Former President of Exodus International Says Being Gay is Not a Choice

Exodus International was once the largest ex-gay evangelical organization in the nation. However, after rejecting reparative therapy, Exodus closed operations in 2013. I asked former president of Exodus Alan Chambers about his reaction to Ben Carson’s comments that being gay is a choice. His reply:

Any behavior is a choice. Sexual orientation, however, is not a choice. In 20+ years of working w/ gay and lesbian people I’ve never met one person who chose to be gay. At 43 years old, though faithfully and happily married to my wife for over 17 years and completely attracted to her, my own same-sex attractions have not diminished. Claiming orientation is a choice is archaic and causes great shame for the beautiful men, women, youth, and families who live this reality. 

Over the years, I have met many same-sex attracted people, but none of them said they chose their feelings, even those who said they had changed those feelings to some degree.

Ben Carson: Being Gay is Choice Because Some People Do Gay Things After Prison

Dr. Carson, this isn’t brain surgery. Being attracted to the same or opposite sex isn’t chosen like you chose to speak outside of your area of expertise today.
On CNN, Carson told Chris Cuomo that being gay is choice and he knows this because of prison. Carson said:

Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.

Some people do make a shift in prison but probably not “a lot.” One study I consulted found that about 17% of prisoners said they had shifted orientation from before prison to the time of the survey. Those prisoners were still incarcerated. Most of the switchers said they became bisexual. They should be surveyed when they leave prison; most will likely revert to pre-prison identifications.
More disturbing is Carson’s reliance on a clearly exceptional population. He should know better than to draw conclusions about all gays because of the exceptions in prison. He surely did not choose surgery techniques or medicines that way.

Was Michael Brown Right About Sexual Orientation and Secular Counseling?

David Barton on history. Ken Ham on science. Joseph Nicolosi on psychology and sexual orientation. Now Michael Brown on sexual orientation counseling.
In a Christian Post op-ed Michael Brown takes Al Mohler to task for his assessment of sexual orientation. Mohler now acknowledges that sexual orientation is a useful descriptive category, even as he appears to consider same-sex orientation to be inherently sinful. The former opinion seems to be self-evident, the latter position confusing. How can a set of givens be any more sinful than another set of givens? Isn’t what one does in response to our impulses the key?
Because of his shift in views, Mohler rejects reparative therapy, or any secular approach to curing sexual orientation. Minister and commentator Michael Brown enters the fray at this point. He says:

People find themselves attracted to the same sex for many different reasons, some of which can be unpacked through counseling, including secular counseling. In fact, as countless gays and lesbians have shared with counselors, their attractions can often be traced back to sexual abuse or serious family crises.
Cannot a secular counselor deal with these issues too? Must we put homosexuality into a special category of its own?

Surely there are many other areas of our lives that are deeply affected by our sinful nature, yet we do not say that counseling cannot help us make progress in those areas, do we?

It is amazing to me that evangelicals who reject so-called secular science on one hand, embrace Sigmund Freud and theories of sexual orientation derived from Freud’s fictions. Brown promote the discredited view that same-sex attraction arises because of sexual abuse and/or “serious family crises.” This was cutting edge a century ago, and even then Freud despaired that cure could come through analysis and didn’t think the effort was necessary. Freud, who believed that childhood trauma could lead to homosexual desires, wasn’t a strong advocate of therapy to change it. In 1935, a mother wrote Freud about help for her son. Freud interpreted the letter as a request to help the young man overcome homosexuality. Freud wrote back and said:

Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime – and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.
By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.
What analysis can do for your son runs on a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed.

