Keeping Focus on the Family Honest on Reparative Therapy

In a recent CBS News report on reparative therapy (sexual orientation change efforts), Focus on the Family’s Jeff Johnston was quoted in support of the practice and a link to FOTF’s website was a part of the story. I have a long history with Focus on this issue. There are some misleading statements on this page which I outline below.

Focus says:

Focus on the Family does not and has never offered sexual-orientation change therapy, also referred to as “reparative therapy.” We have licensed counselors on staff who take one-time phone calls and refer to other therapists, upon request. We also support an individual’s right to counseling for unwanted homosexuality — and the rights of counselors to offer such help.

Although technically true, Focus did recommend reparative therapy via their Love Won Out traveling ex-gay workshops from the late 1990s into the late 2000s. Reparative therapy popularizer Joe Nicolosi was the featured speaker on the origins and treatment of homosexuality. Exodus, Focus on the Family and NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) were the trinity of sexual orientation change efforts in the United States. Even if Focus didn’t have counselors on site who offered counseling, they promoted reparative therapy to the world in a very aggressive manner.

Focus really confuses matters in their definition of “sexual orientation change efforts.”

“Sexual Orientation Change Efforts” (SOCE) is a broad term that deals with any kind of help from a licensed mental-health professional for those with unwanted homosexuality. This is counseling, or talk therapy, to assist someone with unwanted homosexuality —whether it’s behavior, attractions or identity — to live according to their faith and values.

Focus tries to soften the meaning of the word “change.” SOCE is a broad term but it doesn’t refer to “any kind of help from a licensed mental-health professional for those with unwanted homosexuality.” Change means change. SOCE is about trying to help people change their orientation. Opponents of SOCE oppose the efforts of counselors to change orientation.

Focus confuses the issue by saying SOCE includes counseling efforts to help clients “live according to their faith and values.” That would only be SOCE if living according to one’s faith meant changing sexual orientation. However, sexual identity therapy (which is what Mark Yarhouse and I developed) helps people without focusing on orientation change as a goal. Our perspective is that clients can be assisted within their religious framework without any SOCE.

Sexual identity therapy is not SOCE. SIT is a kind of help for people who are conflicted about their sexual orientation but it isn’t SOCE. SIT does help people seek harmony within themselves without using SOCE. Focus’ description of SOCE is too broad and misleading. Focus appears to want to make this issue about religious freedom when in fact, it is about what is helpful with clients.

Focus then speculates about what isn’t allowed by a ban on SOCE.

If this therapy is banned, think about the impact this would have on minors:

A teen boy who is hooked on gay pornography — and wants to stop — could not get help from a licensed professional counselor.

A young girl who was sexually abused, and was questioning her identity, could only get help to identify as lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

A boy who wants to develop his sense of masculinity and identity could not get help to affirm his masculine identity from a state-licensed counselor.

A girl who’s involved in a same-sex relationship, but whose faith says that’s not best for her, could not get help to stop the relationship from a licensed counselor.

As worded above, SOCE is not required to address any of these situations. Laws prohibiting SOCE for minors allow for identity exploration and the treatment of sexual abuse. The laws do not forbid clients from acting in line with their religious beliefs as long as the counselor does not implement techniques designed to change a client’s sexual orientation. For instance, if a same-sex attracted teen is in a same-sex relationship but believes it is wrong, she can seek help to take steps to end it and cope with the results.

