In Quiet Desperation: Rebuttal to Byrd, Cox & Robinson

I posted yesterday that Dean Byrd, Shirley Cox, and Jeffrey Robinson misrepresented the views of Northwestern University researcher Michael Bailey. The misrepresentation happened in a review of the book, In Quiet Desperation. The book was written by Fred and Marilyn Matis and Ty Mansfield and in the first part explores the suicide of Stuart Matis from his parents’ perspective and in the second part, Ty Mansfield explains his views of homosexuality from the vantage point of an observant Latter Day Saint.

Beyond the problem with how Byrd et al handled research in their review, Ty Mansfield claims the trio of NARTH members mishandled his book. I have not read the book so this post simply reports an excerpt from his rebuttal and an observation. I invite readers to read the book and this exchange and decide for yourself.

Now, in response to Byrd, Cox, and Robinson, a reader’s response to a book can have as much or more to do with the reader’s own preoccupations and paradigms as it does with the actual content of the book. And where an author is silent鈥攁s I tried to be regarding clinical themes鈥攊ndividuals will fill in the empty space with their own biases. People can stubbornly remain stuck with a given point of view and only see evidence that confirms that view, and any contradictory evidence is ignored. This phenomenon is so common that psychologists have even given it a name: confirmation bias. In Quiet Desperation has been subject to that distortion from two sides. Those who believe that homosexual relationships should be accepted by the Church have co-opted the book for their own purposes. And these reviewers have done the same, but in an opposite direction.

So there will be no further confusion, let me set the record straight. First, I do not believe in a biologically determined cause of homosexuality, and our book does not once make that claim. Second, I wholeheartedly support the Church’s teaching on the family, heterosexual monogamy, and the sanctity of the eternal union of man and woman as the only means of attaining the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, and that this ideal is one that everyone should hope and strive for, no matter what their temporal challenges might be. My beliefs, I feel, are in complete harmony with what the Lord’s Prophets and Apostles teach. In addition to supporting the Church’s teachings, most of the reviewers’ scientific assertions about homosexuality I have no quarrel with. Further, I respect the dedication and hard work of these individuals and so many others in assisting those who have sought them out for treatment for their unwanted homosexual feelings. They have brought great encouragement and tireless energy to helping their many patients.

Despite the authors’ affirmation of LDS teaching, Byrd et al criticize the In Quiet Desperation authors with being too pro-gay. Clearly, Mansfield rejects that accusation.

As I read the rebuttal, it occurred to me that this debate was the LDS parallel to the differences between the change and congruence paradigms we discuss here. In fact, Mansfield links to and quotes a Christianity Today article from an anonymous writer which laments both the evangelical focus on change of orientation and those who believe living a gay life is the only alternative for same-sex attracted people.

This author sounds very much like the person I wrote about in the essay, A Valued Life. It seems as though Mansfield is describing a realistic approach to same-sex attraction within the framework of adherence to LDS theology. However, that is not good enough for Byrd, Cox, and Robinson. They write:

However, with appropriate help, many individuals who struggle with same-sex attraction are able to diminish or eliminate that attraction and make substantial changes in their lives. Those who read In Quiet Desperation, therefore, should do so with the knowledge that the Stuart Matis story may have had a much different outcome had Stuart found the needed help.

Similarly, Ty Mansfield and the reader should understand there is much hope and substantial evidence that those who want to overcome same-sex attraction can make changes and achieve happiness and peace in their lives. Therefore, this review is written to contradict for Ty, and the many others who continue to struggle with same-sex attraction, the vision of hopelessness perpetrated through In Quiet Desperation.

I have heard the same criticism. To some, realism and an honest appraisal of the evidence is somehow hope squelching. If the study of Jones and Yarhouse is to be believed, more people in Exodus are living within the congruence model than have reported change. Given the modest change, it seems that what is happening via Exodus mediation is congruence for the lion’s share of the 53% who reported a positive response.

However, for Byrd et al, within their understanding of LDS theology, Mansfield’s approach is “A Slippery Slope that Limits the Atonement” as they title their review. They write:

The book inadvertently limits the power of the Atonement in the lives of people who struggle with homosexual attraction. As professionals with many combined years of practice in treating those with unwanted homosexual attraction, we have witnessed changes in the lives of many of these individuals, and the epiphanies have been many.

Like all emotional challenges, the outcome data has ranges of success. What is clear is that when the same standard applied to treatment outcomes of similarly situated difficulties is applied to the treatment outcomes of those with unwanted homosexuality, the results are remarkably similar. There is much in the professional treatment protocols that are compatible with the restored gospel. Appropriate professional help along with the healing powers of the gospel have repeatedly convinced us that there is no struggle for which the Atonement is not sufficient.

I know very little about the LDS doctrine of the Atonement, but if Mansfield limits it, I would argue that they also limit it in a different manner, given their reliance on “professional help.” It seems to me that what they are saying is that counseling plus the gospel is needed. Well, actually, that is what they say when they write: “Appropriate professional help along with the healing powers of the gospel have repeatedly convinced us that there is no struggle for which the Atonement is not sufficient.” So a little reparative therapy is needed to make the Atonement sufficient.

In any case, the authors offer no “outcome data,” or no research to support their claims of epiphanies. As we discuss within the evangelical context, this debate seems to be in part theological for some involved, rather than based in science. For Byrd et al, it appears their need for the change paradigm is based, at least in part, on their belief that their religious beliefs require that paradigm. Somehow, living in accord with LDS beliefs is insufficient, one must change one’s attractions to demonstrate progression in the faith. In general, I think psychologists have trouble seeing the role of their worldview loyalties in how they interpret data. Too often, loyalty to one’s worldview can lead to confirmation bias when approaching science, picking the studies that seem to fit and ignoring or failing to consider adequately those which do not.