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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. robert frost

    Oh, NO! Take the gays out of their platform, what's left for the GOP to spread the HATE? What's the Kristian Taliban's next target?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • krow101

      Muslims.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Waltham1892

      The left-handed?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • robert frost

      Anyone who shows the slightest compassion towards the poor and the sick

      July 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • KK Denver

      All of the above

      July 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  2. ReallyModComeON

    How about for once let both sides have their say? CNN no need to push one view at the exclusion of others. When Gay people get pulled over and jailed simply for being Gay I will buy into that civil rights argument. Short of that it is a claim with no proof.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Waltham1892

      Yeah, why do all the smart people get to talk all the time...

      Time to let the intellectualy challanged have a turn!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • ReallyModComeON

      Time for you to get a real issue. There are people without rights. The one that says equal opportunity. The one that says you cannot have jobs for illegal Aliens when 16 percent of citizens have no job. But CNN does not want to cover that story.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • ReallyModComeON

      Intelligent = all people who agree with my liberal agenda. Unintelligent any who would dare question my liberal agenda.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Waltham1892

      Guy, you are barking up the wrong tree.

      I'm a former police officer, former Army officer, and as straight as a stretched string.

      This issue isn't about Liberals v. Conservatives. Its about individuals with the full rights of citizenship and those without.

      Nice try, no cookie.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • KK Denver

      When Gay people get pulled over and jailed simply for being Gay I will buy into that civil rights argument.

      Yeah being murdered for just being gay isn't enough..... but a traffic violation will get your attention.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  3. Waltham1892

    I was thinking of turning gay after my divorce. I filled out all the forms and got two character references.

    My application was declined.

    That hurt...

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

      Submit your application again, the "gaydar" was probably turned off.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Waltham1892

      I got married again, and my wife and I are at the point where we know what the other will say in an arguement.

      Why start over?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  4. ronjon

    Talk about religion – how about a slow drum beating dogma. Here is how it goes: Gays are good, Christians are evil. Keep saying it until you believe it.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • KK Denver

      Good is good, evil is evil

      July 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Talk about religion – how about a slow drum beating dogma. Here is how it goes: Gays are good, Christians are evil. Keep saying it until you believe it.'
      As opposed to the other side that want to claim christians are the holiest of the holiest and gays are evil devil worshipping sinners who will burn in hell forever. Yeah, that side seems to be reasonable.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  5. JoJo

    Always trying to 'cure/heal' others, but it's them that need the help!!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  6. QS

    "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."

    Translation – when you break this "therapy" down it is nothing more than abuse, THAT is what gives it a bad rap...hint: when you still defend the people who use this "therapy" even after you've said it shouldn't be used, you are exactly why people stereotype in that context.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Marcus367

      QS!! Sounds like you need some of this theraphy, may be you might see things from another angle?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  7. Sam

    Okay CNN, Every freaking week, gay something, it is pretty obvious the agenda behind it... I could care less about gay issues, get married, be taught in school, Christians are bad, whatever, but it is pretty obvious even to me that media has an agenda that they keep pushing and pushing and pushing~ Well, you win, you win~

    July 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • KK Denver

      I think baby's gonna cry!!!!!

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

      And yes, it has to be on the headline too, every other day

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

      Yes, about to give birth, push harder, HARDER!!! LOL!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • ReallyModComeON

      The tradigy is others with real issues get ignored. How about 16% unemployment rate for Blacks? How about a President at sleep on the job concerning this number?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Because its the current hot social topic is why; the same way in the 60s it was civil rights for minorities that would have been in the news every week.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Sam

      Right ON, ModComeOn! And in CA, schools are FAILING and when we teachers fought and fought for more money in schools, SB48 gets signed requiring all the textbooks to be changed and adding gay history... okay, nothing against that, but COME ON, Math and Science and English???? How about our salaries? How about not laying more of us off? Keep Religion out of schools, OKAY, but PLEASE keep POLITICS out of here too!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  8. w7rkd

    Why don't we use the same therapy on Republicans?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Marcus367

      Because republicans are the ones giving it to you, hee hee. It looks like you need it too.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Saye

      I'm sure they will, right after they use all the Dims as guinea pigs, lol.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  9. One Radical

    People kill each other in the name of lots of things, what's the difference of the reason? Black people kill each other over shoes. By your logic, we should get rid of blacks too.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Guest

