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CHANGING GAYS AND LESBIANS:

"EX-GAY" AND "TRANSFORMATIONAL" MINISTRIES

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Note about terms:

The language in this essay may appear stilted. This is to avoid confusion. Different people assign various meanings to the terms "homosexual," "heterosexual," and "bisexual." For example, conservative Christians generally define "homosexual" in terms of behavior. A homosexual is a person who is sexually active with member(s) of the same gender. Others define "homosexual" to be a person with a homosexual orientation. They are sexually attracted to members of the same sex; they may or may not act on these feelings.

Rather than use the ambiguous term "homosexual" we will often use the rather awkward but more specific phrase "person with a homosexual orientation."

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Christian beliefs about changing homosexuals:

Because conservative and liberal Christians approach the Bible with different assumptions, they arrive at very separate beliefs about many social issues. The nature of homosexuality is one example:

bulletConservative Christians generally believe that Bible is inerrant. They conclude from the approximately six main biblical passages referring to homosexuality that God hates homosexual behavior. They also believe that God will often answer the prayer of a sincere, born-again believer. Thus they logically conclude that any saved Christian gay or lesbian who sincerely prays to be converted to heterosexuality will be able to successfully make the transition with God's help. Many see 1 Corinthians 6:11 as proof that saved homosexuals will be transformed and become heterosexual. Many conservative Christian "ex-gay" or "transformational" ministries have been established to help gays, lesbians, and bisexuals seek to become heterosexual. These ministries generally see homosexual behavior as abnormal, unnatural, chosen, changeable and hated by God. 

It is important to realize that conservative Christians generally interpret terms like homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality differently from other groups. Behavior, not sexual orientation, is the key. Thus:
bulletA bisexual person who was once involved in one or more same-sex relationships is considered to be a homosexual. That same person who goes to a Christian ex-gay ministry, remains a bisexual, but decides to stick with opposite-sex relationships is judged to now be a heterosexual. Such individuals are often cited as successfully having been cured of their homosexuality; they are "ex-gays." 
bulletA homosexual individual who was involved in same sex relationships and decided to become celibate is similarly regarded as having been cured -- as being no longer a homosexual.
bulletLiberal Christians interpret the same biblical passages differently. Some see the Bible as condemning homosexual rape, ritual homosexual activities in Pagan temples, homosexual prostitution, heterosexuals engaging in homosexual sex, and men sexually abusing boys. But they see the Bible as essentially silent on same-sex committed relationships. They view a homosexual sexual orientation as normal, natural, unchosen and unchangeable for a small minority of adults, and as accepted by God. They, like mental health therapists, gays, lesbians, human sexuality researchers, etc, interpret terms like homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality to be descriptions of a person's sexual orientation. 

As a result of these diametrically opposed beliefs about sex and the Bible, conservative and liberal Christians typically take opposite views about  programs of therapy, counseling and prayer which are intended to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality:

bulletMany conservative Christian "ex-gay/transformational" ministries have been established to help gays, lesbians, and bisexuals seek heterosexuality. They promote these programs as effective and safe.
bulletSome religious liberals have rejected all attempts to change people's sexual orientation, including reparative therapy, as being ineffective, frequently dangerous to clients' mental health, and potentially life threatening.

Since no meaningful long term studies on these ministries, there is little hope that this division of beliefs will ever be harmonized in the near future.

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Religious groups promoting change for homosexuals:

In the past, researchers attempted to change sexual orientation through psychotherapy, aversion therapy, nausea producing drugs, prayer, castration, injections of estrogen, LSD, hypnosis, electric shock, brain surgery, breast amputations, etc. All failed. These methods were largely abandoned by the mid-1970's. However, Outrage!, a British support group for lesbians and gays, recently found it necessary to ask the Royal College of Psychiatrists to renounce aversion therapy and instruct its members to halt "the use of all therapies that attempt to cure homosexuality." 1

As noted above, most conservative Christian groups in North America believe that homosexuality is an unnatural, deviant, sinful disorder, condemned by God. Homosexuality itself is something that needs healing. Some have created specialized "transformational ministries" (a.k.a. "ex-gay ministries") to help "cure" gays and lesbians. 2 This movement started in the early 1970's. It has expanded greatly in recent years because of the efforts of some large Fundamentalist Christian groups to publicize ex-gay ministries. The Internet has also fueled the movement's rapid growth. In 2000-MAY the GayChange Webring listed 36 Internet web sites run by such ministries. 3 It has since gone offline.

