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. TampaMan

    THE CHURCH IS GUILTY- worried about gays, gay marriage and bay behavior, yet churches endorse rabid American militarism; illegal wars (Libya), a bloated military that destroys property and kills innocents by the score. Is this HOLY?

    WHY do we allow soldiers with guns and flags to march through our churchs on the 4th of July (liberty's holiday?) YET DENY freedom to a man because he wears lipstick and a dress instead of fatigues and camouflage makeup?

    IS IT the duty of the church to change a man OR the task of God, who made the man in the first place?

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

      You are misrepresenting the Christian Church.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • gcf1965

      And you were last in an evangelical, or conservative Christian church with the intention of understanding or learning when? Do you even seek to know what Christianity is and what it teaches (not tv evangelists or your local high profile mega-church that caters to large populations of people wanting to ease their conscience or be involved in a 'spiritual' social club), but a church that really uses the Bible from the pulpit and speaks as much to Christians about their conduct and responsibilities as it does about the social condition of society? A great church that actually teaches the Bible is rare and quite refreshing when found.

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

    I'm not prepared to say that anybody is fated to any lifestyle. I'm a strong believer in capability to change. The possibilities before us are often larger than we first recognize. Relatively few people have choices narrowed down for them from a biological point of view. All that said, I think it's fine if people live a straight or gay life. I don't think we have to resort to saying "you couldn't do otherwise" to validate gay lifestyles. It sounds like they need an excuse, which they don't, and still stigmatizes them.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  3. Luis Wu

    Christians are just stupid. Period.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Marcus367

      WU!!! I guess your asian religion is not ??? Yeah right!!! I guess your religion loves gay, right??

      July 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Dan

      As are ad hominem attacks. Why don't you offer something constructive instead?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • o.k.

      That was intelligent. (I'm surprised you didn't spell it stoopid!) Time to move on there Luis–your mommy needs the basement now.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  4. Frankly Speaking..


    July 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Frankly Speaking..

      From the article: "..as more science suggests that h0mo sx uality may be innate.."

      MAY is the keyword

      July 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Frankly Speaking..

      I say back up your claims not with mild conjectures but valid concrete proofs (clearly missing)..I have no reason to believe being gay is inherrent, its analagous to being stupid (just an act not inherrently that way)

      July 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  5. Jerry Senzee

    Bachman's are just plain oddballs that should just go back from wherever they came from.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  6. bachmanntwit

    When Michele Bachmann's done with this gig she'll be going door to door with Sarah Palin selling buttplugs.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  7. cypher20

    I have a feeling that this author is quoting very carefully from most of these sources to try and support his point. The quotes he gives are mostly quite far from a full-throated endorsement of his point but sound more like people taking a nuanced and multi-faceted approach to the issue.

    As for that young man they quote at the end, he may need to re-read the Bible. Jesus Christ is very accepting and forgiving but he never condones sin. Yes, He saved the adulteress from being stoned but He told her to "Go and sin no more", not, "You know, they are just bunch of judgmental old fogeys, what you did isn't really that bad! Go ahead and sleep around! God doesn't worry about little stuff like that, He'll just forgive you!"

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

      To be fair, the Bible also calls such things as women wearing jewelry or eating pork or working on the weekend a sin. I doubt anyone is even physically capable of following everything the Bible says. Why exactly do Christians pick out the gay thing and ignore all the other things they don't follow?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • blinky

      BK, Good point. Show me a world view that doesn't have some faulty reasoning built into it. Why should Christianity have to be either absolutely consistent or fail, but most other outlooks, even democracy or physicalism, get approval if they pass most consistency tests?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Scott

      You are right the author quoted things in a way to support his position. For instance he said the APA in 2009 said that "therapists should avoid telling their clients that conversion therapy works." He could also have said that from 2000 to 2009 the APA changed their position and now acknowle that Christian based therapy does work in some instances.

      I personally know a dozen ex-gays who changed, helped by prayer. None of them went through Conversion therapy.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Scott: The point is the APA currently does not condone such therapy. And has not found any instances where it works. What happened with the people you know is that they probably are still attracted to people of the same gender but have engaged in the destructive behaviour of repressing their emotions and acting out societal norms to which they do not ascribe. Peer pressure can be a very harmful thing.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  8. Hurting Americans in the name of religion

    This woman has been living off the government, her organization receives public money and she receives farm subsidies. But is against cutting them! Surprise. Then her business is to cause psychological pain for a lifetime to the individuals they see. Those who support her are mis-guided and need to realize the results of their actions. America is not a theocracy!!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • cypher20

      Or you could look at this as the courage of conviction. If the money is available, it is foolish to not take it. But if you really believe in what you say then you will advocate for the subsidies to end even if that affects you personally. That seems to me like someone who puts their money where their mouth is unlike so many voters who vote in GOP to "cut the budget" but then fight for their slice of the pie. They just want money taken from other people but none from them and thanks to this kind of lazy thinking and lack of conviction we find ourselves in our current debt crisis.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      ' But if you really believe in what you say then you will advocate for the subsidies to end even if that affects you personally'
      Sorry but that argument doesnt cut it. If you take money and then claim that the money is wrong then that makes you a hypocrit, not someone with strong convictions; thats like a preacher getting drunk and then decrying the evils of drink. Strong convictions means you dont take the money, or the drink, in the first place.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      The Theological Relevance upon American Socialism WAS Once a Theosophy in its' Infancy and during such Times There was Outright Slavery of Africans brought from distant Shores to do the Work of those who wouldn'y do it themselves.