      White folks kill each other in the name of everything...or have you not been paying attention to history. If your going to use race to further your arguments then you should probably do your research, not just pay attention to popular rhectoric!! FYI: try looking at the FBI top 25 most wanted or the UCR (universal crime reports), you just might be surprised as to who is promimently featured. Oh, we weren't suppose to be talking about race, right? My bad!!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  10. Carrera4s

    Obviously, this is much more important than the deplorable condition of our economy, the high unemployment, the collapsed housing market. It clearly deserves first page inclusion. Bravo, CNN for advancing liberal agenda.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Amunaka

      And now why don't you tell us what the conservative agenda is ...

      July 18, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Frogist

      Human rights is liberal agenda? Well good for the liberals!

      July 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  11. Bill

    In every picture of them they have big wide grins while everyone else is sitting around acting normal.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  12. Sem

    We spend so much time criticizing what is right and what is wrong. Imagine a world where that time and energy is spent loving and accepting one another for who they are. It doesn't matter if you are a spiritually mature christian who believes and loves God down to the depth of your soul or if you are a scientific person who does not believe in God at all – the core message is the same. The stories and life of a man named Jesus Christ are great principals to live by. Jesus even loved the men who nailed his hands to the cross. As they were driving the nails through his body he begged for their forgiveness. Can any of us really say we could do the same? Perhaps not but a place to start is to love each other or at least be tolerant and respectful. People choose to believe many different paths of life. No path of life can be wrong if you allow love and kindness of one another to guide the way. All of us will make mistakes along the way but that is between ourselves and God or what ever you believe in. We should try staying out of each others bedroom and focus on the big picture.

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

      The words you say are so true.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  13. Colin

    Which of the following groups bases their 21st Century social outlook on a collection of Bronze Age myths from the Middle East, that were cobbled together into a book during the Dark Ages:

    (a) The Ayatollahs of Iran
    (b) The Afghan Taliban
    (c) American Evangelical Christians; or
    (d) All of the above?

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

      At least the Iranians and Taliban are consistent and don't eat pork.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • ronjon

      Colin's social outlook formation:
      A. American Idol
      B. Colin Cancer
      C. Gay Pride
      D. Atheist
      E. Government check

      All of the above

      July 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • KK Denver

      ronjon: can I call you Ron or can I call you jon Or can I call you Ronjon as long as I don't call you late for the lynching?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  14. Ed FL

    Everytime Mr Bachmann comes on stage or [what he calls dancing] he reminds me that if his sessions make gays straight he should be the foremost customer of the clinic.First impressions are the most important, this guy makes me wonder how the government approved funds to help that buisness. He has wiped out any possibility of integrity for his wifes chances outside of her home state.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  15. krow101

    It's really an exercise in irony. They steal federal money pretending they have a farm ... they steal more federal money pretending to run a clinic ... then they complain about government programs and creeping socialism.

    Conservatives are so easily fooled.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Mark C

      Even more ironic: the guy running the anti-gay clinic is as gay as they come.

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

    You can't fix a deficit with tax cuts either.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  17. Chas

    Please, please don't suggest that Marcus is gay – that's an insult to every gay man or woman.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  18. David Stone

    Yes, gay behavior is unhealthy, and considered immoral and just plain gross by most people. But most people also agree that what perversion goes on in someone elses bedrooms is none of their business. The looming economic collapse though, is our business and should be the headline, not this pro-gay agenda garbage which is constantly crammed down our throats.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • krow101

      ... no pun intended.

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

      "It’s the elephant in the room. It's ridiculous that we can’t address it in a manner of love first, which doesn’t mean watering down biblical teaching."

      Translation – "you're such a great person and we love you for who you are...so much so that we would like nothing more than to help you change who you are so you can be more like us and be even more loved since you'll be one of us and no longer something we despise."

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

      @krow101
      Good one!

      July 18, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • KK Denver

      Yes, and most people cannot name they're own state capitol

      July 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Jimmy Shoo

      Unlike the pro-straight agenda that's crammed down our throats every second of every day on every street and every television show.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  19. San

    Marcus Bachmann is a self-loathing gay man. He should stop hating himself and start accepting others.

    Michele Bachmann is flat-out dangerous.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  20. blf83

    Ir certainly hasn't worked for Marcus Bachman.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:33 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.