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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. Marcus367

    I agree!! CNN is officially a paid pro gay news corporation.
    Shame on them!!! I'm switching to FOX News !!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • David Stone

      Agreed, their pushing of the gay agenda during a time when there are such important things to deal with is disgusting.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • jellylee2020

      Please do! Please continue your self-delusion and hate filled ways with Faux News, that's what they do best.

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

      bye

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

      David. I WANT TO TOUCH YOUR PENIS.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Ya, Fox News, right. Aren't they the ones who were hacking into 9/11 victims telephones and breaching privacy everywhere? Yes, Fox News is certainly a great example of Christianity at it's finest. You go, girl.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Annatala Wolf

      In case you missed it, most Americans don't believe that gays and lesbians can be changed by conversion therapy. The fact that the spouse of a leading candidate for president practices something that is controversial is very much news. There's nothing "pro-g.ay" about this reporting.

      I don't believe your flounce, either. I suspect you enjoy tro.lling here too much to leave for Fox.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Robert

      Go Marcus. It is not like we are going to miss you. . .

      July 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  2. David Stone

    How about we quit worrying about what perverts do in their bedrooms and worry about saving our collapsing economy?

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

      Do you work for the "Department of Masturbation Elimination" ?

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

      No one calls you a pervert when you f*sk your wife up the azz.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Heterosecuals are the meanest, most one-dimensional hate-filled bigots on the planet. Fueled by republican-organized religion, they woudl kill off everyone who is not a white-christian hetero if they had the chance. But most of your scientists and artists who have lifted society out of the mud are gay. Breeders are good for only that one thing – breeding.

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

      David, when your wife wears that strap-on to screw you, I call that a "pervation."

      July 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • Frogist

      @mike from iowa: Speaking as one of those "breeders" who supports gay rights and gay marriage as well, I take offense to that comment. It is just as boorish and unwelcomed as anything coming out of David Stone's mouth.

      July 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  3. Tom

    I have some family members who are gay. I have met several different members of the circle's of friends they hang out with, and of the ones I have talked to, they did not choose to be gay at all. For instance one felt different his whole life, he grew up playing with Barbies as a child, was mocked at school, went into gymnastics, pretty much dealt with the typical gay in America life style. Decided he hated that lifestyle, tried everything he could think of to change it, and couldn't. He decided he would rather live a lie then be gay. Got married, had children. 20 years later he is still gay and is divorced. What else could have tried to simply change his mind back to straight mode? I don't think that is possible. I think most of the medical community agrees with me.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Mary Martikke

      What is going with he GOP party? Isn't there anyone in there with normal "thought processing"? I am an registered Independant voter who is very sorry I voted for Obama, but when I look around at the choices available and listen to their faniatical ranting--that along with the off-balance present government, it scares the h-ll out of me. What's happening?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  4. muckinello

    Becoming more atheist by the minute. When I moved to this country I was at best an agnostic but this militant and radical christian right has managed to convince me of the inexistence of god.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • jellylee2020

      Agreed

      July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Husky1435

      It sounds like you lacked any conviction for your beliefs to begin with. You are free to think as you chose, but I hope you make those decisions based on your own first-hand, personal experience and not on any internet news articles. Unfortunately, nowadays people think they can make informed decisions reading news articles and blog postings. I can sit at my computer all day and read online news, deciding that I dislike this group and that group, that group is a bunch of idiots, etc. I must say, I have never met any "group" for which that I genuinely dislike every single one of them in person.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  5. Annatala Wolf

    "Is it a remedy form that I typically would use? It is at the client's discretion."

    Sounds like a 'yes' answer to me. He clearly thinks the problem is the 'form' of the 'remedy', and not the fact that he's trying to turn gay people straight via pseudoscience and magic.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  6. jdog

    a woman so completely deluded, living an illusion....she has NOTHING BUT faith, faith that her husband isn't gay himself, faith and ideology that she thinks she is 'right' to prescribe for others, faith in the religulousness of the church....she lives exclusively on it and the REALITY is too much for her now to deal with....Denial Michelle, ain't just a river in Egypt....

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

      If someone ever looked Gay, it is her husband. And he likes dancing. . . . GAY!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Robert:: I think if we recognize it is important to not be prejudiced against gays, we can do our best to not stereotype straight males too.

      July 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  7. Unknown

    If you don't think Marcus Bachmann is gay, then I got some land in Hawaii I would like to sell you.

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

      To a Christian conservative, closeted = not gay.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  8. CW

    After reading the article I would rather be in a church where a preacher preaches against all sin including H-om-os.e.xuality than to be in a church of 1000's where this is overlooked. I would say that the best way is to Love the sinner but H.ate the sin....not condone it.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Whatever you call sin is your own little cult's fantasy world, keep your opinion to yourself, out of my life, out of my children's schools, and out of my country's government. You want to be a racilalist bigot hater that's your concern, but DON'T TREAD ON ME!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Waltham1892

      I'd rather be a member of a church where the preacher preaches to leave other people ALONE, and worry about your own sins and stop sweating everyone elses.

      I haven't found one of those yet, but I'm still looking....

      July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  9. mickeymo

    These folks are kind of nuts. We don't need someone in charge of this country which believes gays can be changed into hetros. This is lunacy. She's a lunatic.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  10. A

    I am a Christian and a therapist and I can tell you conversion therapy is wrong and doesn't work. Also, the AMA, APA, and NASW have all come against it and insurance won't cover it.

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

      The majority of Christian therapists agree with you but there is a tendency, by the media, to listen to the other group.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  11. Waltham1892

    I don't think you can talk people out of hating, but you can be honest about who your hate. Here is my list:

    1. People who talk during the movie
    2. People who push the elevator button more than twice
    3. People who use "party" as a verb
    4. People drive 10 mph under the speed limit in the merge lane
    5. Kim Kardashian (just do, can't explain why)
    6. Armenians (I got my first used car from an Armenian, it was junk.)

