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. SF

    They have a change of heart all of a sudden? give me a break! these ignorant people are simply distracting the issue so that she can get her nutty self elected for POTUS! please! i wouldn't vote for this witch or any of her rethuglicans! spend all your time and money you want devil, you won't ever win my vote!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  2. Huhp

    I am gay and need to be straight. Please get me many hot chicks to sleep with. It will solve the problem.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  3. Phil McCracken

    I'll bet $100 that Marcus Bachmann is a closet peter-puffer.
    Any married man that spends that much time with real g@y men it either a pitcher or a catcher, he's not in the audience.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  4. RAWoD

    If these deviants to normal soceity can be cured I am all for it. Which deviants? The adults that still believe in fairy tales.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • David Stone

      CLUE: You aren't a "deviant" when you are in a the clear majority. Dimwit.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  5. Bill

    It started when people looked up and realized the sun actually wasn't a chariot.
    Then people did a little math and realized the earth was not the center of the universe.
    Carbon dating showed us the world was a little older than 4000 years.
    And genetics shows us that being gay is no more "wrong" than being straight... or being blond, or tall, or black, or smart, or stupid.

    Stop using religion as a basis for your hate. You're just... stupid.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • David Stone

      Being gay is a sad, unhealthy choice, no doubt. Most believers in God also believe it is a sin, in all religions. HOWEVER, what we need people to be focused on is our CRASHING ECONOMY, not the bedroom habits of others. If someone wants to make this gross, unhealthy choice, let them do it.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Sarah

      Glad to know someone on this planet isn't an idiot

      July 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Frogist

      @David Stone: What is so gross and unhealthy about being gay? No offense but your comment seems a little like when 8 yr old boys look at girls and go "Eeew cooties!"

      July 19, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  6. Pete

    Michelle Bachmann is so stupid...."how stupid is she?"... so stupid that she thinks her husband is straight!!!!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  7. JimInTX

    Every Marcus I ever knew was gay. If he'd just lose 50 pounds he'd look more gay.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • dalis

      He's eating the gay away.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  8. David Stone

    I am a conservative, and am saddened to see people like this being offered up. She is obviously a very poor choice. Independents are key here, and she is the worst possible choice, after Palin. She is educated, but comes across as a dumb religious nut, as does Palin.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  9. Kyle

    As an atheist and conservative, there is no way I could vote for Bachman, or Obama. Still keeping my hopes up for Ron Paul!!!!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • David Stone

      Face it, Ron Paul will NEVER be elected. He got like 2% last time. GIVE IT UP!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • carly

      go see the movie Bruno and Ron Paul will be off your list too. Anyone with so little common sense can not be president. Not that he could ever be elected anyway. I know what we need is a Bachmann/Paul ticket that way Obama could win by about 90%.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  10. easynan

    Bachmann brings to mind Ross Perue, wacko! How she got this far astounds me. To down everyother faith is hardly Christian and that is the last thing you should call youselves because we all admit we were created by GOD so we must be exactly what he wanted. Admitedly HE is still working on us.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • David Stone

      That is an insult to the sanity of Ross Perot. This thing with "reforming gays" is just bad news, period, regardless of what one believes. It would be a constant distraction, and turn off independents. We need someone focused on THE ECONOMY. Period.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  11. Doc Vestibule

    You have a choice not to act on your wicked left-handedness and live a godly life!
    "A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left."
    – Ecclesiastes 10:2
    "The right hand of the lord doeth valiantly, the right hand of the lord is exalted."
    – Psalm 118 v15,16
    Those of us who know and follow the true word of Christ will be laughing from up in heaven while you lefties fry forever.
    When you're ready to accept the "right" path, there are many loving Chrstians who are willing to heap scorn and abuse on you until you stop your terrible, stomach churning, unnatural ways.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Andre

      Hey Einstein... you spelled your most beloved word as "Chrstians"... and by the way, you have no Proof of your statement other than the over-used "it takes a leap of faith". That said, who in their right mind would want to spend an eternity in the hereafter with people like you anyway?

      Not me.

      Try your fear mongering tactics on people who didn't go to college... you'll have more success.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • ed

      Hey, I was born into a right-handed family. nobody had ever seen a left handed person, they tried to make me to things right handed because that was all they knew, i was a terrible right handed person, couldn't catch a baseball, couldn't handle my food, until one day i threw a ball left handed, and i became the best damn pitcher in little league after a few years. the moral of the story stop hating people because of who they are. 🙂

      July 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Whatevs

      um, i think doc is kidding....

      July 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • kingyonas

      your an idiot!!!!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Mikey

      Satire people....it's satire!!!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Hey doc
      I'm ambidexterous. Is that TMI ?

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

      @Doc Vestibule: And that is why Repubs are the party of God! They are on the "right"... while those Dems are devilishly left! Freakin unnatural liberal lefties! Now I have biblical proof. oops I just noticed... I'm typing with both hands. Bipartisanship is of the devil! Better go train myself to only type with my right hand...

      July 19, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  12. Mooshu

    This country will remain screwed up as long we allow religion and politics to mix. In fact, it will remain screwed up until religion is banned!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • J.W

      Yes because the countries without freedom of religion are doing way better than us huh

      July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Big Ben

      China is doing really well.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  13. carly

    I hope that Bachmann wins the Republican nomination. Probably 95% of the independents and many moderate Republicans will shift left. Can you say Obama landslide? I can't wait to see the election results. LOL

    July 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Prettygreenbird

      The part of me that has faith in my fellow voters agrees with you. The (much smaller) part that does not, doesn't want to risk her in office!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  14. lolo

    @ever4lasting, I agree with you. Something is not right with her husband. I think that this type of therapy was used on him amd he curtailed his urges, but from looking at him and the way he talks and his movements, someone is going to come out with the truth. M. Bachmann is such a hypocrit she will not admit it. Both families must have made them get married to cover it up. Even Jon Stewart noticed it on his show last week. Too Funny!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Never Debate

      If it turns out that in reality he is a gay, then it will hurt the Republican's chance to win the presidency. Imagine if this comes out in full after the Michele gets the Republican nomination. It would be similar to if John Edwards had won the nomination and then his infidelity came our just before election. Republicans, watch out who your candidate is going to be.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  15. paul

    Danger! Religious dogma by a bunch of self-serving hate monger teabaggers. Are you willing to give these people your freedoms? Religion and politics do not mix well. Look at what is happening in Iran. There is little difference between the towelheads and these religious conservatives. They would enslave us to their brand of religion in a heart beat.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  16. Eric in Manhattan

    I still think Michelle married Libarace.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  17. Kyle

    haha, Bachman's husband is so gay.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  18. Alina77

    Too bad there is no cure for idiots.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Never Debate

      I wish there was.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  19. Unknown

    A vote for Bachmann is a vote for Christian sharia.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  20. NoDoubt

    Why can't there be a normal female presidential candidate? Sigh.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Prettygreenbird

      I agree. Where do these women come from? There are plenty of ladies, both liberal and conservative, that are smart, politically savvy, AND NORMAL human beings. I guess those women just don't make good news stories.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • bitnar

      I was thinking the same thing.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • MaryinKS

      Because all the conservative women act like bimbos and all the left leaning are too smart.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Frogist

      @No Doubt: There was Hill... sadly, she didn't get the nomination.

      July 19, 2011 at 2:54 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.