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. Huh?

    Something folks should realize: The "Religious Right" is neither. Furthermore, CNN and the rest of the mass media love to stereotype "evangelical Christians" by painting all of them with one brush and failing to bother to discover whether that term encompasses one or more groups or sets of values. The simple fact is that it does not. You may as well say that all atheists support gay marriage and are political liberals.

    Focus on the Family and similar groups are doing the same kind of damage inside of churches that they are doing to American politics. It is an agenda of crack pots that have co-opted formerly apolitical churches in what amounts to 'astroturfing' – the fabrication or hijacking of supposedly grass roots movements to advance a cause put forth by an organization that was anything but grass roots.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  2. Rich

    Marcus Bachmann is a big sissy.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Marcuththth Bachmann

      Thhtop making fun of me you guyth. Thtop it.

      I'm not like Denith Th-th-thatcher ya know. My wifffffe can't ever get elected leader of a country.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  3. Tak

    Someone clue me in, exactly what licenses, accreditations or degrees does Marcus Bachmann have that makes him qualified to counsel anyone?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  4. CptStupid

    Didn’t Hitler try this with people of the Jewish Faith!?! You can’t fix STUPID!!!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • o.k.

      Typical Christian-hating response. Don't like Christians? O.k., compare them to Hitler. Hitler had a mustache–must demonize everyone with a mustache. Right? BTW, Hitler never tried to change the jews–just belittle then kill them–get your facts straight Skippy.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • tommas

      The current pope was a Hitler Youth

      July 18, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Ren

      Okay..let's go back in time...hitler came to power with the idea..let's wipe out gay people..and the Germans went for it..and then..all the gays were gone..or ran...and then hitler said..let's get rid of the blacks...oh ..wait they were all gone ..or ran...and then he said..lets get rid of all the Jews...and he figured out..that would keep him in power a long time...now..is this what we want...as Americans..everyone is American..and has equal rights under the Law...once again..DO NOT use US for your aspirations..to power...

      July 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  5. Joshua Ludd

    Of course they seem ambivalent about it now that the spotlight is on it. They know that everyone outside of rabid anti-gay christians believes it is just good old brain washing. Lets face it... the only "problem" with being gay is the way gays are treated by much of society. It isn't being gay that hurts... its being told that being gay is wrong, sinful, and will send you to hell for all eternity that hurts.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Terri

      Well said Joshua.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  6. Charles

    These hypocritical evangelical carnival barkers will do anything for a vote.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  7. Jay

    I love how right-wingers gin up complete nonsense about liberal "re-education camps", then come up with "re-education camps" of their own.

    Par for the course for the right. Make up insane conspiracy theories about the left, then proceed to do something as insane as they image (in their tiny, diseased minds) their "enemies" do, and pretend that it's justified.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Aaron L.

      "we have no agenda" she's a liar. We don't need any more liars for president.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  8. Doug Ericson

    Michelle is toast as far as her Presidential hopes go. She is the female Donald Trump now. She should duck out in time to save her Congressional career before more embarrassiong revelations come out. Doug.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  9. Rob

    I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Gandhi

    He sure got that one right

    July 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  10. PJ

    Most Born Agains I know are raging Queens. Nothing in the bible saying you can't love Jesus and another man. I'm glad the fools are seeing the mistakes they have made. Once gay, gay for life. There is no conversion to hetero,

    July 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  11. TheRationale

    Conservative Christians – pushing the limits on human stupidity. It's practically an art by this point.

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

    NYC legalized GAY MARRIAGE. SOCIALISM wins....

    failed epic.

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

      Wow, gay = socialism...what a moron

      July 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      wait, so you are against gay marriage because you think its socialist? ok that beats the religious argument i think.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • tommas

      wow, is there anything correct in that statement... The state of New York is not represented by NYC

      July 18, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  13. tibs

    "We don't have an agenda or a philosophy of trying to change someone,"

    I burst out laughing the moment I read that gem of a quote.

