In recent months the ex-gay movement has, prematurely, been declared by the secular media as dead by emphasizing the shift in position of Alan Chambers of Exodus International and the self-publicity of John Paulk. Alongside this we can see the on-going campaigns of groups like Ex-gay Watch, Southern Poverty Law Center and others to attack the ex-gay movement whenever they can, aided and abetted by the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues. But what motivates their bile and anger towards the ex-gay movement?
There is not one single issue that causes these people to be part of the anti-ex-gay movement. While some of these issues may have legitimate roots, that does not mean that the actions that emanate from those root issues are to be sanctioned; however, many of these root issues are not legitimate. So what are these issues?
Firstly, there is the misunderstanding of the nature of what homosexuality is. Recently I had a stand for my counselling life coaching and work at a Christian expo. I had three main reactions to my exhibit. It covered not just my ex-gay work but also the work I do with those addicted to pornography, BDSM and other issues.
The first reaction was a relief that someone in the community was actually talking about these things.
The second, especially about pornography, was an ostrich mentality of "we do not have a problem with this in our church/youth group" -- if only that were true!
The third was the claim that people choose to be gay (I only had a few people who took the "born gay" position. All these souls needed to do was repent of their behaviour.) No, people do not choose to be gay. However, this does not mean that people are born gay - something even the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the World Health Organisation will agree with. What it does mean is that homosexual feelings develop as a result of societal, psychological and sociological factors affecting an individual. Personal choice does not come into it. "Choice" is involved when we speak of two other factors relevant to homosexuality: behaviour and identity. The feelings come about involuntarily but whether one wishes to act upon those feelings or to create a sexual identity as a homosexual, those are choices. Yet this is not what most people hear when listening to the ex-gay message. Because we say (and science backs us up), that there is no evidence indicating that people are born gay (though most of us accept that biological factors such as "sensitivity" influence our feelings), people assume that we are saying that homosexuality is a choice. They confuse the issues of feelings, behaviour, or identity and merge them together.
On the other hand, many so-called "evangelicals" (by this I mean very ultra-conservative churches and some which are more right-wing in their attitude to people) also confuse and merge the questions of feelings, behaviour or identity. They dismiss the ex-gay movement as ubber liberals because we say people can refrain from both a homosexual behaviour and a gay identity and in some cases can overcome the feelings. Thus, over simplistically, we choose to not be "gay". Hopefully, they recognize the concept of "repentance", that those with a homosexual past (as a separate group to those who openly embrace what we see as the sinful behaviour of the homosexual lifestyle) will go to heaven. To summarize this first issue: there is a significant misunderstanding of what the ex-gay message actually is.
The second issue involves the question of harm. In a small number of cases - legitimate hurt may be experienced as part of the therapy or discipleship process. Yes, some people have been hurt, but this is true of all therapy. During therapy, one's feelings can opened up. If the person prematurely abandons his therapy, the open wound may not be healed. The question of alleged "harm" has been over emphasized by the various pro-gay professional bodies. They uncritically use studies like Shidlo and Schroeder (who stated that their study should not be used to ban sexual orientation change efforts) as well as more recent studies that unfairly claim that sexual orientation change efforts carry an excessive risk of harm.
I have posted elsewhere on my blog how Shidlo and Schroeder advertised specifically for those who had been harmed - but nevertheless reported that over two thirds of those who responded to their study benefited from the therapy. However, there are three newer studies who are less honest than Shidlo and Schroeder about their statistics.
Flentje, Heck, & Cochran (2013) used listservs to specifically identify ex-ex-gays. In this study, over half of those who went through the ex-gay process (56.1%) received help from "pastoral counsellors". Often these are church leaders with little or no training beyond a session in theological college or are counsellors from a specific "religious" school of thought -- that can range from Nouthetic (also known as True Biblical Counselling) through inner healing/prayer counselling methods such as Theophostics through Gary Collins "Christian Counselling" to the "Biblical Counselling" of Larry Crabb (also the core of the training offered in the UK by CWR and others), and that's just the Christian ones -- some of which are counselling in name only with others offering no training on the underlying psychological issues around sexuality, whether the presenting issue be pornography or same sex attraction. We have no way of knowing what the qualifications, if any, of these pastoral counsellors are/were of if they were actually involved with any ex-gay groups.
Another 16.8% saw peer counsellors, suggestive of self-help groups. However once again we have no indication of what groups these were, or the level of training available to the leaders (some are much better than others) amongst other problematic issues.
