Focus on the Family: APA and Ex-Gay Ministries

This past week, the American Psychological Association declared their opposition to the theory that homosexual people can be “fixed” by reparative therapy like that used in Exodus and other ex-gay ministries.

The definitive statements came from the board’s examination of dozens of case studies in changing sexual orientation, reaching as far back as 1960. The APA reports that “no solid evidence exists that such change is likely… and some research suggests that efforts to produce change could be harmful, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies.”

The APA went on to address homosexuals who are a part of faith communities that do not affirm their sexual orientation, and gives advice to the therapists who may counsel patients with this problem.

“The Westword,” Denver’s hippest source for news and culture, keeps a surprisingly close eye on the (dare I say) not-so-hip “Focus on the Family.” They ran this article yesterday, saying that FOTF and other anti-gay ministries are likely not to heed the APA’s suggestions, but will continue their both futile and sometimes harmful attempts to help people changing their sexual orientation.

Also, read the entire APA findings in PDF here.


  1. I read about this earlier this week. This is not surprising. It's s shame they say that no evidence exists that change can be permanent. Clearly, many people today are straight because of an ex-gay ministry. How is that not evidence?

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  3. Yeah, I've always wondered what the contrast of "success rates" are between ministries like Exodus and Remuda Ranch, the latter working with eating disorders which, historically, does not have high success rates either.

    And do be honest, Biblically, even if working with healing from sin does result in more brokenness (depression, suicide) that doesn't mean I necessarily question the validity of the sin. I mean, the wages of sin is death, in all of us. It remains to be said that the Ex-gay movement is relatively young, as psychology the discipline is young. And that as a Christian, I will be judged by God on how I handle my side of this issue.

  4. I had intentionally left my own opinion out of this article but I guess I should be a little more clear.

    I am a member of a church that accepts and affirms gay people. They are not treated as any more "sinful" than the rest of us. Some have been hurt very deeply by ex-gay ministries and have been forced to live shameful lives, some for many years.

    The ex-gay ministry has proved ineffective and hurtful (affirming what I and many others know from being in community with gay people.)

    And Eric, really, do you think potential suicides are a means to an end of banning all "sin," as you so see it?

    Let's not pretend, fellow believers, that we all have the same take on issues such as this.

  5. I have some gay friends on both sides of this debate. The majority of them would agree with the APA. There are also a few who would say, "you're asking the wrong question" when you talk about moving from gay to straight. The real issue, in their eyes, is simply whether each and every one of us is open to our ongoing transformation. In some cases this openness has led to heterosexual marriage, in most case, not.

    Personally, I find myself irritated by the rhetoric on both sides of this issue. I agree with the gay community when they say that great damage is done by "promising" transformation, because when these ministries can't deliver, it's worse than had they never attempted this.

    On the other hand, to declare that there is no possibility of transformation seems equally presumptuous, especially in light of testimonies to the contrary.

  6. Here's a balanced article from ChristianityToday.com on how the Exodus Ministry has evolved over the years.


    Eric, I agree-- clumsy treatment isn't a truth claim on whether homosexuality is or is not a sin. It is an indicator that this form of therapy might need to be discontinued.

    My reading of scripture prevents me reluctantly forces me to view homosexual expression as immoral.

    And my theology forces me to admit the frustration and tragedy of this position. If sin is more than doing good or bad things; if sin is also the corruption of all things; then I believe that we can be tainted down at a molecular and DNA level. I believe the reports of homosexuals who say that they were born with these tendencies. Everything is broken.

    I've avoided these posts because I don't see much hope for consensus or true dialogue.

    I can only commit myself to treating all as being made in the image and likeness of God.

    God help us all.

  7. As a psychologist, a member of the APA, and someone who specializes in sexuality and has worked with both gay Christian men who want to change and those who don't, I guess I should weigh in . . . I kinda can't help myself anyway. Get ready for a bunch of run-on sentences.

