Montel Williams Show on sexual reorientation

Chambers Williams

Montel’s episode Homosexuality…Can it be cured? aired this morning.

I will be adding to this post through the day but I can offer a few reactions.

Reparative therapy was a term used repeatedly but never precisely. It stood for everything ever done in the name of sexual orientation change – from electroshock to exorcisms. In this way, the episode served to greatly confuse the issue. However, some of the cause for that confusion is the frequent inability of social conservatives to self-correct on matters homosexual. There are truly harmful things done in the name of reorientation and critics like Montel and his psychiatrist guest, Dr. Salzer, have found those who will talk about those problems.

Mike Jones, the man who outed Ted Haggard was the first guest and described again his reasons for exposing Mr. Haggard. He also noted that, after Mr. Haggard stepped down, Ted Haggard’s New Life Church treated him better than gay advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign. While an escort, Mr. Jones said his “clients” were 80% married men and 15% clergy.

Lance Carroll described his experiences in Love in Action, including a 10k price tag. Lance described being forced to go to LIA. Montel continually referred to LIA as reparative therapy. At one point, he said, “Let’s talk about being at the camp itself, because that’s really what the base root of reparative therapy is, to guilt you and sin you and try to make you disgusted with yourself?” Essentially Lance agreed with this characterization.

Alan Chambers was up next and described his story. He noted that he did not know why he was gay, and said to him, it did not matter if we ever learn genetics play a role. Montel was fine with Alan’s descriptions until he indicated that he believed the Bible did not allow homosexuality. At that point, Montel became animated and said that this point “kills me the most.”

Montel had confused Exodus as a ministry with a reparative therapy organization. However, Montel asked, “Do they counsel?” This led to a confusing interchange between Alan, Lance and Montel. Montel said that there are parents who because of the existence of ex-gay ministries believe, “I can fix my child.” Alan said, “But that’s not the case. For me this was a personal choice for me; you can’t fix your child.” Lance chimed in to say that he was in an Exodus ministry that did attempt to change him (Love in Action).

At about this point, Alicia Salzer was introduced. She is the psychiatrist who produced the video, Abomination: Homosexuality and the Ex-gay Movement which I have briefly reviewed on this blog. She made an outrageous statement in her opening remarks. She said, referring to Alan’s story, “This is marketing; this is not science…Science has shown us that 96% of people cannot change and along the way, absorb an enormous amount of self-loathing, a lot of confusion, a lot of family conflict, so I know the harm.” I intend to write the show to ask for the study or study that supports that public statement. Of course, there is no such study. I challenge her to produce it. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am quite realistic about prospects for change, but to say “science has shown us” anything authoritative on this matter is hubris.

She then goes on to describe her documentary as a description of those who have gone through reparative therapies. Again, she is imprecise with her terms and muddies the situation. I expect that from Montel as a layperson trying to make sense of the conflicting messages from the ex-gay world but I expect better from a psychiatrist.

One thing that surprised me was the way Richard Cohen represented himself. He described himself as a psychotherapist and is described on the Montel website as “a psychotherapist and practitioner of sexual reorientation therapy, or ‘reparative therapy.'” While this is probably how he sees what he does, he is unlicensed in Maryland and says he does coaching. However, he demonstrates what he calls bioenergetics, which is a therapy modality. He clearly does therapy, allows what he does to be labeled as such but does not have a license to conduct it. In Maryland, the counseling law is a title law which means he probably is within the law to say he does counseling, as long as he does not say he is a professional counselor or a licensed counselor. However, the psychotherapy designation may put him at odds with the Maryland psychology licensing law which requires licensing to do anything psychological.

The show ended with conflict between Montel, Alan and by the end of the show Arthur Goldberg of JONAH. Montel pulled some material from the Exodus website which he interpreted to mean Exodus was in the business of changing people. In fairness to both of them, I understand the confusion. Montel focused on the the objective of heterosexuality that was in the statement whereas I think Alan and many evangelicals do not see terms such as “liberation” or “freedom” from homosexual attraction as meaning that those attractions are gone. In various ways, Alan and Montel talked around each other, with Alan at one point indicating that perhaps the word “liberation” should come off of their website.

Peterson Toscano made an appearance and described his exorcisms. Again, this was in the context of the discussion on reparative therapy. I can imagine a viewer erroneously thinking everything described as being reparative therapy.

The show ended with Arthur Goldberg angrily shouting from the audience that the Bible doesn’t teach that homosexuals go to hell and that “abomination” in the Hebrew means “you have been led astray.” Now that’s an interesting take on things.

Now I come back to my first reaction — what was this show about? Was it about ministry to those who want to live by their faith as they understand it? Or was it about some kind of therapy to remediate homosexual attractions? The show never really separated the two and the guests were either unclear about this or the constraints of the show’s format made it difficult for them to articulate the differences. Richard did broach this subject at one point but it was never made clear. Perhaps, ex-gay ministries need to examine how confusing it is to mix therapeutic talk with ministry talk. I suspect Alan may wish Love in Action would make these distinctions and get out of the teen business and out of the live-in business. As an observer, I believe LIA may need a significant review and audit (do they really teach people how to sit?). If ministries and leaders do not more clearly identify questionable and potentially harmful practices and ideas, critics will continue to do so. At the same time, I also believe critics, such as Dr. Salzer, who should be able to make fine distinctions, should help the public see the distinctions, rather than confuse the issue with distorted and unwarranted claims about science.

Alan Chambers provides an inside look at today’s Montel show.