Reparative Therapy and Joseph Nicolosi Remembered

In an offbeat selection for “The Lives They Lived” section of the New York Time Magazine, Joseph Nicolosi is remembered by Benoit Denizet-Joseph NicolosiLewis as an “artist, innovator and thinker” who died in 2017.
I had a few things to say about Nicolosi when he passed, and a lot to say about reparative therapy during his life. This piece provides a view of a side of Nicolosi that I saw often — he simply could not be convinced that he could be wrong.

Joseph Nicolosi, Alan Chambers, and the 99.9% Claim

In 2012, I wrote about one of the incidents referred to in the NYT piece. In the article, Denizet-Lewis referred to former ex-gay ministry leader Alan Chambers’ dramatic and unexpected declaration that 99.9% of people who tried to change sexual orientation had not experienced a change. That was first reported on this blog in January, 2012.  Chambers made that statement at a conference of the Gay Christian Network. Causing an earthquake in the ex-gay world, Chambers said:

The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could  never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction. I think there is a gender issue there, there are some women who have challenged me and said that my orientation or my attractions have changed completely. Those have been few and far between. The vast majority of people that I know will experience some level of same-sex attraction.

Denizet-Lewis makes it seem as though Nicolosi’s initial offer of a cure came in response to that statement. However, Chambers and Nicolosi had been disputing results since at least the year before.
The now inactive but enormously influential blog, ExGay Watch (here is my summary of that post) carried a story about an online dispute between Chambers and Nicolosi which began in 2011. In an email exchange, Nicolosi chastised Chambers for saying in an April 2011 Dr. Drew Show appearance that Chambers continued to experience attractions to the same sex. Nicolosi then offered to cure Chambers completely. Here is one of those emails:

Alan,
I have not seen yet your appearance on the T.V. show and of course, I always know how unfair and stressful these events are. But again, it is such a disservice to represent the alternative to gay but stating you are still struggling. It is not a very inspiring option to the many young people who may be hearing your message.
The point Alan is that you can get to a place where there is no more homosexuality. Really.
You can actually get to a place where you can willfully (sic) think of an SSA image and have no bodily sensation.
Why stop half way? Why not do further work and finish the task and have it completely behind you. consider this invitation, not only for your sake but also as a testimony of complete healing to truly motivate others.
We have the therapeutic tools to get you over what ever SSA is remaining.
You know I am your friend. I am willing to help you. I’ll work with you personally if you like.
Please consider this invitation I offer you as a brother (O.K., a Catholic brother) in Christ.
Joe
Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
www.josephnicolosi.com
[emphasis in the original]

As Chambers told Denizet-Lewis in the NYT article, he rebuffed Nicolosi’s offer as unrealistic and unattainable.

He’ll Be Fine

Nicolosi believed male homosexuals experienced attractions to the same sex because they were estranged from their fathers. He simply would not accept the fact that many gay males have loving and close fathers. Even when confronted with fathers and sons who were obviously close, he picked at them until he found something he could dispute in their relationship. I worked with several families who were survivors of this kind of treatment.
On one occasion in a meeting with Nicolosi, I described a young man to who came out to his father first because he was close to his dad and knew he would understand. They were close all through school and when he came out, it was only natural for him to tell his dad. The young man was into sports and quite masculine in every way. In short, he was everything that Nicolosi claimed that a gay male could not be. When I was finished with my description, Nicolosi said, “He’ll be fine.” I asked what he meant. “He’s not gay; he’ll be fine,” he said. He indicated that the young man must be confused or having a stage but since he had such a good foundation, he couldn’t possibly be gay.
I realized at that point that it was probably hopeless to use evidence. Confirmation bias was strong with him, perhaps as strong as I have ever seen.

