Ex-gays, “cures” for homosexuality and the possibility of change in orientation are back in the news, with the APA conference now under way in Toronto. One study, due for presentation this morning, is said to present evidence that contrary to the conventional view over the past few decades, “change” is indeed possible. This paper, by an openly evangelical Christian, was a longitudinal study of men who had undergone change therapy with Exodus . The study was funded by Exodus, but results, he says, were not influenced by them. These showed that although the program was not successful in all cases, it was so with some of the subjects.
Are you surprised?
Now, I am not particularly bothered by claims that change is “possible”. Some LGBT commentators get worked up at the very suggestion, but I do not. After all, it is fairly clear that we are not all uniformly “homo” or “hetero” -sexual: most people sit somewhere on a spectrum. Just a quick look at the very many out gay & lesbian people who have been married, and become parents, shows that it is at least possible to function in the hetero role. Change is possible in many areas of human behaviour. Meat eaters routinely become vegetarians – and sometimes back again. Lifelong couch potatoes can acquire an enthusiasm for the gym. And many people routinely change religious faith. Christians become Muslims, Jews become Catholics, Catholics become Evangelicals, Evangelicals give up religion all the time.
And yes, even heterosexuality can be cured!
So I am not at all surprised by claims that there can be change in sexual practice. Where I take strong exception, though, is with the idea that this can be called “therapy”, or is even desirable. In fact, it is quite the reverse. The evidence from neutral psychotherapists, those with neither a religious nor sexual axe to grind, is that the best route to mental health is to live within your natural, primary orientation. The evidence from personal stories of millions of gay men and lesbians around the world who have come out, confirms this. Nor is sexual “conversion” good for one’s spiritual health. Even within the Catholic tradition, theologians who are also professional psychotherapists confirms this. (See, for instance, Daniel Helminiak and John McNeill). Exodus International is mistaking the disease for the cure. What is particularly scandalous in my mind, is the name they have chosen.
The Biblical story of the Exodus is one of liberation from slavery and oppression. “Let my people go” was a slogan taken from Exodus, freely adopted by the American civil rights movement, and by early black nationalists in South Africa. Many LGBT commentators have proposed that gay Christians should use the book of Exodus as a theme for regular prayer and reflection in our own struggle against oppression by church and state and in our continual, endless process of coming out. (“Ex-odos” is from the Greek for “way out”). More, in standard theology one of the primary tasks of the church is to take the “prophetic role” – that is , to speak up against evil and injustice. During my involvement with the Catholic Justice & Peace Commission back in South Africa, two texts that were endlessly repeated were from Luke, and from Micah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Yet here we have a so-called Christian organisation appropriating the name to lead us not away from the oppression of the closet, but back into it. If coming out is a spiritual experience, what words are appropriate for being led back in?
Am I going too far in suggesting “diabolical”?
Daniel Helminiak: Sex and the Sacred (Ch 4: Sexual Self-Acceptance and Spiritual Growth; and Ch 9: Jesus: A Model for ComingOut)
John McNeill: Taking a Chance on God
John McNeill: Sex and the Sacred
Richard Cleaver: Know My Name
On Ex-Gays, ex-ex-gays, and ex-straights:
Truth Wins Out
Peter Toscano (Quaker, queer, and ex ex-gay)