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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. jdog

    I'm an agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac....I lie awake at night wondering if there is a Dog

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

      That is funny!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Well at least your arent a dyslexic devil worshipper who sold his soul to santa.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  2. DJ Wilkins

    wow... typical Christians... lets all jump on the bandwagon!!! wee – todd – did!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  3. Pleo

    I got a better idea. How about conversion therapy for Christians so they stop believing all this nonsense about a magical being that created the Earth and splits seas in half, and all kinds of other Harry Potter like magic nonsense.

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

      yes, christianity and harry potter do have much in common: the cultic fascination with one individual who single-handedly saves the day for all living beings. they're also big, big business.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  4. Steve

    what about conversion therapy for presumptuous christians, who believe in moral supremacy based on their righteous allegiance to a religious myth? seems that would literally do a world-of-good in restoring humanity to a basic degree of sanity, and tolerance, and cooperation-in-peace.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  5. JMM

    The best bumper sticker EVER reads "God, please protect me from your followers" People like Bauchman are nuts and it really shows how low this country has sunk in the last 2-3 decades. The fact that she is even considered a candidate to be the POTUS is a disgrace. People in the heartland of America need to wake up and educate themselves.

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

      Um... we KNOW about this woman. I'm a gay man living in Minneapolis, we are trying to educate YOU about this woman, because we are not the ones on her side. I live in Minneapolis, the gayest city in America, so please don't tell us to educate yourself, we know more than any of you how terrible this woman is.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  6. Darryn Cooke

    Michele Bachmann – the best thing to happen to the Democratic party since Palin. It's a wonder the news agencies give both of them so much play. They are about 2 of the stupidest, ignorant, foolish, backwards individuals I have seen. What's amazing is that hold or did hold positions of power.

    What does that make those that voted for them?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  7. nofoldems

    And we're going to try to put this person in charge of running the country? Is there a church to pray away the stupid?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Ingrid R

      Like

      July 18, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  8. Ron

    reparative therapy has always been a big seller for evangelical Christians. The facts show that some have a success though for most, it never happens and they return to who they honestly are, gay. As a gay man, I realize that some simply do not want to be gay, mostly from their religious upbringing and if they find peace in this, fine but you are who you are and simply wishing it away or praying it away does not work. Being gay is not for the weak in this country!

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

      My wife's cousin is a closeted gay. I asked my wife if he was gay about 15 minutes after meeting him and she said its kind of a family joke that he doesn't come out. His issue is that he is a also a conservative right wing christian, in a family of same, and you can just tell that he is having issues with being that and gay as well.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  9. Dugualla

    I only have one question. Did the conversion therapy work for Mr. Bachmann?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Jesus sez Ya!

      It hasn't seemed to. Every photo of him looks gayer than the last and his voice all but confirms it.

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

      Well, I am pretty darn gay and I don't look a tenth as gay as he does. If you can quantify it in such a manner.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  10. Jennifer

    Mr Bachmann is still gay, its no secret....

    July 18, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  11. Cristine

    Michelle Bachman is a an absolutely fool who lives in the Dark Ages.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  12. Steven

    Gays are less than 5% of this nation and less than .005% of the world .... why is the media so focused on this?

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

      wow, well there's some 'trusty' stats for ya....how'd you wrangle those up exactly?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Steven

      Try something called "The Internet", oh and Public Data. I know, I know – You are gay and believe the number is much higher. (bla, bla, bla) promote, promote, promote.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Chris R

      Probably because it's a major focus of a lot of religious organizations and a big issue for a many 'morals' based voters. Instead of accepting that maybe there are people out there who are gay they are rabidly focused on denying equal rights and protections to a small group of people they don't like. I'd say that's why it's in the media a lot – because quite a number of 'Christians' have made it their issue.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Gays are less than 5% of this nation and less than .005% of the world'
      So you are claiming that the US has a higher ratio of gays in the population that other parts of the world, in fact a 1000 times higher. Care to tell us what the thinking is behind this higher ratio from those places you got the figures from?

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

      Is your source the president of Iran?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  13. Joe

    CNN.. Carrying the water for Obama since the year 2002

    July 18, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  14. Brooks

    Religion has lost its relevance. 100 years ago, it wasn't being gay but it was being left handed which was a direct ticket to hell and there was forced conversion therapy.

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

      WIN!!!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Katie

      It's funny – you fulfill scripture by saying that. The people must kill off God before the end.
      Please keep it up, attempt to write him off – doesn't exist. Not pertinent... keep it going.

