David Barton on history. Ken Ham on science. Joseph Nicolosi on psychology and sexual orientation. Now Michael Brown on sexual orientation counseling.
In a Christian Post op-ed Michael Brown takes Al Mohler to task for his assessment of sexual orientation. Mohler now acknowledges that sexual orientation is a useful descriptive category, even as he appears to consider same-sex orientation to be inherently sinful. The former opinion seems to be self-evident, the latter position confusing. How can a set of givens be any more sinful than another set of givens? Isn’t what one does in response to our impulses the key?
Because of his shift in views, Mohler rejects reparative therapy, or any secular approach to curing sexual orientation. Minister and commentator Michael Brown enters the fray at this point. He says:
People find themselves attracted to the same sex for many different reasons, some of which can be unpacked through counseling, including secular counseling. In fact, as countless gays and lesbians have shared with counselors, their attractions can often be traced back to sexual abuse or serious family crises.
Cannot a secular counselor deal with these issues too? Must we put homosexuality into a special category of its own?
Surely there are many other areas of our lives that are deeply affected by our sinful nature, yet we do not say that counseling cannot help us make progress in those areas, do we?
It is amazing to me that evangelicals who reject so-called secular science on one hand, embrace Sigmund Freud and theories of sexual orientation derived from Freud’s fictions. Brown promote the discredited view that same-sex attraction arises because of sexual abuse and/or “serious family crises.” This was cutting edge a century ago, and even then Freud despaired that cure could come through analysis and didn’t think the effort was necessary. Freud, who believed that childhood trauma could lead to homosexual desires, wasn’t a strong advocate of therapy to change it. In 1935, a mother wrote Freud about help for her son. Freud interpreted the letter as a request to help the young man overcome homosexuality. Freud wrote back and said:
Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime – and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.
By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.
What analysis can do for your son runs on a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed.
Incredibly, Brown refers people to JONAH, a group being sued right now by former patients because their techniques did not produce change in orientation but rather shame and depression. In his article, I wish Brown would have explained what a client of JONAH might do to rid himself of his gayness. For instance, in court documents, former clients describe getting naked:
According to Plaintiffs, JONAH’s conversion therapy required them to engage in various individual and group activities. For instance, during a private session, defendant Alan Downing (“Downing”), a JONAH-affiliated counselor, instructed plaintiff Chaim Levin (“Levin”) “to say one negative thing about himself, remove an article of clothing, then repeat the process.” Levin submitted to Downing’s instructions until he was naked, when Downing directed Levin “to touch his penis and then his buttocks.” Plaintiff Benjamin Unger (“Unger”) and plaintiff Michael Ferguson (“Ferguson”) engaged in similar disrobing activities with Downing. Downing instructed Unger to remove his shirt in front of a mirror and requested that he “continue,” but Unger refused. Ibid. In addition, Unger participated in a group exercise in which Downing instructed him and other young men to remove their clothing and stand in a circle naked, with Downing also nude. As with Unger, Downing instructed Ferguson to undress in front of a mirror and “repeatedly urged [him] to remove additional clothing,” but Ferguson refused.
JONAH clients are instructed to fight their way through group therapy clients to grab two oranges and take their “balls back.” Many of the techniques are taken from the decidedly pagan Mankind Project’s New Warriors Training Adventure. Those processes are based on a loose reading of and curious amalgamation of Gestalt therapy and psychoanalytic assumptions.
I hope Brown means well, but he isn’t doing well. Recommending JONAH to evangelicals is irresponsible.
Oh, and the “Alliance” Brown invokes? That is Freudian inspired National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) warmed over. It sounds like a respectable scientific group. However, they are supporters of JONAH, and leaders within the group also recommend that techniques used by JONAH and the New Warriors Training Adventure.
We don’t know for sure what causes same-sex attractions, but we know that abuse and traumatic relationships aren’t general causes for homosexuality any more than they cause heterosexuality. Both gays and straights experience difficulties in childhood and both gays and straights experience loving, healthy childhoods. Thus, curing wounds, or finding non-existent woulds to cure, won’t dramatically alter sexual attractions for the vast majority of people. While a few people do show some change, for many of them the change was spontaneous and related to factors other than therapy or intentional efforts to change.
So to answer the question in the title: No, Michael Brown is about as wrong on sexual orientation and secular counseling as one can be.