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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. jt_flyer

    the only gay activity I'm interested in is when hubby comes out of the closet

    July 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  2. KMAN821

    The Bachmann’s with their overtly regressive views on a whole host of issues are still stuck in the Dark Ages ... they exemplify everything that is wrong with the Christian Right (or more correctly, the un-Christian Wrong). They simply don't understand that self-righteousness is not a virtue ... nor is their ungodly hate-mongering.

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

      Since when is calling a spade, a spade, being self-righteous? And since when is trying to cure someone of a serious problem being hateful?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Amused

      Being gay is not a problem. Only bigots like you THINK that it is "problem that needs to be solved" ! The one and only problem with being gay is dealing with BIGOTS LIKE YOU!

      July 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  3. Rich

    That Marcus Bachmann is a big 'ole queen.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  4. deb

    oh and CRC if you don't see the neon sign flashing "Gay" on Marcus's forehead, YOU ARE BLIND!!!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  5. Bruce

    Marcus is as gay as a three-dollar bill, but that's not the big story. The big story is that the Bachmans are taking federal funds for their bogus clinic and federal subsidies for family farms AT THE SAME TIME that Michelle is railling against government giveaways. What a hypocrite.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • KMAN821

      Well, a guy named Bruce certainly speaks with authority on the gay thing! : )

      July 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • M-kell

      KMAN821 your comment reminds me third grade recess! Try to pretend your an adult!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • KMAN821

      M-kell

      What you lack in a sense of humor is made up for by ... well, nothing!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  6. anita

    Now that the evangelicals have realized they can't "pray gay away", what social issue are they going to attack next?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  7. David Stone

    Choosing to be gay is a sad, and statistically unhealthy choice. To most it is gross, and immoral. HOWEVER, what people do in their bedrooms is nobody elses business, and as I recall we have a looming economic COLLAPSE that should be the focus of our attention, not this NONSENSE!

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

      Psst, gay people don't choose to be gay.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • David Stone

      What you do with your life is a series of choices. If everyone was gay, our species would cease to exist, therefore it is an absurd choice. It is also proven to be very unhealthy. I don't buy the "born gay" BS for a moment. However, what you do with your partner isn't anyone elses business, and it should be left at that.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  8. mikel

    Matthew 24:10,11: At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other – and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.

    Remember this when you start sacrificing the word of God for the word of Man.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • M-kell

      Sounds like the Christian Taliban talking!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • KMAN821

      Numbnutz ... the word of god IS the word of man.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Bruce

      Religion is fine. Live your life according to your beliefs, but DON'T try to force your beliefs on me through legislation.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Capiers

      The bible is all the word of man. Perceived by and written by man into a book that is used to control people. Telling me that God spoke to some man (prophet) and told him to write down these things is ridiculous. Also, if God was speaking to these folks then why is he not doing it now i am pretty sure he would have lots to say based on mans behavior. Anyway I can appreciate someone needing to believe in all this in order to make it through life, but just because one man needs it doesn't mean another does. Lets all stop judging and placing our own ideals on each other and simply use common sense, kindness and compassion when making choices.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  9. jdog

    Michelle, your hubby likely has a little 'secret' himself

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

    Either God likes Gays or he doesnt. Sounds like someone's unsure of her faith. OR just tying to get votes until they rethink their faith once again.

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

      Either God likes Sodomites or He does not.
      And He does not.

      It is as simple as that.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  11. carly

    I feel for their kids. Both their own and the ones they adopted. Can you imagine living in a house with Bachmann and her husband? the things these these idiots must have instilled in the kids will take a lifetime of therapy to undo.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  12. ReallyModComeON

    Is CNN getting paid by the LBGT groups? Because they seem to cover Gay issues at the EXCLUSION of all others. I cannot see a day where there is not some Gay issue on the front page.

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

      it's a human rights issue, so so sorry you don't feel any kinship to your fellow human beings

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

      Good question, Really.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • David Stone

      Agreed. ALWAYS pushing the gay agenda, always.

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

      Civil rights battle? How about the battle for and education? The battle for a job? What about the battle for equal justice? What about the right to have a Black president who will speak out on Black issues? Can we get some of those rights?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • KMAN821

      I hadn't noticed ... perhaps it's time for you to come out ... thou dost protest too much!

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

      Ya I totally agree, human rights issues should take a back seat to "The NFL Lock out Day 125" that happens to be the front page of the FOXNEWS website...

      July 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Frogist

      Funny thing! No one is listening to you guys! Sure there are other topics out there, but the civil liberties and human rights of a significant part of our population is an important one. As important as education, the budget, and whatever else you want to toss out there. What I find reprehensible is that you guys don't care about that. And I think it's because none of you are gay. It's never important enough until it's you!
      Furthermore, all the "It's a gay conspiracy" BS is just that: BS. The world is changing in a grand way regarding our gay brothers and sisters. And like it or not, a presidential candidate who is so in denial about gays that she has a clinic to make them straight thru religion, is news. It's big news. And thank goodness for CNN telling the world so that we can weed out the loons who refuse progress towards the positive.

