LA Times article features ex-gay debate and sexual identity therapy

NOTE: This article is archived here now… 

This morning’s LA Times pulls together a host of factors to suggest that there is “New ground in debate on ‘curing’ gays.” Written by Stephanie Simon, the article cites or quotes numerous sources as evidence that changes are happening in the dialogue regarding sexual orientation, ministry and therapy.

The article begins with a bang:

Alan Chambers directs Exodus International, widely described as the nation’s largest ex-gay ministry. But when he addresses the group’s Freedom Conference at Concordia University in Irvine this month, Chambers won’t celebrate successful “ex-gays.”

Truth is, he’s not sure he’s ever met one.

With years of therapy, Chambers says, he has mostly conquered his own attraction to men; he’s a husband and a father, and he identifies as straight. But lately, he’s come to resent the term “ex-gay”: It’s too neat, implying a clean break with the past, when he still struggles at times with homosexual temptation. “By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete,” Chambers said.

His personal denunciation of the term “ex-gay” — his organization has yet to follow suit — is just one example of shifting ground in the polarizing debate on homosexuality.

While I am not sure Alan would categorize his process as “years of therapy,” this section reprises many discussions on this blog about ex-gay as a term and the changing focus at Exodus.

Speaking of blog discussions, Michael Bussee adds his perspective:

“Something’s happening. And I think it’s very positive,” agreed Michael Bussee, who founded Exodus in 1976, only to fall in love with another man — a fellow ex-gay counselor.

Now a licensed family therapist in Riverside, Bussee regularly speaks out against ex-gay therapies and is scheduled to address the Ex-Gay Survivor’s Conference at UC Irvine at the end of the month.

But Bussee put aside his protest agenda recently to endorse new guidelines to sexual identity therapy, co-written by two professors at conservative Christian colleges.

Lee Beckstead gives a fine description of sexual identity therapy:

“It’s about helping clients accept that they have these same-sex attractions and then allowing them the space, free from bias, to choose how they want to act,” said Lee Beckstead, a gay psychologist in Salt Lake City who uses this approach.

Speaking of the sexual identity therapy framework, I think this might the first public mention of their endorsement by Robert Spitzer.

The guidelines for this type of therapy — written by Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College and Mark Yarhouse of Regent University — have been endorsed by representatives on both the left and right. The list includes the provost of a conservative evangelical college and the psychiatrist whose gay-rights advocacy in the 1970s got homosexuality removed from the official medical list of mental disorders.

“What appeals to me is that it moves away from the total polarization” common in the field, said Dr. Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist.

While not in this article, his complete statement to me about the framework is:

I have reviewed the sexual identity framework written by Warren Throckmorton and Mark Yarhouse. This framework provides a very necessary outline to help therapists address the important concerns of clients who are in conflict over their homosexual attractions. The work of Drs. Throckmorton and Yarhouse transcend polarized debates about whether gays can change their sexual orientation. Rather, this framework helps therapists work with clients to craft solutions tailored to their individual situations and personal beliefs and values. I support this framework and hope it is widely implemented.

You heard it here first

UPDATE: The article has been reprinted by Newsday and the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, the San Mateo County Times, the Chicago Tribune Redeye edition, AM New York and the Advocate.

39 thoughts on “LA Times article features ex-gay debate and sexual identity therapy”

  1. Jayhuck…

    My bad! I thought you were new here and unfamiliar with Warren.

    I assume you’re going to the conference, safe and pleasant travels to you!

  2. Eddy,

    He has not, in any way shape or form, answered the questions I posted and sent him. I’m sure he is waiting for when he has more time.

    I have known of and about Warren for many years, and I understand where he stands on some issues, but that doesn’t tell us anything about how he might handle some specific, but very important counseling situations. There are some things that disturb me in his Sexual Identity therapy framework he drafted with Mark Yarhouse.

    I’m happy to wait for the answers, but I don’t think its wrong to ask them, and they have nothing to do with understanding where the man stands.

  3. LOL…I knew Warren was on vacation but I thought he wasn’t answering because he just went through a period of that with some other new people. I figured it gets tiresome answering questions when the answers have pretty much been provided. (Check out those sidebar links and you’ll get a real sense of the man, his beliefs and his psychological approach.)

    I do believe that Warren would refer someone on if he didn’t feel comfortable addressing an issue. But, I think the scenario Jayhuck suggested would be well within Warren’s capabilities. He’d assist as much as he could and, if he found he was having moral conflicts that were impacting the neutrality (hence the effectiveness) of his therapy, he’d refer on.

