Revoice and Again I Say Revoice

Revoice is a new organization composed of people who seek “to encourage, support, and empower gay, lesbian, and other same-sex attracted Christians so they can experience the life-giving character of the historic, Christian sexual ethic.” The group encourages same-sex attracted people to be open about their orientation in traditional church but to remain celibate.

Despite the emphasis on celibacy, they are open about their experiences and they reject efforts to change orientation. They also openly describe themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

Revoice has scheduled a conference in late July that has generated some controversy, especially among those restless reformed folk who brought us the Nashville Statement.

A quick critic of the conference has emerged in Owen Strachan. In a post at the Center for Public Theology, Strachan begins with a case study of a divorced couple who parted ways over the husband’s homosexuality. He suggests that Revoice will teach things that lead to such divorces. Strachan then offers his own answers which he claims lead to hope.

The Rest of Many Stories

Strachan tells us that a person dealing with same-sex attraction is “not a special case.” He adds that the “key to victory in this area” is “understanding this, and rejecting the now-common spirit of victimhood.” Strachan assures the reader that Jesus is bigger than “any attraction, any lust, any unbiblical identity. ”

Without contesting his theological rhetoric at this point, I think it is only fair to offer some contrasting vignettes to his story. In fact, I suspect Revoice has emerged because the approach that Strachan advocates hasn’t worked very well. This is the practical problem for those who criticize Revoice. Despite the theological precision, there is a long history of damage which  cannot be denied.

Ex-Gay History

I have been researching and counseling same-sex attracted evangelicals since 1998. Initially, I defended reorientation therapy and ex-gay ministries. Yet, after much clinical experience and a reevaluation of the evidence, I changed my views. Here are just a few vignettes and points which should make Rev. Strachan reconsider his confident critique of Revoice. The men below once advocated an approach to victory over what they once considered sin which is very much like what Strachan wrote about in his critique of Revoice.

Michael Bussee

One of the founders of Exodus International, Michael Bussee and his eventual lover Gary Cooper left Exodus when they admitted to each other that they hadn’t changed orientation. They had been advised by their Christian ministry to believe God was giving them victory over their temptations but the victory never came.

John Paulk

The founder of Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out program, John Paulk was described by Christianity Today as the “poster boy” for the ex-gay movement. He was photographed in a gay bar while leading the movement and then after he left FOTF in 2003, he later divorced his wife Anne in 2013 and came out again as gay.

John Smid

John Smid was the director of Love in Action in Memphis TN, one of the flagship ministries of Exodus International. LIA was very much geared toward avoiding temptation, the appearance of evil, mortification of the flesh and generally following the kind of advice articulated by Strachen. However, sometime after Exodus closed down in 2013, Smid and his wife divorced and he later married a man.

Randy Thomas

Randy Thomas was for many years a leader in Exodus International and was Vice-President at the time it closed. Exodus rejected identity labels like gay or lesbian. While with Exodua, Thomas spoke to groups and exhorted them to victory over the flesh with slogans like “the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality but holiness.” Five years after the closing of Exodus, Randy is out as bisexual and in a same-sex relationship.

I could go on. There are many such stories. I also know people who manage to adhere to their traditional views. Some go along with Strachan’s views whereas more lean toward Revoice’s approach.

Get Real

Like so many from the Exodus International era, Strachan throws out theological language which sounds hopeful in theory but doesn’t work out so well in practice when applied to LGBT people.  Comparing sexual orientation to greed or anger just shows how little one understands about the subject and the real people involved.

Strachan has every right to advocate for his theological understanding of sexual orientation. However, my objection is the rhetoric which promises victory, without defining what that means. When I read that Jesus is “bigger” than something, I think He is going to conquer it or take it away. When I read victory, I think actual winning.

Strachan then promises that his way is better than Revoice’s way. Reality and experience say otherwise. This is a real problem which he doesn’t confront. Maybe he doesn’t know enough GLBT people to know it is a problem. But it is definitely is a problem because in actual practice, real people infrequently get the results promised by the rhetoric used in the article.

Instead of criticizing his brothers and sisters, perhaps Strachan should work on making his own message a little clearer. Tell his readers that people rarely change and that there are just as many failures as he defines them using his method as use the others he dislikes. That would at least be more honest.

