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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. QS

    "Let us know when you want a serious discussion. For now, get off the Christains and those who are willing to stand up to the socialist/communist in this country founded upon Christain and Bibical beliefs."

    LMAO!! You make a statement like that and claim you want a serious discussion! It's like trying to talk to a person in a psychiatric ward, who has hallucinations and believes unseen people are talking to him, about the merits of rationality!

    July 18, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • steve

      too bad this nutcase can't just "pray away her stupidity". i hope she destroys the republican party. When will they realize that the TeaVangelist should be a third party since they are way too radical for either of the existing ones.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  2. Lindsey Graham in SC

    Who is that attractive gentleman she is sitting with?

    July 18, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  3. Amunaka

    Funny CNN ..if I already said that ...where is it ....

    July 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  4. MrPragmatic

    Look, it's pretty clear Marcus Bachmann himself is gay. So isn't it just all too convenient that the right would start to cool on its hatred of gay folks right about the time it becomes known that the husband of the GOP's latest sweetheart is gay? This is no mere coincidence, folks.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Miffed

      Your stupid.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • MrPragmatic

      Miffed – that was a well thought out response. It was succint and simple to grasp. Did you have to write a few rough drafts before you came up with that? And did your mom help you with spelling and punctuation? Now that you've proffered a rebuttal can you suport your position?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Miffed's Mom

      Honey, I told you to take the garbage out more than an hour ago. We talked about how you wouldn't spend the summer sitting around. Now stop typing with one hand in your pants, and get your chores done.

      July 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • MrPragmatic

      Yeah, that's what I thought. Plenty of guts and energy to call people names, and no brainpower or spine to back it up or form a logical, rational response. Miffed – close your Bible, turn off Fox "News" and pick up a newspaper or spend some time in a library.

      July 18, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • MrPragmatic

      Also, Miffed, next time you want to call me stupid, it's not "your stupid." It's "you're stupid." That's what we call a contraction in the English language. The word "you're" is the contracted form of the words "you are." See how that works? Pretty cool, huh? If you understand this fundamental, maybe we can move on to prepositional phrases tomorrow. (Tomorrow is the day after today, OK?)

      July 18, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  5. jdog

    So Michelle.......you 'married into the lifestyle' then?

    July 18, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  6. person

    I am sick of how cnn thinks "Christian" is some political play over.
    Im sorry, but just because miss random bachmann is a "professed" christian, then she represents all christians,
    im soo sick of cnn. Worthless news guaranteed,
    Nothing better than a group of blasphemous hippy moderate junky know it alls categorically organizing our countries beliefs into devices for political media attention mechanisms.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • QS

      "organizing our countries beliefs into devices for political media attention mechanisms."

      Oh, you mean like religious groups asking politicians to sign their "pledge"? I'm happy to be the one to break it to you, but it's not the media doing what you suggest...it's the religion corporation that's putting itself out there as a political organization.

      If you're sick of seeing beliefs used as some kind of political "play over" then perhaps you should start insisting that religious beliefs be kept out of politics altogether...including your own.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • MrPragmatic

      Do you have any idea at all what you just said, because none of out here in the real world do.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • hippy moderate junky know it all

      ....wut?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Bob Bobberson

      First of all, it's "country's", not "countries", unless you are talking about multiple countries.

      Secondly, your belief is NOT the country's belief, as much as you wish to impose your fascism on others while calling it "freedom". If you want to worship a made up man in the sky, that's your prerogative, the rest of us choose not to, so why are you trying to force us to do so? If you truly had faith, then you wouldn't force others to practice your faith because your faith alone should be enough. But you, much like the Saudis, obviously have very little actual faith and instead of questioning your doubts, you figure you can hide them by forcing us to be as miserable as you are. You are the worst kind of believer, a believer who has 0 confidence in what they believe.

      July 18, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • person

      first off, the replys to my comment. are just rediculous. spelling correction? really? wow i should feel soo childish.
      theres soo much wrong with not only the process in which people process christianity, but with how people treat each other.
      where did i impose my religion on anyone else? seriously?
      just a bunch of testosterone monkeys trolling philosophical and grammar related fop-as.

      July 18, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • News Flash

      The problem is she's NOT some random bachmann. She is leading the polls in Iowa, and that is a very disturbing thing.

      July 18, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  7. Chuck

    How come we have never heard from any of the 20 something foster kids these two have had. You would think one would come out in support of her campaign. Not that great of parents?

    July 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Patrick

      Oh my God. You're saying they couldn't reproduce NATURALLY???

      July 18, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • WhereRtheRealPeople

      Do you want anyone to start talking to the Obama kids? What stories they could tell. I mean, the would tell us that daddy smokes, eats fast foods and calls the Rev Wright ever Sunday to confirm his beliefs. Ask him if he is being a good socialist and ruining this country like he talk him for 20 years. Wasn't listening- what a load of bull.

      July 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • MrPragmatic

      WhereRtheRealPeople – do you have to take a special medication to learn to hate like that or is it just your thorazine running low?

