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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. TodayMessage

    "We don't ......trying to change someone," Bachmann said

    I bet Bachmann did try to empty someone's wallet

    July 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  2. Vera Waitress

    If I were religious, I would just be mortified at the Christian wackos posting here. I mean, they ruin it for everyone.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • saaly

      yeah, especially for those normal gay people

      July 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  3. Corey

    If you voted for Obama in 2008 to prove you are not a racist, vote for someone else in 2012 to prove you are not an idiot.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Vera Waitress

      And, let's see, you are a respected world leader who was the head of the Harvard Law Review? Post right now, to this board, Corey, how many people YOU have ever managed professionally. I dare you, you little weasel. How many? How many are in your charge? Tell us. We're dying to hear this. We can't wait. Waiting. Waiting. Make it good.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • saaly

      you got that right. obama stinks!

      July 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • standingwave

      I guess that's fair since those who voted McCain/Palin already proved their own idiocy.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Waltham1892

      I'm a Republican, and I voted for Obama because McCain showed poor judgement in picking Palin.

      If the best my Party can come up with in 2012 is Bachmann, Romney, and the others on the fringe, I'm voting for Obama AGAIN.

      I would, however, vote for Huntsman. He, like me, is a moderate.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • lisaspups

      I voted for Obama, not because I wanted to prove that I was not a racist, but because to vote for the alternative of McCain and Palin would have certianly provem me an idiot. And if the current pool of moronic Rebubes are all I have to choose from in 2012, I will vote for him again, just to prove I am NOT an idiot.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Corey

      Vera you cant turn a community organizer into a president no matter how hard you try-they might make it as a waiter, but not the leader of the worlds largest organization. Sweet Vera get a life!!

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

      'Corey – Vera you cant turn a community organizer into a president'
      Really? and why not? what exactly does a community organizer do corey? why is it that apparently that experience is not as valid as other experience?
      i love this whole 'just a community organizer' nonsense that gets thrown around as if its some kind of trump card when in reality it means jack.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Corey

      Cedar Rapids you are right it means jack-that is why you cant turn a community organizer into a pres. Our poor president is doing the best he can, the problem is it is not good enough!! Are you Vera's assistant?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • RTB

      Obama 2014!! Four more years!!!!

      July 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Corey's Mom

      What if you voted for him because you were tired of the Republicans spending more and cutting revenue? Boehner, McConnell, and Cantor all voted 5 times to raise the debt ceiling during Bush II. And yet they insisted the Bush tax cuts remain untouched. Still, they insist increasing taxes will stifle job growth yet they have had 10 years to prove otherwise. So really, who are the idiots?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  4. rico

    Mrs Bachmann needs to start her conversion therapy with her own husband, hasen't she noticed yet what a nelly queen he is???....He is the typical CLOSET gay!

    July 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • RTB

      He is far from the first closeted gay to attack other gays.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  5. Krissie

    Nuns used to beat the lefty out of kids too, but that doesn't mean it was right or necessary to change the way someone is naturally. I just wish people would be happy with themselves as they are and take pride in everything about them that makes them unique, wonderful, and perfect.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  6. Waltham1892

    Strangely, I'm not surprised...

    July 18, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  7. Aaron

    Of course Bachmann is going to downplay stealing people's money with this quackery about conversion. They can't have people realizing that they are total loons.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Mr. Bachman

      I'm still in the closet myself but think I may be able to help others.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  8. Waltham1892

    You got to love Christians who say "we are being intolerate of their views".

    Like the Bill of Rights is trumpted because you imaginary friend has a list of folks he wants you to hate in his name.

    Folks, some of us don't understand what it means to be an American...

    July 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  9. Reddog

    Ok, it is pretty clear that atheists are increasingly in the majority and that religious people are shrinking in number, but, for the reocrd, I was an atheist long before it was cool and smart to be one!!

    July 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • God

      I don't believe you.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Reddog

      To god. That was pretty funny......

      July 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Dan

      An atheist majority? LOL...You think that because you hang out at the blogs where atheists and Christians come to insult each other. Most people believe in God in some form or other.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • saaly

      atheist = gay = anderson cooper

      July 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Richk

      Agnostics are better than Atheists and Theists. You can't prove or disprove.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Vulpes

      Growing in number perhaps ... but not even close to the numbers believers have now.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Honey, AvdBerg is at the door again.

      saaly, you keep posting that. You must be pi'ssed he didn't ask you out. It IS NOT NEWS TO ANTONE.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  10. saaly

    typical idiotic cnn: gay- good, very good. religion- bad very bad

    July 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      How about: tolerance, science good, quackery, hatred bad. That mean anything to you?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • saaly

      of course it does. they're only trying to help gays who seek it out. what's wrong with that.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  11. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    The GOP solution to everything = Make the Old, Sick, Poor, and Gay people into slaves. Then whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, and Straight. Or until they are dead. Then convert them into Soylent Green to feed the military. A self sustaining system.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      Feed the homeless to the hungry – solves 2 problems at once.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  12. Henry Miller

    Maybe the neo-con religious nuts are finally getting it that religious nuttiness repels more people than it attracts. This may be critical in 2012.

