LDS scholars critique Byrd, Cox & Robinson review

Monday, I posted a statement from J. Michael Bailey, prolific sexual orientation researcher at Northwestern University, regarding what he called a “blatant misquotation” and misrepresentation of his views by Dean Byrd, Shirley Cox and Jeffrey Robinson in a 2005 book review of In Quiet Desperation. Yesterday, I posted a link to the rebuttal by In Quiet Desperation co-author, Ty Mansfield.

Today, I am posting another rebuttal to the review from Byrd et al, this time from four LDS scholars who write on gay issues – William Bradshaw, Robert A. Rees, Ron Schow, and Marybeth Raynes. You can read the review and the authors’ bios on an LDS website featuring resources for same-sex attracted people.

As with the Mansfield, I want to include excerpts and make a comment at the end.

Bradshaw et al make religious critiques of Byrd et al and then note what appears to be confirmation bias emerging in the review.

It is disturbing that Byrd, Cox and Robinson, all of whom have had extensive experience in counseling, would make judgments about both Stewart Matis and Ty Mansfield that they are in no position to make. Without knowing anything about the personality or therapeutic history of either man and based only on what evidence they find in the Matis-Mansfield narratives, they draw therapeutic conclusions, characterizing Stuart Matis as having “temperamental sensitivity,” “an obsessive preoccupation with being different,” and “perfectionism.” They assert, again without having counseled with him, that Stuart’s “story may have had a much different outcome had Stuart found. . . needed help”; they challenge the Matises’ interpretation of “their son’s attraction for other boys (‘crushes’) as somehow related to his homosexual attractions,” by stating declaratively, “They are not”; they state, “What Stuart failed to secure was competent, professional help, the kind of help that could assist him deal [sic] with very chronic, very difficult challenges.”

They conduct the same kind of arm-chair psychological analysis of Ty Mansfield: “Though Mansfield notes that his homosexual feelings have remained unchanged, this is impossible”! As they do with Stuart Matis, Byrd, Cox and Robinson, pigeonhole Mansfield as suffering from “temperamental sensitivity, obsessive introspection and perfectionism.” They seem to know Mansfield’s therapeutic experience: “Rather than seeking help, however, Mansfield seems stuck in his gender confusion”; “Mansfield has simply conceded victory to his homosexuality.” Such conclusions are as irresponsible as the medical analysis of Senator Bill Frist upon viewing videotape of the comatose Terry Shiavo. If these authors are familiar with what are surely the confidential medical and psychotherapeutic records of Matis and Mansfield, they should say so; otherwise, their analysis is not only inappropriate, it is professionally irresponsible.

A common theme among reparative influenced therapists is to see nails since the tool they have is a hammer. If you think homosexuality is caused by weak fathers, temperamental sensitivity, and/or perfectionism, then that is what you see in those who are same-sex attracted. Even if you only have a bits of information about a person, it is enough because you can always fill in the blanks.

Here the authors note the lack of documentation or data for the claims of reorientation.

Without providing adequate scholarly documentation, Byrd, Cox and Robinson refer to the success of reparative therapy (although they don’t label it as such). They contend that “many men (and women),” “many individuals,” “many people,” and “many men and women” “make successful transitions out of homosexuality.” In a review critical of others’ use of scientific evidence, one would expect some reference to a scholarly study that details exactly how many “many” is. Given the fact that Byrd was the lead person directing therapy for same sex attraction at Church Social Services during a period when many hundreds of Latter-day Saints were undergoing reparative or change therapy, one would think he would cite the findings of such therapy. It is in fact scandalous that such studies either were not undertaken or have been suppressed since the findings would help enlighten our present discussion of this subject. We are acquainted with one therapist at Church Social Services during Byrd’s tenure who did a large portion of this work in that he counseled with nearly a thousand homosexuals and whose experience contradicts the point of view taken in this review.2

The footnote #2 reads:

Our informant has told us that in over a 30 year career at LDS Family Services he worked with about 400 single men, 200 of whom left therapy after 1-2 sessions. Of the remaining 200, only 20 (10%) were able to marry. Furthermore, 19 of the 20 who married identified themselves as bisexual when they entered therapy. The quality of these marriages is unknown. Another Latter-day Saint therapist with whom we are familiar reports that of the hundreds of clients with sexual identity issues she has seen only those clearly identified as bisexual are given any chance of making successful marriages.

This seems reasonable but it is unfortunate that the mystery therapist did not step forward with some verification.

It seems clear that there are some divisions within LDS circles which are similar to what occurs in the evangelical world.