      July 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  8. Adam

    Eve- I am divorcing you, I am marrying steve in NY

    July 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Eve

      Good luck Adam, find your true self and be freeee,
      oh btw, the atheist in this blog say you are very welcome!!! just don't confuse them like the way you confused me.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Patrick

      Wow, imagine if it was 1967 and you were trying to marry Shaniqua. That would be much worse.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  9. Patrick

    They'd both make great contestants on RuPaul's Drag U.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  10. NW1000

    Therapy? What therapy? Whatever happened to a good old fashioned born again experience where the Holy Spirit cleanses one from their sins, be they whatever, and the person's live changes forever? We have exchanged the life changing power of God for the swill of the psychiatrist; the forgiveness of sins for the couch of the witch doctor; it is no wonder the Church is so powerless in the face of such sin, it has forsaken it's Lord and His truth.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Patrick

      Sorry, but if that had ever happened once and turned a gay person straight, they could easily prove it in a lab test. But in the decades that we've had that technology available and affordable, it hasn't happened once. In fact, no one has even been able to show that they changed from gay to bi$exual.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Patrick

      But if you have some way to logically show that though someone is attracted to the same gender and has no attraction to the opposite gender, and yet they've been born again as a hetero$exual, I'm all ears.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Kyle

      I prayed to God to let me be born again as a dinosaur. I'm still not a velociraptor...

      July 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Sam

      NW1000: You seem to have no idea how out of touch you are. Psychiatrists are infinitely more successful in helping people than a god. They teach a person the skills they need to handle life, not false hope. Not that it matters in this case. Anyone who doesn't understand that being gay is a natural, born-that-way characteristic, is quite uneducated these days.

      July 18, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  11. Murray

    ......."Pastors need not compromise their convictions, but they can expect congregants to call for a more accepting, forgiving message – a more Christian message" Funny how the ordinary people are dragging their church leaders at least into the 20th century.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Sam

      Agreed. The majority of sensible thinking people will eventually overrule the old closed-minded idiots. To me, it's amazing that the Catholic church still exists. Most of its flock disagree with so many of its teachings.

      July 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  12. Milton

    I think gay men like Marcus Bachmann, Ted Haggard, and Lindsey Graham have the right to stay as deeply in the closet as they choose. The problem is the anti-gay positions that they hold. You can ruin your own life by denying who you are, but why prevent other proud gay men from being happy?

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

      And, I would add, why kill gay teens and young adults putting them in an impossible situation with your ridiculous beliefs? They have blood on their hands.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  13. Satan

    Hi Guise, I'm thinking about giving up earning a profit in the name of God– are there any classes I could take?

    July 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  14. Chrisg

    This is what happens when you vote these Extremist Right Wing redligious Teapublicans into office, and you would be a BIGGER FOOL if you vote for them again

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

      Fool me once shame on .... shame on you... fool my twice... eh..... eh... who want's to invade a country!?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Chrisg

      satan......no one believes in you. sooooooooooo you dont exist

      July 18, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  15. Joshua

    My opinion is that we should listen towhat the bible says we should do and if u felt as God for forgiveness in the name of jesus and to stay away from it read the bible daily. God says gay wont enter heaven God doesnt lie. So lets listen and fight satan with christ everyday in our hearts. Good luck give your sould to jesus work for him and he will decide your future stay away from temptation with prayrrs and from false priests. Follow the Biblr only.

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

      God – can manipulate the very fabric of time, space, and existence. Allows Lucifer to betray him and exist.

      Satan – Is evil, but punishes the evil.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      Yeah, not the mindset we should have when we share a tiny planet with billions of other people.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • chris

      Yeah, Jesus also railed against the hypocrites and detailed that it would be very difficult for a rich man to get into heaven....but you don't see right wingers like yourself wanting to ban those things.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • James

      Apparently your God is the kind of Father who would create children with the known intent of abandoning them forever. My Jesus did not come from a father like that! What does Jesus have to say about such an important topic?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Patrick

      God also says:

      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.

      God doesn't lie. Just don't beat your slave so bad they can't get up off the ground later today or tomorrow.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Ally

      @Joshua ... it cracks me up when I read these posts and the most religous, "Holier than thou", Bible lovers are the ones with the worst grammar. Joshua, your post is comical at best. Don't preach about a God who is intolerant of the children he created. Maybe you should actually read the Bible instead taking small bits of it out of context. No where in the Bible does it say gays won't enter heaven. I'm hoping there are gay men in heaven... they'll make the place look FABULOUS and FIERCE.

      July 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Jan

      Joshua, I'll bet your god would really appreciate it if you learned how to write before trying to share his word. Your illiteracy just makes him look bad.

      July 18, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  16. Jason B.

    Wait a minute...Christians should practice the love they preach instead of the hate and intolerance they show now? They should accept people for who they are? Wow...what wild concepts!

    July 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Burstbubble

      Have you traveled a broad? Is the world flat? Are there monkeys in South America? Are there plants we haven't discovered yet? Are they all in a catalog somewhere? What is to be discovered next?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  17. bachmanntwit

    Here in the Bachmann household we just throw our dirty buttplugs in the dishwasher along with the pots and pans.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  18. RUsurprised-yet

    Hey all you gays and libs and DEMS, are you voting for Mr. Obama in 2012? Not sure why, he goes to church, claims to be a Christian and prays to GOD for direction and understanding on how best to serve the people of this country. Does this make all of you a hypocrite now?

