Counseling Today article about sexual identity and religion. One side fits all?

The official newsletter of the American Counseling Association is called Counseling Today. Unfortunately, only members can get it online so I cannot provide links to the article I want to discuss. In the April, 2007 issue, a pastoral psychotherapist from DC, Stacy Notaras Murphy published an article titled “Strange Bedfellows: Religion and sexual identity in the counseling office.” I have asked Counseling Today for permission to reprint and will link to a copy of it if I hear a positive response. For now, I will have to include excerpts.

The article purports to be an examination of how people deal with religious identity and sexual identity. From early in the piece:

Most counselors agree that sexual identity is a major aspect of personality development. While more in the field are recognizing that spiritual identity informs personality development as well, the intersection of the two hasn’t received much attention. But the connections may seem more natural when both are considered under the umbrella of multicultural competency.

I certainly agree that training programs outside of religious institutions are rarely helping counselors understand the role of religious identity in integrating a sexual identity. In fact, one of the counselors quoted, Michael Kocet, agreed when he said:

“I would like to see AGLBIC [Association for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Issues in Counseling] and ASERVIC [Association for Spritual, Ethical, Religious and Value Issues in Counseling] partnering more on how to integrate their two competency models into effective practice with GLBT clients,” he says. “Right now, I think they’re very much treated separately, most likely unintentionally. I think more research should be done on that; it’s an untapped area within the GLBT community.”

I don’t think it is untapped, but I do think counselors are often confused about how to work ethically and helpfully with clients for whom sexuality and religious faith are important and/or in conflict. The AGLBIC competencies do not mention religion. There is no guidance from that group on how to handle religious conflicts. The ASERVIC competencies on the other hand do provide relevant guidance, especially the following ones:

Competency 5 – The professional counselor can demonstrate sensitivity and acceptance of a variety of religious and/or spiritual expressions in client communication.

Competency 6 – The professional counselor can identify limits of her/his understanding of a client’s religious or spiritual expression, and demonstrate appropriate referral skills and generate possible referral sources.

Competency 7 – The professional counselor can assess the relevance of the religious and/or spiritual domains in the client’s therapeutic issues.

Competency 8 – The professional counselor is sensitive to and receptive of religious and/or spiritual themes in the counseling process as befits the expressed preference of each client.

Competency 9 – The professional counselor uses a clients’ religious and/or spiritual beliefs in the pursuit of the clients’ therapeutic goals as befits the clients’ expressed preference.

Note especially competencies 7-9. Religious beliefs are relevant to clients’ therapeutic goals and should reflect clients’ expressed preference.

Now back to the article and I will cut to the chase. The article conspicuously avoided any mention of religious beliefs that view homosexual behavior in a negative manner. The only alternative presented was to adopt a religious identity that is gay affirming. Note the organization presented to counselors as “Sprituality-based Resources” to such clients:

Counseling Today, April, 2007

Courage is the only group listed that promotes a traditional sexual ethic. The ASERVIC competency does not call on counselors to endorse or impose a brand of religiousity on clients, rather to use “a clients’ religious and/or spiritual beliefs in the pursuit of the clients’ therapeutic goals as befits the clients’ expressed preference.” What if a client’s expressed preference is for a religious view that is not represented by any group on that list? Then what?

Long time readers will know that the sexual identity therapy framework works within the values and beliefs of the client so I am not advocating for one side here. In fact, what I am saying is that one side will not fit all, even if the exclusion is prefaced by claims of multicultural competence.

UPDATE: I now have permission to post the article. The staff at Counseling Today provided a legible version of the article — thanks to them for that.

19 thoughts on “Counseling Today article about sexual identity and religion. One side fits all?”

  1. Eddy,

    Regardless of who said it or why, I truly believe times have changed. I know there are many people today wanting to give Exodus the right to be who they are, to preach their message – I think many more people have become accepting of the idea that anyone, straight or gay have the right to live the way they choose.

    The real problem today, and I believe a real reason many people are critical of Exodus today, is because of who they are in bed with (Focus on the Family and James Dobson) and how deeply they are involved with politics. I’d stop speaking out against Exodus if they would stop their political games.

    The other problem with politics goes deeper and has to do with their double standard. They want equal rights, they want respect and equal treatment, but they don’t want to give that to gay people.

    All of these things are real problems – and why, I believe, Exodus will make no progress until they change their ways – They keep taking two steps forward, but also 3 back. Alan’s mixed comments of late are good examples of that.

  2. No matter who said it (that Exodus had never NOT been political), it’s a misstatement. The closest that comes to the truth is that ‘since the beginning, people HAVE PERCEIVED the Exodus message as political’.