    This absolutely drives me friggin' nuts because it undermines the whole point of psychotherapy and drags science through a river of political manure.
    Here is the reality, contained within the report itself: Success rates for change of sexual orientation are low. That's the data. The rest is interpretation, political grandstanding, and, though I don't think the APA intends it as such, trying to legislate morality from the left.

    Otto Kernberg, a seminal psychologist who was on the governing board of the APA, said that anyone who thinks sexual orientation is either purely biological or psychological is foolish. There's an interaction between the two. Depending on the nature of the interaction, some people might be able to change their orientation if they really want to -- the process requires years of therapy and it's not a lot of fun. Some people won't be able to change. The success rate for reparative therapy is the same as treatment for many psychological disorders -- the truth is that people don't change without a lot of hard work and motivation. I'm not saying that homosexuality is or isn't a disorder, just that you can't tell therapists not to provide reparative therapy based on low success rates. If that were the rule, we wouldn't be able to do much more than tell depressed people to eat chocolate.

    IMHO the APA should not be forbidding therapists to provide a client something that he or she wants as long as:

    1) The client has full informed consent about the difficulty of the process and the 20-30% success rate found by the majority of studies.

    2) The therapist has been fully trained not just in reparative therapy, but has extensive training and experience with sexually diverse populations.

    3) The therapist has a plan in place if the client changes his or her mind that does not involve shaming or criticizing the client.

    4) It is 100% the client's goal and not the therapist's agenda. Any therapist who doesn't feel comfortable providing therapy to a client who doesn't wish to change should refer out. IMHO, they shouldn't work with GLBT folks at all.

    I have a gay Christian colleague who was once a leader in an ex-gay ministry before he left and embraced his homosexuality. He thinks people on both sides of the issue are nuts. When he speaks in my Sexual Diversity class, he tells the students , "Just do therapy!" He means that a therapist's job is to support the client and facilitate his or her growth without imposing an agenda. If a client wants to become straight and I tell them they shouldn't or vice versa, therapy is dead in the water. My job is to help people explore who they are and who God wants them to be while doing my best to stay the hell out of the way. (I'm aware of the exceptions to this -- suicide, etc. -- but point them out if you must).

    Carl Rogers, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Fritz Perls are all rolling in their graves. And not one of those guys was a Christian nor did any of them think homosexuality was a sin.

    Sorry for the verbal vomit. This one hits me where I live. And I'm on vacation right now!

    Postscript: The word "reparative" does not refer to repairing homosexuality. It refers to repairing early wounds to parental attachment. The process is really not as behavioral and Brave New World-esque as most people think. When done right, it's gentle and focused on self-acceptance and forming secure attachments more than anything else. However, some of the ex-gay ministries take it in a more behavior-mod direction, I'm afraid.

  8. First, I completely agree and feel the exact same way as Richard Dahlstrom. Second, Thank you to Steve Simpson for weighing in. I appreciate your credentials and your inside view of what this document is about. When will we realize that just about any research/data we can come up with can be made to say what we want it to say?

    What all of this illustrates for me is the fact that Christians need to figure out a new and better response to homosexuality. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is not going to cut it and for many, sounds just about as hateful as "turn or burn".

    It can't get much more simplistic, but it seems to me, when confronted with people who need to know Jesus' love as much as any of us, the church really needs to take seriously the question, "WWJD"?

  9. Steve, you said:
    "Otto Kernberg... said that anyone who thinks sexual orientation is either purely biological or psychological is foolish. There's an interaction between the two."

    So do you believe that homosexual leanings/desires only come from these two sources, and do not have supernatural/spiritual roots?

  10. Shack I agree with you that we should love gays much more than we have in the past. Where many of us seem to differ is how that love is expressed. To me, pretending that someone who is in sin is not in sin is not a loving thing.

  11. James,

    Who said anything about pretending anybody's not living in sin? I and everybody I can possibly come in contact are living with sin in our lives, too. Anybody who says they don't is a liar.

    How is my arrogance, greed, legalism, judgmentalism, apathy at injustice, heterosexual lust, etc. any different?