    July 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Really?

      Are you implying all Libs and Dems are nonreligious? Intelligent response.......

      July 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Colin

      Will hypocrites burn in hell, RUSurprised?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Patrick

      The United Church of Christ, Unitarians, Unity Churches, MCC, Episcopols, Anglicans, about half the Lutherans and many of the more progressive Presbyterians and Methodists would like to be able to practice their Freedom of Religion and marry gays and lesbians in their churches.

      You didn't know???

      July 18, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      He's the lesser of two evils.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Toprock

      For reference regarding your comment, please see 'Bush, George.' Why don't you head on back to Westboro where you belong?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • IzHeFoRealz?

      RUsurprized-yet?
      Nope, your still a moron!

      July 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • RUsurprised-yet

      Stop banging your drums then. You hit first. Slap my face, I turn and let you slap the other side. You claim to hate bullies, yet you are the perfect picture of one. But know this, we speak turth. You tell lies. Only GOD can judge a heart. Yours, Obama, and those churches. Let us know when you want a serious discussion. For now, get off the Christains and those who are willing to stand up to the socialist/communist in this country founded upon Christain and Bibical beliefs. Need to fight, join the ARMY. They accept gays openly now. If you like European countries so much, get a passport, visa, plane ticket and MOVE there. We can do just fine without you. Watch us.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • sam

      Bring the s'mores, kids, we're going to hell.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Kudos

      @RUsurprised-yet, Kudos to you!!!!.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Really?

      RUsurprised-yet, you can add parts of the Catholic church to your list then as well. Last I knew people fled to the Americas to escape religious persecution. Your understanding of history is lacking in many areas based upon what i've read from your posts. Maybe some further education would be useful. Further, why don't you find an island because your group is a minority. Do not claim something was founded based upon your beliefs when it wasn't.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Steve

      Not really. It's impossible to have a candidate anymore that does not pander to the religious right, even if they do it cynically.
      I don't mind if religious groups want to participate in politics – as long as they pay taxes on their income and land. Otherwise, they should stay the heck out of the process.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Clay Dowling

      You really want to beat that drum? There are plenty of left-leaning people of faith in the world, starting with the Savior himself. I'm pretty certain i can vote a liberal ballot and not jeopardize my immortal soul. You should check out the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 25, verses 40-41 if you doubt me.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • QS

      "Let us know when you want a serious discussion. For now, get off the Christains and those who are willing to stand up to the socialist/communist in this country founded upon Christain and Bibical beliefs."

      LMAO!! You make a statement like that and claim you want a serious discussion! It's like trying to talk to a person in a psychiatric ward, who has hallucinations and believes unseen people are talking to him, about the merits of rationality!

      July 18, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • abear

      I wish you morons would actually learn some history once in a while, or at least read the responses to your completely unoriginal and incorrect statements. The United States was not founded on christian or biblical beliefs. Many of the Founding Fathers were not religious, many were Deist, few were what would be recognized as christians today. This country was founded on democratic principles and the beginnings of ideas of equality.
      And voting for Obama doesn't make us hypocrites. You see, I would gladly vote for a president who doesn't rely on some imaginary friend to tell him what to do, but Obama is a much better choice than any of the GOP. I would prefer to be able to finish college before having to flee the country for fear of the crazies who would be in office. And as Obama does depend on his advisors instead of any voices inside his head, he'll do well enough for now.
      Lastly, if god is going to judge us after we die (assuming we don't just decay as science and any rational thought would indicate we do) which god? Jehovah? Allah? Vishna? Thor? Zues?

      July 18, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Chrisg

      @Usurprised-yet I just spoke to God and he said you are full of crap......He also wants you to stop using his name to spread your lies.

      July 18, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  19. jdog

    you got to hand it to her and her faith, after all she's really trying to make it "stick and take hold" with marcus

    July 18, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  20. CN

    what a laugh. in five years, watch as christian authorities issue an apology for their appalling behavior towards ho mo se xuals, and codifying ho mo phobia. the mormon church will conveniently get another "revelation" and will be embarrassed about proposition 8. thoroughly demonstrating the man-made nature of religion. too bad hundreds, if not thousands of lives had to be negated and destroyed before they admit the truth. there will never be enough apology or expiation for all the damage they have done and lives ruined. america should be ashamed that we're even entertaining the thought of putting this bigot into office.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • waylaid88

      ...and history repeats itself yet once again.

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

      Hypothetically, if it were discovered that ho mo phobia isn't a choice, that it's a primal response rooted deep in their genetic code, would it then become acceptable and something society should embrace?

      How many people "choose" their phobias? You can't judge people for something they didn't choose, right?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • tommas

      @Thatguy, people aren't voting on the legality of spiders (something that is also beneficial to humans, but people still fear).

      July 18, 2011 at 3:37 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.