      Today's Freedoms have somewhat changed the Landscape of Servitude, no longer Slaves but All people Serve. People just LOve Mental Arbiters of illusionary indemnities

      July 19, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  9. EffortPA

    "Top Eleven Signs You're a Christian:"

    11- You believe in a book (New Testament) that was written 80 years after your Messiah died by men who never met him and who believed the earth was flat and the Sun revolved around the Earth, but continuously deny modern science books.

    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.

    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!

    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.

    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs - though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."

    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.

    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.

    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

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

      Love you.

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

      You are only confusing them, they don't use logic. They use assumption, oops I mean faith.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • yuri pelham

      Absolutely brilliant!!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Dan

      You are one ignorant atheist. Aren't you guys supposed to be the people with an open mind? But yet you have closed off views of what a christian is like. Your list was pure entertainment, thanks for the laugh. Maybe when you stop believing the universe happened to form so much complexity out of a single bang before time and space were around, i will gain some respect for you. That "scientific theory" is just a outrageous as creation yet millions of people still believe a theory. As a scientist you should know that in science nothing is ever fact, but always subject to change. All our "scientific facts" from the 50s have completely changed. So whats to say that these facts wont change in the next 20 years? In-fact they already are. But as for now you are just as ignorant as the supposed christians in your list.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Amie


      July 18, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Tim

      Hey, why engage in all of that challenging thinking stuff when someone else is willing to do it for you and then tell you how to do it?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Amie

      Great post, EffortPA. I wanted to make sure there was no confusion. Dan that applause was not meant for you. Atheist are almost always intelligent and educated, but of course how would you know that. lol

      July 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  10. Colin

    Which of the following groups believes that an invisible being in the sky is watching their every move and will punish gay people because they are bad:

    (a) Small children, too young to know that is silly
    (b) Delusional schizophrenics
    (c) American Evangelical Christians; or
    (d) All of the above

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

      Most children, even small ones, think it's silly until Mom/Dad tells them so.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Colin, Silliness in the Belief in Santa Claus and yet it is. Do children think such a thing as being silly or? The Rabbit that brings/lays eggs to be found by young chilren, is this silly or? Why is it silly to Believe in an Unknowable Supreme Being as GOD? The Things that Youngsters of Manliness and Womanhood ascribe are either Morally Relative via Either Religious Affiliations or are due to Peers whom People try to Idolize and Mimic.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  11. Tim

    Is that one of those photoshop tricks where they put Liberace at the table with Bachmann?

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

      Liberace is more masculine than that. Prince is more masculine than that.

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

      Marcuus Bachman is a gay as senator Larry Craig Don't be surprised when they find him in a public men's room trying to pick up some young stud

      July 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  12. Tobin

    Funny how Christian conservatives quietly admit what "liberals" have been telling them for years. LOL! Maybe next you'll start listening to the science about global warming...in a decade or two.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  13. Lansing Michigan

    Evangelical Christians remain bigoted about the issue. Their fundamental problem is that they have doubts about their faith and they know they have these doubts.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  14. John


    July 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  15. ralk

    And this is news! please get something else huh!

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

      CNN can't live without their "Gay of the Day" story.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  16. MrSarcasm

    >>> a story of a woman who says she was “rescued from lesbianism.” <<<

    Um, that was me.

    You were talking to God at that moment honey, but that was alllllllll me.

    Let us pray.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  17. EddyL

    I want to know more about Bachmann's online degree and his state licensure. Maybe he employs real counselors, but hes a total fraud. Christian counseling my butt.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  18. SPQR

    The beginning of the end of Michelle Bachmans's campaign. Perhaps they should open up a clinic to heal stupidity, husband and wife can practice on each other.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  19. MCR

    Perhaps they've changed their approach because "conversion therapy" has, like, a 100% failure rate. Even worse, those who temporarily tried to become "un-gay" through this approach are in a higher risk for committing suicide. So, yeah. That didn't work.

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

      It does not have a %100 failure rate. The success rate is disputed, but among women in particular, it is likely to be close to 75%. It is a much tougher issue with men.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • lee howard

      If they think gays can just change, they should ask the mentally handicapped to just change.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  20. Diane

    Yep, he looks gay to me.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:38 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.