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

      I hate those ALL things too!! .. way more worth hating gays.

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

      Kim Kardashian is Armenian descent, I think that's why.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Waltham1892

      I would have remembered buying a used car from her though.

      I think its because I'm the father of a daughter. I talk to my daughter all the time about the value of hard work, study, and Kimmy comes on TV and it all goes out the window...

      July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Matthew

      Nice! Here's my top 6 hates:

      1. Dallas Cowboys
      2. Philadelphia Eagles
      3. NY Giants
      4. All Republicans
      5. Country Music
      6. People who HATE people that use "PARTY" as a verb..

      July 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Janelle

      I dont think I said that corrctly... The items listed is worth hating more than gays. Gays dont bother me at all. matter of fact, why even lable them?? Arent we all people?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Janelle

      I dont think I said that corrctly... The items listed is worth hating more than gays. Gays dont bother me at all. matter of fact, why even lable them?? Arent we all humans?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • John

      Kim Kardashian is half Armenian. There is your reason...LOL

      July 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • yuri pelham

      Armenians are a very nice people. There are always a few exceptions. Other annoying people... Bureaucrats ok to hate. And women in checkout line digging thru their purse. This is the proximate cause of road rage.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Frogist

      ooh ooh I want to play!
      1)People who chew loudly
      2)People who don't recognise that I am ignoring them
      3)People who don't teach their children to cover their mouth when they cough
      4)Inconsiderate smokers
      5)The ent!tled
      6)People who think video games are only for kids

      The list is actually much longer... Much longer...
      Also I have no opinion on Armenians. But the thought that Kim Kardashian is half of one doesn't tip the scale towards the positive.

      July 19, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  12. Robert

    I think they should have therapy for anyone who belongs to a religous group. God is between me and him, not listening a bunch of proselytizers sitting in church.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  13. Recovering Republican

    Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Libs that hate are hypocrites, while Evangelicals that hate, are just "Good Christians". These actions by well meaning Christians do more harm to the Christian cause than anything the libs can come up with. Jesus did not hate, and never gave any of us permission to hate.

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

      Jesus 'twas a figment of truth, the remainder fiction. I should know.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      As a born-again Christian, I can assure you all that Christianity has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • J.W

      Mike as it is today it seems that you are right, but that is not how it should be.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  14. Cereal Kid

    I saw a movie like this....what was it.....Dr. Strangelove?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  15. iamtoad

    I am not gay, but I certainly do not care if someone else is. I thought we lived in a country of freedom, which includes freedom of choice. I'm tired of these "Christians" trying to get everyone to conform to THEIR lifestyles. Who cares if someone is gay, and seriously, is it affecting YOUR life? No!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Karma1959

      well said!

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

      High Five!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • One Radical

      What are you talking about? Gays CHOOSE themselves if they want to be "cured" by this program. They aren't being marched in and forced. If a person CHOOSES that he wants to not be gay and receive help for it, who are YOU to tell them no?

      Fact is, you don't like choice, only when it's a choice that conforms to YOUR ideolgy.

      http://oneradical.wordpress.com

      July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • David Stone

      Exactly. Bone smuggling is unhealthy, immoral, and gross to most people. But what some pervert does in their bedroom isn't anyone elses business along as it doesn't hurt a child.

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

      I'm not gay and I am a Christian and I agree that people need to stop judging others and let them live their life. Who are we to tell somoene you have to hide who you are to conform to "their" beliefs. Ridiculous!

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

      Just as America realizes and begins tilting towards conservatism (in favor of freedom and individual liberties, less government, sense of fiscal prudence), it gets totally high-jacked by ultra religious fanatics in the guise of leaders of the conservatism. Social conservatives – your absolute rigidity is a bane to this republic. We need a third party (fiscal conservatism with moderate social bias).

      July 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Frogist

      @OneRadical: That is the MOST inane argument I have heard yet. It is the duty of any person in the field of counseling to provide care for the wellbeing of their patients. Telling your patient that hating who you are to the point that you need to force yourself to go against perfectly healthy behaviour is unethical. What you are arguing for is criminal. Choice? Is there no limit to how low anti-gay people will stoop?

      July 19, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  16. mattgordonmd

    Bring back the lions.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  17. SCAtheist

    The church is always the last to change kicking and screaming when the rational scientific community knew the truth decades ago.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  18. JakeSully

    Christians need to keep their judgmental sanctimonious noses out pf the lives of others. Go away you meddling fools.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • pm77

      Being gay and having grown up in an evangelical family, I've seen plenty of gay Christians turn to their gay counsellors asking for help. You can't say they shouldn't meddle when many LGBT Christians turn to them for help.

      As for everyone else who is NOT asking for help, like me, then yes, stay out of my business.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Frogist

      @pm77: And you would have wanted those counselors to tell you that being gay is wrong and needs to be fixed? Am I reading that right? I guess I don't understand what you are trying to say.

      July 19, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  19. Tom

    You can't find a study on conversion therapy showing it is successful that is peer reviewed, meets the basic standards of scientific practice with humans, and hasn't been falsified.

    I isn't Christian bashing to say that conversion therapy doesn't work, it is good science.

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

      I think that the phrase clearly states that it is NOT GOOD SCIENCE. Did you read the article at all?

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

      bc: I think you misunderstood Tom's post. Tom said that bashing conversion therapy is good science, not that conversion therapy is.

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

      bc

      Notice the comma.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  20. PAUL

    I can't believe that a flaming closet queen is converting people. Only in America !!!

    July 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
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