This leaves only 34.6% who went to mental health professionals. There are major problems with this study, (which also exists in the Shidlo and Schroeder study). (1) We do not know whether these people actually went through therapy, (2) as to those who went through therapy or attended a support group, we have no idea how many sessions they went to, and (3) we do not know whether they believed the therapy was effective or not after finishing counselling with the mental health professional.
Why are these major questions? Because of the outright falsifications and misrepresentations of many of those who subsequently identify as gay. A few examples will illustrate this point. In New Jersey, a witness for the effort to ban sexual orientation change efforts for minors, whose fraudulent testimony was initially exposed by the ex-gay movement called "Voice of the Voiceless", falsely testified before a legislative body. He claimed he had been sent to a conversion camp which did not exist. His testimony was actually the script of a 1999 RuPaul movie called "But I'm a Cheerleader." No records existed for any aspect of his false testimony after they were checked with state, local, and church officials who were allegedly involved.
Are there other false testimonies out there? Absolutely. In the recent action filed against the ex-gay group, JONAH, one of the plaintiffs erratically attended four sessions with his licensed therapist to whom he was referred by JONAH. Nevertheless, he claimed that neither JONAH nor the referral counsellor was able to help him change his sexual orientation. As all therapists know, such a paltry number of sessions, done erratically, is not a prescription for healing. Another plaintiff, whose attendance was likewise erratic, expressed himself to several witnesses as being satisfied about the counselling he received. He continued to do so for approximately 18 months after he dropped out of his therapy sessions. However, after being recruited to bring a lawsuit, he totally changed his story in the complaint for the court action. In both the Shidlo and Schroeder and Flentje, Heck, & Cochran studies, there is no mention of how many sessions the person attended or whether they actually attended, or even if they regularly attended any therapy sessions or support groups.
Another study, Dehlin, Galliher, Bradshaw, Hyde, & Crowell (2014), looked at individuals who were past members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Here again, most bishops in the Mormon Church are layman. They receive little or no psychological or pastoral care training. This takes us back to the problem seen in the Shidlo and Schroeder and Flentje, Heck and Cochran studies. We do not know the qualifications of the pastoral counsellors or even the mental health professionals who may have been involved with the subjects. (I am a qualified therapist but there are issues -- such as PTSD -- that I do not handle as I am not trained to deal with them). Once again, the participants were not a representative sample; they were recruited through liberal sources. Neither the LDS Church, nor the LDS ex-gay group Northstar, nor NARTH or other more representative groups were contacted for participants. No adverts were put into the LDS press.
This last study (Dehlin, Galliher, Bradshaw, Hyde and Crowell (2014)) dismisses studies such as Jones and Yarhouse (2011) and the several studies of Nicolosi, Byrd et al. They also dismiss the landmark Spitzer study. Dr. Spitzer was the individual primarily responsible for removing homosexuality from the DSM and several years later looked at the question whether change of sexual orientation was possible and agreed that change was possible. Because of pressure from gay activists and his failing health, he ended up apologizing to homosexuals for having done the study that indicated change of sexual orientation was possible. The authors of the 2014 study failed to quote the editor of Archives of Sexual Behaviour (where Spitzer's study was published) who explained that Spitzer's study could not be retracted because his methodology was valid. They also neglected to report on the statements from Armelli, Moose, Paulk, and Phelan (2013) all of whom were subjects of the original study. They published a letter declaring that their change of sexual orientation was authentic and that they stand by what was reported by them to Spitzer. The authors further neglect to report on comments by Spitzer's wife concerning the bullying he received from the gay activists, despite his deteriorating physical and mental health (Spitzer is suffering from Parkinson’s disease). All of the above raises serious doubts about the veracity of his alleged retraction.
All the studies that claim to show a high level of harm fail because there is no evidence to prove that the participants actually went through any ex-gay programme. So what about those studies that show evidence of participants going through some form of ex-gay programme or therapy?
The Spitzer study showed little harm. So too does the Jones and Yarhouse study. The only study indicating a "significant" statistic is the study by Nicolosi, Byrd et al which reported a level of harm of 7%. This figure is well below the 10% number generally seen as the level of concern by the American Psychological Association, the British Psychological Society and other mental health organizations. (That is to say, that any therapy where more than 1 in 10 people are at risk of harm is to be used only with caution).