    Why wouldn’t this violate his conscience? The answer is ‘for most of the same reasons hosting this site doesn’t violate his conscience’. It’s not like the Salvation Army where they’ll feed you IF you stay for the preaching; he hosts, he moderates, he researches, he presents topics you’d never hear discussed in a church and he encourages voices from all sides of the issue(s)…yes, he sometimes talks about topics other than H…anyway, he does all this without making us stick around to listen to his theological sermonizing. His call is to provide a safe environment for truth to be discovered and then let God take it from there.

    I hope I got that right…if not, we’ll be hearing from Warren shortly…even from vacation…with clarifications and/or embellishments. 🙂

  4. guys, I think Warren is out of town this week.

    And I don’t try to answer for him… but we do have to recognize that like everyone else he has the areas in which he specializes and is comfortable in giving counseling. I suspect that if someone came to Warren with something that he didn’t feel comfortable in addressing, he’s refer them to someone else.

    But I’m just guessing here.

  5. Brian,

    Many of us have been asking Warren specific questions about therapy-related situations, but he hasn’t been answering.

    I attribute that to him being the busy and sought-after personality/country he is :), but I’m hoping he doesn’t remain silent forever.

  6. Did Warren ever respond to “if you have a client who is a christian, and is happy and content marrying a partner of the same-sex, would you help him to cope with the societal stigma of that decision – that he is personally at peace with, but faces discrimination because of? Would you help him in family sessions to address this?” ?

    I would be really interested in hearing his perspective on that as well.

  7. I guess that is my problem from years of experience with people who scream for tolerance that are very intolerant.

    This seems to be a consistent theme with you, Stephen. But it confuses me. I am unaware of intolerance from people screaming for tolerance. Perhaps you can explain yourself better and give us an example of this intolerance you’ve seen.

    Who, precisely, has been intolerant of you and in what way?

  8. Stephen Black,

    And just to be clear, I think most compassionate people understand why gay people can sometimes be intolerant. It is because THEY are the minority group who most frequently receives abuse in society. They are bullied, they are physically and emotionally abused by family and by strangers, and they are told that they don’t deserve marriage – they are treated as second class citizens, and many, because of all these things and the message they hear that they are sinners bound for hell, kill themselves or are killed by others.

    Pardon me, but I should think you’d understand why some people in the gay community can seem intolerant or defensive at times, especially, after living like this for years and than having a group say we love you, but you have to change – OH, and we are going to undermine your rights through legislation!!!

  9. Stephen Black,

    Are you saying then that you don’t have a problem with the Ex-Gay contingent that asks for the same rights as gay people and groups and then turns around and politically works to undermine the rights of gay people?

  10. In reading through this web of comments, I found it interesting that there is some civility with the progay and proexgay sides. I have to be honest though, if I believe the Scriptures I am doubtful of the motives and sincerity. I guess that is my problem from years of experience with people who scream for tolerance that are very intolerant.

    OKAY… DR. Throckmorton:

    I am equally interested in this last question. How does a “Christ following” Christian therapist keep his conscience clear in leading some one into ‘peace’ with being married gay? Perhaps my question is a little different than JAG’s but gets at the heart of the matter as well. Can he actually lead his client into embracing a homosexual marriage?

  11. Warren,

    With all due respect, I’d like to know your answer to JAG’s question as well.

  12. Warren –

    I’m wondering…

    if you have a client who is a christian, and is happy and content marrying a partner of the same-sex, would you help him to cope with the societal stigma of that decision – that he is personally at peace with, but faces discrimination because of? Would you help him in family sessions to address this?

  13. Sonja,

    There are all kinds of Christians who believe all kinds of things. Just because someone doesn’t ascribe to your type of Christianity doesn’t mean they are wrong. You act as if you speak for all Christians and you most clearly don’t.

  14. Before Peter LaBarbera was engaged in the culture war, he was 100% focused on the problem of communism. Maybe he is really a Soviet spy, like in that Kevin Costner/Gene Hackman movie…

  15. I visit peter’s website every so often myself and followed this link which is supposed to point out that evangicals are now supporting gays lifestyle. I didn’t get it myself but can tell you that Peter L. is a very strange man. He is married but spends all of his time writing/talking about gays every day. He goes to all of the gay events in his area and says he is doing it in the name of “research”. I don’t know about any of you, but I find that very strange. There are things we will never understand and Peter Labarbera is one of them. I would just say that people should pray for him and his family.