Incredibly, Brown refers people to JONAH, a group being sued right now by former patients because their techniques did not produce change in orientation but rather shame and depression. In his article, I wish Brown would have explained what a client of JONAH might do to rid himself of his gayness. For instance, in court documents, former clients describe getting naked:

According to Plaintiffs, JONAH’s conversion therapy required them to engage in various individual and group activities. For instance, during a private session, defendant Alan Downing (“Downing”), a JONAH-affiliated counselor, instructed plaintiff Chaim Levin (“Levin”) “to say one negative thing about himself, remove an article of clothing, then repeat the process.” Levin submitted to Downing’s instructions until he was naked, when Downing directed Levin “to touch his penis and then his buttocks.” Plaintiff Benjamin Unger (“Unger”) and plaintiff Michael Ferguson (“Ferguson”) engaged in similar disrobing activities with Downing. Downing instructed Unger to remove his shirt in front of a mirror and requested that he “continue,” but Unger refused. Ibid. In addition, Unger participated in a group exercise in which Downing instructed him and other young men to remove their clothing and stand in a circle naked, with Downing also nude.  As with Unger, Downing instructed Ferguson to undress in front of a mirror and “repeatedly urged [him] to remove additional clothing,” but Ferguson refused.

JONAH clients are instructed to fight their way through group therapy clients to grab two oranges and take their “balls back.” Many of the techniques are taken from the decidedly pagan Mankind Project’s New Warriors Training Adventure. Those processes are based on a loose reading of and curious amalgamation of Gestalt therapy and psychoanalytic assumptions.
I hope Brown means well, but he isn’t doing well. Recommending JONAH to evangelicals is irresponsible.
Oh, and the “Alliance” Brown invokes? That is Freudian inspired National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) warmed over.  It sounds like a respectable scientific group. However, they are supporters of JONAH, and leaders within the group also recommend that techniques used by JONAH and the New Warriors Training Adventure.
We don’t know for sure what causes same-sex attractions, but we know that abuse and traumatic relationships aren’t general causes for homosexuality any more than they cause heterosexuality. Both gays and straights experience difficulties in childhood and both gays and straights experience loving, healthy childhoods. Thus, curing wounds, or finding non-existent woulds to cure, won’t dramatically alter sexual attractions for the vast majority of people. While a few people do show some change, for many of them the change was spontaneous and related to factors other than therapy or intentional efforts to change.
So to answer the question in the title: No, Michael Brown is about as wrong on sexual orientation and secular counseling as one can be.
 
 

Jonathan Merritt Discusses Sexuality and Vulnerability in New Book

On Sunday in a blog post at Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt summarized some personal reflections on his sexuality which are detailed in his new book Jesus is Better Than You Imagined.
Merritt, also the author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars which I endorsed. In that book, Merritt raises good questions and frequently illustrates the damage done to the Gospel and to people by culture war battles over social issues. In this blog post and his new book, he makes the matter personal.

The church is at a critical juncture on sensitive matters such as these. Churches need to create safe spaces where their people can be honest about what they feel and what they’ve experienced. All of our stories belong at the table. We need to listen to each other and learn to love each other and then pick up the scriptures and ask, “What does it look like to follow Jesus with our hearts, minds, and bodies?” If I shared my story for any reason, it was this one.

Merritt describes unwanted sexual contact as a child and then struggles over his sexual identity as an adult. He doesn’t label himself with a sexual orientation label and describes a fluidity that is characteristic of some people. I appreciate that he does not peg his same-sex attraction on his childhood and in fact says that it is “dangerous” to assume a connection.
Merritt’s experience is similar to so many who are same-sex or bisexually attracted but maintain loyalty to beliefs which are incongruous with same-sex sexual behavior or relationships.  The American Psychological Association’s sexual orientation task force report calls this experience, telic congruence.
I look forward to reading his new book.

