President Obama denounces reparative therapy

Last night, President Obama released a statement calling for an end to what is sometimes called “conversion” or “reparative” therapy for LGBT youth. Written by Valerie Jarrett on behalf of the President, the statement is a response to a petition that appeared on the WhiteHouse.gov site after the suicide of the transgender teen Josh “Leelah” Alcorn late last year. Among other things, it says that “this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.” The statement comes out in support of state legislation to outlaw the practice, and it invites the U. S. Congress to send similar legislation to the President for him to sign.

The statement explains why President Obama thinks so-called “conversion” therapy should be outlawed:

When assessing the validity of conversion therapy, or other practices that seek to change an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation, it is as imperative to seek guidance from certified medical experts. The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.

There is much more to this statement, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. I have read it, and there are a number of serious problems with the statement that deserve some attention. I’ll highlight four:

1. The statement confuses sexual orientation with gender identity.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing, but the President’s statement treats them as if they are. It treats gender identity as if it were fixed and stable. But this is not true, and numerous secular authorities have demonstrated this. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, says that the vast majority of children who report transgender feelings grow out of those feelings. In one particular study, “70%-80% of them spontaneously lost those feelings.” It may be true that some people experience homosexual orientation as a more “fixed” reality, but the same is not true for transgender identity. And the White House statement fails to recognize that fact.

2. The statement fails to recognize that sexual orientation is not fixed for some people.

Mark Yarhouse and Stanton Jones published a study in 2007 tracking the success of so-called “conversion” therapies. They presented additional findings in 2009 to the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. They conclude that,

Some people do report a change in attractions over time. For those who report a change, it tends to come in the form of a reduction in homosexual attractions, but these reductions are typically not complete. A smaller number of people also report an increase in heterosexual attraction. In some instances this may be attraction to the opposite sex in general; in other cases it may reflect attraction to only one individual of the opposite sex, such as a person’s spouse.

Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian, p. 90

The bottom line is that change is possible for some people. Change is not necessarily a 180-degree change in orientation but may be change along a spectrum. Some report no change at all.

One does not have to be a proponent of “conversion” therapy (which I am not) to see that orientation is more fluid than some people think. If it is possible for some people to change, what interest does the government have in prohibiting same-sex attracted people from seeking licensed providers to help them?

3. The statement prohibits too much.

The statement seeks to outlaw not merely “conversion” or “reparative” therapy, but “any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

I am no fan of reparative therapy. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a Christian approach to helping LGBT people. Yes, some Christians have supported reparative therapy, but I think that support has been mistaken. Reparative therapy has a very secular genesis and methodology and makes unbiblical assumptions about the human condition and gospel change (for more on this, read Heath Lambert’s very helpful critique of reparative therapy). So I am not a booster for reparative therapy.

Having said that, the President’s statement doesn’t merely oppose the secular approach known as reparative therapy. It seeks to outlaw any licensed provider from helping LGBT children to change—even those who do not use reparative therapy. It supports state laws like the one passed in New Jersey in 2013. The New Jersey law not only prohibits “reparative therapy.” It prohibits any and all attempts by licensed counselors to change a child’s sexual orientation. And there’s more. The bill not only prohibits any and all efforts to change sexual orientation. It also prohibits any and all attempts to change sexual behavior in gay minors!

So if a child has unwanted same-sex attractions and is beginning to act out on those unwanted attractions, the state of New Jersey prohibits licensed counselors from helping him. He has no recourse now but to find someone with no state credentials. How is this law not an infringement upon the religious liberty and conscience rights of this child? Not to mention those of his parents?

Any attempt to change a child’s “gender expression” is also prohibited under the New Jersey law. That means that if a parent has a young boy who likes to put on dresses and wear make-up, New Jersey law prohibits licensed counselors from helping that boy. Counselors must approve and support whatever gender that child chooses regardless of the child’s sex.

4. The statement would prevent Christians from licensure.

Laws like the one in New Jersey and that the President supports mean that licensed mental health providers who also happen to be Christian will have to choose. They can either abandon Christian teaching or they can abandon their profession. The law now prohibits them from doing both. There is no religious liberty exception.

