Reparative Therapy: What Russell Moore Said and What I Hope He Meant
If you’ve never heard of reparative therapy or don’t know much about it, you’re about to learn a little. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding reparative therapy and whether it works, if it should be legal, and if it’s biblical.
Reparative therapy can best be described as the therapy to change a person’s same-sex attractions; either to turn them into heterosexual attractions, or to bring them under control so a person does not feel the need to give in to them. Another aspect of reparative therapy, depending on who you talk to, is stated as changing a person from a homosexual into a heterosexual.
Obviously the very premise of reparative therapy is controversial in our current culture. We live in a world that celebrates homosexuality and very nearly demands that every person – regardless of creed or conviction – join the celebration. So the idea of supporting anything that seeks to change a person from a homosexual into a heterosexual is…damnable at best.
Then again, the fact that there is such a thing as “ex-gay” people is also problematic. Some people are still naive enough to believe that people are born gay and that they have no hope of being anything but gay. Of course science cannot support such a theory, but the emotional narrative of our time has made the “born that way” theory the dominant story-line.
To date both California and New Jersey have outlawed reparative therapy for minors. Even if a parent and a minor wish to seek reparative therapy they cannot, because the government has determined that they know best and outlawed it. A lot of what has taken place surrounding the reparative therapy debate is built on deception and outright lies. Witnesses giving “testimony” concerning their experiences with reparative therapy tell stories that sound more like a horrifying sci-fi novel than an actual human encounter. And yet, because our culture is so desperate to force us all to embrace the homosexual “struggle” for rights, those tall tales are gobbled up with eagerness. Never mind facts…they just get in the way.
FRC’s Peter Sprigg is one of many voices (and organizations) asking for “truth in the ex-gay debate.” His extensive article is worth reading as it outlines the extent of deception used in outlawing reparative therapy. Sprigg highlights the tactics being used to get reparative therapy outlawed:
“The organized ex-gay movement is small and poorly-funded, but it poses such an existential threat to pro-homosexual mythology that homosexual activists have mounted a furious assault upon it…to generate opposition to SOCE, its opponents have reached back decades to techniques some therapists once used called ‘aversion therapy’ — attempting to associate homosexual feelings with some sort of negative stimuli. No one has been able to identify a single therapist actually practicing today who uses ‘aversive’ techniques in SOCE — but that hasn’t stopped homosexual activists from pretending that they do.”
In other words, no one can corroborate the accounts of “witnesses” to the dangerous and inhumane “aversion” techniques supposedly used on them. But why should truth get in the way of a good story?
While opposition from LGBT activists to reparative therapy is no surprise and expected. Some believe that evangelicals are turning against this form of help for those seeking freedom from unwanted same-sex attractions. At a recent conference Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Counsel, made remarks that many have said signal an abandonment of reparative therapy for evangelicals. Moore said:
“The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea. Faithfulness to Christ means obedience to Christ. It does not necessarily mean that someone’s attractions are going to change.”
How someone can take those words and conclude that Moore and evangelicals are condemning reparative therapy is beyond me. Just as an alcoholic that goes through a program or accepts Christ as Savior is not always immediately freed from their temptations, the same is true for people with unwanted same-sex attractions. This is an obvious limitation on any program seeking to change sinful temptation in humans. Whether that temptation is homosexuality, drugs, or alcohol, the reality is that for many people – though not all – it is a slow process that is tough. Yes, some people experience a miraculous change that immediately sets them free from their sinful temptations. We celebrate those. But we fully recognize that it doesn’t happen that way for everyone and condemning programs intended to help people because they, at times, fail is silly.
I think Chelsen Vicari put Dr. Moore’s comments in proper perspective:
“It sounds like Moore is saying that when you find out your child has same-sex attraction, your first step should not be placing them into reparative therapy. If you do, then you’ve missed the only step that’s actually going to help: yielding to Jesus Christ who calls us to love everyone without conditions. As Moore put it, ‘The response is not shunning, putting them out on the street. The answer is loving your child.’ I agree with Moore that therapy is not the immediate solution. Our liberation from sin is found in Jesus Christ alone. And I will go further to say that some reparative therapy programs have done more harm than good because they are operated by mere mortals with their own flaws and who are more dependent on a 12-step course than on Christ.”
So is Dr. Moore and evangelicals abandoning and condemning reparative therapy?
I don’t think so. I think we are simply pointing to the obvious limitations and even, perhaps, flaws in reparative therapy. Dr. Moore is asking us to see that all the 12-step programs in the world can only have a measure of success for a Christian outside of “yielding to Jesus Christ.” Yes, some programs have been harmful in the past. And others have not worked. But the cases of people helped, even set free due in part to reparative therapy programs cannot be ignored. To do so is an insult to those people and programs that are working diligently to serve people seeking freedom from unwanted same-sex attractions.
Let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s not sound any alarms. Let’s see this for what it is, a call for therapy with a proper starting point: Jesus.