The ministries use a number of techniques to try to help gays and lesbians to change:

bulletSome use reparative therapy, which is a mainly secular counseling technique in which the gay or lesbian attempts to form a non-sexual, close relationship with a person of the same gender.
bulletOthers concentrate on prayer, meditation, one-on-one counseling, group counseling and religious conversion/salvation to change gay and lesbian behavior. 

Exodus International is the largest and probably the most influential of these groups. They have stated that "freedom from homosexuality is possible through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord." The group "upholds heterosexuality as God's creative intent for humanity, and subsequently views homosexual expression as outside God's will."

The original goal of most of these ministries was to convert gays and lesbians from having a homosexual orientation into heterosexuals. Increasing numbers of these ministries now realize that such conversions are impossible (or essentially impossible). They have abandoned attempts to change their clients' sexual orientation, and concentrate on changing behavior. They now try to persuade homosexuals to remain celibate and bisexuals to confine their sexual relationship(s) to members of the opposite sex. 

Some leading ex-gay ministries are listed below. With the exception of Courage, all appear to be very conservative Protestant in philosophy:
bulletCourage is a Roman Catholic group with about 15 centers in North America. They share with Protestant ex-gay/transformational ministries the belief that homosexuality is pathological, and not a natural, normal sexual orientation. However, unlike many of the other ministries, Courage does not claim that gays and lesbians' sexual orientation can be changed. They recognize that adult sexual orientation is fixed. They teach that the only valid path for homosexuals is to seek celibacy.
bulletEvergreen International Inc. is a Mormon treatment center, founded in 1989. It has 13 branches in the US, Australia and Canada. They believe "that individuals can overcome homosexual behavior and can diminish same-sex attraction, and is committed to assisting individuals who wish to do so." They claim a 30% success rate. 6
bulletExodus International North America was created in 1976-SEP by a merger of many "ex-gay" ministries. It includes many ministries, churches, agencies and individuals as members. Exodus currently has about 75 ministries in the US, and has a presence in Asia and Europe. 4,5 Their pamphlet "Exodus: A Way Out," offers "Freedom from homosexuality, not through a method but a person, the Lord Jesus Christ!" Many ministries (e.g. Breaking Free, Cross Over, Regeneration, Straight Ahead Ministries, Straight Path Ministries) are affiliated with Exodus." To form a bona fide chapter, a ministry must be active for two years, and its directors -- if they were gay -- must have abstained from their 'former lifestyle' for two years." They claim a success rate in excess of 70%. 14
bulletHomosexuals Anonymous (HA) has chapters: 38 in the U.S., one in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia Canada, and one in Canberra, Australia. It was formerly known as Quest. They have created a 14 step program that is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous' 12 step recovery program: five steps are taken from AA; the other nine came from "Colin," one of HA's co-founders. Group support meetings are held weekly. Their FAQ section states "that there is no such thing as a homosexual, only men and women, created by God heterosexually, who because of the broken world we live in, are confused over their sexual identity." 17
bulletLove in Action: This is a residential program located in Memphis, TN. About 10 men, aged typically 21 to 50, live together in a large farmhouse, attempting to become ex-gays. Most clients spend 13 to 18 months in the program.
bulletNew Direction for Life Ministries of Canada: This evolved from a Bible study group for gays and lesbians in Toronto. Formed in 1985 as New Bebinnings Ministries, its name was changed to the present one in 1990. It appears to be the main Transformational Ministry in Canada. They describe themselves as "A pro-people organization offering Christian support to men and women choosing to leave homosexuality, and equipping the church to minister effectively and compassionately." 18
bulletP-FOX On 1996-OCT-9, the Family Research Council announced the creation of their new organization Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays. 13 More details.
bulletTransforming Congregations was a ministry of 40 United Methodist Churches in 1997-OCT. By 2000-MAY, it had grown to  76 churches. They support gays and lesbians who want to try to change their orientation. 7 They "affirm the Biblical position that God loves all persons, that homosexual practice is one sin among many and that the Holy Spirit is available to transform all persons - including homosexual persons."

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Mainline and liberal religious groups:

In a fact sheet directed to educators, the American Psychiatric Association has stated:

"The most important fact about 'transformational ministry' is that its view of homosexuality is not representative of the views of all people of faith. Many deeply religious people and a number of religious congregations and denominations are supportive and accepting of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and their right to be protected from the discriminatory acts of others. For example, the following organizations have endorsed passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation: American Ethical Union, American Friends Service Committee, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Church of the Brethren, Church Women United, Dignity/USA, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Hadassah, WZOA, The Interfaith Alliance, Jewish Women International, National Council of Churches of Christ, USA, National Council of Jewish Women, North Georgia United Methodists, Presbyterian Church (USA), Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Women of Reform Judaism, Young Women's Christian Association."

