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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. Dan

    Funy how when someone someone like Lidsay Lohan or Ann Heche, who previously had no attraction to members of the same se-x, announce that they are in a a gay relationship, the gay community comes out with joyful proclamations of how "fluid" human se-xuality is and how nobody is "locked in." Yet, if a gay man claims that he has come to appreciate the beauty and se-xuality of women, those very people denounce him as a liar. Go figure.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • rs

      There is a huge difference. When they come out they don't say that they CHANGED their orientation but they say that they had to hide it

      July 18, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • tommas

      Only idiots think of the world in absolutes

      July 18, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Geoz

      I think it is funny how you can see how accepting one community is and how the xtian community is not.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Kim

      You are confusing making a choice with a form of 'therapy' that has been proven to be, at best, a waste of time and at worst a form of torture.

      If a man, who formerly was in relationships with men, decides to be in a relationship with a woman, that is fine. On the other hand many of those 'selected' for conversion therapy were teenagers or young adults who did so because of family pressure not of their own free will. That is what is being opposed.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  2. MichelleBachman

    My husband gives great head! To me!

    July 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Marcus Bachmann

      Michele, you have a big penis !!!

      July 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • MichelleBachman

      Why thank you honey!

      July 18, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  3. Gingeet

    “We have spoken carelessly and unknowledgeably in the past..."
    Really? I would have never known!
    You would think that by now they will just realize that whatever they talk about is complete gibberish!

    Let's just face it guys and girls, whatever the evangelicals think is wrong.

    The best part of their delusion is, Not only do they promote the existence of a supernatural being as a fact but they claim to know the will of this mysterious being as well.

    Maybe we should start looking into "Therapy" for the religious because we know it is mental issue. I think a semester or two of Critical Thinking might be the cure!

    July 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Colin

      Hear, hear!!

      July 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Joxer the Mighty

      You have to laugh at the hypocrisy of atheists. They always complain that the religious folk should stop trying to convert people and then they go on and on about how stupid faith in God is and that everyone should be atheists.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Gingeet

      @ Joxer the Mighty
      Yeah Joxer, you figured it out! We all want you to be Atheists!

      As if that is some religion... give me a break. Buddy you were born an atheist before someone started filling your head with these insane thoughts. And for some reason, you never questioned them.

      No, What I want you to do is get a glove and a clue and get in the game! In other words what I want people to do is to start using their brains and stop perpetuating myths and pseudo science as if it is fact!

      The downfall of our country is primarily based/due the lack of education and critical thinking skills that we as a country possess.

      Believing in mythical creatures is not a base for nurturing a healthy mind. Give me a break!

      July 18, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  4. Esther

    i type this post not to judge but to inform. What is a congruence approach? As a Christian, the congruence approach should be considered ignorant and seen as compromising the teaching of Jesus Christ. Read Leviticus 18 (in full), particularly verse 22. Teach the incorruptible word of Jesus Christ and you people will see change in their life.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • tommas

      "Read Leviticus 18"..... why don't you create your life philosophy off of more than one book.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Patrick

      Exodus 21: 20 “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, 21 but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.

      Yeah, great stuff.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Patrick

      Oh I should have also mentioned that my post wasn't to judge but to inform...

      July 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Ray

      leviticus also told us that women should shut up and that no one should sit on the same couch/chair as a menstrating woman.

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

      Esther – When's the last time you sacrificed a small aninal after you had your period? My neighbor's annoying Phoo Phoo dog is available for slaughter.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Geoz

      If Jesus words are incorruptible, then you must be willing to stand behind all of the various people claiming to voice Jesus' words. So... Harold Camping, Hitler, Charles Manson. They are all on YOUR team. Good luck with that incorruptible thing.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • ComeAndGo

      Patrick – But if a man beats his meat, he's more likely to come than go.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Joxer the Mighty

      "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments." Mathew 22:36-40

      Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8

      Stop cherry picking the old testament and start doing what Jesus really taught. Maybe people would be more receptive to the message of Jesus if Christians stopped condemning and started loving.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Esther dear.
      Their "ain't no" incorruptible anything. It IS corrupted already. What you have are translations of translations of translations. So much for the anti-congruence thingy. Which translation did you buy ?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  5. Jerry Senzee

    Yup , he looks looks light-hearted and gay to me. A lot more gay than light-hearted though. Bet she was wishing now she had made him stay away. As looney as she is , she didn.t need this. Weird.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  6. Patrick

    Mr. Bachman could make quite the First Lady.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Gingeet

      Nice!