    I do hope the poster resurfaces because I’d like to have them defend their comment in the face of my very real memories. I was always extremely cautious about any political involvement; my ministry partner (an Exodus board member) and I discussed politics enough to know that 1) we had some serious issues with ‘right wing’ politics 2) we didn’t want our message muddied by connecting to groups who had high-levels of homophobia mixed in with their Christian agenda 3) we didn’t even agree with each other on every gay-related political issue. We lost or turned down support from a number of congregations because of our refusal to make political statements or support particular right-wing causes. Please believe me, we felt strongly enough about this issue that we would have separated from Exodus back in its infancy if it had been political.

    One of the hotbed issues way back then was ‘returning prayer to schools’. On the surface, it looked like an issue that every conservative Christian should support but I saw (and see) it differently. I saw state enforcement of religion. “Prayer in school’ used to be a one minute meditation that came piped in from the principal’s office (think Ferris Buehler’s Day Off). It struck me even then that there were people in my school who were religious but not Christian. You can’t require Jews, Hindus, Muslims etc to attend your public schools and then force them to take part in a daily ‘Jesus lesson’. (I felt particularly cheated when Gore/Lieberman did not assume the presidency; I wanted to see how they were going to handle the typical ‘Billy Graham, hand on the (christian) Bible’ swearing in.) Anyway, a number of Exodus leaders had similarly diverse views that kept us a safe distance from the politically involved conservative Christians.

    The first and only political statement of any nature that I can recall from our Exodus affiliate was “A Compassionate Response to Aids” where we actually distanced ourselves from the prevailing conservative responses at the time.

  3. Eddy,

    I’ve read so much on this site I don’t remember where I read it, but I promise you it was here. Alan had made a comment that for Exodus to get out of politics wouldn’t get most people off its back because Exodus didn’t used ot be political and people were trying to undermine them then, and another person countered that Exodus had never NOT been political. Hopefully someone will read this and say it again.

  4. Jayhuck,

    I don’t remember the discussion you referenced re some ex-Exodus people stating that there was never a time that Exodus wasn’t political. I don’t recall ANYONE blogging here that could speak to the early days of Exodus except Michael Bussee, myself and an occasional visit from my former ministry partner, Robbi Kenney. So, please help me to locate the discussion you referenced.

    (We’re in a blog time-warp, by the way. This is actually a thread from May that reactivated. LOL! The ‘couple of discussions back’ could actually be in thread topics yet to come.)

  5. Eddy,

    It is one thing to secure protection for your own views, its another thing entirely to actively seek to prevent others from having those same rights – which is what Exodus does now, and it is very two-faced in its demands.

    If you remember, a couple of discussions back, some ex-Exodus people stated that there was never a time when Exodus wasn’t political, and I believe that.

    You are right – it is “Patently unfair”, and I’d go one further, UNJUST, to prevent gay people from having the benefits of marriage, which include, but are not limited to, those few protections you listed under your statement on domestic partnerships.

    This isn’t a matter of marriage in the religious sense – gay people can already get married at a number of different Churches – its a matter of having the secular state recognize those relationships and bestow on them the benefits they give to other taxpayers.

  6. What standard should we have for inclusion on this list? The answer is obvious. If it’s a list rather than a statement, then it should simply be what it claims. It claims to be a list of “Spirituality Based Resources” for gay persons. Of course, it can’t list every local or congregational resource but it should list all national and denominational ‘spiritually based resources’. This would include EXODUS unless someone can demonstrate how they aren’t a spiritually based resource.

    By the way, when I was involved with a local ex-gay ministry our client mix included Roman Catholics, Orthodox Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans (several persuasions) Baptists, United Methodists and non-denominational charismatics. There was one Lutheran congregation and one Baptist that established support groups in their respective churches. The others relied on us as their resource.


    Thanks for acknowledging the different member agencies within EXODUS! I appreciate it more than I can say!

    I was chewing on your Catholic/anti-Catholic analogy. One sentence, in particular, struck me as especially significant to this discussion. “And to the extent that anyone tried to pass laws or erect barriers that in any way were detrimental to Catholics or the observance of their faith, I would oppose those efforts.”

    Way back before EXODUS ever got politically involved, we became aware that those who disagreed with our theological view were indeed trying to ‘erect barriers’ that were detrimental to US and the observance of OUR faith. Even then, our point of view was being ignored (much as it was in the list of spirituality based resources). What happened to the rights of a gay person who shares my theological views re homosexuality to even find a spirituality based resource that understands and supports their theology?

    What happened to their rights to evaluate for themselves the validity of such a resource?