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

      My dad is left-handed and only 70. When he was learning to write, his teacher told him that nobody is left-handed, everyone is right-handed. He learned to be ambidextrous because of her, but also still gets angry when he talks about it.

      I never thought about comparing his experience with that to my friends' experiences being gay. It's a brilliant comparison and one that just might resonate with him. I will give it a try.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'It's funny – you fulfill scripture by saying that'
      yay the ever renewing get out of jail free card argument.

      oh did i fulfill scripture then to? i guess i did.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  15. Jhn H

    I am thinking of opening a clinic to help kids who grew up in evangelical, conservative christian families learn how to feel and express those qualities promoted by Jesus Christ, namely love, compassion, not judging others, etc. It's a hard conversion, because you have to learn how not to hate, judge, criticize, and be intensely negative to anyone whose beliefs are different from yours.

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

      ANOTHER CLEAR WIN!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  16. JOE

    So what kind of therapy does Michele Bachmann and her husband offer gays? And does this therapy includes she and her husband making out in bed? I could just imagine what king of horror show that would be. And if someone was born gay, how do you alter their hormones and sensery receptors to make them straight? Let's face it, I believe Ms. Bachmann and her husband and all these so-called christian conservative loonies are the real mental psychos that need therapy and counseling.

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

      Well that is just it... they are not born Gay. (don't believe the excuses... no wants to take any responsibility but look for a way out to do what they want to do) – It is an obvious perversion.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'don't believe the excuses'
      you still on that they chose to be gay c rap? like you chose to be straight?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • GodPot

      @Steven – Well that is just it... they are not born left handed. (don't believe the excuses... no wants to take any responsibility but look for a way out to do what they want to do) – It is an obvious perversion.

      See how silly you sound. What will it take for Christians to believe that people do not catch "the gay", you are not turned gay, just as no one forces you to write with a certain hand (at least not anymore) or to fall in love. It's a feeling, an emotion, an attraction, it has nothing to do with an act which is all you perverted Christian's can think about when you hear the word "gay". Your mind's go right into the gutter completely skipping over the part you focus on most in your own relationships, love, companionship, emotional support and more. You go right to some visual of a train entering a tunnel and you can't see past your own ignorance.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  17. jdog

    CNN why do you have about 10 different ways to comment on a story....????why why why???

    July 18, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  18. RLC

    It's obvious that Bachmans husband is gay , you would have to be blind deaf and dumb not to see that . I'm sick of these religious hypocrites . From the self loathing gay catholic priest's to the gay pastors and Reverends out there it's getting to the point of being funny . The problem is people would rather keep there head in the sand then acknowledge it's happening . If you stand by and let this hypocrisy happen then you to are guilty of bullying , you have blood on your hands when someone commits suicide because of these nuts . I hope I have front row seats on judgement day for these so called Christians who promote such hate .Christ must be appalled !

    July 18, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  19. Theodore

    One of the first advocates of conversion therapy was kicked out of the APA for doing the following;

    1. Locking people going through conversion therapy in closets for hours in a row until they admitted they were straight.

    2. Having those going through conversion therapy ted to a chair and yelled at for hours about how they were sinners.

    3. Purposely selecting only bi individuals for his intervention so that there was a better chance they would suddenly only be attracted to the opposite gender.

    4. Pretending those who had not decided they were straight as a result of his intervention had never actually been selected for the study in the first place.

    5. Choosing not to publish data as to the effects of his intervention after more than a year. Had he published the data it would have shown extremely high suicide rates among intervention participants. It would have also shown the majority of those who had 'converted' identified as gay after more than a year.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  20. ReallyModComeON

    Okay I found the mystery of life. Intelligence are only those who agree with the liberal agenda. The ignorant are all who dare disagree.

    So in summary all in favor of CNN's Gay agenda are intelligent. All of you who thinks they should be more balanced are all IDIOTS.

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

      Just find some basis for your opinion outside of a narrow interpretation of the bible and you'll have a good start.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • GodPot

      If "more balanced" is promoting hate and bashing anyone who doesn't follow lockstep to your little "mein kampf" book the bible then no, we do not need your "balance".

      Back in 1964 do you think they needed "more balanced" coverage of the civil right's act passage? More violent KKK members promoting hate and biggotry? I can't say any media outlet today is fair or balanced, but conervatives are the least balanced banana's in the bunch.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:58 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.