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

      gay repels

      July 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Dan

      If you read the Bible, you would know that we already understand that most of humanity is repelled by the Gospel. Jesus implied that muh od humanity would be lost, but that for the sake of those who would listen we should continue to tell them anyway.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  13. sonofgadfly

    So have any heteros who WANT to be gay tried conversion therapy? Surely it must be equally effective in both directions. I think we need to try this out on some Evangelicals - for their own sake.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Dan

      Yes, they're called "prisons." After years in the joint, many perfectly hetero men come out liking s e x with other men. Change is possible!

      July 18, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • d rufus onfyre

      I think it would be pretty effective on Mr. Bachmann. Have you seen and heard him?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  14. Joshua

    I was once a gay man, but am now happily and faithful married to a woman. It is sad that possibility is being taken away from future generations. A sad development for gay people everywhere.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • sonofgadfly

      You are not straight. What you are is repressed. I suggest you let it out before someone gets hurt.

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

      Oh wow. Okay. So when your $exuality emerged in puberty the way it does in all humans, you were originally attracted to males and only males?

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

      Good for you! Always be yourself. You only get one shot at this life so make the most of it.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Patrick

      Please explain exactly what your experience was...how you changed your $exuality. I've got to hear this.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • ML

      you make me sad.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Superchik

      All it means is you've found the person you love. It doesn't mean there was something "wrong" with you before.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Lenny

      It's called 'bi'

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

      Congratulations!! You may still be tested, but it will pass.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • blinky

      sonofgadfly, Saying it's all rigid is what's truly repressed. If somebody were once living gay and is now living straight, what's the problem? Has any thesis come crashing down? Lighten up... it's not so serious anyway.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • stejo

      nothing sad about being gay, except for people like you who feel like there's something wrong with them that needs changing.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      Who do you think you're kidding, "Joshua"? One of the reasons the American Psychological Association condemns "ex-gay" is because they have NEVER been able to find ANYONE who was "changed" more than 2-3 years who wasn't being PAID to make that claim. Please save your nonsense anti-gay propaganda for the websites of the anti-gay hate cults.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Vulpes

      ... And I have plenty of premium swamp land in Florida that is a great buy for the right person. 😉

      July 18, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Dan

      Not one of Joshua's detractors can truly know his experience or what is in his heart.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • RTB

      Either you were never gay or you are not straight.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  15. derwildboy

    Who cares what she changes for political purposes!! She WILL NOT be the next President anyway.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      True, but she might be the GOP nominee. Although, Romney is far ahead in fundraising.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  16. justathought

    What the world lasted long enough untill there were only two straight people left: a man and woman and they had two gay boys? I heard not long ago that there are no other animals dependent upon humans for existance.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Hmm... My dog is pretty dependent. Just saying...

      Cheers!

      July 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Hmm... My dog is pretty dependent. Just saying...'
      dont believe it, he'd eat your body as soon as you start to rot to survive if need be.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  17. jerry

    All signs are pointing to this guy being gay himself... Look for a "rentboy" pic coming soon

    July 18, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  18. saaly

    another gay story. just business as usual at cnn.

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

      Yeah, imagine, another story about the civil rights of a minority! The nerve of CNN!

      July 18, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  19. rs

    We should finally tax the churches. These commercial organizations should pay taxes as everybody else.

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

      I agree ... Some churches need to be taxed ... FIRST should be the ones preaching end of the world false prophecies and making millions of $$$ in the process. I can't believe the goverment or IRS gives these corporations such tax breaks.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • katahdin

      true. Religion is a business that sells an invisible product. It's the perfect scam, because nobody can ever sue their church because they died and didn't go to heavan.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      The federal judge who revoked the 2008 California H8te Vote has in his possession a letter Catholic bishops wrote to Mormon leaders agreeing to hide from public scrutiny and refuse to report their illegal cash and in-kind contributions to the H8te Vote as required by California law. The letter serves as proof they knew by refusing to report these massive contributions they were violating campaign finance laws, as well as the letter itself being an act of criminal collusion. Clearly, THESE "churches" should be required to pay taxes.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • nononsense

      Especially the Mormon church which is so obviously a for-profit business it's not even funny.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  20. petercha

    Sad that we have so much tolerance for sin here in America. I sincerely hope that God has mercy on us and turns us around, because if He rightfully judges us in His wrath, we are in very deep trouble.

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

      oh please. There is a reason you are referred to as a flock. You are a bunch of sheep. Use the brain you have and try and think about how crazy you sound.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Chris VC

      blah blah blah – seriously, ever since the first Christians came together, there's always one that says "you better changes your ways or God's gonna get'cha." Do your life and mind a favor and leave such non-sense behind.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • tribble10

      Yes, you are so right. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster touch us all with his noodley appendage. If that doesn't work, perhaps Odin.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Al

      OH PULEEEZZE Take that religious, delusional crazy and shove it where the sun don't shine! We aren't buying that crazy here any more. You like judging other because it makes YOU feel superior but all you are is a delusional nut job with a fantasy that should get you time in a mental hospital. You'll find plenty of people who are Jesus there!

      July 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Sad that we have so much tolerance for sin here in America.'
      that is true but you cant blame us for tolerating all the hate from the christians, its what we do.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:35 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.