David Barton Back in Good Graces of Family Research Council

After removing the Capitol Tour video from You Tube due to historical errors in May 2013, the Family Research Council again had David Barton conduct the Capitol Tour for pastors during the Watchmen on the Wall conference. According to Time Magazine, David Barton led the spiritual heritage tour and covered at least some of the same ground as in the video FRC’s V.P. Kenyn Cureton removed from You Tube in 2013.
Last year, FRC told me that Barton was not going to conduct the tour in favor of Kenyn Cureton.
Politico reported on Barton’s resurgence last year and he has now come full circle with FRC. Despite the fact that FRC removed the video riddled with errors and Focus on the Family attempted to cover up the fact that they also had to edit Barton’s videos to get them a little closer to accurate, Barton continues to be viewed as an expert on American history by a certain segment of the Christian right.
According to Time, the conference participants talked much about taking the country back to God. Even if creating a Christian nation was possible or virtuous, one cannot expect success when the foundation of the effort is built on half-truths and error.  Unless Barton has had a major change of course, those pastors are now ill-prepared to engage in intelligent dialogue with their ideological opponents. Many Christian historians would have been willing to discuss the full story with those pastors, but instead FRC chose someone the FRC and other Christian groups have admitted traffics in a faulty narrative.  I am never more ashamed of my community when perceived political usefulness trumps truth and accuracy.

Politico on David Barton: What Will Evangelicals Do, Part Two

Yesterday’s Politico article by Stephanie Simon on evangelical support for David Barton could have been subtitled: Evangelicals Choose Pragmatism Over Truth.
In the last year, over 70 scholars (over 700 if you count the 650 votes The Jefferson Lies received for Least Credible History Book in Print) have expressed concerns about David Barton’s history.  Most of those 70 scholars teach history or social science at conservative Christian colleges.* Yet, the Politico article reveals an approach to historical scholarship that is disturbing.
Stephanie Simon told the tale. Although I have some skepticism about Barton’s sunny disposition, he says he is back and better than ever. Evangelical Senator, and probable contender for the GOP presidential nomination, Ted Cruz said he was not in a position to opine on academic disputes. However, there is really no dispute about which to opine. The verdict has been in for some time. Thomas Nelson delivered it just over a year ago. As noted, multitudes of scholars have united to send the same message. Where are the scholars defending The Jefferson Lies, or the claim that Congress printed the first English Bible, or that the Constitution quotes the Bible “verbatim?” We don’t need Mr. Cruz to opine on a dispute, we need him to open his mind to reality. About Barton’s lessons, Cruz said:

David’s historical research has helped millions rediscover the founding principles of our nation and the incredible sacrifices that men and women of faith made to bequeath to us the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.

Doesn’t it matter that much of Mr. Barton’s “historical research” has been deemed to be off the mark? Mr. Cruz, aren’t you concerned in the least that these millions are now seriously misinformed? The same questions can be posed to Christian right organizations which use Barton’s work even though they know it is off the mark.
There is not even a question about the accuracy issue any longer. To their credit, the Family Research Council acknowledged that they removed the Capitol Hill video due to errors. And Focus on the Family felt the need to stealthily edit error-filled portions of Barton’s speeches. There are other aspects of the Focus broadcast (of which they are aware) that are incorrect; those remain a part of the broadcast.
Instead of integrity, accuracy, correction and stewardship, evangelical groups are openly discussing the value of content and consultants in utilitarian terms. If Mr. Barton can deliver a certain segment of evangelicals then the standards will be different for him. Mr. Barton gets a pass because he has a big audience and is perceived to be helpful politically.
In February of this year, I reflected on World magazine’s coverage of the Barton controversy and asked how evangelicals might respond. Now, I rephrase slightly.

World Magazine Politico has now put these matters on the front burner. My question is what will evangelicals do about it?

 
*Many more than 70 scholars have expressed concerns but some did not want to sign a letter or write an essay. Some were told not to do so by their college or university administration; others said they did not believe Christian political groups would listen. Perhaps they were right.