"Although 'transformational ministry' promotes the message that religious faith and acceptance of gay, lesbian, and bisexual sexuality are incompatible, that message is countered by the large number of outspoken clergy and people of faith who promote love and acceptance." 11

In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American Psychological Association, American School Health Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers and National Education Association jointly issued a similar document titled: "Just the facts about sexual orientation." 15 They describe transformational ministries as representing only one part of Christianity -- those faith groups which view homosexuality as outside God's will, and incompatible with the Christian religion. They cite other denominations as supporting equal rights, and protection against discrimination, for gays and lesbians.

Specific overtures, statements and motions by religious groups on reparative therapy are rare. One that we have found is:

bullet1999: Presbyterian Church (USA): Three presbyteries, from New York City, Chicago and Genesee Valley initiated a overture that would have the General Assembly direct each of its agencies to "refrain from supporting, implementing or sponsoring therapies or ministries which attempt to alter a person's sexual orientation." One presbytery initiated an opposing overture to "affirm the right to those in conflict with their sexuality to freely seek non-coercive therapy for the purpose of overcoming their same-sex desire, and support such persons in their desire for psychological wholeness and personal sanctification." The General Assembly passed a motion in 1999-JUN: "that no church should insist that gay and lesbian people need therapy to change their orientation, nor should it inhibit or discourage those who are unhappy with or confused about their sexual orientation from seeking therapy they believe would be helpful. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms that medical treatment, psychological therapy, and pastoral counseling should conform to recognized professional standards.16 Unfortunately, they did not specify what "recognized professional standards" are. Criteria recognized by NARTH are quite different from those recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and many other large professional mental health associations..

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Five "myths about ex-gay ministries" considered:

Bob Davies, executive director of Exodus North America, spoke at a OneByOne luncheon on 2001-JUN-12. It was held in conjunction with the 213th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) . 19 OneByOne is a participating member of the Presbyterian Renewal Network -- a conservative reform movement within the denomination. OneByOne's purpose is to support gays and lesbians who are "struggling with sexual brokenness" and "are in conflict with their sexuality." This includes, but is not limited to, counseling gays and lesbians. 20

Davies listed the the top five false myths that he feels are spread about Exodus and other ex-gay ministries:

  1. Ex-gay ministries are a fraud. Evidence available to us indicates that ex-gay ministry personnel are certainly sincere and dedicated in their work. But a case can be made that they may not completely level with their clients. For example, consider Exodus:
    bulletTheir advertising implies, but does not state implicitly, that individuals with a homosexual orientation can change and achieve a heterosexual orientation. Yet, from their 25 years of experience in the field, they must know that the chances of an adult's genuinely changing their sexual orientation is nil (or almost nil). The only option that they can ethically offer clients with a homosexual orientation is lifelong celibacy. But they do not mention this in their advertising and promotional literature.
    bulletTheir Policy on Homosexuality states:  "Christ offers a healing alternative to those with homosexual tendencies. EXODUS upholds redemption for the homosexual person as the process whereby sin's power is broken, and the individual is freed to know and experience true identity as discovered in Christ and His Church. That process entails the freedom to grow into heterosexuality." 21 (Emphasis ours) By now, Exodus must have realized that this option is not available to persons with a homosexual orientation. Only individuals with a bisexual orientation have any chance of abandoning same-sex behavior and choosing an opposite-gender sexual partner.
    bulletExodus typically assess the goals that the client wants to achieve, and then works with the client towards achieving those goals. However, it is apparent that ex-gay ministries do not give some clients sufficient information so that they can make an informed choice. For example, a gay or lesbian who establishes a goal of changing their sexual orientation to heterosexual is not necessarily warned that such conversion is either impossible or virtually impossible to achieve. She or he is not generally informed that the best they can probably hope for is to remain celibate.
  2. Methods such as shock treatment are employed: This seems to be a hoax. Decades ago, researchers tried aversion therapy, castration, breast amputation, etc., in their unsuccessful attempts to change individuals' sexual orientation. We have heard rumors of shock therapy being still used by unethical medical professionals in a few secure facilities for gay and lesbian youth. We have heard rumors of shock therapy at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, a Mormon institution. But these are only rumors and have never been substantiated. We have seen absolutely no evidence that conservative Christian ex-gay ministries use these fraudulent therapies.
  3. Persons do not come forward of their own volition but are forced. This also seems to be a hoax. Some gay or lesbian youth are probably heavily pressured by their parents to attend meetings at an ex-gay ministry. However, the overwhelming percentage of clients are adults who seem to be self-motivated and quite anxious to change their behavior.
  4. People actually get worse. From our conversations with clients and former clients of ex-gay ministries, we have concluded that many, perhaps most, get better -- that is, they move forward towards achieving their goals. Many sexually active clients with a homosexual orientation enter Exodus with the goal of becoming celibate, and some are successful. Many persons with a bisexual orientation are successfully able to reach their goal of confining their relationships to members of the opposite sex. Some clients enter an ex-gay ministry with their goal of changing their orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. All, or essentially all, fail. But that can be a positive experience. Some will then conclude that they have tried everything to change their orientation. They can now give up trying, and learn to accept themselves for what they are. Unfortunately, when some homosexual clients find that they have failed to change their sexual orientation, they become deeply depressed. A few commit suicide. Professional mental health organizations caution gays and lesbians against therapies designed to try to change their sexual orientation. They view such therapies as ineffective. They are concerned about the potential for serious depression and suicidal ideation.
  5. Ex-gay ministries have a hidden, or political, agenda. This seems to be another hoax. From our discussions with ministry staff, volunteers and clients, we have concluded that personnel in these ministries are dedicated and sincere Christians. Their energy is directed at working with and helping their clients. It is the larger conservative Christian ministries, which do not offer individual counseling, that commit a major part of their effort into achieving political goals -- organizations like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, etc. Their agendas are not hidden; they are well publicized.