In Quiet Desperation: Rebuttal to Byrd, Cox & Robinson

I posted yesterday that Dean Byrd, Shirley Cox, and Jeffrey Robinson misrepresented the views of Northwestern University researcher Michael Bailey. The misrepresentation happened in a review of the book, In Quiet Desperation. The book was written by Fred and Marilyn Matis and Ty Mansfield and in the first part explores the suicide of Stuart Matis from his parents’ perspective and in the second part, Ty Mansfield explains his views of homosexuality from the vantage point of an observant Latter Day Saint.

Beyond the problem with how Byrd et al handled research in their review, Ty Mansfield claims the trio of NARTH members mishandled his book. I have not read the book so this post simply reports an excerpt from his rebuttal and an observation. I invite readers to read the book and this exchange and decide for yourself.

Now, in response to Byrd, Cox, and Robinson, a reader’s response to a book can have as much or more to do with the reader’s own preoccupations and paradigms as it does with the actual content of the book. And where an author is silent—as I tried to be regarding clinical themes—individuals will fill in the empty space with their own biases. People can stubbornly remain stuck with a given point of view and only see evidence that confirms that view, and any contradictory evidence is ignored. This phenomenon is so common that psychologists have even given it a name: confirmation bias. In Quiet Desperation has been subject to that distortion from two sides. Those who believe that homosexual relationships should be accepted by the Church have co-opted the book for their own purposes. And these reviewers have done the same, but in an opposite direction.

So there will be no further confusion, let me set the record straight. First, I do not believe in a biologically determined cause of homosexuality, and our book does not once make that claim. Second, I wholeheartedly support the Church’s teaching on the family, heterosexual monogamy, and the sanctity of the eternal union of man and woman as the only means of attaining the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, and that this ideal is one that everyone should hope and strive for, no matter what their temporal challenges might be. My beliefs, I feel, are in complete harmony with what the Lord’s Prophets and Apostles teach. In addition to supporting the Church’s teachings, most of the reviewers’ scientific assertions about homosexuality I have no quarrel with. Further, I respect the dedication and hard work of these individuals and so many others in assisting those who have sought them out for treatment for their unwanted homosexual feelings. They have brought great encouragement and tireless energy to helping their many patients.

Despite the authors’ affirmation of LDS teaching, Byrd et al criticize the In Quiet Desperation authors with being too pro-gay. Clearly, Mansfield rejects that accusation.

As I read the rebuttal, it occurred to me that this debate was the LDS parallel to the differences between the change and congruence paradigms we discuss here. In fact, Mansfield links to and quotes a Christianity Today article from an anonymous writer which laments both the evangelical focus on change of orientation and those who believe living a gay life is the only alternative for same-sex attracted people.

This author sounds very much like the person I wrote about in the essay, A Valued Life. It seems as though Mansfield is describing a realistic approach to same-sex attraction within the framework of adherence to LDS theology. However, that is not good enough for Byrd, Cox, and Robinson. They write:

However, with appropriate help, many individuals who struggle with same-sex attraction are able to diminish or eliminate that attraction and make substantial changes in their lives. Those who read In Quiet Desperation, therefore, should do so with the knowledge that the Stuart Matis story may have had a much different outcome had Stuart found the needed help.

Similarly, Ty Mansfield and the reader should understand there is much hope and substantial evidence that those who want to overcome same-sex attraction can make changes and achieve happiness and peace in their lives. Therefore, this review is written to contradict for Ty, and the many others who continue to struggle with same-sex attraction, the vision of hopelessness perpetrated through In Quiet Desperation.

I have heard the same criticism. To some, realism and an honest appraisal of the evidence is somehow hope squelching. If the study of Jones and Yarhouse is to be believed, more people in Exodus are living within the congruence model than have reported change. Given the modest change, it seems that what is happening via Exodus mediation is congruence for the lion’s share of the 53% who reported a positive response.

However, for Byrd et al, within their understanding of LDS theology, Mansfield’s approach is “A Slippery Slope that Limits the Atonement” as they title their review. They write:

The book inadvertently limits the power of the Atonement in the lives of people who struggle with homosexual attraction. As professionals with many combined years of practice in treating those with unwanted homosexual attraction, we have witnessed changes in the lives of many of these individuals, and the epiphanies have been many.

Like all emotional challenges, the outcome data has ranges of success. What is clear is that when the same standard applied to treatment outcomes of similarly situated difficulties is applied to the treatment outcomes of those with unwanted homosexuality, the results are remarkably similar. There is much in the professional treatment protocols that are compatible with the restored gospel. Appropriate professional help along with the healing powers of the gospel have repeatedly convinced us that there is no struggle for which the Atonement is not sufficient.

