home
RSS
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

« Previous entry
soundoff (2,293 Responses)
  1. Bumpits.com

    I am tiring of evangelical christians. Evangelical muslims are the bomb.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      BOOM!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  2. warlock

    @ Get a Grip – obviously you don't understand the bible well.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • News Flash

      understand the bible well = agree with my interpretation

      July 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • warlock

      yeah, if you're an idiot and have no capacity to analyze and interpret from your own perspective.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  3. SoundOfForest

    Not so fast, CNN. Trends can look any direction anytime and actually a lot of shifts are happening globally by the Holy Spirit. Revelation 22:11 is happening. True American Christians will strive for moral purity, never compromise with Sodomy or any types of sinful lifestyles.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      You forgot to mention that the world is ending on October 21st.

      July 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Bumpits.com

      Ever hear of the crusades? Priestly child abuse?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Geoz

      Every other minute the holy spirit is making some change or other that christians claim to have knowledge of. You and Harold Camping, and the KKK and Charles Manson all believe in hearin these voices from god, and you all look pretty much the same to me.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • boyamidumb

      The sky is falling !!! The Sky is falling!!!!! RUUUUUNNNNNN.

      Get a life. Then get a brain. Then use it for a week or two to get used to it. Then, and only then should you consider opening your mouth again.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • News Flash

      More straight people practice sodomy than gay people. Idiot.
      If gay people don't practice sodomy it's ok then ?

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/OhCaptain/minnesota-gay-marriage-ban-vote_n_865334_89448322.html

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cM44GHUsDV0&w=640&h=360]

      July 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Scott in Atlanta

      Exactly. However, there will always be comments on this blog from those who would have you abandon YOUR faith, for THEIR faith.(Even lack of faith is a type of faith) Keep the faith, fight the good fight, and finish well my friend.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Scott in Atlanta: Is lack of water wet? No. Just like lack of faith is not faith. How can a genuine conversation be had when people of faith like you redefine any term you choose to make your argument appear valid? Let's be honest. And have honest discourse.

      July 19, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  4. guest

    People have the choice to be accepting of others! People are born accepting of others, they are taught hatred!

    July 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  5. DeweyD

    Any gay who pursues the straight lifestyle should be allowed to choose their method. Liberals above all others should understand this.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Geoz

      Yes they should. But counselors should be offering crackpot idealogy that makes no difference, and then call it therapy.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  6. The Jackdaw

    Gays for Jesus!

    July 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Bumpits.com

      Jesus for gays!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • boyamidumb

      Jesus. Wasn't he the guy with long hair. Wore a long dress. Never dated or got married. Hung out with a dozen or so guys that thought he was a god.

      Oh my!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      And dont forget the fabulous dinner parties!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  7. Oneguy

    The biased liberal CNN strikes again...alway trying to knock the GOP contender from taking our country in a positive direction blessed by God.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      There is no such thing as God and draconian logic needs to go the way of the Dodo.

      July 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • John

      lol

      July 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Fox

      A theocratic government will lead to the suppression of rights and individual thought just like in Iran and the Middle East. Do not support it!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Geoz

      If she is blessed by god, then you shouldn't feel threatened by little ol CNN. But then how do we know she is blessed by god? And who isn't blessed by god?

      And can I offer you some repairative therapy for those voices in your head.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • boyamidumb

      CNN Liberal????? Now here is a person without a clue. AMAZING. Thanks for the laugh Oneguy. You should be on stage. Or locked up under one.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  8. pense

    if your parents were gay you would'nt be here...pense

    July 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Bumpits.com

      Not true.

      July 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Geoz

      That just shows two ways in which you are behind the times.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  9. Tom

    We actually have legitimate therapy for wackos. Might I suggest the Bachmanns participate?

    July 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  10. mshare

    Hey, Michele obviously converted her husband....obviously, it works! Really.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Byrd

      You obviously meant perverted, but then he was gay long before he ever met Michele.