What Focus on the Family Took Out of David Barton's Talk

In today’s Politico article on David Barton, reporter Stephanie Simon revealed that Focus on the Family edited their radio broadcasts of a Barton speech entitled, the Founding of America. Surprising to me, not only did they edit the material without issuing a correction but, according to Simon, said they didn’t do it when asked about it. Here is the relevant portion of Simon’s article:

Focus on the Family, meanwhile, edited two videos on its website featuring a lengthy interview Barton gave to Focus radio. The editing deleted a segment in which Barton declares that Congress printed the first English-language Bible in America — and intended it to be used in schools. That’s one of Barton’s signature stories — it’s a highlight in his Capitol tour — but historians who have reviewed the documentation say it’s simply not true. Focus also cut an inaccurate anecdote about a contemporary legal case, which Barton cited to make the point that society today punishes people of faith.
Asked why the videos were edited, Carrie Gordon Earll, a senior director of public policy at Focus on the Family, at first said they had not been, though before-and-after footage can be publicly viewed on websites archiving Focus broadcasts. Earll then said she could not comment beyond a statement noting that Focus “has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with David Barton” and respects his “broad base of knowledge” about early American history.

Focus did indeed edit two broadcasts after two dozen evangelical historians approached them about the problems in the programs. Even with the edits there are still problems, but FOTF focused on two particular false stories. The first one was a fractured account of the Commonwealth of PA v. Chambers, and the second was Barton’s embellished version of the Aitken Bible story.
The current broadcast on the FOTF website for June 30, 2011 (begin listening at 13:46) omits the Commonwealth v. Chambers story but the archived version at OnePlace.com has the original version (begin listening at 13:46).  The Aiken Bible story is omitted now from the Focus website on the July 1, 2011 broadcast (begin listening at 9:00) but is in the original version at One Place (begin listening at 8:59).
The transcript of the original broadcasts is available online and contains the sections removed. I wrote about the Commonwealth v. Chambers story here (Barton says the Supreme Court tossed out a murder conviction because a prosecutor used the Bible briefly in court – not true). Barton’s rendition is below:

FOTFUneditedPt1

The material about this case has been deleted from the Focus broadcast now on their website.
The second story removed from the program was about the Aitken Bible being printed by Congress for the use of schools. I have addressed this several times, again not true.

FOTFUneditedPt2

These stories are so far off the facts that apparently someone at Focus believed they should be edited. However, there are other problems with the speech that were not touched.

Anoka-Hennepin featured in Rolling Stone expose on anti-gay bullying

I wrote about this district last year.

Rolling Stone has a powerful article in their February 16, 2012 issue that is online here. Go read it. Now.

The Parent’s Action League (PAL) continues to be at the center of the problem, vilifying gays while they want the school to be silent on the subject. On their website, they write:

Bullying of any kind, for any reason, towards any child must NOT be tolerated.”

Note: Respectfully disagreeing with a point of view or behavior is not bullying per the First Amendment.

How do you respectfully say gays are caused by child molestation and that they are not normal? These are just two “loving truths” that the PAL people want the freedom to force on students in the Anoka-Hennipin School District. I doubt the PAL people would believe such sharing with their children would demonstrate respect if the message was aimed toward evangelicals.

 

 

What kind of dialogue will we have?

Focus on the Family’s revised Day of Dialogue seems to be a kinder, gentler version of the former Day of Truth. On the new website, the group comes out strongly against bullying:

Any form of bullying and harassment of others is always wrong, including making fun of others, speaking down to them and saying things that hurt people. Christian students in particular should be bold in speaking up to oppose that kind of behavior because it goes completely against the model Christ gave us and that is reflected in Bible verses like these: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:16-17.

They also emphasize that any objections to homosexuality must be expressed in a respectful manner.

Any verbal and written expressions used by students participating in this event should be loving and compassionate—and never be expressed in a condemning or antagonistic way to others. Even when we disagree with others, we should always demonstrate the utmost compassion and respect for them.

While I appreciate this tone, I wonder what kind of dialogue the sponsors hope to create. Let’s set the stage for the proposed dialogue. The DoD is set to take place on Monday, April 18, 2010, the Monday after the Friday the Day of Silence is observed. On the Day of Silence, some students are silent during non-instructional time to dramatize the silence surrounding the harassment and bullying of students who identify as GLBT or those who are perceived to be a sexual minority. The sponsors suggest providing cards to pass out which “speak” for them. Here is what they say:

Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.

