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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. NotsoEasy

    Is violence a choice? Is h8 a choice? Is being a ped-ofile a choice? Is muurder a choice?

    July 18, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Colin

      Is being stupid a choice, is a grass roots ignorance of science a choice, is being a simpleton christian who looks to one antiquated book for everything a choice?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • MD/PhD

      Most evidence suggest that pedophilia is not a choice, but a s-exuality. Regardless, se-xually abusing children is still just as wrong, but be more careful before blindly stating things without doing a little internet research of your own (Google is your friend).

      July 18, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Adam & Eve = Incest

      Is being left handed or Blue Eyed a choice ??
      Morons who keep using the same stupid arguments
      that always fail.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • NotsoEasy

      Yes, there are many choices. All have consequences both good and bad. People choose to hurrt others, people choose to steal, people choose to be selfish. I think it is your reference of what is right vs. wrong. However, name calling and ad hominem arguments don't really work.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • NotsoEasy

      The issue is actions. eye color is not an action. A typical response that people have when they are told they are doing something wrong is to get defensive, that is what happens when people are faced with sin.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • NotsoEasy

      MD/Phd, your comment suggest that one of the parties is not consenting, that is raape. If both were consenting, would it be ok? What about incest? You cannot control who you are attracted to (that's the argument) why is this not ok for people? Yes, I still feel that is wrong, but the point is the same (consenting individuals)

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

    There is no air, there is no wind, there is no heat, there is no cold, there is no gravity, let's see, that else is there that we can't see, O'yes there is no God, Does that cover it all? Maybe not, but that's enough.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Adam & Eve = Incest

      WRONG.

      We can prove Air, wind, heat, cold & Gravity.
      No proof of god.
      NONE !!!!!

      July 18, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  3. TRH

    Two consenting adults have a right to love each other...they don't need to be "saved" from their "sinful" ways by a god that was created by Man in the first place.

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

    I'm confused as to why this isn't considered malpractice. In any other field of medicine this type of behavior would be grounds for a lawsuit.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  5. Corksoaker

    This message has been brought to you by Science. Proving your "holy books" wrong for centuries.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  6. jdog

    he knows he is, we ALL know he is, regardless of any simple-minded Jedi mind tricks he may attempt to 'think' himself otherwise...

    July 18, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  7. mouse

    Just for clarity tell me again, who did god call???? Bachmann or Palin??? I mean he seems to change his mind faster than us humans.....

    July 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  8. Shannon S.

    How about conversion therapy for the insanely ignorant??

    July 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  9. 2zerofix

    The article assumes that is because of new scientific studies that Christian groups have cooled to the idea of conversion therapy, but creationism proves that Christians don't believe in science.

    Conservative Christians downplaying this now is an attempt to gain more political power to promote their backwards agenda from a bigger pulpit.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  10. join em

    Guys, the Atheists accepts us, lets join em and make merry!

    July 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Be free

      Get rid of the shackles / religion and be free.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • RUsurpriesed

      Hell will be full of "free willed" people. Careful what kind of freedom you are offering.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Colin

      Ignore RUSurprised. He just barks out his "behave or burn" post to everything he does not agree with. Don"t believe in his god- you'll burn in hell; don't agree with his view on gays- you'll burn in hell; don't show enough respect for Christian theology – you'll burn in hell. bla, bla, bla.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      Since there is no hell i'm not actually worried.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  11. AnnieM

    Religion and religionists have that wonderful ability to change the rules everytime they feel it will personally benefit them – kind of like politicians...

    July 18, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • melvinslizard

      I don't believe in Politics...

      July 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  12. Logic

    What i want to know, is why can't certain religious groups(it is not ALL religious folks, there are plenty of good religious people out there), just let people live their lives. You can try to convert them but if they don't want it, LEAVE THEM ALONE. You aren't god, you can't control people, force them to your way. That's not very christian like don't you think? This extends to all people though, leave people alone to do whatever they want so long as they are not hurting anyone, and they aren't.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  13. Todd

    As a gay man, and a practicing EPISCOPALIAN (therefore a christian) please stop referring to these fundamentalists as Christains. Say what they are, fundamentalist evangelical "christians". The fact of the matter is this, most if not all menbers of mainline denominations disagree with people such as the Bachmans and find it offensive that they are even identified with Christianity.

    Christ did not preach the filth the Bachmans preach, nor did he preach the filth that fundamentalists hold dear. Please refer to these people as exactly what they are, FUNDAMENTALIST "christians" and stop associating the rest of us with them.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • athist

      The Devil is Dancing!