  12. Sorry, shack, I misunderstand what you were saying. Thanks for the elaboration.

  13. Great comments Steve.

    I was sitting in a coffee shop tonight with 6 of my closest friends. They are all gay. I have no idea why I am currently surrounded by so many gay men, but I have a feeling it's because God knows my heart for them and my passion for seeing people, especially homosexuals, treated as human beings, and not as sexual orientations. I don't judge my gay friends, try to "fix" them, or treat them any different than my other friends. I think the reason more and more of these guys keep wanting to befriend me is it's rare for them to be treated this way, especially by Christians.

    They are all Christians. A few of them have gone through gay-to-straight therapy. From being close with them, and seeing how deeply rooted their attractions are, I would say that gay-to-straight therapy works about as well as straight-to-gay therapy would. I am not attracted sexually to women. My friends are not sexually attracted to women. Could we all eventually with extensive therapy be trained to be attracted to women? Maybe. But I'm not betting on it.

    Nothing is impossible for God, but He doesn't always remove our desires, and if we try so hard to get him to, we can miss out on the blessings He's trying to give us through the struggle.

  14. Larry, please allow me to recapitulate. He says, "if sin is also the corruption of all things; then I believe that we can be tainted down at a molecular and DNA level . . . Everything is broken . . . I can only commit myself to treating all as being made in the image and likeness of God."

    A mighty fine approach if you ask me.

  15. James,

    I don't know your specific faith tradition within Xianity, so I want to be careful with these remarks. But attributing sinister spiritual forces to homosexuality is the very definition of demonizing someone, or in this case, a lot of someones.

    I'm not able to think of an instance in scripture where homosexuality was attributed to malevolent angels. Can you?

    Your stance opens the philosophical door for the "gay exorcisms" that have been reported of in the news. There are hints of Salem that discomfit.

  16. "I can only commit myself to treating all as being made in the image and likeness of God."

    This is a great start, not that anyone ever really does this well.

    But if you think "treating someone" like they are made in the image of God, but will then turn around and disallow them from service to God in areas like leadership in the church because of their sexual orientation, I would say you do not, in fact, treat them well, and they will not want to be a part of your community.

    Let's say during the 50s and 60s I decided I was going to "treat" black people really well, but would not allow them the same freedoms as me. I would would not stand with them in their mistreatment, would just take the advantages of being white and run with them (all the while, remember, "treating" them really well). What kind of a believer would that make me?

    (And if you think that is a stretch of a parallel, let's remember that the Bible was/is used to justify people's degredation, slavery and injustices of various kinds.)

    I think part of my issue with the "Christian stance" on this issue is that we think we own the church. We think we get to decide who's in or out, which "sins" are sins and which are permissible and up to what point. We are still unwilling to admit our fear, our, dare I say, traces of homophobia. Overall, we are scared to lose control.

    Let's stop worrying about how The Gays are going to feel if you are not nice to them. What about how your stance and actions, as a church, might affect you?

    If you are not part of a church that welcomes and affirmes people of all kind (not just in superficial "treatment"), you miss out.

    Let's stop "treating" people well. Let go of the controls for a second. See what a beautiful, f***ed up community of sinners and saints you will end up with then.

    One final note before I get off my high horse (apologies if my tone sounded condescending...I am just all fired up...haha...)...

    If there are any gay people (or otherwise) looking for a church in Denver, we'd love to have you: http://www.houseforall.org/

  17. Rachel, you assigned multiple paragraphs of meaning to my phrase "treating others as if they were made in the likeness of God" and then argued with those paragraphs, and then distilled my meaning down to "treating people", as if I were seeing myself as somehow clinically detached from humanity.

    Whether or not you guessed my positions correctly or not is another matter; but you were not arguing with me.

  18. Larry, the first time I said in these recent posts about homosexuality (side question: can someone start posting about something else?) that the cause of homosexual sin is demonic, I was careful to point out that I was talking about all sexual sin, as well as any other sin which has a strong hold on someone from which they have a hard time breaking free.