People who want to remain traditional in their actions have a hard enough time without being severely criticized by those who are, in many ways, ideologically similar. Indeed, it might be that exclusionary attitude that makes progressives look attractive.

Richard Cohen, Founder of International Healing Foundation, to Conduct Meeting for Unification Church

Richard Cohen, founding guru of the International Healing Foundation, just can’t quit the Unification Church.
Despite saying a bunch of times that he left the church, he and his staff just keep showing up on their agenda. Now he is doing one of his healing ex-gay workshops for Unificationists with Phillip Schanker, one of the chief Unificationists in the U.S., as host. Although not sponsored by the Family Federation, the workshop is hosted by Schanker and is being marketed to disciples of the late Sun Myung Moon.

This program is sponsored and hosted by Phillip Schanker, former director of the family department of the Unification Community in the USA. Our special guest facilitator is Richard Cohen, M.A., psychotherapist, author, and founder of the International Healing Foundation (IHF), who has helped thousands experience radical healing and freedom over the past 27 years. To learn more about IHF and Richard’s personal journey from homosexual to heterosexual, visit www.comingoutloved.com
NOTE: This private retreat is intended for current or former Unificationists and their loved ones, but it is not sponsored by or affiliated with the FFWPU. To respect those who would prefer that your participation be confidential, your registration information will be known only to Phillip Schanker, and only registered participants will receive details about the location of the program.

This makes sense as Moon’s son endorses Cohen as the foremost expert in the church.
Despite claims that she left the church, IHF staffer Hilde Wiemann conducted workshops for the Unification Church in 2013.
In my opinion, the IHF bottom line is money. The source of it doesn’t much matter.
Richard Cohen in action. Wonder if there will be a special price on tennis racquets at the conference?
[youtube]http://youtu.be/VtGouVqsmsg[/youtube]
H/t: HWDYKYM

From Change to Congruence: Evergreen International to Merge with North Star International

Box Turtle Bulletin points out today that Latter Day Saint ex-gay group Evergreen International is merging with North Star International, a group less focused on change of orientation and more geared to living in alignment with LDS teaching. This is a significant development in that North Star has not supported reparative therapy or efforts to change orientation. The merger will not change that approach, according to a statement on the North Star website:

Recognizing the uniqueness of individual circumstance, North Star reaffirms that, with the incorporation of the Evergreen organization, it will continue to take no official position on the origin or mutability of homosexual attractions or gender identity incongruence.

The English language Evergreen website is being “rebuilt” will eventually forward to the North Star site.*  The website now has a link to SameSexAttraction.org. SameSexAttraction.org is managed by Larry Richman’s Century Publishing company. Richman is the go to person for Latter Day Saint social media and web presence and was once chair of Evergreen’s board.
Apparently Evergreen International Director David Pruden will not make the switch but will remain at the helm of NARTH. I reached out to Pruden for comment but he did not return my email.
From my vantage point, it appears that the change paradigm has suffered another blow with this merger. Over the past decade, evangelical outreach to GLBT people has moved from trying to get gays to change to offering support to evangelical gays in their efforts to live in alignment with traditional teaching, what I have called the congruence paradigm. With this merger, it appears that LDS ministries are moving in the same direction.
*North Star president Ty Mansfield informed me that the Evergreen and SSAVoice websites will be owned by North Star and and will forward to their site.

PFOX Plays The Victim; Wants To Fix One Problem By Causing Another

Today, the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays dropped a news release criticizing Virginia’s public universities for failing to distribute their literature to students. In the release, PFOX claims discrimination based on religion and ex-gayness is what motivates the lack of ex-gay literature.
While I don’t doubt that some of those counseling center staffers have problems with conservative religion, I submit that they are correct in their decision not to provide PFOX literature to students.  Much of what PFOX and related groups (e.g., International Healing Foundation, Voice of the Voiceless) promote is scientifically questionable and should be avoided for that reason alone.
The irony is that the group who conducted the undercover investigation accuse the university centers of suppressing accurate information when it is the ex-gay groups which (also?) do this. They know there is no peer reviewed research on therapeutic change that supports them. They also know that at least one of their therapeutic methods (i.e., cartharsis) has been evaluated via research and found to be harmful in some instances. They also know that their narrative regarding homosexuality (i.e., failures in the parent-child relationship) is scientifically dubious and yet they continue to promote this view as if it is supported by research and experience.
It may be that the counseling center directors favor gay affirming religion over non-affirming religion. If so, this would be problematic if the centers are publicly funded. However, any such finding of fact would not be reason to hand out erroneous literature to students. If there are non-affirming groups on campus or in the community (e.g., Andrew Marin’s groups or some other religious group which does not promote debunked theories and methods) then information about those groups should be made available to religious students. Therapeutically neutral approaches should be taught to center counselors to help them avoid establishing an approved religious stance on the subject in a public university. However, PFOX and Voice of the Voiceless should not be allowed to use religious discrimination as a basis to promote their problematic materials.