    When I was involved with EXODUS, we didn’t discuss politics much. I always discouraged any type of political involvement because I felt it would distract from our main message. Those who defended political involvement raised questions like the ones I just presented. They’d also point to attacks, similar to Michael’s above, disparaging our goals and branding us ‘clearly delusional’. When you begin to recognize such public pressure against you, you have no choices other than to let it continue unchecked or to take steps to secure your rights politically. While I chose the road of political non-involvement, I could not refute that a public agenda was being worked against us and our beliefs. Others did began to tread the political waters. (As to how those waters have gotten so muddied, we’ve discussed that before and will again.)

    BTW: When I have been compelled by politically conservative Christians to state my own political opinion, I admit to being guided by this principle.

    “Homosexuals should have the same rights as any other sinner.” (Remember, I’m talking to THEM, I need to connect with their picture.) You don’t think you should be forced to rent to a gay-couple? Well, what other sins-of-exclusion are on your list? Do your tenants have to sign a list of legal but ‘immoral’ behaviors that they will not engage in?

    The issue that often brings me to a point of anger is related to domestic partnerships. Gay people contribute via taxes and insurance premiums to programs from which they receive no benefit. (I’m a single, childless man but I’ve been paying to support schools all my adult life.) It is patently unfair and unjust to deny any health benefits or to restrict partnership benefits in any way.

    I’m of a similar mind regarding end of life and estate issues. I am outraged when I hear of essentially estranged families who step in at the end, sever the partners and deprive the survivor of the estate.

  7. I have an idea for at least one of the standards: Must not have used Cameron in support of their work for (at least) the past five years and must now denounce any connection to him.

  8. I think this all points out that there are no standards. What criteria would one use to compile a fair, representative list of the organizations that should be listed?

  9. Regarding organizations on this list and political activism (which presumably would keep Exodus off), the Methodist Federation for Social Action ( on the list is nothing but political action. I have not checked out all of these groups but I suspect many of them have political leanings on issues of interest to them.

  10. I’m wondering, how do gays define the difference between not thinking homosexuality is the way to live and anti-gay sentiments/ groups??? Just wondering if someone wants to answer.

    I hereby speak for all gays (well, obviously not really, but here’s my own answer):

    It’s a matter of personal decision v. oppression. I fully respect your decision not to “think homosexuality is not the way to live” but I have no respect whatsoever for anti-gay sentiments/ groups.

    Let me use a different example to help you understand:

    I am a Protestant Christian. As such, I do not think that Catholicism is the way to live. I do not partake in confession, chatechism, praying the rosary, veneration of Mary, following Papal decree, or any of the other aspects in which my faith differs from Catholicism. I may even go so far as to think some of those things are “wrong” and contrary to God’s will.

    But I am not anti-Catholic. I don’t ascribe to Catholics some vile characteristics or make up bogus mortality rates. I don’t extrapolate the evils of one bad priest to be characteristic of priests as a whole. I don’t think that the sacrements of my church should be enforced by law to the detriment of Catholics. In fact, to the extent that I would ever even comment about my differences with Catholicism would be in the context of respectful Scriptural debate – and to date I’ve never had that discussion. Because it isn’t neccessary.

    I believe that Catholics and Protestants can live peaceably and in harmony without every having to agree or approve of the doctrines of the other. And to the extent that anyone tried to pass laws or erect barriers that in any way were detrimental to Catholics or the observance of their faith, I would oppose those efforts.

    So I can think Catholicism to be wrong or even think it an immoral and ungodly practice (I don’t, by the way) without ever being anti-Catholic.

    So too can a principled person think homosexuality to be wrong or even an immoral and ungodly practice without ever being anti-gay. I wish more would.

  11. Mary asked: “I’m wondering, how do gays define the difference between not thinking homosexuality is the way to live and anti-gay sentiments/ groups?”

    I cannot speak for how “gays define” these two things, since gays are as varied as straights in their opinions. There is no monolithic “gay opinion” or “gay definition”. I can tell you that I personally respect those who make the personal choice not to act on their gay feelings for religious or personal reasons (those who think that “homosexuality is not the way to live”) — as long as they do not make false claims of heterosexuality. I also respect more moderate foks, like Dr. Throckmorton, who help people live in accordance with their values. That is certainly their right — even though I think they are wrong.

    I view “anti-gay” sentiments and groups as those that spread falsehoods about gays and their families, those who insist that gays are all mentally ill, amoral, etc., that all gays must have been molested, must have had pad parents, etc. I disrepect groups that are deceptive about the language they use (EXODUS immediately springs to mind). I disrespect “scientists” or “scientific organizations” (NARTH immediately springs to mind) that misuse science or employ blatantly faulty methods to prove their prejudice against gays.

    I see as “anti-gay” those groups that seek to strip gays of hard-won legal protections against discrimination — or those groups which seek to repeal Hate Crime Laws, or who consider gays to be “parasites” (Cameron) or those who stand by Cameron (NARTH) or those who stand by NARTH (EXODUS).