Southern Baptist Seminary Leaders Reject Reparative Therapy

Let me just say that I opposed reparative therapy before it was cool to oppose it.
Yesterday, Al Mohler and others articulated their position against reparative therapy, also known as sexual orientation change efforts.
Atlantic has an article on Alan Chambers’ new book and chronicles the demise of the ex-gay movement from Alan’s point of view.
Essentially, Mohler and colleagues believe changing orientation is not the Christian goal. Rather, avoidance of same-sex sexual relations is the objective in the narrow sense, and more broadly, pursuit of a spiritual life is what Christians should seek. Some same-sex attracted people are bisexual and others sometimes fall in love cross-orientation to form a mixed orientation marriage.
Although it is dated, I have a page on reparative therapy which demonstrates my approach to the issues in the professional sense.

Alan Chambers Apologizes to the LGBTQ Community

Alan Chambers is a guy in process.
In January, 2012, Chambers made news by acknowledging the rarity of sexual reorientation (“99.9% of them haven’t experienced change”). Since then, he and Exodus International have removed themselves from the reparative therapy world entirely. Today, on the eve of what promises to be a riveting television appearance on the Oprah Network, Chambers has issued a written apology to the LGBTQ community.
Please do go read the whole article, but let me pull out an extraordinary paragraph:

Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine. 

Here Alan has really turned the corner on his earlier support for Love Won Out and NARTH.

Charisma recycles 2004 article, gets lots of attention, then goes away. Alan, at the beach, knows nothing about it

Charisma Magazine generated an internet thunderstorm today by updating and reprinting a 2004 article by Alan Chambers titled, Do We Want a Gay America? Charisma put it on the front page of their webpage with no notice that it was a reprint.

RightWingWatch (who has the article in full) picked up on it and then various gay blogs followed. I started seeing emails and tweets about two hours ago. Then ExGayWatch and BoxTurtleBulletin reported that the article was a reprint. BTB editor Jim Burroway just tweeted that a woman at Charisma told him they were looking into it.

Meanwhile, Alan Chambers tweeted that he was at the beach and didn’t know anything about it, saying

Breaking: No idea why @charismamag pulled out an 8 year old piece I wrote that doesn’t reflect my current views.

Charisma has blocked access to the article.

All of that in a matter of hours. I would say Charisma has got some explaining to do.

UPDATE: Alan just sent this note along:

I am on the beach, literally, with my family enjoying the dog days of summer.  I have no idea why Charisma decided to reach so deep, edit and republish an 8 year old article that I am embarrassed that I ever wrote.  Our PR team has asked them to remove the article and not to repost it.  When I am back in town I will contact them, as well.

New York Times on the Changes at Exodus

Friday night at the evangelical fights.

After the NPR segment comes this New York Times article which covers much the same ground.

It cannot be any clearer; Alan Chambers is leading Exodus from the wilderness of reparative therapy to the promised land of Grace and soul liberty.

What a ride.

Conservatives in the church and elsewhere should welcome this. There is no necessary conservative attachment to reparative therapy. In fact, given the psychoanalytic roots of the model, it has surprised me that conservative Christians have bought into it for as long they have.

 

Exodus Ready to End the Culture War

In a press release yesterday, Exodus International continued to articulate their new direction. In the release, a brief comment is made about Charles Worley, the NC preacher who called for gay concentration camps.

Alan Chambers, president of the 36-year-old Exodus International said, “As usual, the spotlight is shining on the furthest extremes currently engaged in a public fight. I believe it’s time for all of us to focus on the people beyond the political debate.”

While a minority of people such as North Carolina pastor Charles Worley represent the outdated and homophobic fringe of Christianity and should not be taken seriously, excellent churches like National Community Church in Washington, D.C. are drawing approximately 200 people each week to Ebenezer’s Coffee House. These individuals gather to thoughtfully discuss how the church can better care for people with same-sex attractions (SSA), those inside and outside of the church.

In the midst of the chaos and tired culture war mentality, Exodus International continues to serve a fast growing population of the Church that is ready to end the war and reach out in compassion to people who come to them for answers.

Then, as if to say, here is the new message, the release adds:

“Exodus is here to provide support to individuals with SSA who want to be faithful in their pursuit of living out a biblical sexual ethic,” said Chambers. “We encourage parents who desire to be faithful to their values to also love their gay or lesbian child unconditionally despite having differing worldviews. Finally we are here to help churches looking for ways to reach out to people in their congregations or across the divide to people in their communities.”

