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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. mlc2005

    Let's face it people: Michelle Bachmann's husband is about as straight as Larry Craig. Men who spend so much time focusing on changing gay people or demonizing gay people are clearly hiding something or hating themselves.
    Live and let live!!!!

    July 18, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • helloeyes

      Agreed – class projecting.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • mcore

      Amen to that!

      July 18, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Bill

      Anyone who seriously believes being gay is a choice, has obviously made a choice not to follow their true innate desires. Bachmann married a gay man, period!

      July 18, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • atomD21

      @Bill... The people that believe being gay is a choice are the people who either don't know anyone that's gay or have abandoned the people in their lives that are. Any person that truly knows a gay person realizes that they were born that way.

      July 18, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • Larry Craig

      Hey, not fair...I'm not gay! I'm just a big ol' Bette Midler fan!

      July 18, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  2. albert

    CNN = The Greatest propaganda tool in the world. Unfortunately, they are also the greatest censors.

    July 18, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • mcore

      Hahaha. It's called information. And if it isn't tainted by Murdoch's Faux News you think it's leftist propaganda. Go back to your daily dose of right wing talking points.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • albert

      First off, I am not a republican nor do I visit the Fox news sight. It is you that are so narrow minded to think that everything you read on CNN is true. You are the typical "I believe it so it is truth". You are no better than a make pretend Christian hypocrite!

      July 18, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • heliocracy

      okay albert, perhaps you could explain what the h e l l you're talking about, then? From my point of view, you're attacking the messenger (CNN) precisely because they're not saying what you happen to believe, then condemning others for what you say is the exact same behavior. What am I missing?

      July 18, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • albert

      My problem with CNN is they they censor to make their point. I am not talking about foul language and things like that. CNN has an agenda and they will censor to make their point. Why are they so afraid of other voices or ideas?

      July 18, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • LinCA

      @albert

      If "Your comment is awaiting moderation." it won't ever be posted. There are no moderators, only automated censoring. Your post must have had a forbidden word in it.

      The following words or word fragments will get your post censored (list is incomplete):
      arse
      bastard
      bitch
      cock
      coon
      cum
      cunt
      douche
      effing
      fag
      ftw
      fuck
      homo
      horny
      jackass
      jap
      jism
      kooch
      nipple
      orgy
      pis
      porn
      poo
      prick
      rape
      sex
      shit
      slut
      snatch
      spic
      tit
      twat
      vag
      whore
      wtf

      To fix that you can break up the word by putting an extra character in, like consti.tution (breaking the oh so naughty "tit").

      July 18, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      LinCA
      Hi. Thanks for the list in that form, as now I can use Peace's search thingy, copy and paste them in, at one time, and do them all at once. Very helpful ! 😈

      July 18, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Chris

      CNN is very pro-gay. When is the last time that they did a story on something like Strength in Weakness Ministries (http://www.strengthinweakness.org/) that has successfully helped people break from the gay lifestyle? It does happen. Obviously many of us want to deny it.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Frogist

      @Chris: This is a story on a person who runs a clinic that does the exact same therapy to which you are referring. But I would love if they did a few more articles on the actual workings of some of these "reparative therapy"/intervention places to highlight the sometimes brutal and abusive tactics they use to fix something that is not broken.

      July 19, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  3. Don

    I bet if I try real hard and concentrate heavily I can heal my broken arm too, or maybe change my eye color, or skin color, oh the possibilities are endless with therapy to change ourselves! Such bull puckey.

    July 18, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • frank

      kooch. Hehe.

      July 18, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Chris

      Are you telling people that are gay that they absolutely cannot leave that lifestyle? What would you tell all those that have successfully done so? Are they completely deluded?

      July 19, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • Frogist

      @Chris: I don't know what you mean by "leave that lifestyle", but I know that a person of any gender and orientation can physically have se-x with someone else to whom they are not attracted. A lot of straight people do it all the time. What you cannot change is to whom someone is attracted. And even if you could, why would you want to?

      July 19, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  4. Jean

    It appears that the Bachmann clinics didn't receive the memo.

    July 18, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  5. Excuses

    Bryan: "Christians are the biggest hipocrits"...well ONE left that church..YOU! haha

    July 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Sam

      Christians are SUPPOSED to be hyprocrites, they are following a perfect man and they can never be perfect~

      July 18, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  6. highoneatingbabyjesusanddrinkinghisblood

    fat white men..women painted up like h00kers.....
    .....
    must be a republican function

    July 18, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  7. Sam

    Honestly there should be a section in CNN called "Gay"... since it is on here every week, at least 2-3 times a week on the headline. Another one should be called "Disbelief", and just erase "Belief" altogether, since all I see are articles against any form of religion. *shrug*

    July 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Observer

      CNN just ran a story recently about marital fidelity for heteros. You won't find any Christians on there trashing fellow Christians and quoting the Bible. Nope. they were all here hypocrtically trashing gays.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  8. helloeyes

    Is this all a ploy to get the gay vote???

    July 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  9. SueS

    If everyone would just attend to their own souls and not worry about whether or not God approves of the neighbors, we would have a lot fewer troubles in the world.

    July 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • jb

      Nice comment. Live and let live. Isn't there something about not judging your neighbors in the Bible?

      July 18, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Carmine Monoxide

      How are the devout supposed to only attend to their own souls when God almighty has commended them to go forth and save other souls? Are you encouraging people to ignore such an important mission?