New Study of Gay Brothers Renews Interest in Genetic Factors in Homosexuality

Papers in Australia and the UK published stories late yesterday about a study recently described at the 2013 International Association for Sex Research by Alan Sanders and then yesterday by Michael Bailey at the American Association for the Advancement of Science on genetics and homosexuality. According to an abstract of a 2012 presentation of the study, the researchers conducted a genome-wide linkage study involving over 400 pairs of gay brothers. The team identified two regions of interest: the pericentromeric region of chromosome 8 and Xq28, the region previously reported by Dean Hamer in 1993. According to the 2012 abstract, the findings “suggest that genetic variation in each of these regions contributes to development of the important psychological trait of male sexual orientation.”
The study has not been published but will surely renew interest in genetic factors involved in homosexuality. According to Bailey, as reported in the Guardian, sexual orientation is not a choice. However, this does not mean that sexual orientation is completely determined by genes. It appears that the regions identified in this study contribute in some manner to variation in the trait of sexual orientation. The linkages identified in the study do not eliminate the role of other factors in sexual orientation, including the balance of hormones during fetal development.
The new study is consistent with our statement in the recent letter to Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni:

From a scientific perspective, the causes of homosexuality are only partially understood. While it is unlikely that there is one simple biological or genetic cause for homosexuality in all people, there are neural, cognitive and personality differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals which appear to have at least some basis in biology.

Truth Wins Out has an interview with Alan Sanders about the study and related issues in interpreting the role of genetics in homosexuality.
 
 
 

Top Ten Posts in 2013

Here are the ten most visited pages on the blog for 2013. Two posts were written prior to 2013 but continue to be quite popular. I designate them in the list below by the year of publication.
1. On The Allegations of Plagiarism Against Mark Driscoll
2. Janet Mefferd Removes Evidence Relating to Charges of Plagiarism Against Mark Driscoll; Apologizes to Audience
3. Ingrid Schlueter Resigns from Janet Mefferd Show Over Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy
4.  John Piper Calls Out Famous Guys (Like Mark Driscoll) on Ghostwriting
5. Was the National Rifle Association Started to Drive Out the KKK?
6. A Major Study of Child Abuse and Homosexuality Revisited (2009)
7. Mars Hill Church Alters Statement of Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy
8. Narth Loses Tax Exempt Status
9. Mars Hill Sermon Series Battle Plan Reveals Source Behind Mark Driscoll’s Book on Peter
10. The Trail of Tears Remembered (2011)
Clearly, posts about the controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll and allegations of plagiarism and ghostwriting were popular. With Driscoll’s apology the attention left the issue, even though he did not address several other instances in other books. To some degree, he was probably also aided by Christmas break and the Duck Dynasty hullabaloo. I was surprised that the most popular post about David Barton was about his claim that the National Rifle Association was started to counter the KKK. There are so many other claims that are even more outrageous. As far as I can determine, donations to NARTH are still not deductible. The two posts from past years have consistently shown up on the top ten lists since they were published.
The move to Patheos has been smooth thanks to the great folks there and I want to thank readers for making the switch and welcome all the new readers here.

What makes someone gay and can people change orientation?

In 2010, I submitted a summary of sexual orientation research to Uganda’s Independent. They published it in their Uganda Talks section. In light of the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and recent discussions on this blog, I am reprinting it here. There isn’t much that I would change about it three years later but I will comment at the end of the post.