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Related essays on this web site:

bulletWhat do Professional Groups, Researchers and Studies say about Homosexuality?"
bulletReparative therapy and other methods of "curing" homosexuality
bulletBeliefs about sexual orientation by ex-gay ministries, etc
bulletStudies of the safety and effectiveness of reparative therapy
bulletMedia advertisements by ex-gay groups

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Aversion Therapy - Letter to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, " Outrage!, at: http://www.outrage.cygnet.co.uk/
  2. "Christian Ex-gay ministry hosts Chicago conference," Charisma. Online at Maranatha Christian Journal, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/
  3. A list of web sites in the GayChange Webring is at: http://www.webring.org/
  4. Exodus International of San Rafael, CA, has a "Christian Resources about Homosexuality and AIDS" page with articles on homosexuality from a conservative Christian perspective, a book list, lists of organizations, list of local chapters of Exodus International and Homosexuals Anonymous. See: http://www.messiah.edu/
  5. Elizabeth Gilbert, "Queer and Loathing", Spin Magazine, 1996-JUN (a profoundly sad article describing an Exodus International convention attended by lonely, longing people convinced that God hates their sexual orientation)
  6. Evergreen International is a support group for Mormon gays and lesbians. They promote celibacy for homosexuals. See: http://members.aol.com/evergrn999/abouteg.html
  7. Transforming Congregations' home page is at: http://www.transformingcong.org/ 
  8. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) has a home page at: http://www.narth.com/
  9. As of 1999-APR, NARTH can be reached at: 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 1340, Encino, CA 91436-1801. Phone: (818) 789-4440. Fax: (805) 373-5084
  10. "Homosexuality starts as a developmental disorder that can end with therapy," PCUSA NEWS, 2000-JUN-27; news release GA00064.
  11. "APA Online: Public Interest: Just the facts about sexual orientation and youth: A primer for principals, educators and school personnel," See: http://www.apa.org/
  12. Kim Mills, "Mission impossible: Why reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries fail," Human Rights Campaign, at: http://www.hrc.org/pubs/
  13. PFOX: Parents & Friends of ex-gays has a web site at http://www.pfox.org/
  14. "HRC's Ray of Light Project: The Ministries," at: http://www.hrc.org/
  15. "Just the facts about sexual orientation," can be read  at: http://www.glsen.org/ This is an Acrobat PDF file. You can obtain a free software to read these files from Adobe Acrobat reader.
  16. "The Consultation, Issues 2000, Number 10," at: http://www.theconsultation.org/
  17. Homosexual Anonymous has its home page at: http://members.aol.com/ 
  18. New Direction for Life Ministries has a home page at http://www.newdirection.ca
  19. Emily Enders Odom, "Top five myths about ex-gay ministry dispelled by Exodus North  America executive director," Note #6612, PCUSA NEWS, 2001-JUN-11
  20. OneByOne's home page is at: http://www.oneby1.org/
  21. "About Exodus: Policy on homosexuality," at: http://www.exodusnorthamerica.org/

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Copyright 1997 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-APR-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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