Bottom line? Laws like the one in New Jersey prevent convictional Christians from participating in mental health professions without compromising their faith. They also prevent children with unwanted same-sex attraction from having help from licensed counselors. Christian mental health providers and other people of faith in New Jersey now have their marginalization ensconced in law. And this is precisely what President Obama supports and wishes to implement at the federal level as well.

17 Responses to President Obama denounces reparative therapy

  1. ian Shaw April 9, 2015 at 11:01 am #

    Yes, this is an important piece of time for the Executive branch and Legislative branch to dabble in. No legislation about jobs or anything meaning full for this country to flourish. Let’s just make anything and everything about social issues important.

    You think they just had a meeting and asked, “what can we use as a distraction from the whole ISIS thing?”

    Denny, would pastors/counselors be able to do this kind of therapy within church walls, so to speak if any legislation of this passes nationally?

    • ian Shaw April 9, 2015 at 11:03 am #

      I would agree that this therapy at it’s core is very secular and I think that for believers, there are much better alternatives to this that churches can offer their families.

  2. Andrew Alladin April 9, 2015 at 11:05 am #

    In the very near future some ambitious Democrat candidate for the presidency of the United States will propose that churches which teach that homosexual desire/behavior is sinful should lose their tax exempt status. Furthermore, Christian colleges and seminaries that also teach such should not expect that their graduates will find employment within government social service agencies – after all, why would the HHS hire someone from a “homophobic” institution. Perhaps they shouldn’t find employment within government. Period.

    Hypothetical justifications will be as follows: If the KKK, ISIS, or Al-Qaeda set up a school, would you hire its graduates? Why not?

    Republicans will huff-and-puff but a brief phone call from their CEO Overloads will bring them in line. Other Democrats will regret that they did not take this bold step towards diversity first.

    And Christians wishing to be seen as “thought leaders,” “culturally engaged,” and “intellectually sophisticated,” will jump on the bandwagon and begin denouncing their less enlightened brothers and sisters. Look for it in The Huffington Post or The Daily Beast.

    Otherwise churches would risk turning off Millennials, Techies, Foodies, Urban Cosmopolitan Sophisticates, Artistic Creatives, etc. And we can’t have that, can we?

    • ian Shaw April 9, 2015 at 11:17 am #

      Churches will then (in your scenario) go underground. They’d get by, they know the ending to the story.

      True Gospel centered churches will always speak the truth. Jesus never said it was going to be all puppies and rainbows to those who to follow Him. Truth, by definition, excludes. You’re never going to please everybody and those that try to do so by watering down the Gospel message or completely changing it to fit their demographics secular/societal beliefs, are false.

    • ian Shaw April 9, 2015 at 11:20 am #

      Because there’s not enough “techies” already in evangelicalism, right? (joke of course)

    • buddyglass April 10, 2015 at 8:50 am #

      If you mean any Democratic candidate, including those that are entirely non-serious in terms of actually having a chance of getting the nomination, then I can maybe see this happening. There are a lot of nuts out there. Even then I think it’s fairly unlikely “in the very near future”, but maybe.

      If you’re talking about “real” candidates then no way. I’ll define that as “candidates that actually get invited to the televised debates”.

      Not least of which because American Catholics, a key Democratic constituency, are part of a denomination that would lose their tax exempt status. Unless we see a Catholic schism and the American church breaks from Rome. Bu that’s doubtful.

  3. Chris Ryan April 10, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

    There’s no religious liberty issue at stake here. Psychologists and medical practice have always been regulated by the state (in fact, conservatives support regulations on medical practice even when they contradict the 1st Amendment and religious liberty of doctors). All Obama is saying is that he supports more extensive regulation of medical providers than is the norm currently. Christian psychiatrists and psychologists can continue to treat gay patients. Instead of treating them as medical professionals, however, they’ll have to minister to them through faith based ministries.

    What I don’t understand is how people can oppose the NJ law because it constrains the religious liberty of doctors, while at the same time supporting laws which constrain the religious liberty of doctors who don’t believe life begins at conception. Seems hypocritical.

    • buddyglass April 11, 2015 at 10:10 am #

      “Seems hypocritical.”