      July 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  13. Marcus367

    Well, I guess its safe to say that CNN is a Pro-Gay news station, hopefully they are not all gay.
    Being gay is a disease, in my book. I'll like to see some of these gays live in the muslim world.
    I met gay guys, some of them are attracted to men but some of them use that excuse because they are low lifes and cant get a girlfriend. For those, they should start taking classes how to become a real man.

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

      Yeah, we know whick book is "your book".

      July 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Marcus367

      QS!! I guess you like to read my book?? Or you are pro-gay and feel offended.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • anita

      Marcus367, there are "real" classes to teach YOU how to be a real person. You should enroll, it will help you immensely.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Marcus367

      Anita!!! you got lots to learn too, may be you should take the classes too. It doesn't seem that you know what are you talking about.
      I choose to believe that being gay is wrong, thats right!! this is a free country!! If I dont like them then I dont like them.. How come we dont bash on all the people that hate muslims? What?? thats not pro-humanity?? Only gays are part of pro-humanity?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • king

      Marcus, it's clear that you are not a real man. From your statements you come off as a highly ignorant individual who clearly knows absolutely nothing on the current issue at hand. My issue with people like yourself is you enjoy to publicly display your inhuman opinions. It's as if you want the attention, no matter what type of attention it may be. From that diagnosis it's actually you that may have a "disease".

      July 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  14. dowdotica

    Don't these people get it! Mind your own business and be, as i believe written in some book they all tout, accepting of one another. Hey look if they think its sinful then...uh, duh...forgive them! in the meantime leave the gays alone!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  15. chris

    Conservatives are by definition intolerant people.

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

      Intollerence is unavoidable, guy. Try to be tolerant of everyone. Now how can you tolerate one's behavior that is intollerant? See what I mean? You can either be pro-gay or anit-gay but you can't be both. And being one or the other means you have to be intollerant of one of their views.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • petercha

      And that is a GOOD thing, Chris. We are SUPPOSED to be intolerant of sin, evil, and other things like that.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • king

      Adam, are you really trying to say that me being Pro-gay means that I'm intolerant of Christians and their bible? Because I'm sorry, but that is a little far fetched for the following reason. Gays are not doing any such thing that affects Christians, where as many Christians are fighting to disallow Gays from gaining basic rights. I understand people with religious views on this issue and that is fine. Don't be gay, and don't allow gays in your Church, fine whatever. Let them preach it all they want, however disallowing someone the same rights as me because they are gay is a Human Rights issue. That is intolerant.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Adam: You know I kind of take issue with the term "pro-gay". I can understand "anti-gay" meaning someone who hates gays, is hostile towards gays and gay issues in every way shape of form. Basically a hom-ophobe. But what is "pro-gay"? Someone who loves gays? Loves gay issues? Not quite. I can understand supporting issues that affect gay people. And being friendly with your gay brothers and sisters. But is that pro-gay? Or just pro- not being a d-ouch-e bag? Pro-humanity? Pro-kindness? I guess when you put it in stark opposites of pro- and anti-, it really shifts focus from the real reason a lot of us support gay marriage and are anti-gay-bashing etc... The real reason is we believe in equality, fairness and don't see a need to treat our fellow human beings poorly.

      July 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  16. David, CA

    I wonder how they feel about lying about providing such therapies? I wonder how they feel about lying that you don't receive any government subsidies or profit from your farm....

    July 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  17. krow101

    Looks like it worked on her 'husband'.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  18. Scott

    It seems like most of these posts are simply Christian bashing. Some groups of people are extremely intolerant of others beliefs. My belief is that we need to foster a relationship with God and Jesus.

    I like this passage from 2 Corintians 4:4-5, "4) The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5) For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake."

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

      Jesus Christ loved gay people like the centurion and his pais. You don't. You're not a Christian.

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

      Id say you're the one who is blind, or at least wearing blinders.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • petercha

      Amen, Scott. And dalis, what do you mean by "pais"? Can you give me a scripture reference?

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

      stfu with your bible passages

      July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • badm

      Why go to victim so quickly using religion as a weapon? You have the right to believe in what you want. No one is saying you don't.

      You don't have the right, and I don't have the right, to tell people how to live their lives.

      I believe in GOD. My God loves me and you exactly the way he/she made us.

      If you are not gay I don't want you to be gay. Don't try and force your views and beliefs down my throat. Using Jesus as a battering ram is useless when I and some do not believe in him. You are a bigot. Plain and simple. God loves you anyway.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  19. ReallyModComeON

    Civil rights battle? How about the battle for and education? The battle for a job? What about the battle for equal justice? What about the right to have a Black president who will speak out on Black issues? Can we get some of those rights?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  20. BOb the prairie dog

    More prudent would be a program to change mindless Christian drones into actual human beings. Now that would be a miracle!

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

      I fully agree with you. Why are these people trying to convert who these people are when the real problem is the fact that Christians and many other religions are unaccepting of who people are.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:25 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.