      July 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Geoz

      That guy is SO gay.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • warlock

      lol...her husband does look gay. it's too late for him to come out now..lol

      July 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  11. Byrd

    And exactly how much taxpayer money have the Bachman's received for this medieval, charlatan medicine?

    July 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  12. fixer2010

    Bachmann is an idiot, as is her husband.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  13. petercha

    Acceptance of sinful behavior will be the downfall of our country. I pray that God has mercy on us and turns us around, instead of punishing us as we deserve. If He does pour His just wrath down upon us, we are in DEEP trouble.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Oneguy

      You hit the nail on the head. The liberal pinheads in this country are analagous to those outside Noah's ark, inside Soddam and Gemorrah, Babylon, etc. etc. They will have their day, don't worry..

      July 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Fox

      Hi there Fred Phelps.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Aldo

      exactly what God are you talking about? honey that hateful god of yours.. KEEP IT!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • seriouslyomg

      Hey, Oneguy – G_d r_ped Mary!! You'll excuse us if some of us, especially women, feel a little uneasy about a religion that sees women as second class citizens and thinks r_pe is ok. Jesus wore dresses and preached peace because he was acting out against his abusive father (your G-d).

      July 18, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Geoz

      Isn't it weird how god ONLY tells evenagelical xtians what is going to happen, and then mysteriously, it doesn't happen? That is just so weird.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • warlock

      @seriouslyomg – don't just read the bible, study it and understand it. also, you and many other americans are clueless about other cultures. it's not a dress. dumb.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Pete

      I guess it's a shame you live in the only country in the world that specifically has separation of church and state. Perhaps you should relocate.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  14. May

    In the Bible we are told to leave the weeds grow with the wheat, in the end, the weeds will be pulled and burned, the wheat harvested. That is referring to us as human beings. Ultimately the angels will do the weeding.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • guest

      and the unusual wildflower will be admired by all!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Emmy Skaddittle

      I am sure there will be a big surprise for all the right wing intolerant bible thumpers when if they get to the pearly gates

      July 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  15. Layla

    MY.....We ARE terrified of Michelle Bachmann, aren't We?

    July 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Diana

      No one is scared of Michelle Bachmann, her hatred is another story.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • boyamidumb

      Yes. Anyone with any sense is afraid of idiots like this with a thirst for power. And Americans should be embarrassed to even let her into the national conversation. YOUR bible warned that the devil would come in many disguises. This one is espcially ugly.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • standingwave

      So I'm only allowed to dislike someone's political views if I'm afraid of them?There's always one like you in these discussions.People who don't allow anyone to have rational reasons for having views that differ from their own.I'll tell you what I'm afraid of.The depth of conservative intolerance.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • fixer2010

      Not terrified. More like amazed out how stupid one single person can be.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • warlock

      Bachmann 2012

      July 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • LThomson

      The stupidity innate to autonomous behavior governed by illogical belief is something everyone should fear. Yes, you should fe the possibility that someone who obviously isn't very intelligent has enough popularity to attain leadership status, and that that self-same status very rarely relates directly to competency. We acquiesce to people like Bachman because they represent power to us, not because fighting your way to the top is in some way proportional to intelligence.

      July 18, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  16. ian

    why is it that the people speaking out loudest against gay rights always seem to get caught in the men's room with their pants around their ankles? just askin...

    July 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • May

      Good point. Do the women end up in the men's room too? Hadn't heard.

      July 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  17. Mike

    go to youtube and search for "Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene" funny stuff. As about as stupid as christians wanting to "cure" gays.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  18. Descarado

    Unlike California's recent gay history mandate, these people are not indoctrinating children with their beliefs in the public schools.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • z

      Oh you just wait. In no time she would want theology taught in classrooms.

      July 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  19. chris

    The Nazis segregated gays then had them killed. Bauchmann is showing her compassion in trying to convert them first. How Christian of her.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  20. ProvidencePatriot

    "Get the board out of your own eye before looking at the speck of dust in your brothers'." Jesus Christ

    July 18, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
« Previous entry
Advertisement
About this blog

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.