DAY of SILENCE – What are you going to do to end the Silence?

This would be one side of a dialogue. What is the other side? Is there another side? The DoS invites a dialogue about ending bullying relating to perceptions of sexual orientation. What kind of dialogue is envisioned by the DoD? From the website:

As a high school or college student, do you sometimes feel discouraged when controversial subjects like homosexuality are brought up in your school—and the conversation seems stifled, one-sided and doesn’t allow free room for discussion? Do you feel like your beliefs—the deepest truths of Christianity—are being mischaracterized?

Wish your classmates could hear more of the story—like the truth about God’s deep love for us and what the Bible really says about His redemptive design for marriage and sexuality? Wouldn’t it be nice if a deeper and freer conversation could happen?

As it stands, on Friday, the DoS students will ask for a conversation about anti-gay name-calling and bullying and then on Monday, the DoD students will answer with a defense of evangelical beliefs about sexuality. To me, that seems like two groups talking about two different things.

And so, I will continue to promote the Golden Rule Pledge during the days surrounding the “Days.” GRPledgers will join with those calling for an end to anti-gay bullying and offer that response to the question: “What are you going to do to end the Silence?” In addition, I encourage students to be keep the dialogue about ending bullying on the DoD.

Teen’s suicide said to be related to anti-gay bullying

Earlier today, Focus on the Family announced a remodeled Day of Truth (Day of Dialogue). Then just a few minutes ago, I read of a Middleburg, PA youth who ran in front of a truck due to his despair over being bullied. According to this local report, Brandon Bitner had endured bullying for years before walking 13 miles to Route 11 where he ran in front of a tractor-trailer.

There seems to be little doubt in the students’ minds why Bitner did what he did.

“It was because of bullying,” friend Takara Jo Folk wrote in a letter to The Daily Item.

“It was not about race, or gender, but they bullied him for his sexual preferences and the way he dressed. Which,” she said, “they wrongly accused him of.”

The local Daily Item interviewed ministers in this rural Central PA area, all looking for answers. One, Denny Mallonee, seemed to implicate families:

Mallonee said a stronger bond between kids and their parents also will help.

“If the kids can get the message that nothing beats that close family relationship and that close communication with mom and dad … we get busy with so many things that pull that family apart instead of binding it together,” he said.

Another, Karl Polm-Faudre, pointed to anti-gay bias in the church and local politics:

Polm-Faudre said in his regular clergy study group — which encompasses Episcopal, Lutheran and United Church of Christ — everyone was aware of bullying that’s present in there areas, “and these are people from Mazeppa to Lewisburg, Sunbury, Benton, Berwick …” he said.

“I think the message we would want to give is that the community needs to take stock of the anti-gay rhetoric that’s been going on, especially from some political and religious circles,” Polm-Faudre said. “Because this is giving permission for bullying, harassment and name calling.”

And then another, Rev. Julia Beall, offered a helpfuf perspective:

People will come to terms with their pain, Beall said, but to stay there, things will need to change.

“We need to embody that kindness that doesn’t tolerate this kind of hurt, in every small way we live,” Beall said, adding the culture of the church is that “we do affirm that God created us for a purpose, and respect that God created every person for an purpose because that is part of the Christian culture. … We are all loved by God, and we should love one another.”

Seems to me this is the prime dialogue we need to promote.

Day of Dialogue?

This doesn’t look promising.

A major Christian group will take over an annual event that challenges homosexuality, weeks after the event’s main Christian sponsor pulled support for the student-focused program, saying it had become too divisive and confrontational.

Focus on the Family, an influential evangelical organization, will begin sponsoring the event known as the Day of Truth but will change the name of the happening to the Day of Dialogue, the group is set to announce Thursday.