At Uganda Talks we welcome guest blogs from our readers. Today, Professor Warren Throckmorton writes about the anti-homosexuality bill:
Defending the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Hon. David Bahati told the BBC, “It’s [homosexuality] not an inborn orientation, it’s a behaviour learnt – and it can be unlearnt.” Is this true?
Hon. Bahati’s assertion is not consistent with current research on sexuality. While much is being learned about sexuality, the reasons why sexual attractions take the direction they do for any given person are not well known. There are many theories but no clear answers. I think this is a surprising fact for many people.
At the outset, we must be clear about what we mean when we discuss homosexuality. For instance, homosexuality and pedophilia are not the same. As with straight adults, adult homosexuals prefer other adults. In addition, we also need to make a distinction between attractions and behavior. What draws our attention and attraction is almost certainly not chosen. Behavior, on the other hand, is much more subject to reflection and choice. People may have various kinds of physical desires but for reasons of conscience decide not to act on them. In the case of homosexuality, some believe adult intimacy with someone of the same gender is right or morally neutral. In any case, as everyone knows, it is difficult to avoid acting on sexual desires, even when one’s religious views forbid such behavior.
Having strong religious views is not reason to overlook research and mislead citizens about the nature of homosexuality and sexual orientation in general. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill states in the opening section:
This legislation further recognizes the fact that same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic.
However, we do not know this to be the case. Most researchers around the world agree that there is no consensus about the causes of any given person’s sexual orientation. While it seems unlikely that there is one biological or genetic cause for all homosexuals, there are data which suggest that genetic and hormonal factors during pre-natal development have some impact on our desires, in different ways for different people.
On the other hand, there is very little evidence for the role of parenting on the direction of one’s sexual attractions. A common theory is that homosexuals are not well bonded with the parent of the same-sex and that heterosexuals have strong bonds with their same-sex parents. However, think about this: Many straight people have absent or hostile same-sex parents and turn out to be completely heterosexual. Many gays have had wonderful, loving relationships with both parents and yet begin to experience same-sex attractions in their early teens or before. The research on the subject does not lend strong support for parenting factors as primary causes for sexual orientation.
Another commonly held view is that sexual abuse or recruitment makes people gay. This cannot be true for most homosexuals since most homosexuals have not had these experiences. Some same-sex attracted people recall such experiences but so too do many heterosexuals. A recent study in the United States found that some who were sexually abused had a somewhat greater likelihood of trying homosexual behavior but that there was no relationship statistically between sexual abuse and exclusive homosexual orientation. Some people might experiment, but most often they seek heterosexual partners without coercion or therapy. I need to point out however, that the majority of people who were sexually abused did not later try homosexual behavior nor were they likely to become homosexual.
Thus, the matter of cause is a scientific mystery. However, we do know that once established sexual orientation seems to be quite durable. Several studies have found brain differences between homosexual and heterosexual people. Even Christian oriented programs designed to change sexual orientation have not been very successful. A recent study of participants in an Exodus International (the largest Christian ministry aimed toward homosexuality) found a small group of people who expressed change. Just over 20% of subjects remaining in the study reported some degree of movement from being attracted to the same sex toward developing attractions to the opposite sex, but most did not. Even among those who said they developed heterosexual attractions, most continued to struggle with homosexual desire.
Furthermore, in a study I conducted recently, only 3 out of 107 primarily same-sex attracted heterosexually married males described lifetime shifts from homosexual to heterosexual attractions. It does not seem scientifically reasonable to mandate state coerced therapy when the success among those who freely choose counseling or ministry assistance is so low. All groups who conduct such counseling stress that an absence of coercion and mandate is necessary for any benefit.
Regarding the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, all concerned, including Uganda’s homosexual advocates, agree that law should protect children. However, the bill seeks to legislate an end to homosexuality based on the faulty premises that homosexuality is about recruitment and that it is learned and easily unlearned. Research provides no support for these notions. In light of this, President Museveni’s call to slow down and discuss the issues with those who oppose the bill seems especially wise.
Warren Throckmorton, PhD is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, United States. His specialty is counseling responses with sexual identity concerns and can be reached via his website at www.wthrockmorton.com
N.B. The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of Independent Publications Ltd.

I can add that my study eventually included over 260 participants with no increase in number of people who claim extreme change. It just doesn’t happen very often. I wish I would have emphasized more the brain differences which have been reported.  Whatever causal factors turn out to important, it is well established that sexual attractions are not chosen.
From my point of view, there is no compelling state interest in criminalizing homosexual behavior. The Ugandan lawmakers claim that gays recruit children, but have never provided evidence to that effect. Furthermore, all gay groups in Uganda vocally support the laws which already criminalize what is termed “defilement” of children.
See also:
Sexual identity: Our bodies tell us who we are.
SPLC Myth #4: Homosexuals don’t live nearly as long as heterosexuals
NARTH article asking why homosexuality isn’t a disorder
Mental Health Status and Homosexuality

New Paper Proposes Epigenetic Pathway to Homosexuality (UPDATED)

I am still reading the paper by William Rice, Urban Friberg and Sergey Gavrilets (available for review here) and have asked several other scientists for their opinion of it.  It is a complex argument but one which initially seems compelling to me.