      July 18, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • RUsurpriesed

      Todd, being in a church nor more makes you a Christian, than standing in your garage makes you a car. I come from the same church background as you. Not until I read my bible and really listened to GOD's message on SIN and FOREGIVENESS, and why JESUS could be the only way, did I start to understand HIS message. Your church had fallen from grace, when they decided to be politically correct instead of following what the BIBLE teaches. They have fail to teach the turth. Go back and start reading the BIBLE for yourself. GOD can help you in understanding where you ate wrong. And that is the best part of HIS grace and mercy. HE makes things clear and can renew you.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • athist

      It is a lifestyle created as an act of Rebellion!

      July 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      Yes, please read your bible, we get more atheists that way.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • sam

      Today's misguided comedy relief is brought to you by RUsurpriesed, who thinks you ate wrong.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Colin

      OK RUSurprised – time to tell someone they will burn in hell. It's been five minutes.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • melvinslizard

      ...what he ate wrong?? Inuendo, anyone? Think it was a typo? I doubt it...

      July 18, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  14. Patricia

    Two loons find each other and set out to convert everyone else to be loons. She has her sights set on the presidency in hopes of becoming the next Jim Jones story on a much more massive scale. Do us all a favor and drink your own juice.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  15. Jesus (Cesar, son of Cleopatra & Julius Ceasar)

    God created Gay people.
    Who are you to question God ???

    Wanna know what i think is funny ?
    If Jesus did come back today, looking like he did when he died,
    wearing sandles and a robe.
    Long hair and a beard, hanging out in the desert with 12 other men.
    All you so called "Christians" would be screaming that he was gay.
    Christians are pathetic.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • fundies

      Christianity is gay.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • neoritter

      So let me get your logic correctly, using a hypothetical description of Jesus (because no one knows what he really looked like) you essentially straw man Christians into a corner and then call them pathetic. Sound about right?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  16. fundies

    Please don't let them convert hot lesbians.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • bachmanntwit

      I'd like to see Michele do a little biscuit bumping with Sarah Palin.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  17. JJ

    Oh, lookit, the Bachmann's are channeling Yosemite Sam... "RETREAT!! RETREEEEEAAATTTTT!!!" And doing the mad back-pedaling thing too. 🙂

    July 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  18. SecularLeft Pinhead

    Since BHO (Obama for those in Rio Linda) has the goal of making the U.S. more like Europe, why don't we just buy Barry & Michelle-my-belle a home in Greece? They could move now and save the U.S. taxpayer millions, well maybe billions.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Pope Scott

      Get the F out of here.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • sam

      Try posting something relevant to the article. And deviate a little from the same boring, juvenile rhetoric you've been touting on every board.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  19. Realist

    I know a lot of Christians and none of them are as far out there as these two.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  20. justathought

    Gays annd lesbiens can chose that lifestyle if they wish, but no mater how it is argued, it is not natural, there is something wrong with the picture, it takes a male and female to reproduce and fortunately, humans are among the very few biological creatures that can enjoy copulation without the need of a estrogin cycle. (In fact, I don't know if there are any other creatures that enjoy copulation just for the pleasure of it) I wonder, how did that happen

    July 18, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Mike

      Then the same standards need to also be applied to Straights. According to the bible... anyone who divorces and remarries... is still committing adultery. So straight people need to start choozing a better lifestyle in which most don't end up as adulterers. This comes from the mouths of Jesus and his deciple Paul. If you're going to spout lies that being gay is a choice, which it isn't... then you need to accept that all adults who get divorces and remarry... are not moral compasses of the world... but are actually ADULTERERS!.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • TC

      Mike- you are absolutley correct – all these people that divorced and remarried others becasuse they got tired of their spouse and found another more intersting – yep, they will have plenty to answer for as well.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090616122106.htm

      Not "natural" ?
      Same se'x behavior is as natural as breathing and is engaged in by members of every specie on the planet.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Tim

      We do accept that as adultery...unless a Bible approved reason for divorce.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Blake

      It might not be "natural" to you, but it is to them and in every species. What is not natural is for a gay man to be attracted to a female or for a lesbian to be attracted to a male. If it wasn't "natural" then it would not exist.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Joshua the Agnostic

      I guess down syndrome isn't natural because it's only found in humans. Maybe we shouldn't let them get married. BTW: When Christians use the term mother nature, they have no idea they are talking about a Greek Goddess named Gaia.

      July 18, 2011 at 4:27 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.