    On that note, I am opening a counseling business that allows my theist clients to, at their discretion, be converted to atheism. (We also offer special discounted rates on deist and pastafarianism conversions)

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

      I pray to the Invisible Pink Unicorn that your soul may be saved.

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


      July 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • tibs

      may his noodly appendages envelop you all!

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


      July 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  14. MollyBee

    And many of us never had any enthusiasm for Michelle Bachman and her ilk.

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

    Do really think the religious right cares about whether anyone gets into heaven or not? No way. But they do care about losing control over what people believe, what they do, or how they vote. Ironically, in the end they are very ones forcing people away from religion. It's the beginning of the END to the RELIGIOUS RIGHT HOLD on America

    July 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Alex in Bremerton, WA

      They also care about their cash flow. The article said Focus on the Family backed away due to FINANCIAL pressure. Goddess forbid the "God business" not make all the money it can!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  16. jaycee3

    The bible condones selling one's daughter into slavery, too. Christianity is about love and peace, and like other religions, the true message becomes lost and corrupted by fundamentalism. I think the only response to those who propose celibacy or
    conversion therapy for gays is; you first! How many gay people does God have to create before this stuff stops?!

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

      Christianity was about a Roman Emperor trying to control the many cults under his rule. It has been about many things past that point, all under the disguise of love. I am sure the torturers during the inquisition told jews that god loves them as the strap them to the iron maiden.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  17. Janelle

    I honestly could care less who or what my neighbor sleeps with as long as its not a child or my dogs.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  18. mtnmedic

    Religion is a crock and a sham. It has cast hatred, bigotry, divisiveness and war upon this world because every religion, every sect, thinks its god is the only one that should be followed and all others be dammned. Thousands of years have gone by without one single solitary shred of verifiable evidence that god even exists, let alone all of his supposed miracles and predictions having any verifiable merit. Why do Christian leaders cherry-pick parts of the Bible they want to preach on? How about the parts that do say slavery is acceptable practice and that women are, indeed, little more than property belonging to men? How about the parts that say it's OK to start war with someone who doesn't agree with you and if you should win, you have the right to enslaven his people? Religion is a sick, mindless excuse for SIN. How about THINKING FOR YOURSELVES for a change?? A god who supposedly espouses love but insists I believe in him even though he refuses to do so little as prove his existence to me is arrogant, self-centered and not worthy of my attention.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • yuri pelham

      God is OK. It's people who suck.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Marcus367

      HHHMMMM !!! Sounds like you are gay?? Don't worry? I'll put in a good word for you so you get accepted to the clinic.

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

      Way off base. Thank God for direction and purpose in our lives! The fact you are fighting so hard to deny God is proof He is a real force to contend with today. The communists and socialists fight against God to this day because they know the freedom God offers undermines their mind control and dependency on the state for your well being

      July 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Derek G

      Sounds like someone is full of misguided emotions

      July 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Bob from Pittsburgh

      Well said...

      July 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • capiers

      Nail on the head!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Stevie7

      "The fact you are fighting so hard to deny God is proof He is a real force"

      I also deny Santa. Is that proof that Santa is a real force?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • capiers

      Religion is a sham... Respecting and appreciating what created life as we know it what is important. It's too bad folks on here are so brain washed. Religion doesn't make powerful succesful countries.. people do. And as we are seeing today they can also destroy them; encourage by religion.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'The fact you are fighting so hard to deny God is proof He is a real force to contend with today'

      So claiming there is no god is proof that god exists?

      'The communists and socialists fight against God to this day because they know the freedom God offers undermines their mind control and dependency on the state for your well being'
      lol, communists and socialists huh?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  19. jdog

    he's gay and there's nothing wrong with that

    July 18, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  20. Their hoping for gay marriage dollars

    They know they have been on the wrong side of the issue and are suddenly cool to it. Hypocrites!!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Honey, AvdBerg is at the door again.

      They're hoping for what ?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
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About this blog

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.