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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. J.W

    Maybe we could have a pray away the bigotry and stupidity therapy.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  2. Justme

    "Can you feel the love tonight"... Wow libs hate better than anyone. Just read their comments here.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  3. Johnjon

    Christians acting more Christian-like? Smells fishy to me................ they are up to something, and I don't like it.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Gotta Getthere

      That's funny!…'cause of the whole "I will make you fishers of men" thing. Funny!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  4. Matthias

    fas·cism

    noun /ˈfaSHˌizəm/ 

    An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization

    (in general use) Extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice.

    Fascism will come wrapped in a flag and carrying a Bible. ~ Sinclair Lewis 1935

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

      How is that different from BO wrapped in a flag of change and carrying the book of Malcomb X

      July 19, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Artist

      fred

      How is that different from BO wrapped in a flag of change and carrying the book of Malcomb X
      --–
      I never heard of this before. Can you please provide what you are basing this on?

      July 19, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • fred

      Atheist,
      It was just an off the cuff remark, O dra_ped himself in a cloak of Change you can count on is likened to one cloaking self in the flag to show patriotism or real Americanism. Obama base ideology is that centralized authority over key necessities of life is better than free market systems he is a fraud and has the same distain for capitalism as Malcolm X so he holds the book with the famous quote “The Ne gro revolution is controlled by fo_xy white liberals, by the Government itself. But the Black Revolution is controlled only by God.” Thus he holds the book of Malcolm x being an academic not the true Bible which he claims publically.

      July 19, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  5. rovnost

    is a lifestyle created as a Rebellion to přírodní

    July 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  6. Robert

    Money can buy anything. It can buy justification as a gay person to stay in the closet. If Marcus Bachman came out he would lose all credibility. No longer a profitable clinic. Michelle would lose whatever credibility she has and never win an elected position again. They have a pretty good thing going. So he can continue to hide in the closet. But he is not being true to himself

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

    So, Mr. and Mrs. Bachman, you spew disapproval of Medicare / Medicaid and that it should be ended, yet you take this money as payment for services rendered in your "practice". Any you think being Gay is a crime?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  8. lefty avenger

    We of the blue progressive secular states find Bachmann and her far right wing christians to be totally crazy and wacko. These people would fit right in handling snakes and chanting in tongues. These people seem so to fit in with the dark ages and witch burnings. These corporate hypocrites who would deny children health care are nuts!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  9. alejandro

    I really feel afraid that this ignorant has a chance of being the commander in cheif of the strngest military machine in the world. I feel disgusted that such an individual, showing this amount of hate and biggotry, has the chance of becoming the most important president of the 'free' world. Electing Bachman or Palin or any of the republicans is something the US citizens can't do, not that the democrats are specially better, but they are way safer than the crazies from the GOP.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Hiawa23

      I am not religious, donot at all believe in religion, & there is noway you can pray away the gay. I believe being gay is like being straight, you just are, & I am straight, there is noway you could make me gay, so why religious folks think you can pray away the gay, is beyond me. I also believe in life things don't magicly get better just cause you want them to, or pray that they do. Everything happens for a reason, good or bad & in most cases there is very little you can do to change that, whether you say 1, 1000, or no prayers.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  10. Jerry

    How about the verse that says, The fool has said in his heart that there is no God?

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

      what about it?

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

      And the schizophrenic has said in his mind that there is an invisible person who they talk to.

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

      I don't say (think) with my heart, that's what science has told us the brain is for. With my intellect, after looking at the evidence, I concluded that all the various religions got enough wrong that I shall be very critical about their ideas of gods. Completely ruling out the idea of god(s) is just as foolish as believing in a specific one. Thus religion is currently irrelevant to me.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  11. Dale

    Why do women marry closet gay men!?

    Do they not realize that if a man is really understanding and a good listener that he's gay!

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

      Because they lie, even to themselves. A lot of them don't even admit to themselves or others until they hit their mid life crisis at around 40.

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

      @Dale: Wow. You sure aren't putting much faith in the male of the species, are you? Just because men are understanding and able communicators does NOT make them gay. As for marrying someone who is gay, there are many reasons. One important one is that our society and religion especially makes it very difficult for people to deal with their se-xuality. So it might be that someone refuses to acknowledge that they are gay. Even insofar as to sleep with their opposite gender partner. The marriage goes on. They repress any feelings they might have and remain in denial until later in life when they can no longer do so. But this is true of straight couples as well who choose unsuitable mates because they buy into the image of what they should want and should do and should be, not what they actually want, actually do or actually are. Then they live loveless marriages, or get divorced and start over with a better knowledge of what they need in a partner. If we weren't so judgemental and puritanical, people might lead happier, more fulfilled lives with partners who suit them.

      July 19, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  12. Sarah

    These people are crazy. what is so wrong about being gay in the first place?? It's not like they're "destroying society" or something; they're just living their life. Who cares if the Bible says "gays are bad?" What if the Bible said every man with the name John has to die? Would we kill all the "Johns?" No! I know plenty of gay people and they are some of the nicest, smartest, most courageous people I've ever met. So don't bother trying to "pray the gays away" and just deal with it. There's always going to be people we don't necessarily like. Stop being judgemental and rude.

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

      They aren't bad, in fact it makes me laugh when I compare them to these Catholic pedophiles openly running around in dresses. A.K.A. Priests!