The Day of Truth has been pushed by conservative Christian groups as a way for school students to counter the Day of Silence, an annual April event promoted by gay rights advocates to highlight threats against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

I will wait until the news release comes out to react more  but I was hoping the event would go away and everybody would focus on ending bias, bullying and harassment.

Recently, I spoke with an expert in bullying prevention who told me that requests for consultation have increased dramatically over the last few months. However, so too have the fearful comments from worried parents who think anti-bullying programming means their kids will be pushed into homosexuality. I am concerned that this new “day” may mean more obstacles to progress.

Update: Here is the website…

Ugandan official blames parents for homosexuality

From yesterday’s New Vision, a Ugandan news source:

Minister blames gay on parents

MUKONO – Ethics and integrity minister James Nsaba Buturo has blamed homosexuality in Uganda on failure by parents and guardians to bring up their children in an upright manner. He made the remarks on Sunday while attending the fundraising ceremony for the expansion of St. Luke Anglican Church at Seeta. Buturo asked parents to join the battle against homosexuality by bringing up their children well.

Minister Buturo has been supporting the crack down on homosexuals from at least the Spring when he promoted the ex-gay conference, involving Don Schmierer, Caleb Brundidge and Scott Lively. I wonder where Buturo heard this concept? Could it have been here or here?

Next month, you can go here to hear similar things.

Shame and attachment loss: Reparative therapy and father-son estrangement

Picking up the narrative on the new book from Joseph Nicolosi, Shame and attachment loss: The practical work of reparative therapy, I want to focus on the family dynamics Nicolosi proposes to be at the source of male homosexuality. There are two basic types of family soil which Nicolosi believes grows some same-sex love: the “classic-triadic family” and the “narcissistic family.” If you are looking for the “relatively-normal-often-happy family” in this book, you won’t find it. According to Nicolosi, they don’t produce same-sex attracted men.

In the classic triadic family, the boy “experiences the father as an unsafe/unworthy object of identification,” mothers are “over-involved, intrusive, possessive and controlling,” and the sons are “temperamentally sensitive, timid, passive, introverted, artistic (!), and imaginative.” The result is that the mother and father do not have a good relationship, the father is distant and/or hostile with the son, the son avoids masculine play, the father fails to bring out the son’s masculinity, the mother smothers the boy and robs him of his assertion.

The narcissistic family is worse, it seems to me. The parents are more into themselves than the children. The family is invested in looking good to the world but has many family secrets which must be protected at all costs. I could say more about this family but I will save that for another post. What I want to get to is Nicolosi’s concept of “shared delight.” He says same-sex attracted males didn’t have any of that with their fathers. In a section with the heading, “The ‘Delight-Deprived’ Boy,” Nicolosi expounds on the experiences he says same-sex attracted males missed.

In my search for the particular quality of father-son bonding that is fundamental to the development of the boy’s masculine identity, I have been led to what I call a “shared delight.” I am convinced that the healthy development of masculine identification depends on this phenomenon. This special emotional exchange should be between the boy and his father, although a father figure or grandfather may serve the purpose where no father is available. It is not a single event or one-time occurrence, but should characterize the relationship.

This particular style of emotional attunement is especially important during the critical time of gender identification. Homosexual men rarely if ever recall father-son interaction that includes activities that they both enjoy together. In this vital experience father and son share in the enjoyment (“delight”) in the boy’s success. (p.52).

Nicolosi then declares that homosexual men have great difficulty recalling childhood father-son times which were fun and exciting and which included success for the son. He stacks the deck a bit in favor of his thesis here by saying that gay men infrequently remember being coached by their fathers in an activity that “involves bodily activity or strength.” I say he stacks the deck because he is no doubt aware of research which finds a strong correlation between childhood gender nonconformity and adult homosexuality. While not true of all gay males, many do not remember such activities because neither father nor son liked those activities. And where dad did like them and son did not, it is often a sign of sensitivity that the dad did not force the son to pursue a sport for which the son has no interest or aptitude.  An aspect of what Nicolosi defines as “shared delight” sounds like having fun playing sports or active games together.