PATH Member PFOX Files Amicus Brief in the Prop 8 Case

Citing the “change is possible” mantra, PFOX has filed an amicus brief in the Prop 8 case arguing against marriage rights for gays. This is not surprising but I have some observations about their strategy.
In this brief, PFOX continues its odd logic of considering ex-gays to be a protected class while at the same time hoping to remove/prevent protected class status for gays. On page 4, the brief asserts:

Government authorities and other organizations recognize ex-gays as a group which undermines the assertion that sexual orientation is immutable.

The brief continues to cite dubious cases where PFOX claims that ex-gays are recognized as a protected class.
I have never understood why PFOX thinks this strategy helps them. Even if PFOX is correct about their interpretation of those cases, all of the organizations involved also recognize gays as a class. Furthermore, if ex-gays can be recognized as a protected class while they have a changeable sexual orientation, then the issue of mutability of sexual orientation is irrelevant. Taken to logical conclusion, this argument supports equal protection under the law for gays. Since ex-gays already have the right to marry, why shouldn’t gays?
Then, on page 6, PFOX unveils the list of sexual reorientation groups and includes Richard Cohen’s testimony. This makes it clear that the reparative therapists who say they just want to be able to work with unwanted SSA have taken their stand that they are about more than just a therapeutic approach.

New Ex-gay Group Kicking It Old Skool

A new-old ex-Exodus association will hold their first conference September 21-22, 2012 at Sunrise Community Church at Orangevale, CA. The keynote speakers will be Dr. Robert Gagnon, Frank Worthen and Andrew Comiskey. The group has a statement of principles which begins with: “Sexual purity is a life-and-death matter.”

You can also follow along the developments at Restored Hope’s Facebook page.

It is fascinating to watch these developments. My guess is that PFOX and NARTH will line up with this group as a replacement for Exodus. Will Restored Hope go political? My guess is that there will be overtures from social conservative groups to attend marriage rallies, testify on legislation, etc.

The conflict between the change and congruence paradigms has been brewing for awhile. This development just makes it explicit.

 

 

 

Reparative therapy and the power of an explanation

Yesterday, I posted a link to an article titled “My So-called Ex-gay Life” from the website of the American Prospect and written by Gabriel Arana. In that post, I focused on psychiatrist Robert Spitzer’s desire to retract his 2001 study of ex-gays. I also reported on my brief exchange with Bob about his study and his current views on sexual orientation.

Today, I want to comment about Arana’s description of Narth co-founder Joseph Nicolosi. Arana summarizes his three year therapy episode with Nicolosi which ended with Nicolosi’s prognosis to Arana’s parents that their son would never enter the gay lifestyle:

Late into my last year of high school, Nicolosi had a final conversation with my parents and told them that the treatment had been a success. “Your son will never enter the gay lifestyle,” he assured them.

I once had an experience with Nicolosi which is similar to what happened with Arana and his parents. I was in a meeting with several psychologists, including Nicolosi, debating the merits of his theory of paternal deficit as the sole cause for adult male homosexuality. I presented the basics of a clinical case involving a young adult who consulted me about his distress over his same-sex attractions. The young man told me that he came out to his father because he was closer to his father than to his mother. In addition, there were other indications of paternal warmth and closeness that I mentioned in the presentation. In the midst of some discussion over the case, Nicolosi abruptly interrupted me and said, “He’ll be fine. He’s not gay.” Nicolosi then explained that a boy like that who has such a close relationship with his father could not possibly remain attracted to the same sex. In fact, the young man did remain attracted to the same sex, although he did not come out as gay at that point. The only follow up I ever heard was that he had determined to live a celibate life. That case was presented as an illustration of other cases with the same basic narrative — gay men with close warm relationships with their fathers.