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

      Sarah: you and those who think like you are the ones who are crazy.
      Bachman's approach actually makes a lot of sense. It's just like trying to rehabilitate convicted felons, which is an accepted practice in our justice system. Gays have no place in our society, and need to change their ways, willingly or not. There is NO other solution. Period!!!!!!

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

      @Lousemper: Well there is a final solution... oh are we stopping before we get to that one? Well that makes your viewpoint alright then! LOL! Seriously, I choose Sarah's world over yours any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

      July 19, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  13. gondo

    in 25 years christian conservatives will be a bad memory; even the GOP will pretend they never existed. their small minded, childlike "values" were considered ignorant long before Bachmann and her ilk slithered out from under their rocks...
    fear not, she has no "prayer" of being elected 🙂

    July 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  14. sbp

    A "Christian counseling BUSINESS." Still hard to get past that. What a concept. "What would Jesus do." Ooooh, I know, he'd be running a counseling business! For what doth it profit a man who can't drive a Ferrari.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  15. J0nx

    Are we sure her husband isn't gay?? She is a stunningly beautiful woman. I would have figured her for a husband who is ruggedly handsome and masculine and not for this poofy little dandy of a man.

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

      I don't think Michele Bachmann is hot at all, but its in the eye of the beholder, I guess. But, I am kinda wondering about her husband, though. I am wondering if he was, perhaps a product of his own therapy. I'm just saying...

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

      I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but to me she is not a beauty. I'd tap it, but not beautiful.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  16. The Jackdaw

    If conservatives are so intent on pleasing Jesus, why don’t they do the things that Jesus would do, like ignore personal wealth, cure the sick and feed the hungry. They will not do these things, because that hurts the bottom line.

    Conservatives only tout the name of Jesus when it suits their political agendas. The mindless plebs that subscribe to their malarkey follow what they say, but there is no thought process behind any of it. If religion was their motivator, they would be behind healthcare reform and ending the tax cuts for the wealthy. They don’t do these things, in fact, they prattle against it.

    I am not liberal, by any means. I am a gun owning atheist fiscal conservative who is pro-environment. I’m logical and anti-draconian BS. I guess that makes me a moderate or simply anti-politician. Truth be told, I don’t care what it makes me. I’m me and the entire world around me is going insane.

    Liberals have become afraid of everything from firearms to their own shadows. They have developed into over-privileged do-gooder weaklings who concern themselves with the amount of styrofoam their Starbucks coffee uses while they over medicate their children so they don’t have to raise them. The GOP has become a mob of mindless hate mongers concerned only with their own access to power, personal bank accounts and maintaining the status quo by denying obvious problems and focusing on misguided issues like the one in the article above. When you go vote, the choices come down to Barney and Darth Vader. I must say, I’m not impressed.

    Jackdaw for President.

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

      "It’s the elephant in the room. It's ridiculous that we can’t address it in a manner of love first, which doesn’t mean watering down biblical teaching."

      Translation – "you're a great person and we love you for who you are...so much so that we would like nothing more than to help you change who you are so you can be more like us and be even more loved since you'll no longer be something we despise."

      July 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      QS, that sounds just about right.

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

      @Jackdaw: I am "anti-firearm" myself so I'm not sure I would vote for you. But I do like the cut of yer jib!

      July 19, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  17. ReallyModComeON

    With 50% drop out rate among Blacks, 16% unemployment rate for Blacks, Black women with a $5 net worth, and a President who has spoken at Gay events numerous times but has yet to speak out against these numbers you would think CNN has plenty to report. But no they are steady on the Gay agenda.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  18. deb

    the only people who can possibly believe this would work are gay and "posing" as straight, period.

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

    LOL @ Sins like gayness. Thats like saying sins like diabetes insipidus. But if you still want to go on believing that its a 'choice'. CHOOSE TO BE GAY. If its as simple as a choice, prove it to the world and choose to be gay. Let us know how that works out.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  20. Crusader

    I am a Republican, and these stories reflect what is wrong with the Republican Party. As long as Republicans continue to focus on fringe social issues which appeal to their evangelical base, they will alienate most moderate citizens who prefer to focus on more meaningful issues.

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

      So you think immorality that is promoted by the government will make a better place for all of us to live? You sound like a typical democrat.

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

      I agree wholeheartedly and have not joined either party in all my years voting because of these "hot button topics" they choose to bring to the forefront.

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

      CRC You think demanding s3-xual conformity enforced by the government will make a better place for all of us to live? You sound like a typical Nazi. ...see what I did there?

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

      CRC wow you have your head in the sand much?? I remeber a prominent repub campaigning on "family values caught with his pants down playing footsies in an airport bathroom, here's a newsflash, he was a repub!!! stay out of people bedrooms for crying out loud.

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

      That's an ironic screen name.

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

      More meaningful issues? Social issues ARE the critical issues. If out morality continues going down the drain, who cares what happens to the dollar and jobs? Wall Street goons steal. Gingrich commits adultery. Gay behavior is normal. People come over the border illegally, but Bush and Reagan thought it was OK to let them become citizens.

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

      I have voted Democrat in the last two presidential elections, and I could not agree more. I am a fan of small government, immigration, and I support abortion rights. The Republican party needs to re-invent it's "big tent" because right now, a lot of people that might be on board (people like me) are being excluded.

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

      Yeah right, you're a Republican. With respect to the focusing. It certainly was Marcus Bachman and/or any Republican. It was just gottcha liberal politics witch hunting building a strawman, they could burn down and it includes the Minneapolis Socialist Tribune and CNN.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:24 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.