  16. Peter Labarbera is sending everyone to this link. Why? I read the comments and all and don’t get the connection. For some reason, he is spending his whole life trying to prove that gay people aren’t really gay. Why, I wonder. What’s in it for him. He must be fighting some very powerful urges to experiment, or maybe he already has been in a man/man relationship and now he regrets it. Only god knows the dark secrets of Peter Labarbera and we just pray that he has not caused harm sexually to others.

  17. I understand and used the term “counsel” in its professional sense. I was asking you, Dr W. T.: If a client comes to you for counseling, and that client is an atheist or a member of a “gay-affirming church,” …

    Do you proceed to counsel him in according to his worldview (without challenging his beliefs, allowing him to remain comfortable in a “gay” lifestyle), OR

    Do you inform him that according the the Christian worldview (to which you ascribe, I assume), he needs to consider doing otherwise, OR

    Do you refer him to a counselor who accepts his worldview?

  18. I think I was quite clear: “A Christian is obligated to live a moral life. If he finds himself in sin, he must repent.”

    A person cannot claim to be saved yet continue in immorality. The pattern of his life must change.

    “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

    A Christian is unlikely to be sinless, but he must wage war on his temptations, making no provision for the flesh, instead occupying his mind/time with what is true, pure, etc. It’s not merely optional.

  19. Sonja — No one here would debate that God is Holy and desires a holy people. We may be dealing with theological differences here. By your objection to Gary and Michael’s statement, you may be implying that true Christians do not sin. Some within the holiness tradition of Christianity believe there is a second blessing of the spirit that brings a believer into sinless perfection. Not sure if this is what you are saying or if you are saying that sin needs repenting. No one here that I have read would disagree with that.

    You may also be implying that people “lose their salvation” if they are in what might be termed a sinful lifestyle (living immorally).

    I will not debate religion very far here on this blog but I would like people to be clear about what informs their comments.

  20. Sonja asked:

    Question: So does that mean that you, Warren, sometimes counsel homosexuals (who don’t believe in God/Christianity) to continue living a “gay” lifestyle?

    I don’t “counsel” people to adopt my values while a counselor. I think you are using the term in the sense of advice giving. This is an issue that is debated in counseling circles frequently. Can/should therapist impose their values and beliefs on clients? The answer is no, ethically, this cannot be done. Clients must give informed consent for such value based advice. It is permissible for counselors with worldview commitments to gain informed consent to work within that worldview and this is done frequently Christian counselors, feminist counselors, Buddhist counselors, etc. When people choose a such a counselor, they want advice from that perspective but when they do not want this kind of advice, the counselor must either work with them on their terms or refer.

  21. Sonja left out the “effeminate”. Could someone on the “other” side of this debate PLEASE tell me what that is and why God hates it so much? If you base your belief that “homosexuality is immoral” on scripture, then I feel you are under obligation to be just as clear as to why the “effeminate” won’t inherit the kingdom. I want to hear from someone who really BELIEVES that the “effeminate” are immoral == and that they will perish if they don’t repent. Who ARE the “effemiate” and what exactly do they DO that is so bad? Would Sonja care to answer?

  22. Gary and Michael assert that “one can be saved and live immorally” but the Bible teaches:

    “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.”

    “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

    “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

    A Christian is obligated to live a moral life. If he finds himself in sin, he must repent.

    “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

  23. Warren wrote: “Therapists cannot take sides in religious debates.”

    Question: So does that mean that you, Warren, sometimes counsel homosexuals (who don’t believe in God/Christianity) to continue living a “gay” lifestyle?

  24. Of course I want to treat you like I want to be treated. I want to be told when I am living in a way that is contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

    Gary, with all due respect, I simply don’t believe people when they say, “If I were this way, then I’d want to be treated thus and so”. There are three problems with those statements.

    1. It isn’t true. I have yet to find those who really want to be ill treated no matter how much we may think they deserve it. There just aren’t anyone say, “hey, come rebuke me.”

    Just as an example, suppose someone were to tell you, “you are demonstrating self-righteousness and arrogance. You need to repent to gay people”. Your first reaction, I’m willing to bet, is not, “oh praise God, I’m hearing a message to apply to my life”.

    2. It assumes a moral superiority. It says, “I’m so morally superior that I would be unlike you and welcome correction. You are just a miserable sinner but I, well I’m so holy that I would naturally recognize rebuke that is appropriate and rejoice in abuse”.

    3. It is a perversion of the commandment. Christ did not tell us to love our neighbor as ourself if we were other than we are. We are not to love if but rather to love the way we want to be loved – just the way we are and just the way our neighbor is. Remember, Jesus told us our neighbor was the theologically abhorent Samaritan – and he didn’t become our neighbor after he changed his heretical ways and started believing the truth. He was our neighbor when society and the church said to shun him.

