14. Bgrngod

    I wish this controversy had stayed hidden for a tiny bit longer. Would have been helpful to have during the general election.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  15. gs081

    It can't be long until the 'gay husband' scandal is uncovered.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Carolyn

      I wonder if the Phelps crowd has/will donate to her campaign?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  16. Martin

    I love it: they're at risk of losing the next generation of customers and so they're changing their views. What a sham!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  17. Join the religious guilt cult of your choice

    Church is spreading the hate and prejudice. Is that vogue? Seems hypocritical and repulsive. What happened to freedom from religious hysteria?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Chris

      Religion doesn't create guilt....your conscience does.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Chris: I am inclined to disagree somewhat. Nobody would feel guilty about being gay if religion and societal pressures didn't make us think it was wrong.

      July 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  18. a6102658

    Fringe social issues is what keeps republican being elected again and again, they are really no politicians, they do not run on ideas to move this country forward, to create jobs, advance our technological future, we can see it right now how our congress has only passed bills related to social issues, but when it come to move this country forward, they quickly become the party of no.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  19. Rainer Braendlein

    21st century? For God 1000 years are like a day and a day like 1000 years.

    We live in a time of grace. At the moment God doesn't want to judge, but to save. Jesus loves you.

    According to Epistle to the Romans Chapter 1, the Creator can be realized through the creation. But we get born into this world (creation), and immediately everything is more important for us, than to think contemplatively about the maker of heaven and earth.

    Imagine, you would call on a physician, and at your arrival you would not even great him. Of course the physician would be offended. This is, what we do with God: We enter this world, see his great works, but ignore him completely. And exactly this is the "Fall of Man". It would be tiresome to discuss, why we behave like this, but it is a matter of fact.

    The purpose of man would be to adore God, but instead he creates idols. Assumed, your little finger could/would leave you, it would be a damage for you and for him. Your hand would be no more fully operative and the finger would die, because he would not be supported with blood.

    Because we don't exercise our purpose to adore God, we are cut off from the source of life and start to rot. Sins like gayness are the consequences of that process of rotting (of course there are a lot of other sins beside gayness).

    Actually God's creation should suffice to realize him. Regretably we have a defect and need more than this revelation. God in his mercy gave a second revelation: Jesus and his death on the cross. Jesus was the most lovable "man", who has ever lived on earth and has finally borne the sin of the whole mankind on the cross.

    By faith in the lovable Jesus the "Fall of Man" can be rolled back. By faith in Christ we become able and willing to adore God. Adoring the source of life the process of rotting will stop and we can live a life, which causes God's enjoyment.

    Other sins beside gayness, Romans Chapter 1:

    28 And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

    30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

    31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

    32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • ihtfpaeoh

      bla bla bla. Not every american believes in your jesus and your bible.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • sbp

      God get's "offended" if he's not adored!? You would hope God was not so insecure and immature, but I guess not.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • ralph

      Wow do you know Jesus personally? According to everything I read, he's just another myth.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • tommas

      "Actually God's creation should suffice to realize him" ... what would a universe look like without god? That is how someone fails at being objective

      July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • veggiedude

      "For God 1000 years are like a day and a day like 1000 years"

      So your entire lifespan is a mere fraction of a second to your god. See how insignificant you are to it?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • AWMessenger

      We studied Genesis 18 yesterday in our group. Good stuff.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • GodPot

      "By faith in the lovable Jesus"

      Sounds like a little plush prayer toy...

      July 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • RAWoD

      What a waste of bits. Your position is childish. May as well believe in Winnie the Pooh (also a fairy tale).

      July 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • GodPot

      "Imagine, you would call on a physician, and at your arrival you would not even great him. Of course the physician would be offended. This is, what we do with God"

      It's more like:

      Imagine, you would call on a physician, and he never arrives, so you call again, but still no one, so you keep calling and calling for nearly 6000 years but still no answer. Of course the caller might be offended, if he was a moron, since he obviously didn't get the clue. This is, what we do with God.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • AtheistDude

      You see Rainer you write all this stuff from the biggest selling work of fiction in history and all I can think of is "Psycho Talk". Get help, get on prozac you might need it! seriously!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • JohnRJohnson

      This comment is a terrific example of Christian arrogance and total lack of awareness. You are not in a church here, preaching to your congregation. Many of the people who are commenting here could be Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim or athiest, yet you go on and on as if everybody else here shares your personal belief, perspective and experience. I'm actually embarrassed for you. Wearing your belief on your sleeve doesn't make you one bit holier than anybody else on this planet. It just makes you sound narrow-minded and totally self-absorbed.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • standingwave

      I guess he's leaving the judging to his followers.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  20. Robert

    Seems a lot of people have died in the name god (muslims, christians, jews,etc.), what a shame for their misdirection

    July 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • scranton

      You speak the truth.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • GodPot

      Though many of those people that have died were not misdirected but merely the fodder for the "righteous" and "faithful" warrior's perpetuating violence in the name of their imagined deity.

      I find it rather funny that all the tales of God contacting men have been only to their supposed servants who do their God's bidding here on earth instead of contacting the "evil heretic's" that have been targeted for destruction. You would think one whisper from the almighty in any wrongdoers ear would change his ways, but no, it's always got to be delivered cripticly through crazy ranting prophets to the "faithful" to met out the violent fate of the "sinners". Seem's like a very odd way to go about getting your "slaves" to comply with your wishes.

      Have none of the religious noticed that? Anyone?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • fred

      Wrong, the Roman called Saul of Tarsus who loved to kill chirstians was touched and became the strongest advocate of Christ.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.