  12. I agree that the oppossing view was ignored and the criteria was applied differently to the perspectives. Fair to say – I have only f/u on one of the items on the list and will do the rest this week end.

    I’m wondering, how do gays define the difference between not thinking homosexuality is the way to live and anti-gay sentiments/ groups??? Just wondering if someone wants to answer.


  13. RE: organizations within denominations, there is Transforming Congregations (Methodist); and OneByOne (Presbyterian) that come to mind.

    If we apply your criteria to the list in Counseling Today, I believe I could disqualify a few of them (unsubstantiated claims, being involved in political activism, solid counseling practices).

    If religious diversity is truly to be respected in the same way the mental health professions respect sexual orientation diversity, then I think the same criteria should be applied to both.

    This list is one evidence of how the opposing view was ignored. I recognize that the lists would not be parallel. Did the author or editors ask those of a different perspective or those who are neutral? I am still digging into this but so far it does not appear so. In the reporting on the issue, in the cases presented and in the resources offered, there is one clear perspective.

  14. Warren,

    I think you may be being a bit unfair to the compilers of the list. As NickC mentioned, it is extremely difficult to include organizations that are anti-gay precisely because they often engage in practices that the ACA or APA find abhorent (and I suspect you find them so as well).

    Perhaps Harvest USA could be included; I know very little about them. But they seem to be quite small and perhaps not national enough for the list. Though perhaps there are others.

    Also, the list is constructed by faith identity. And there are very few organizations that are part of a denomination that seek to reconcile orientation with faith from a conservative perspective. Many take a “turn or burn” approach which I’m sure you would agree are hardly “resources”.

    With the criteria of 1) solid counseling practices, 2) sensitivity to sexual orientation and realistic recognition that orientation is not chosen or demon possession, 3) seeking to reconcile SSA with faith, 4) not making unsubstantiated claims, and 5) being primarily counseling and/or religion and not political activism, very few “other side” groups would qualify.

    Other than Courage, I cannot readily think of any.

    Exodus would not – though perhaps some small percentage of the local ministries might. I don’t know how many follow the “Jesus will make you heterosexual” and “we must stop the homosexual agenda” mantras and how many just seek to find a way to follow their values.

  15. Warren: If there IS good evidence that sexual orientation CAN be changed, could you kindly give the reference? It’s not my job to prove that sexual CAN”T change. It’s your job (and by “your” I mean those who assert that sexual reorientation can and should be changed) to prove that it can. Or, to put it another way, it’s not my job to disprove that Noah’s ark exists. It’s your task to show me the boat.

  16. From the excerpts you quote, including their list of recommended organizations, I don’t see that they are “taking sides on religious questions.” Does the article state that homosexual clients who hold traditional religious views should be urged to change their religion?

  17. Harvest USA is non-political group that views homosexuality as sinful but at least the staff I know locally do not consider homosexuality a mental disorder. As it has been presented here, they are a group that helps people live in alignment with belief. Changing orientation would be a by-product if it happened at all.

    Here is the problem with all of this. The ACA is a profession that is now taking sides on religious questions. When they venture into the religious domain they need to recognize that a sizable percentage of the population is not going to see it their way. The ACA way of responding? Pretend the side they disagree with doesn’t exist.

    Michael – I would like to see empirical evidence for your claim that the most productive approach is to accept #s1 & 2. As you know, I do not disagree that this option can be a healthy option but any statements about probabilities for a general group of people needs to be supported with research. This is part of my quarrel with ACA, APA and the like: the statements about what is general good are made in absence of data, based on ideological concerns. I think until the research can be done, groups should give allowances for the different value positions involved with an honest, “We don’t know.”

  18. Cutting to the chase, Dr. Throckmorton observes: “The article conspicuously avoided any mention of religious beliefs that view homosexual behavior in a negative manner.”

    I suspect that is because well-informed therapists know that (1) homosexuality is not a mental illness, (2) there is no good evidence that sexual orientation should or can be changed and (3) the most productive approach for MOST clients is to help them accept numbers 1 and 2 by developing a healthy lifestyle.

    That being said, I believe a therapist ought to respect a clients relgious beliefs — unless they are clearly delusional, are causing the person to be unable to function in every day life, etc.

  19. Warren–what groups that promote a traditional sexual ethic would you expect them to include?

    I think it’s very significant that they did include Courage, which is the only “traditional ethic” group I know that does NOT promote the idea that gays can and should change their orientation. I’ve never been personally involved with Courage, but I’ve always heard that they focus on celibacy rather than change. I believe, for example, that they do not encourage single participants in their ministry to pursue heterosexual marriage as a goal.

    Any reputable association of psychologists or counselors might well hesitate to recommend organizations like Exodus, simply on grounds that they can’t endorse the false promises of changing a person’s orientation.

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