    It’s a tough commandment – by far the hardest rule in the Bible to follow. And I doubt any of us ever quite get it right. But we can, I believe, at least try not to pervert it and turn it into the opposite of what Christ commanded.

  25. Yes, I equate empathy with love. It’s not just a warm, fuzzy, feeling. In fact, it’s not really a feeling at all. It self-sacrifical ACTION for the sake of the other person. It does not necessarily mean that one always understands what the other is trying to SAY — but at least we TRY to understand.

    Sometimes words are not involved at all. Love is a VERB. It is DOING as you would like to have DONE to you. It’s a non-legalistic, Evangelical Christian Humanism, for lack of better terms. It’s Christo-centric and Bible-based.

    Coveting is an unloving lust for the possessions of another. It is sin because it violates the “prime directive” of Jesus’s New Commandment. Tell me how loving, committed same-sex love relationships violates that. Also, you avoided my question. Please explain how being “effeminate” violates that Golden principle.

  26. Mike Bussee wrote:

    And, while I’m asking, why are the”effeminate” doomed?

    The easy answer is that they are not. The latter-day interpretation of the Greek malakos as soft and then into effeminate is blatatantly wrong – and thus it is an intrpretation out of bigotry. The word in the context is more properly interpreted as “soft morals” and thus doesn’t apply to an oppressed minority but to all Chrisitians not to be soft, that is relativistic, on morality.

    This is all well and good….but the idea that society should then become geared towards value-shopping for a person of homosexual orientation seems…. wrong.

  27. Michael, it seems to me that you have reframed the term love to mean empathy. Then you failed to empathize with me for you missed badly what I said. Of course I want to treat you like I want to be treated. I want to be told when I am living in a way that is contrary to the teachings of the Bible. As Paul notes, “I would not have known coveting was a sin unless the Commandment told me.” As a therapist I often am able to help a person understand harmful behavior when I empathicly listen to him/her.


  28. Gary is right that one can be saved and live immorally. But I suspect that we might determine what is “moral” behavior in very different ways. I believe that any TRUE morality is based on EMPATHY — that wonderful, humbling ability to IMAGINE how YOU would feel — if you were in the other person’s shoes. God gave us that ability and we are under divine obigation to use it.

    This type of morality has no “lists” of do’s and don’ts — which seems to drive list-makers and list-followers mad with an unsettling, free-floating anxiety. No lists? Why, the world would sping out of control! Not so. Jesus gives us a New Commandment.

    Instead of comforting, rigid, familiar, easy, black-and-white morality, THIS morality asks: “Would you REALLY want someone else to treat YOU this way?” Is this action motivated by LOVE and a genuine concern and respect for the rights, feelings, dignity and “loved-by-God” nature of this fellow human being? Or are you just using this other person for your own purposes? Be really honest.” Adn then, think about it. What MAKES things like murder, rape, theft, lying, child abuse, infidelity, sexual addiction, “sin”? Why does a loving and just God forbid them?

    And, while I’m asking, why are the”effeminate” doomed? Many believe they are just as “immoral” as “practicing homosexuals”, but they can NEVER define what “effiminate” actually is — or why God would consider it so “sinful” that it is worthy of exclusion from His kingdom. Hey, our founding fathers wore powered wigs and spiffy silk breaches. Are they doomed too?

    Sometimes, it seems like only list-makers and list-keepers have this problem. The rest of us just pray, ask the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts and actions — and then try to “do unto others” as we would like them “to do unto us”. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

  29. Remember that all change is self change as assisted by and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Force just does not bring real change.

    However, we must admit that one can be saved by grace through faith and still live immorally. The story is told of a famous ganster who went forward at a Billy Graham meeting but continued to kill, maim and steal. When confronted he said he wanted to be a “Christian gangster” in the same way there are Christian movie stars and Christian football players.

    The issue has never been homosexual orientation but behavior and that is sex outside marriage. By orientation I am an adulterer. However, I have never had sex with anyone but my wife since marriage. I am not a “Christian adulterer”.

  30. Amen to that! Karen’s comment bears repeating — with ONE change: “An individual is saved SOLELY by GRACE — through faith in Christ.”

    This message is what has been lost in the endless banter about whether gays can become straight. This is not a salvation issue. Every Christian must work out their own salavation and, guided by the Holy Spirt, live according to their own conscience.

    I applaud every important step that Alan has taken in recent days to (1) stand against bullying, violence and hate, (2) call for the Church to radically change the way it treats gays, (3) help EXODUS be more clear in their own use of language (ie: doing away with the term “ex-gay”) and (4) strive to be more honest about what EXODUS can (and cannot) do — admitting that whatever the “change process” is, it is anything but “sudden, radical or complete.”