So back to the point of some having been harmed,... but clearly not as many as the ex-ex-gay movement and the pro-gay lobby would like to claim. Those who have been harmed have a legitimate concern - but what is not legitimate is to allow those concerns to be force-fed to the rest of the world as claimed by pro-gay advocates. This strategy comes with the mis-claim of the ex-ex-gay movement that sexual orientation change efforts claim to "cure" homosexuality and that they promise 100% change. This has never been the case! No guarantee of change has ever been provided. Desert Streams, First Stone Ministries, Mastering Life Ministries, True Freedom Trust, NARTH, JONAH and others have always been open and honest about the fact that not everyone will see the complete removal of homosexual feelings, that different people will see differing amounts of change, and that some will see little or no change. They have also been honest that they are not "curing" homosexuality and, despite the reporting of various media outlets, have been careful not to use the term "cure." So while the failure hurts, we must ask where the disappointment comes from? Are those who have been hurt wanting something that the ex-gay movement, and those who provide sexual orientation change efforts do not promise and are then disappointed when their unrealistic hopes are not met?
This leads me onto the third rationale used against the ex-gay movement. It is most often utilized by parents and the family of those who identify as same sex attracted. If people are "born gay", then no fault can be laid at the doorstep of these parents and friends. Stated another way, if people are not born gay then the argument goes that parents, siblings, family members and others must be at fault. But most people do not wish to feel "guilty" or to accept responsibility for the issue faced by a loved one. We see this attitude in ministries such as Canyon Walkers, PFLAG (Parents Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays) as well as in the book Nature's Choice. By accepting this rationale, the ex-gay movement is then seen by these people as blaming people. Yet, as the World Health Organisation is now admitting, upbringing plays a significant role in the development of same sex attraction. However, it is but one variable of many. For example, we have no idea of how an action as simple as leaving a new born child in a hospital too long may affect the child psychologically, which may lead to an infant's feelings of abandonment. To run away from a false guilt by clinging to the "born gay" lie does neither the family nor the individual good. As someone once said, feelings that are buried do not die - they just lie dormant waiting to explode at the most inopportune moment.
The fourth issue, and one I am seeing more and more, is that of narcissistic tendencies of the pro-gay advocates. Narcissism can be defined as "the pursuit of gratification from vanity, or egotistic admiration of one's own physical or mental attributes, that derive from arrogant pride". I see this is the behaviour of Michael Bussee, John Shmid, John Paulk and other ex-leaders of the ex-gay movement as well as "pro-gay activists" such as Wayne Besen and Patrick Strudwick. Those "leaders" have failed to be honest with themselves about their own issues, including for the ex-ex gay, why they failed to see the change they sought (were their expectations realistic?) and their motivations. They have been dishonest about the change seen in other people -- by denying change is possible. They also exhibit great inconsistency. For example, John Paulk calls his ex-wife a liar while at the same time he tells people on Facebook not to attack her. This is a very two-faced approach. Wayne Besen attacks the integrity of anyone with whom he disagrees, including those scientists who promote the fact that people are not born gay. Yet, as his latest website shows, he expects people to "Respect My Research" without question. To call his ministry "Truth Wins Out" while failing to quote research he does not like is dishonest. It is not truth. All this behaviour is classic narcissism - these people see themselves as somehow better than those who want to change but their vanity is so fragile they cannot cope with others who point out their failures. This narcissism recently seen in Paulk and Shmid and long term in Bussee and Peterson Toscano, drives such individuals to be in the public eye. Not only is embracing homosexuality easier (it takes hard work and dedication to overcome homosexual feelings, behaviour, or identity) it gives them the media opportunities to be in the spotlight that they crave as classic narcissists .
It is this narcissism that allows the legitimate hurt to become a rabid crusade, that allows the misunderstanding to become the root of the twisting of emotive terms such as homophobia.
In my dealings with both the ex-gay and ex-ex-gay movements (with the accompanying pro-gay "accepting evangelical" movement of Colin Coward and Changing Attitudes amongst others) through my past involvement with the Anglican Listening Process, I am yet to meet an ex-gay leader who enjoys the publicity, even from the sympathetic media such as Charisma Magazine, as the ex-ex-gay and pro-gay leaders do. The ex-ex-gay courts the media in a way that, at times is sycophantic. Someone once said that you can tell a true prophet because they do not want to be in the public eye and only accept being there because God has called them. This is the spirit that is missing in John Shmid, John Paulk, Michael Bussee, Peterson Toscano and too many others.
Those of us who, because of our testimony and life experiences, have been forced - unwillingly - into the spotlight have learned to live with the failures of former friends, colleagues and loved ones. Recognising the roots does not make it easier to cope with what can feel like betrayal - but it is a reminder of why we need to be true to our testimony and what we have been called to do by the God who heals, saves and restores.
(edited with help of JONAH, to correct a factual error and to correct spelling and grammar issues.)