Here is the abstract:

Male and female homosexuality have substantial prevalence in humans. Pedigree and twin studies indicate that homosexuality has substantial heritability in both sexes, yet concordance between identical twins is low and molecular studies have failed to find associated DNA markers. This paradoxical pattern calls for an explanation. We use published data on fetal androgen signaling and gene regulation via nongenetic changes in DNA packaging (epigenetics) to develop a new model for homosexuality. It is well established that fetal androgen signaling strongly influences sexual development. We show that an unappreciated feature of this process is reduced androgen sensitivity in XX fetuses and enhanced sensitivity in XY fetuses, and that this difference is most feasibly caused by numerous sex-specific epigenetic modifications (“epi-marks”) originating in embryonic stem cells. These epi-marks buffer XX fetuses from masculinization due to excess fetal androgen exposure and similarly buffer XY fetuses from androgen underexposure. Extant data indicates that individual epi-marks influence some but not other sexually dimorphic traits, vary in strength across individuals, and are produced during ontogeny and erased between generations. Those that escape erasure will steer development of the sexual phenotypes they influence in a gonad-discordant direction in opposite sex offspring, mosaically feminizing XY offspring and masculinizing XX offspring. Such sex-specific epi-marks are sexually antagonistic (SA-epi-marks) because they canalize sexual development in the parent that produced them, but contribute to gonad-trait discordances in opposite-sex offspring when unerased. In this model, homosexuality occurs when stronger-than-average SA-epi-marks (influencing sexual preference) from an opposite-sex parent escape erasure and are then paired with a weaker-than average de novo sex-specific epi-marks produced in opposite-sex offspring. Our model predicts that homosexuality is part of a wider phenomenon in which recently evolved androgen-influenced traits commonly display gonad-trait discordances at substantial frequency, and that the molecular feature underlying most homosexuality is not DNA polymorphism(s), but epi-marks that evolved to canalize sexual dimorphic development that sometimes carryover across generations and contribute to gonad trait discordances in opposite-sex descendants.

The Christian Post did a quick piece on this study but did not interview anybody with any expertise about the research. Instead, they reached out to David Pruden who made the following statement:

“The theoretical model itself attributes only 10-14 percent of the factors to genetics or epigenetics. That leaves the remaining 85 percent or so of the factors to environmental influences,” said Pruden.

I don’t see anything like that in the paper so I can’t evaluate what he is claiming here. This sounds like the usual NARTH misreading of the genetic evidence but not the Rice et al paper.

UPDATE: Dr. Rice wrote to say that Pruden’s account is inaccurate. In response to my question: “Are you intending to account for homosexuality whenever it occurs?” Dr. Rice replied:  “Yes, we think that carry-over epi-marks have the potential to account for most homosexuality.” 

More to come…

Eyes Wide Open: Pupil Dilation and Sexual Orientation

A new study from Gerulf Rieger and Ritch Savin-Williams confirms the relationship between sexual desire and pupil dilation. While this relationship has been known for some time, now it is possible to measure the dilation with precision. In doing so, the authors report significant relationships between self-reported sexual orientation and the way pupils dilate in response to sexual imagery.

Read a summary of the study here, and the open access journal report here.

The authors report that males are more clear in their preferences than women, meaning that whether gay or straight, the dilation of their pupils matched closely their stated preferences. Women were more likely than men to show pupil dilation to both preferred and non-preferred images. Bisexuals also showed dilation to both male and female sexual images.