      Can’t really agree. If you think abortion is murder then it’s totally reasonable to restrict doctors’ liberty by forbidding them from aborting babies.

      In the case of a psychiatrist attempting to help someone rid himself of unwanted sexual attractions, the transaction is entirely voluntary. This is different from abortion where, obviously, the fetus doesn’t consent to be terminated.

      I kind of hope a case arises where a gay or bi person seeks the help of a psychiatrist to rid him or herself of unwanted opposite-sex attraction. As a matter of consistency, psychiatrists should be forbidden from assisting that person.

      • Chris Ryan April 13, 2015 at 12:29 am #

        I wasn’t even going that far, Buddy. I’d agree with your point on murder. But states have passed a slew of laws requiring DRs to say, among other things, that life begins at conception. That doesn’t square with many people’s religious views, and yet Denny and the other Christian conservatives overlook that infringement on our “first freedom”. Actually, they normally promote such infringements on others. Not to mention the support that most Christian conservatives show for school prayer, etc. Religious Liberty is a foil used to strike when it suits their purposes and ignored when it doesn’t (see also: Ground Zero Mosque, the Murfreesboro Mosque, etc).

  4. Gus Nelson April 11, 2015 at 7:16 pm #

    So this means that Christian parents will deal with these issues on their own, through prayer and through support of fellow believers. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. We rely much too heavily on “professionals” who often are, at some level, really never sure if what they’re doing is going to help, anyway.

    • Christiane Smith April 13, 2015 at 7:57 am #

      Hi GUS NELSON,
      I can only hope that out of love for their child, Christian parents would speak to those who are trained to help young people . . . my brother is a pediatrician for over twenty years (UVA) and my cousin Kim is a child psychiatrist in Massachusetts who has worked with troubled teens for over twenty years. I know these ‘professionals’, and they are hard-working people devoted to helping their patients. They are multiple board-certified, highly educated, and experienced . . . there is no way I would not want my own child or grandchild to be denied the help of such ‘professionals’. My brother teaches Methodist adult Sunday School classes, in addition to his medical practice; and my cousin Kim is a practicing Catholic in addition to her MD training and her psychiatric qualifications and practice. AND, they also are both Christian parents.

      I am a person who trusts in Jesus Christ, and I also value the good will of those whose lives have been given to study and work on behalf of our children. As I said, I can only hope that any parent would seek out the best possible help for their child, if nothing more, out of love and compassion for the child’s suffering.

      • Gus Nelson April 13, 2015 at 10:09 pm #

        Christiane: First, my comment was directed specifically to the topic, not to doctors and health care professionals generally. Second, I commend your brother and cousin for their hard work and good natures. I have two sons (one is 28 and one is 16) and both received proper medical attention as necessary and desirable and I am very thankful the doctors were available and trained to help. Third, my point is simple: too often we turn to professionals before we turn to God in prayer – we seek worldly wisdom before seeking biblical wisdom. Prayer should be our first line of defense, not something we tack on to some therapy – laws like the one in New Jersey mean that we have no choice but to rely on God through prayer and spiritual means of working through difficulties. I find it hard to see that leaning on God more is ever a bad thing.

  5. Sandra Stewart April 13, 2015 at 10:34 am #

    Denny is correct, reparitive therapy is based entirely on the theories of Dr. Elizabeth Moberly who got her information from psychoanalytic journals (very anti Christian). One of the first things I do with a book is check out the citations and if they are bogus any theory coming from it will be as well.
    If a therapist wants to cancel their liability insurance all they need do is mention reparitive therapy.
    Christian Counselors most of the ones I know of would not even think of attempting this as they know it comes under the heading of bogus and often harmful.
    Having read the original Yarhouse Stanton research I was struck that despite claims of success so few subjects could be found and many of them were employees and had a financial stake in change. There is an article that contains a portion of the statement of 14 of the leaders from Exodus commending the presidents stand …
    My article which goes into excruciating detail on reparitive therapy is here…

  6. Tim Batchelor April 13, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    So the democrats believe abortion up until the moment of birth should be a decision made only by the woman and her doctor but decisions on therapy between a psychologist and his patient are not.

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