    Perhaps this is a good time to add something I should have added then. By calling something demonic, I am not saying we are to think less than the person who is influenced to sin. Scripture, as I read it, makes it clear that much of what goes on in this world is influenced by Satan and his army. They specialize in derailing us from what God has called us to, and they do it all sorts of ways, but all ultimately the methods all boil down to helping us to believe lies.
    This is best illustrated by Satan himself tempting Jesus, but it can be found all through scripture, as you most likely are aware.

    So let me be clear about this: if someone is influenced by something in the unseen realm, and chooses to believe the wrong thing and act on that belief, then that person needs prayer, love, respect, and a million other kinds of help that we Christians are to provide for each other and for unbelievers.

    I never said, nor meant, that those in sexual are possessed, are demon-worshippers, or even that they have chosen to be deceived. I do believe, and could prove Scripturally if you had a couple of hours, that most sin, while ultimately committed by humans because of choices they made, can be rooted in some false belief whispered into their ear (a term I use figuratively, not literally) by a member of the massive army that works on Satan's behalf.

    I want to draw a distinction. I think it's horrible they way Christians have treated gays over the decades I have been alive, and want it stopped. In fact, I said so long before it was a bandwagon issue, and used to get lots of angry emails for this article I wrote several years ago: www.middletree.net/hs.asp

    The ones writing those angry emails have seen me as too far to the left on this issue, while compared to the people who comment or post here, I am just the opposite.

    I had pretty much decided I had said everything I want to say on this in the last few posts here, and was going to sit it out, but your posted a question directly to me, and I saw I was still being misunderstood, and so want to respond. I wouldn't have even brought it up here at all, until I read Steve's assertion that gay desires are only caused by biology or environment, and I simply asked him if he thought there was any possibility that there could exist a spiritual side to this behavior. He said no, and that's fine. I disagree, but he knows that, so I didn't respond. No point in it. We disagree. Like I disagree with many other things posted here in the comment to this particular post, but really, what's the point in me harping on the same old points again?

    We all pretty much know where we stand here. The only time, from this point forward, that I will post on this topic is in response to (a) a direct question/statement from someone to me, as you have done here; and (b) if I see a completely false statement (such as one saying that those who believe Scripture says gay sex is sin hate gays). Otherwise, I will stay out of it.

  19. Thanks, James. You're right, I didn't fully understand your position.

  20. Larry, I just re-read your post that was directed my way, and I realize I didn't answer. I am not part of one of those churches that does exorcisms or sees demons under every rock. Still, my church background hasn't really fed my theology much, as I am pretty much a self-feeder when developing a theological perspective.
    Having said that, I slept on this and realized I didn't put everything the way I would have liked to. I could have said some things better.

    I'm not going to go back now and re-correct myself. I'll just emphasize one more time that I am convinced that the bulk of Christians have dropped the ball in casting gays in the light that they have over the years. It haunts me. My own actions and words haunt me (http://middletree.blogspot.com/2009/03/memory-i-am-not-proud-of.html).
    And as much as those attitudes were wrong, I am convinced that for straight Christians to act as if gay desires or actions are God-given or not sinful is just as wrong, in the other direction, for all the reasons I have put forth before. Gays need prayer and encouragement to be who God called them to be. Straight men who damage their marriage with a porn addiction need prayer and exhortation to be who God called them to be. All others with sins they cannot seem to break free of need prayer and exhortation.
    Not affirming of their current state, but prayer that Jesus would follow through on His promise, which He proclaimed at the very beginning of His ministry, to free the captives, and heal the broken hearted. They need exhortation to walk in the truth. Not truth that makes us feel good, but Scripture, which always has the last word:
    Romans 6:11 "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
    v.12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts"

  21. What I find interesting in this article is the full circle declaration from the 1975 change to the APA DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for mental health disorders) when homosexuality was no longer listed as a mental disorder. Up until then, they considered it curable too. I'm not sure why they changed their minds, but they have.