Nicolosi’s theoretical statements reveal the most obvious confirmation bias. Despite the fact that Nicolosi has been exposed to evidence which would invalidate his narrow theory, he persists in holding on. Witness what he said to Arana:

What about people who don’t fit his model? “After almost 30 years of work, I can say to you that I’ve never met a single homosexual who’s had a loving and respectful relationship with his father,” he says. I had heard it all before.

He said the same thing in the meeting where I introduced cases of gay males who had a loving and respectful relationship with their fathers. However, in the face of the disconfirming evidence, he simply changed the rules – those men weren’t gay, they couldn’t be because they were close to their dads. Even though the clients were attracted to the same sex; according to Nicolosi, they would not continue with those attractions because of their closeness to their dads.

Arana articulates well how different explanatory narratives can become inculcated into an identity. Arana describes how he perceived the therapeutic narrative:

Continue reading “Reparative therapy and the power of an explanation”

Robert Spitzer Retracts 2001 Ex-gay Study

Psychiatrist Bob Spitzer, author of a 2001 ex-gay study, told American Prospect journalist, Gabriel Arana, that he wants to retract his study:

Spitzer was growing tired and asked how many more questions I had. Nothing, I responded, unless you have something to add.

He did. Would I print a retraction of his 2001 study, “so I don’t have to worry about it anymore”?

Knowing this article was coming, I talked last evening with Bob and asked him what he would like to do about his study. He confirmed to me that he has regret for what he now considers to be errant interpretations of the reports of his study participants. He told me that he had “second thoughts about his study” and he now believes “his conclusions don’t hold water.” He added that he now believes that the criticisms of the study expressed in the 2003 Archives of Sexual Behavior issue are “more true to the data” than his conclusions were.

He told me that he had expressed these thoughts to Ken Zucker, editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior several months ago. He wondered aloud to Dr. Zucker if there was some obligation to say the critics were right and that the study should be withdrawn. Although Spitzer said he did not recall Zucker’s exact reply, he did not feel encouraged to withdraw the paper. The Prospect article also references the issue of a formal retraction:

I asked about the criticisms leveled at him. “In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are largely correct,” he said. “The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.” He said he spoke with the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior about writing a retraction, but the editor declined. (Repeated attempts to contact the journal went unanswered.)

However, when I asked Zucker via email about his stance, he told me that Bob had not submitted anything for review, but he is free to submit a letter to the Editor or other communication expressing regret and his current views. The ball is in Bob’s court. My guess is that Bob will take him up on that offer.

There is much else to consider in this article which I will get to later today.  The material and personal experience with Joseph Nicolosi is well worth reading.

First study to refer to ex-gays discredited

In 2000, I presented a paper at the annual conference of the American Psychological Association outlining studies which referred to ex-gays, i.e., people who rejected gay as an identity for religious reasons. That presentation was part of a larger symposium organized by Mark Yarhouse and Doug Haldeman on religious and GLB issues. In 2002, that paper was published in the APA journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.* That was the same year I was given the Freud Award at the NARTH conference.
In that paper, I summarized a study by psychiatrist E. Mansell Pattison and his wife Myrna Loy Pattison, titled “‘Ex-gays’: Religiously Mediated Change in Homosexuals.” The Pattisons interviewed 11 men in the Melodyland church in Anaheim, CA who claimed to have changed from gay to straight. One of those men was frequent commenter here Michael Bussee. Another was Gary Cooper, the man who left that ministry and Exodus with Bussee when they both acknowledged that they had not changed their orientation. In other words, two of the 11 had not changed at all.
Today, on the Religion Dispatches website, I describe that study in more detail and interview Michael Bussee about his participation. I encourage you to go read it and comment here or there.
The study continues to be used by NARTH as well as other groups to claim sexual reorientation works. The problems with the study provide more evidence that NARTH’s use of old data (125 year landscape review) is flawed.
*Throckmorton, W. (2002). Initial empirical and clinical findings concerning the change process for ex-gays. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33, 242-248.

The Jones and Yarhouse study: What does it mean?

