Editor: I’d give Bart an introduction, but you pretty much all know who he is, right?
While we await a Supreme Court decision that could possibly re-define marriage in American jurisprudence, would you entertain with an open mind an argument from me to the effect that the marriage debate, while very important, is not the most important question that the homosexual movement has placed before us as Christians? Rather, the most important question that the homosexual movement has raised for Christians is the question of whether reparative therapy (a.k.a. conversion therapy, ex-gay ministry, etc.) is a valid hope and a realistic goal for those who approach the problem of homosexuality from a Christian viewpoint.
The future outlook for reparative therapy has never been so bleak as it is now in the United States. The American Psychiatric Association, as early as 1998, formally opined: “The American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/ her homosexual orientation.” Of course, psychiatry is hardly a science, and the APA is easily blown hither and yon by the trade winds of liberal academia and the trends of the day. Nevertheless, the pliability of the APA proves the point rather than disproving it—the momentum of cultural opinion sets aside reparative therapy as not only impractical but also injurious.
If the opinion of a cadre of vociferously lost people doesn’t seem to you to be a cause for concern for the future of reparative therapy, maybe the recent turn-about of Alan Chambers will. Chambers is the head of Exodus International, which has heretofore been one of the largest proponents of reparative therapy. Last summer, Chambers repudiated reparative therapy, saying that it “sets the person seeking therapy up for failure by giving him or her unrealistic expectations.” Even among those who hold fast to the unambiguous Christian message—that sex between two men or two women is an abomination before God—support for reparative therapy is flagging. Make no mistake: Chamber is not questioning a particular approach to reparative therapy; he’s stating that it is not possible to help anyone move from being a homosexual to being a former-homosexual.
I’d like to suggest to you that we Christians cannot abandon reparative therapy. Here are a few reasons why:
1. The concept of “ex-gay” is explicitly scriptural. “Such were some of you.” That’s what Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 6:11. The Bible does not merely suggest that it is possible for someone to be “ex-gay,” God tells us in the Bible about specific people for whom it actually happened. Now, for those who have abandoned the Bible as God’s normative truth for us, this will not be a very persuasive argument. But if you receive the Bible as God’s inerrant word, to abandon the concept of reparative therapy is going to cost you a lot more than the loss of some subpoint of your overall view of homosexuality; you’re going to have to change your view of the nature of scripture in order to come to the conclusion that being formerly gay is an “unrealistic expectation.”
2. The concept of being “ex-gay” is central to the gospel. It is given in parallel with the hope of being “ex-fornicator” or “ex-drunkard” or “ex-unrighteous.” All of these conversions rest equally in the hope of the washing, sanctification, and justification that inhere to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why this topic is so important, not because homosexuality is so important, but because this really isn’t even about homosexuality, but about whether being “born again” is or is not more powerful than being “born that way,” in whatever condition it may be that you have been born. I think it is no accident that those who disparage this approach to the problem of homosexuality will refer to it as “conversion therapy”—what’s really on trial here is conversion itself. Does the gospel really make someone a “new creation,” or is it not really quite so powerful as all that? If it isn’t, then we need to shutter our churches.
3. What if the power of the gospel over other sins were measured in the same manner that reparative therapy has been measured? It seems to me that, in the case of reparative therapy, success has been correlated with the permanent and complete disappearance of temptation—no, more than that, with the reflexive possession of a vigorous heterosexual libido. Do we expect that in any other area of the Christian life? Do we declare ex-hothead therapy to be a failure until we have a large host of people who can never be provoked, no matter what? Do we declare ex-drunkard therapy to be a failure until we can consistently see people rolling off of our therapy production line who never feel the temptation to drink again? Have we considered the fact that quite a bit of counseling time goes into the sometimes-difficult task of cultivating a vigorous heterosexual libido…in heterosexuals?! It seems to me that, in every other case, we consider the power of the gospel to be successful when someone successfully resists temptation, not even looking for a time when that person will not be tempted at all.
4. If you believe in freedom, you will support reparative therapy.
There’s a strange interplay between the language of freedom and the language of bondage in the pro-homosexual propaganda narrative. On the one hand, same-sex marriage has been cast as a question of civil rights. The present need, we are told, is for people to be free to love whom they will, to marry whom they will, and to form families with whom they will. These are all rhetorical statements that make the homosexual movement to be a movement toward freedom. On the other hand, we are told that homosexuals are not free. They are born with their sexual orientation (although scientific research does not support this claim…see the same APA page I cited above, at http://www.psychiatry.org/mental-health/people/lgbt-sexual-orientation
). They didn’t choose to be gay. They can’t help it. They can’t do anything about it. And whenever a homosexual person dares to step out of line and suggest that his or her homosexual behavior has been freely chosen, that person feels the wrath of the homosexual lobby (for example, Cynthia Nixon http://entertainment.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/01/24/10226838-cynthia-nixon-im-gay-by-choice?lite
). The pro-homosexual talking points are firmly moored to the postulate that there is no freedom whatsoever involved in being gay or straight.
Christians, that whole situation ought to stir the compassion in your heart. Human anatomy is clearly designed for heterosexuality. How difficult must it be to know that your body has been designed for one reality, to know that your temptations have taken you away from the design of your body, and to believe that you never had any freedom to choose in the matter than that no hope exists for you ever to experience sexuality differently? Freedom from homosexuality exemplifies better than most subjects the hopeful and grim realities of Galatians 5: That Christ set us free apart from our help, that the defense of our freedom is a task that falls to us, that recapture by earthly bondage is ever a frightening possibility, and that, by the help of the Holy Spirit, freedom is possible for us all.
In conclusion, I realize that reparative therapy is unpopular, and that to advocate for it is to invite name-calling and to provoke anger. Yet I hope that you have seen in this little article a sound, if not decisive, argument that reparative therapy is a concept intricately caught up in our understanding of the gospel and the new relationship with our sinful selves that we regularly claim that the gospel makes. That truth is worth fighting for. That hope is worth proclaiming.