I know very little about the LDS doctrine of the Atonement, but if Mansfield limits it, I would argue that they also limit it in a different manner, given their reliance on “professional help.” It seems to me that what they are saying is that counseling plus the gospel is needed. Well, actually, that is what they say when they write: “Appropriate professional help along with the healing powers of the gospel have repeatedly convinced us that there is no struggle for which the Atonement is not sufficient.” So a little reparative therapy is needed to make the Atonement sufficient.

In any case, the authors offer no “outcome data,” or no research to support their claims of epiphanies. As we discuss within the evangelical context, this debate seems to be in part theological for some involved, rather than based in science. For Byrd et al, it appears their need for the change paradigm is based, at least in part, on their belief that their religious beliefs require that paradigm. Somehow, living in accord with LDS beliefs is insufficient, one must change one’s attractions to demonstrate progression in the faith. In general, I think psychologists have trouble seeing the role of their worldview loyalties in how they interpret data. Too often, loyalty to one’s worldview can lead to confirmation bias when approaching science, picking the studies that seem to fit and ignoring or failing to consider adequately those which do not.

Michael Bailey reacts to “blatant misquotation” on LDS website by Byrd, Cox and Robinson

Researching sexual orientation and health and mental health correlates, I came across a reference to Michael Bailey’s 1999 commentary on the topic in a book review by Dean Byrd, Shirley Cox and Jeffrey Robinson. The way Dr. Bailey was quoted had him saying things that I did not think he believed. I sent the link to him and asked him if the way he was quoted accurately communicated his views. Baliey’s response is below and as I thought, indicates that he was not quoted properly. First, let me provide some background.

In 2004, the book In Quiet Desperation: Understanding The Challenge Of Same-gender Attraction by Fred & Marilyn Matis, and Ty Mansfield was published by Deseret Book, a publisher owned by the Latter Day Saint (Mormon) church. About the book, the publisher says,

Most likely, someone you know is living a life of quiet desperation, struggling with feelings of same-gender attraction. In an effort to help Latter-day Saints understand and reach out to those who suffer from this difficulty, Fred and Marilyn Matis discuss how they’ve dealt with the knowledge of their son Stuart’s challenge with same-gender attraction, and how parents and others can reach out with love. In addition, Ty Mansfield discusses his own challenge and how he continues to go forward with faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The Lord promised that he will change our hearts, but he didn’t say when,” writes Mansfield. “He never promised it would happen in mortality. He only said it would happen.”

Here is a video news clip of the authors describing their hope for their book.

This is gut wrenching to watch. I could write an entire post just sorting through these stories in the context of the LDS church (in fact, there will be additional posts on this topic). For now, I offer this information as context for understanding why NARTH past-president Dean Byrd, Brigham Young University Social Work professor, Shirley Cox, and private practitioner, Jeff Robinson quoted Michael Bailey’s work on mental health and homosexuality.

Even though the In Quiet Desperation authors advocate living faithfully as LDS adherents, Byrd et al wrote a sharply critical review in 2005 of the book, published on a website dedicated to defending Mormonism (FAIR -Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research).

Titled “A Slippery Slope that Limits the Atonement,” the review is a harsh rebuke of the authors and the publisher. They begin:

While we, the authors of this review, are critical of the content and message of In Quiet Desperation, we want to be clear that we do not place all of the blame for any harmful effects the book may have on the shoulders of the Matises and Ty Mansfield. Indeed, In Quiet Desperation is symptomatic of the confusion about same-sex attraction commonly had throughout society. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not immune to such confusion.

Specifically, because the In Quiet Desperation authors are realistic about the prospects of sexual reorientation, Byrd et al condemn their work and message.

Byrd et al also fault the In Quiet Desperation authors for recognizing the negative effects of social pressure and stigma on the mental health of gays. Even though the Matises’ son demonstrated evidence of stigma and self-hatred, was clearly depressed and committed suicide, Byrd et al attacked the concept that stigma can lead to emotional problems. This is the context for their misrepresentation of Michael Bailey’s views.

Byrd et al criticize Ty Mansfield’s views on stigma as follows:

Much of the difficulty with homosexual challenges, Mansfield places on a homophobic society (p.128). He notes:

* The negative rhetoric voiced in society (p. 189).

* The bias or ignorance in society (p. 195).

* The closed-minded society (p. 221).