Let me begin by saying that I endorsed the book, Ex-Gays, A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse which contained the first report of their longitudinal study. Since the publication of the book, Jones and Yarhouse have released results of their final follow up, first in 2009 at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, and then most recently in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. With the follow up, I believe the study remains an important investigation into the interplay of religion, sexual orientation and personal identity. I give them credit for the perseverance required to explore a topic which is highly controversial and to report their findings in detail.
Since the release of the peer-reviewed article, socially conservative groups have described the study as proof that gays can change orientation. For instance, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, one of the worst offenders, claims that the study proves gays can change and that they weren’t born gay. Also, Citizenlink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family reported:

Of the 98 subjects, more than half were reported as successful; 23 percent reported a complete change in orientation after six years. Also, 20 percent reported giving up the struggle to change.

This claim is misleading. Jones and Yarhouse did not report “complete change in orientation.” Instead they cautioned against misinterpreting their findings by saying

These results do not prove that categorical change in sexual orientation is possible for everyone or anyone, but rather that meaningful shifts along a continuum that constitute real changes appear possible for some. The results do not prove that no one is harmed by the attempt to change, but rather that the attempt does not appear to be harmful on average or inherently harmful. The authors urge caution in projecting success rates from these findings, as they are likely overly optimistic estimates of anticipated success. Further, it was clear that “conversion” to heterosexual adaptation was a complex phenomenon.

Regarding the changes reported by their participants, the authors offer two related explanations. One is that some of the participants changed sexual orientation to some degree and the other is that the participants changed their sexual identity. Sexual identity involves placing more emphasis on behavioral conformity to prohibitions on homosexual behavior as a means of self definition. For the Exodus participants, less temptation to engage in homosexual behavior might be taken as a signal that orientation has changed, thus allowing a different attribution about their sexuality than once believed. The authors raise these two possibilities in the abstract for the most recent paper:

The authors conducted a quasi-experimental longitudinal study spanning 6–7 years examining attempted religiously mediated sexual orientation change from homosexual orientation to heterosexual orientation. An initial sample was formed of 72 men and 26 women who were involved in a variety of Christian ministries, with measures of sexual attraction, infatuation and fantasy, and composite measures of sexual orientation and psychological distress, administered longitudinally. Evidence from the study suggested that change of homosexual orientation appears possible for some and that psychological distress did not increase on average as a result of the involvement in the change process. The authors explore methodological limitations circumscribing generalizability of the findings and alternative explanations of the findings, such as sexual identity change or adjustment.

As I read all of the literature, including my own work, I first want to disagree with the way that Citizenlink characterized the results as “complete change.” That is not at all what Jones and Yarhouse reported. Considering the dichotomy proposed by Jones and Yarhouse — change in orientation or identity – I lean toward their alternative explanation – “sexual identity change or adjustment.”  However, I believe the discussion of what their results mean needs to be broadened beyond those two possibilities. In addition to considering orientation and identity as important constructs, I believe there are other ways to account for the changes Jones and Yarhouse report which are not sufficiently addressed in their published accounts.  First, I want to make some observations about the study which influence my opinions about what the results mean.
First, and most basically, the Jones and Yarhouse study did not examine in any systematic way the efficacy of reparative therapy or any other kind of psychological therapy as a means of altering sexual orientation. The participants in the study were involved in religiously based support groups which primarily had as a goal to reinforce a traditional moral view of sexuality. Clearly, the participants hoped they would change and engaged in various religious interventions to assist that end. However, the study did not assess the role of professional therapy and cannot legitimately be used to say such therapies work.
Second, there were quite a few dropouts six to seven years into the study. While true of all longitudinal studies, the final percentages being reported should also take into account the distinct possibility that many if not most of the drop outs were not successful in their efforts to change. The study began with 98 participants and ended up with 65 who were followed up for six to seven years. Some reported that they were healed of homosexuality and just didn’t want to participate, while others said they were gay and stopped trying to change. I don’t know for sure what the dropouts mean but the fact that so many failed to complete the study needs to be a part of any discussion.
Third, ratings from men and women were combined. Given the low number of people involved I understand why this was done but the practice may inflate the assessments of change for the group. It has become well accepted that the sexuality of women is more fluid than for men. A few women experiencing large shifts could influence the group averages. Continue reading “The Jones and Yarhouse study: What does it mean?”