A few ministries have left Exodus over this approach.

Possibly, Exodus tries to do too much with this release (e.g., address Worley’s hate, communicate an end to the culture war, and describe their new direction). On the other hand, repeating the mission of Exodus as a support group for gays who want to follow traditional evangelical teaching is necessary for it to stick, both internally and externally.

Gentle readers (and the rest of you, too); what do you think of Exodus’ message, assuming they follow through?

 

Statement: Exodus International has no involvement in Scott Lively’s Oklahoma City event

Because Draper Park Christian Church has a history of involvement with Exodus International ministries (e.g., First Stone Ministries in OK), I asked Exodus President, Alan Chambers, for a comment about the upcoming series of talks at Draper Park by Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively.

Chambers quickly sent the following reply:

We have learned that Scott Lively is slated to speak on April 27-29 at Draper Park Christian Church, a location where Exodus International held a regional conference in 2009. We want to say clearly and without question that Exodus International has no connection to this event. Furthermore, due to our vast differences with Mr. Lively’s viewpoints, including his stance on the criminalization of homosexuality, we will not participate in, support or promote any event involving Mr. Lively.

Lively often says his opposition derives from gay fascism; however, I don’t believe anyone could say that Exodus is such an organization. The opposition to Holocaust revisionism is not a gay vs. straight issue, it is not a liberal vs. conservative issue. Mr. Lively is not being opposed because he is preaching the evangelical gospel; he is opposed because he promotes a revision in the historical record regarding the Holocaust and for his support of criminalization  of homosexual behavior. These are not gospel issues, but rather positions which are unpopular among those or many religious views.

NARTH issues statement on sexual orientation change

Apparently in response to Alan Chambers’ candor about sexual orientation change, the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality issued a clarification of what that organization means by change.

Issued January 27, the statement reads in full:

Current discussions of homosexual sexual orientation change are unavoidably occurring within a sociopolitical climate that makes nonpartisan scientific inquiry of this subject very difficult.  In light of this reality, a few considerations are crucial for accurately understanding the sometimes contradictory opinions regarding the possibility of sexual orientation change.   First and foremost, it is important to recognize that how change is conceptualized has vast implications for our thinking about change.  Some of the more ardent proponents and opponents of homosexual sexual orientation change may view change in strictly categorical terms, where change is an all-or-nothing experience.  Proponents and opponents with this view differ only in the direction of their desired outcome.  Proponents of change understood in categorical terms may view a homosexual sexual orientation as a lifestyle choice that merely needs to be renounced. Opponents who take this viewpoint, on the other hand, may conceive of sexual orientation as essentially hard wired and simply not modifiable.  NARTH does not support either of these perspectives.

NARTH believes that much of the expressed pessimism regarding sexual orientation change is a consequence of individuals intentionally or inadvertently adopting a categorical conceptualization of change. When change is viewed in absolute terms, then any future experience of same-sex attraction (or any other challenge), however fleeting or diminished, is considered a refutation of change. Such assertions likely reflect an underlying categorical view of change, probably grounded in an essentialist view of homosexual sexual orientation that assumes same-sex attractions are the natural and immutable essence of a person.  What needs to be remembered is that the de-legitimizing of change solely on the basis of a categorical view of change is virtually unparalleled for any challenge in the psychiatric literature.  For example, applying a categorical standard for change would mean that any subsequent reappearance of depressive mood following treatment for depression should be viewed as an invalidation of significant and genuine change, no matter how infrequently depressive symptoms reoccur or how diminished in intensity they are if subsequently re-experienced.  Similar arguments could be made for any number of conditions, including grief, alcoholism, or marital distress.  The point is not to equate these conditions with homosexuality, but rather to highlight the inconsistency of applying the categorical standard only to reported changes in unwanted same-sex attractions.