      July 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  7. Ebon

    A bat.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  8. Horus

    God doesn't exist. I pity the people who don't grasp the freedom to live their own life. The fact these people continually impinge upon the abilities of others to do the same is the reason they must be actively opposed.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • harryfink

      that's exactly the reason you must be opposed.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • tommas

      Agreed, if they weren't active you would not see so many active atheists... Its that simple

      July 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  9. Mark

    I didn't know that we were a Theocracy here in the U.S., embracing and accepting only one religion.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Patrick

      That's another one of the fantasies they teach in their mythology schools.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  10. lance corporal

    not that there's anything wrong with it but mr bachmann is gay, he can fight it all he wants but no one that fem is straight in his heart

    July 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  11. HeReallyModComeON

    This is what was preached. Man would feel he is superior to God. He would make his own law. He would fall his law above that of God's. He would use false arguments as and excuse not to follow the rules God set forth. But you may fool the guy next door, the guy in the mirror, but you cannot fool the man up stairs. Live your life as you see fit but know you will be held to account for the choices you make. I sure hope CNN is available to you on judgement day. I never would say I am ready, but I will never change the bible for my own selfish ends.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Ray

      CNN WAS there on judgement day...it didn't come....was re-scheduled.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Ooops

      The bible was written by men just like you and your neighbor. Would you blindly follow anything that the two of you wrote in a book?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • tommas

      Being that ones eternal soul is a stake: what version, translation of the bible? better yet, do only the books that a man selected count and not the dozens of other books that were just kept out?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Scousegit

      You claim that " I will never change the bible for my own selfish ends." Which is not true unless your bible is in the original Hebrew, or ancient Greek. If your bible is in English then it has already been changed to suit the selfish needs of people who don't feel that their holy scripture deserves the time taken to learn the original language. How can you be sure the translation was 100% accurate?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • HeReallyModComeON

      I said I never changed the bible. And sure man has fallen short many times. And we can pretend the bible has flipped flopped greatly from what it once was. It really has not changed very much except it forgave things unforgiven in the version that came before the birth of Christ. But that is neither here no there. I am not the person you need to take the debate up with. I do not make one single law of God. You can say I am wrong in my interpretation but I promise you I read it in a way that has me not in line with God also. I surely have not read the bible in a way that makes my signs favorable. And I surly have not read it in a way that absolved me of the sin all together. Because that freedom from sin cannot be granted unless you repent, and in my view must be forgiven by God the father or the son of man Jesus.

      July 18, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  12. Chad Parker

    To all the young Christians: I would not call unequivocal acceptance a more Christian message. Christians have always accepted the sinner without accepting the sin. We are all in this together, children of God, but also natural men with tendencies to sin. Becoming a Christian means we can become a new person in Christ (and put off former sins) and help others to change as well. Only our Exemplar, Jesus, can truly change us. But while He can save us from our sin, he cannot save us in our sins. It is a disservice to others to justify that others can remain in sin, claiming it is their original nature to do so, but denying them the potential of a more perfect way that you yourself strive for. Don't let these wonderful souls deny themselves the happiness of overcoming the natural man. Accept the sinner, but don't do them the discourtesy of accepting the sin, damning them when you thought you were sparing them.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • AvdBerg

      For a better understanding what it means to be a sinner we invite you to read the articles “What is Sin?” and “Victory over Sin” listed on our website. You can locate it by entering “a world deceived” on Google. It is easy to find as it has been the number one listing for the last five years out of more than 10 million listings. All of the other pages and articles on our website explain how this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9 and the Bible is true. It is the discerner of every thought and the intent of the heart (Hebrews 5:12).