The results are not perfect in that there is variability of pupil response within sexual orientation groups. These results say nothing about causes of orientation but they do provide more evidence that the attraction component of sexual orientation is mostly involuntary.

Uganda Human Rights Coalition Opposes the Anti-Homosexuality Bill

A broad coalition of human rights advocacy organizations in Uganda issued a press release late yesterday. Here is the press release in full:

Press Statement

Uganda: Parliament Should Reject Anti-Homosexuality Bill

16th February 2012

On Tuesday 7th February 2012, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (2009) was reintroduced to the Parliament of Uganda. If passed, this draft legislation would violate the human rights of all Ugandans, and should immediately be dropped, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP), Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), The Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRCU), and Human Rights Network-Uganda (HURINET) said today.

Hon. David Bahati’s widely condemned private member’s bill is one of ten bills saved and reintroduced from the previous Parliament. The bill had its first reading on 7th February 2012 and was referred to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee for scrutiny. It is understood that the bill was re-tabled in its original form but that amendments recommended by the Committee last year will be incorporated. Although Hon. Bahati is reported in the media to have said that the death penalty for ‘serial’ acts of homosexuality will be dropped, this is not yet confirmed. EHAHRDP, FHRI, HRCU and HURINET express their concern at the lack of clarity surrounding the parliamentary process and contents of the bill, and call on Parliament to clarify on this matter.

EHAHRDP, FHRI, HRCU and HURINET recall the submission by the Uganda Human Rights Commission in its 2010 annual report that “some of the provisions in the bill are unnecessary, and that most of them violate international human rights standards.” The rejection of certain international standards envisaged in the 2009 bill sets a dangerous precedent regarding Uganda’s respect for the human rights commitments it has made.

The bill contains harsh provisions which would seriously restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and would threaten the ability of some human rights organisations to continue operating. Already, on 14th February the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Hon. Rev. Fr. Lokodo Simon, ordered the unconstitutional shutdown of a capacity-building workshop organized by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) human rights defenders in Entebbe. The bill and such actions by government representatives reinforce the more general threats to civil society space in Uganda, such as the onerous regulation of public meetings and discussions sought to be introduced with the Public Order Management Bill.

As well as threatening the safety of LGBTI people generally, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill also jeopardizes the security of human rights defenders working on these issues. The re-tabling of the bill just days after the first anniversary of the murder of LGBTI activist and EHAHRDP founding member, David Kato, is a stark reminder of the insecurity this bill has already caused in Uganda.

More generally, the bill would have a wide-reaching and disturbing effect on the freedoms of the majority of Ugandans. If health professionals, spiritual leaders, teachers, business people, landlords, and many others in positions built upon trust and confidentiality fail to disclose to the authorities persons they suspect of being homosexual, under the provisions of this bill would also be targeted for prosecution themselves.

EHAHRDP, FHRI, HRCU and HURINET welcome the statement issued by the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity on Wednesday 8th February that the bill “does not enjoy the support of the Prime Minister or the Cabinet.” We call on the authorities to ensure the physical safety of LGBTI community members and human rights activists and fulfill the commitment made by Uganda during the Universal Periodic Review in October 2011 to “take immediate concrete steps to stop discrimination and assaults against LGBT persons.”

EHAHRDP, FHRI, HRCU and HURINET call on the Members of Parliament, and all Ugandans, to reject this discriminatory and divisive bill and refuse to be distracted from the real pressing issues facing the country at this time, such as the debate over the exploitation of Uganda’s oil resources.

For more information, please contact:

Hassan Shire, Executive Director, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, on executive@defenddefenders.org or +256 772 753 753

Livingstone Sewanyana, Executive Director, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, on fhri@dmail.ug or +256 414 510 263/498

Margaret Sekaggya, Executive Director, The Human Rights Centre Uganda, on hrcug@hrcug.org or +256 414 266 186

Mohammed Ndifuna, Chief Executive Officer, Human Rights Network-Uganda, on executive@hurinet.or.ug or +256 714 419 229