Rather than pigeonholing homosexual sexual orientation change into categorical terms, NARTH believes that it is far more helpful and accurate to conceptualize such change as occurring on a continuum.  This is in fact how sexual orientation is defined in most modern research, starting with the well known Kinsey scales, even as subsequent findings pertinent to change are often described in categorical terms. NARTH affirms that some individuals who seek care for unwanted same-sex attractions do report categorical change of sexual orientation.  Moreover, NARTH acknowledges that others have reported no change. However, the experience of NARTH clinicians suggests that the majority of individuals who report unwanted same-sex attractions and pursue psychological care will be best served by conceptualizing change as occurring on a continuum, with many being able to achieve sustained shifts in the direction and intensity of their sexual attractions, fantasy, and arousal that they consider to be satisfying and meaningful. NARTH believes that a profound disservice is done to those with unwanted same-sex attractions by characterizing such shifts in sexual attractions as a denial of their authentic (and gay) personhood or a change in identity labeling alone.  Attempts to invalidate all reports of such shifts by presuming they are not grounded in actual experience insults the integrity of these individuals and posits wishful thinking on an untenably massive scale.

Finally, it also needs to be observed that reports on the potential for sexual orientation change may be unduly pessimistic based on the confounding factor of type of intervention.  Most of the recent research on homosexual sexual orientation change has focused on religiously mediated outcomes which may differ significantly from outcomes derived through professional psychological care.  It is not unreasonable to anticipate that the probability of change would be greater with informed psychotherapeutic care, although definitive answers to this question await further research.  NARTH remains highly interested in conducting such research, pursuant only to the acquisition of sufficient funding.

To summarize, then, those who are  highly pessimistic regarding change in sexual orientation appear to have assumed a categorical view of change, which is neither in keeping with how sexual orientation has been defined in the literature nor with how change is conceptualized for nearly all other psychological challenges.  NARTH believes that viewing change as occurring on a continuum is a preferable therapeutic approach and more likely to create realistic expectancies among consumers of change-oriented intervention.  With this in mind, NARTH remains committed to protecting the rights of clients with unwanted same-sex attractions to pursue change as well as the rights of clinicians to provide such psychological care.

I hope to post something on this Monday or Tuesday; but for now here is NARTH’s official word on the subject of orientation change. Discuss…

Alan Chambers: 99.9% have not experienced a change in their orientation

As noted Friday, President of Exodus International, Alan Chambers, spoke that evening as a part of a panel discussion at the annual conference of the Gay Christian Network.  Audio of the panel is now up at GCN (Part 1, part 2). During part 2, about 5:30 into the file, Alan Chambers is asked, I think by GCN Executive Director Justin Lee,  about the way Exodus and member ministries describe the work they do. Specifically, Lee asked about the slogan “change is possible.” Chambers responds by discussing his views of sexual orientation change, saying

The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could  never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction. I think there is a gender issue there, there are some women who have challenged me and said that my orientation or my attractions have changed completely. Those have been few and far between. The vast majority of people that I know will experience some level of same-sex attraction.

There was also some discussion of change meaning a change of viewpoint and behavior but the consensus was that Chambers was giving an honest appraisal of the aspect of sexuality that involves essential attractions. As one who once defended sexual reorientation change efforts, I have to agree with Chambers’ assessment. Credible reports of change are rare and do come more often from women than men.

Now, I wonder. Will this news be reported by Christian media, or become part of the evangelical blackout?

 

Alan Chambers to be part of a panel at Gay Christian Network conference

Tonight, if you are around Orlando, FL, you could take in a panel discussion (tip XGW) at the Gay Christian Network conference featuring Alan Chambers, Jeremy Marks, Wendy Gritter, and John Smid. I am told that a video will be made of the event and available on the GCN website.

Marks, Gritter and Smid have issued apologies for their advocacy of the ex-gay movement over the past several years. Smid today sent an email to his mailing list linking to another apology on his website.

I will watch the video when it is posted. Marks, Gritter and Smid have moved away from the change paradigm in clear ways. Chambers has also distanced himself and Exodus from the “change is possible” language. Another interesting change at Exodus, recently reported by XGW, has been the removal of reparative therapy books by Joseph Nicolosi from the organization’s website. Other change paradigm books remain (e.g., What’s a Father to Do?). Chambers did not comment on the reasons for the removal when I asked about it.