He then gives an excerpt of Malcolm Muggeridge’s autobiography where he describes going to his father’s office.

When he saw me, his face always lit up, as it had a way of doing, quite suddenly, thereby completely altering his appearance; transforming him from a rather cavernous, shrunken man into someone boyish and ardent. He would leap agilely off his stool, wave gaily to his colleague…and we would make off together. There was always about these excursions an element of being on an illicit spree, which greatly added to their pleasure. They were the most enjoyable episodes in all my childhood. (Wolfe, 2003, p.26).

He then contrasts this depiction of father-son bliss with clinical tales of clients who were not delighted with their fathers.

When I read this section, I was reminded of stories my clients have told me about their fathers over the years. Most of those clients were straight, and many of those stories were sad and empty. People do benefit when they feel approved by their fathers and indeed people with clinical concerns often relate pain from their upbringing. Here again, Nicolosi seems to be oblivious to the fact that his clients are unhappy and experiencing various problems which bring them to counseling. That these men fail to remember happy office visits may not say anything generalizable to all gay men.

Then I also thought of an email exchange I had with a gay man who wanted to understand my positions on various issues related to sexual orientation. The man is well educated and was raised in the Catholic church. He also sought reparative therapy for several years in an effort to reverse his homosexuality. He eventually determined the effort was futile and accepted that he was attracted to the same sex and worked toward a resolution within his faith. I asked him what he remembered about his father and he wrote:

My father was probably one of the most honest men I ever knew.  Being Italian, FAMILY was important and he showed his love by making sure that we did things as a family.  We ate dinner together always and took many educational vacations.  Dad was very handy with his hands and could fix almost anything around the house that “broke.”  I often helped him when he needed a “third” hand.  He was intelligent and hardworking.  When I was young, he tried very hard to get me interested in sports and other traditionally “masculine” activities, etc., but I just wasn’t interested.  So…what I was able to give him — something that he also valued — was being good in my studies, ultimately obtaining my Ph.D.  He was very proud of me.  When my mother was so rigid in her religious beliefs that she was not able to accept me as a “gay son,” it was my dear father who told me he loved me and who kept the family together. 

Does this sound like a distant father and son? It is clear that this man loves his dad, knows his dad loved him and was proud of him and viewed him as a salient father. If we are to believe adult recollections as Nicolosi does when they come from unhappy men, then what keeps us from believing this man? If the reparative therapist complains that this man is in denial, I will respond that reparative therapist’s clients have been indoctrinated. Or perhaps a more neutral response would be to say that the therapist’s clients are correct and so is my email friend. In which case, perhaps “shared delight” is a feature of the child development of many fortunate boys, gay and straight, but has little, if anything, to do with eventual sexual attractions.

I emphasize attractions here because I do think a poor relationship with father could affect self-control and thus influence a person to gravitate to a more behaviorally promiscuous life, whether gay or straight. I also wonder if some men are so damaged by their fathers that they respond to any kindness and their sexual responses are guided and shaped by their emotional hunger. Although it is possible that father-deprived males compose some important share of the caseload at Nicolosi’s Thomas Aquinas Psychological Services, I do not believe the lion’s share of gay males who are not in therapy would describe their lives this way.

In fact, father-son estrangement is as universal as fathers and sons. Books and movies (note this website with this theme in 25 movies) use this theme constantly as it tugs at the experience of so many men, gay or straight. For a description of this estrangement from a straight male, see this book (I Thought We’d Never Speak Again) and especially the story of Paul Howerton (“There was nothing about his father that Paul wanted to emulate…”).

The next post will address more of the father-son issues raised by Nicolosi’s book and discuss the concerns I have about Christian groups ratifying them uncritically.

Related post:

Shame and Attachment Loss: Going from bad to worse

Also read Fathers, Sons and Homosexuality for a father’s view of the reparative thesis.