    Considering EXODUS’s history, these are BIG steps These are changes that I have been pushing (and praying for) since I left EXODUS in 1979. For all these things, Alan has my sincere thanks and growing admiration.

  31. Karen,

    If it’s expressed in terms of “sanctification” it won’t be well understood by anyone. What if it were just expressed like this:

    I may be homosexual but my faith requires that I live a sexually pure life which does not include same-sex activity.

    That’s pretty easy for folks to understand no matter what their political or religious affiliations.

  32. One of the things that Transforming Congregations is trying to do within the Mainline and the broader Church is to move the theological conversation away from salvation (and also condemnation and damnation) issues to focus more on sanctification of sexuality. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-7.)

    Classic protestantism teaches that an individual is saved SOLELY by faith in Christ. He or she “goes to heaven” based on Jesus’ actions – death and resurrection – and not on any personal merit of his/her own. That applies whether one is gay or straight, or anything in between.

    Sanctification – becoming holy – is a process, a cooperative effort between the person and the Holy Spirit. It includes a submission of one’s sexuality to God’s work and will, and it never is completed this side of heaven.

    That is what I think Exodus is attempting to communicate now. And I applaud them for it. But it won’t be a message easily understood by either the Church or culture.

  33. The LA Times is owned by the Tribune Co. (parent of the Chicago Tribune.) Yet, it is clear that the report in the LA Times was far better journalism than last week’s Chi Trib article.

    Also, I recently read through the Throckmorton and Yarhouse manuscript and came away very impressed.

    Good work. The positive press is well earned.

  34. And the “choice” is not a choice at all, either in religion or in therapy, when the alternative to ex-gay therapy is “be condemned for your orientation.”

    Theologians and therapists alike must realize that individuals forced into this position do not have a choice — they MUST decide to purse sexual reorientation, as they have been made to believe their eternal souls depend on it.

    And thus, there is no choice in the matter.

    Only when pain of death is removed from this equation will an individual ever truly be able to decide for himself or herself which course of counseling to pursue.

  35. Warren is right: “Religious debates will continue and will not be resolved by the mental health professions.”

    What I do think therapist can (even should) do is examine how the client came to their beliefs, what sort of “change” they are looking for — and what is motivating the particular client to seek change.

    Example: Some years ago, I counseled a very sick, HIV+, devoutly Christian young man who wanted to become straight and would not take his HIV meds — because he believed that AIDS was God’s punishment. Even though I believe there is nothing morally or psychologically wrong with being gay, I chose not to challenge his anti-gay/pro-change beliefs.

    Instead, I told him it would be hard to counsel a dead person (I confessed that I have problems with long silences in session) and that in order to see me he must be following his doctor’s instructions. He agreed. He began taking his anti-viral meds and also an anti-depressant. As his phsycial and emotional health began to improve, he decided to “hold off” on trying to change his orientation and focussed instead on making postive lifestyle changes.

    He called sometime back to let me know that he was doing well, that he had decided to be “celibate for now” — and that he had decided to go to a different church, one that did not preach that AIDS was God’s retribution. He told me that he considered the therapy to be “life-saving and life-changing.” And we didn’t discuss becoming “ex-gay” once! (By the way, I never told him about my role as one of the co-founders of EXODUS.)

  36. Since we are dealing with coping mechanisms that will allow those who are truly conflicted over sexual orientation to examine the options open to them, it does seem that this approach will be helpful to both those who are true Evangelical believers in Christ and those who are not. The therapy appears to remove much of the stigma that Evangelical believers have felt by their simple acknowledgement of same sex orientation. This removal puts them in a more open mind to deal with the deeper issues and consider in a more dispassionate manner the various consequences of what the chose to do with their own value system.

    “Pastor in Massachusetts the vortex of the concern over same sex marriage.”

  37. The choice is in making the determination about what you believe. Therapists cannot take sides in religious debates. Religious debates will continue and will not be resolved by the mental health professions.

  38. I think this is an important first step toward healthy therapy situations with gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people of faith. I am however concerned about the reality of “choice” which is so important. As long as individuals are told that a non-heterosexual orientation is sinful and thus that to accept it and to live it out with integrity would be to accept condemnation and ultimately damnation, “choice” is hardly an appropriate word to use. Patients must truly be free to chose what is appropriate for them — they cannot do that as long as the anti-gay machine continues to insist that the opposite of homosexuality is holiness.

    When the alternative includes eternal damnation… there isn’t any choice.

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