      July 18, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • asrael

      Absolutely: and the Illuminati are behind it all...

      July 18, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • asrael

      Sorry: this was for helloeyes, one post above...

      July 18, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • atomD21

      Sue, you are on the right track. It's not our job to point out others' sins. Jesus' example is largely ignored in the church today. He was more concerned with helping people and doing good, and now, the church is focused on being right and making sure that everyone knows they are.

      July 18, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  10. Excuses

    Heteros Couples who cannot or do not want children have NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS (annul their marriage), this is about someone commenting about the "NATURAL AND UNNATURAL"..........DUH
    WOW..must of hit a nerve, geez, so it's WRONG to say two eggs= no baby?

    July 18, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Observer

      Nope. It's wrong to think that an egg and sperm can only come from heteros. You know, basic biology. Biology isn't in the Bible, nor are other sciences and that may be the cause for ignorance.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  11. Hiawa23

    I am not a believer in religion, so prayer, I certainly believe does nothing. You can't pray away the gay just like you can't make a straight person gay. I think you are born that way, who would choose this life?. I was born straight, not sure it was a choice, so how these religious folks thinks prayer will cure you is hilarious.

    July 18, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  12. captaincanuck

    This party's faaaaaabulous, eh Marcus?

    July 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  13. Amy

    If someone is able to take the tales of christianity as fact, I'm sure it's easy for them to also buy that you can train someone not to be gay. I wish it was as easy for me to believe that that you can train bigots to be smart.

    July 18, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • helloeyes

      LOL love it ...... or tolerant ..

      July 18, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • fred

      A fact: I ran a recovery program and had a few ho mo $exuals that wanted to stop. They were successful because they wanted to change their lifestyle. This is not something you force on someone.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • asrael

      Fact, Fred: hearsay means zip...

      July 18, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • They were successful

      ahahahahahaha!

      July 18, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • fred

      asrael,
      Not hearsay, I said I ran the session. They were successful in stoping the ho mo $exual behavior.

      July 18, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  14. Henriette

    Seen Marcus Bachmann on TV or on YouTube lately? Marcus Bachmann converting a gay is like Bullwinkle converting a moose.

    July 18, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  15. whybs

    Bachmann's siphoning money out of the GOP sheep base will help make the general election even more lopsided! 🙂

    July 18, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  16. TJ

    Sorry, but hubby is gay. It's only a matter of time before his former lover(s) come forward. Bishop Eddie Long anyone??

    July 18, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • helloeyes

      agreed

      July 18, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  17. Tom

    The apparent necessity to believe mythology, i.e., any religion, is learned . These people should be converted to rational thinking by traditional religious brain-washing techniques. This is especially true for the flaming religious zealots.

    July 18, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • albert

      Well, you need to realize that what the majority of "Christians" do believe and practice Pagan traditions and Greek mythology, and NOT what is taught in the Bible. Christmas, Easter, Eternal torment in Hell, and the rapture for example are not taught in the Bible.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  18. Bryan

    This chick makes me cringe. Anyone with half a brain knows you're born gay. Christians don't know that because they are close-minded bigots who can't think for themselves. Just brainwashed sheep. Then again, anyone who believes there's a man who lives in the clouds is obviously a complete moron.

    July 18, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • fred

      ouch, Bryan you have lot darkness inside. Come to the light it is your way out

      July 18, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Bryan

      No thanks, Freddy. I used to believe and then I realized I could think for myself. Religion is the root of all evil. Christians are the biggest hypocrites ever. I know a ton that drink, do drugs, sleep around and then go to church on Sundays to pray to a fake god. I don't want to waste my time believing in "blind" faith. Thanks though 🙂

      July 18, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • fred

      It is not easy to do the things Christians are to do, that is why we appear to fail so often. Even Jesus said that is impossible for man. My problem is that on those occassions when I really sense that there is another existance of some sort after this life I really do not want anyone to face eternity in the absense of God. Yep I open my mouth thinking I may just save a soul even though later I realize it was not the best choice of words or timing.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • helloeyes

      I'm with you Bryan. I'm not they're convinced either – they're probably doing this for the votes. It must be killing them to have to pull away from the extreme views and try to get to the middle where the rest of us live.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Sue

      Hey, fred, yeah, it's gotta be tough to be a Christian, for sure: It must be hard to do all that animal killing and all the burnt sacrificing that your god demands of you. Tough, bloody stuff it is that your jerk of a god seems to want done. Su-cks to be you.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Matt

      Bryan,

      I am an openly gay man and I am not able to say for sure I was born Gay. Who is to know? Are you suggesting your environment has played no role in your orientation.

      I also know many lesbians who believe orientation is more enviromentally based.

      In my opinion it is irrelevant whether it you are born gay or it is environmental. It does not matter either way.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • fred

      Sue,
      Why do you dig up old rituals that applies to a different people at a different time. Just so you know God deals with people where they are and at that point in development it was the best way to understand God as was revealed. As the Bible takes you through generations you will see the current generation is lead to understand mans basic failures were settled at the Cross, the work is finished for us. We only need to be aware that we need Jesus, if we don't need Jesus we don't need saving because we think we have it all figured out

      July 18, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • fred

      Matt, true there are many factors that influence orientation.

      July 18, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  19. Big Man

    Conversion therapy? So sick. What next if that asinine thought fails, eugenics?

    July 18, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  20. keytac

    christians make me lulz

    July 18, 2011 at 6:47 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.