      July 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Debbie Thurman

      A thoughtful Christian response, Chad. Thanks.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Honey, AvdBerg is at the door again.

      Thank you Debbie. See payroll on the way out.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  13. scott

    If you will notice, it is the client going to therapy. No one is making them go the therapy. CNN belief blog is all hate and political motivated to the left. If it was about someone else or a democratic leader for office not one article would be written about it.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Geoz

      which would be fine, if it were a real therapy. But it is all snake oil.
      If you go to therapy and say ... instead of a person, I want to be aardvark, then the therapist would need to work on acceptance of who you are. The same is true here. To offer a change to being straight is a lie... and NOT therapy. These quacks should lose their license.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Patrick

      @Geoz – Well said.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  14. Ludwig

    "Each new generation rejects their parent's att.itudes as being out of date for modern society. When will they finally realize that the generational drift extends all the way back to the ancestors who wrote the Bible?"

    I love this statement from Free. I mean what kind of perfect, compassionate, loving God gets jealous, repents, and kills his own "subjects"? Well... take note that it doesn't work that way as the Bible progresses from old testament to new. It all depends on who's writing and what the culture is in the generation it is written. Everyone should at least use their brains and consider this fact – not merely ignore it in blind so-called faith.

    http://bonbonquest.blogspot.com/

    July 18, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  15. lance corporal

    is there a therapy that will change christians in to normal decent thinking human beings???

    July 18, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Ooops

      Now "that" would be worth starting a franchise with. Can you imagine the $$'s?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  16. fundies

    i keep hearing the banjo song from Deliverance in this forum.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • MichelleBachman

      When the people elect me president, I will have dueling banjos as my inaguration song.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  17. bdgfn

    So what's next, therapy to change left-handed people to be right-handed? To change blue-eyed people to be brown-eyed?

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

      Interesting enough, there have been numerous reported cases in which forcing left dominant persons to use their right hand dominantly has caused impairments in motor function, reading, and bladder control.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Chris

      Actually, years ago when my brother went to catholic school the nuns used to slap his hands with a ruler if he used his left hand instead of his right when writing.
      So, to answer your question, it's already been done.
      Not sure the extent of it, if it was just a parish choice or even if it's still done today(I imagine in some parts of the country it is). Needless to say, my brother is still very much left handed, so it didn't work too well.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Fred

      What's next is surgery. That is artificially changing a man to a woman, and a woman to a man.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  18. JoTan

    In the end, there is but one truth. If the Bible is God's word, then self-gratification in this life isn't the goal and all the rationalization in the world isn't going to make your contrary belief right. Jesus' life was about sacrifice and is the model for true believers.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Jo

      Honey, that is where you have it wrong..... the bible is NOT God's word.

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

      Jo, are you serious. Who told you that lie?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • FatSean

      Jesus was a criminal. What part of illegal don't you understand?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Geoz

      I hope all the xtians get in line first and sacrifice. Then the rest of us can back to normal.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • dale

      And you are delusional.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Ray

      what do you expect from a bunch who think the world is 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs were human's pets! to all those "christians" who want gay people to be celibate, why don't you choose not to eat. it's the same thing

      July 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • wgage

      I live to pursue happiness, not your religious crappolla.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • John

      @RUsurpriesed, Maybe that bad guy that lives where it's really, really hot beneath our feet?

      July 18, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  19. Jo

    Just when we all thought Palen was scary... out jumps this woman out of the closet. What a bunch of sickos...

    July 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  20. nononsense

    “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..."
    Actually, the elephant in the room (and the reason these guys are finally "understanding" the situation) is that repressing one's $exuality can lead to such ends as becoming a "secretly" gay, but very repressed, minister (or owner of Christian therapy center).

    July 18, 2011 at 2:24 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.