Readers should be aware that the above statements can be frequently found on gay activist Web sites. While Mansfield and others suggest that society’s view of homosexual men and women is a causative factor in their resulting mental illnesses, such does not appear to be the case. There is a high correlation between engaging in homosexual practices and a greater than normal risk of suffering from mental illness including suicidality, anxiety disorders and clinical depression.12 While one might suggest that society’s view of homosexual men and women is a determining factor in their mental illnesses, such does not seem to be the case since the study was duplicated in The Netherlands with the same results,13 and The Netherlands is arguably the most gay-affirming country in the world!

Activist researcher J. Michael Bailey offered other hypotheses: “homosexuality represents a deviation from normal development and is associated with other such deviations that may lead to mental illness,” or “the consequences of lifestyle differences associated with sexual orientation” leads to mental illness or “behavioral risk factors associated with male homosexuality such as receptive anal sex and promiscuity” leads to mental illness.14

Reading this passage, one could come away thinking that Dr. Bailey believes “other hypotheses” are superior to the one involving stigma. One might also think that Bailey believes certain sexual practices lead directly to poorer mental health outcomes among gays. (It is worth pointing out that no one in the book In Quiet Desperation advocates or apparently lived or lives a promiscuous life.) When Bailey examined how his work had been cited, he reacted as follows:

I was dismayed to read Byrd, Cox and Robinson’s summary of my views. In the context of a debate about the reasons for higher rates of mental illness among homosexual individuals, Byrd et al cites me as “offering” several hypotheses other than the increased stigmatization of homosexual people. It is unfortunate and misleading that they did not indicate that I discussed some versions of the hypotheses they mention alongside the stigma hypothesis. I was noncommittal about the merits of the hypotheses, because the required scientific research had not been conducted (and still hasn’t for the most part). I concluded: “it would be a shame—most of all for gay men and lesbians whose mental health is at stake—if sociopolitical concerns prevented researchers from conscientious consideration of any reasonable hypothesis.” But I also wrote: “It would indeed be surprising if antihomosexual attitudes were not part of the explanation of increased suicidality among homosexual people, but this remains to be demonstrated.”

One of Byrd et al’s out-of-context quotations is so egregiously wrong that it amounts to a blatant misquotation. They suggest that I believe that “behavioral risk factors associated with male homosexuality such as receptive anal sex and promiscuity leads to mental illness.” I do not. I brought up receptive anal sex and (relative) promiscuity as factors that help explain increased rates of HIV infection among gay men. I said explicitly that it was unclear how these could help explain the increased rates of suicidality and depression among homosexual people. I favor open debate on controversial issues, including those related to sexual orientation. But constructive debate depends on responsible, accurate reporting of facts (and facts include what other people actually said and meant). In these remarks Dean Byrd, Shirley Cox and Jeff Robinson fail to live up to these requirements. For those interested in what I really said, please see the actual article that Byrd et al mischaracterize.

In fact what Michael Bailey says in his article about the stigma hypothesis is the following:

Consider first the idea that increased depression and suicidality among homosexual people are caused by societal oppression. This is an eminently reasonable hypothesis. Surely it must be difficult for young people to come to grips with their homosexuality in a world where homosexual people are often scorned, mocked, mourned, and feared, and there is considerable anecdotal evidence that the “coming out” process is emotionally difficult. The hypothesis would be strengthened by findings that issues related to self-acceptance, or acceptance by others, often trigger homosexual people’s depressive and suicidal episodes. Furthermore, homosexual people should not, by this model, be more suicidal than heterosexual people in reaction to stressors of equal magnitude. It would indeed be surprising if antihomosexual attitudes were not part of the explanation of increased suicidality among homosexual people, but this remains to be demonstrated.

And then as Bailey notes, Byrd et al really distorts his meaning regarding lifestyle differences. In the 1999 commentary, Bailey writes:

Another possible explanation is that increased psychopathology among homosexual people is a consequence of lifestyle differences associated with sexual orientation. For example, gay men are probably not innately more vulnerable to the human immunodeficiency virus, but some have been more likely to become infected because of 2 behavioral risk factors associated with male homosexuality: receptive anal sex and promiscuity. It is unclear how an analogous model would account for homosexual people’s increased rates of suicidality and depression…

In my opinion, Byrd, Cox and Robinson owe Bailey an apology and a retraction. Here I have only dealt with the misrepresentation of Bailey’s views. According to this rebuttal by Ty Mansfield, the entire review is a lengthy misrepresentation of his book. And I am not the only one who believes Byrd et al have done an injustice to this book and to the science of sexual orientation. Other LDS authors have also weighed in on the matter and in a post to come this week, I will review their critique of Byrd et al’s treatment of In Quiet Desperation.

And it is not the first time…