Dear Media, Please Distinguish Conversion from Conversion Therapy

In 2016, a terrorist went on a rampage inside an Orlando gay night club named “The Pulse.” Forty-nine people were killed, and 53 others were injured. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, The Pulse nightclub shooting became a rallying point for progressives claiming that an anti-affirming stance leads to this kind of violence against gay people.

Two key things have happened in recent days challenging that narrative:

First, it was revealed about a month ago that the terrorist did not target The Pulse nightclub because it was a gay bar. The terrorist’s intended target was a Disney park, but he gave up on that plan because of security outside the park. He chose to attack Pulse after a random Google search led him to the closest night club he could find. A despicable, heinous act of terror? Yes. A targeted attack on gay people? No evidence for that.

Second—and this is the item I am most concerned about—one of the survivors of The Pulse night club shooting is now claiming that he has been converted to Christianity. Luis Javier Luiz shares his testimony on Facebook:

I do not know anything about Mr. Luis’s beliefs or church. Nevertheless, he is claiming a conversion experience that has changed his life—namely that he is no longer living in homosexual sin and that he claims a Christian identity not a gay one.

Of course, Mr. Luis’s story doesn’t really fit the former narrative surrounding The Pulse shooting. His story does not hearken back to the Pulse tragedy as a rallying point for gay identity. Rather, Mr. Luis points to the immorality at Pulse as the darkness from which Christ saved him. His life was spared, and now his soul has been too.

Still, I have read two news stories that cover Mr. Luis’s story, and then immediately try to demonstrate that conversion therapy is illegitimate and based on fake science. For example, in the NBC News report:

The controversial practice of trying to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is often referred to as “conversion therapy.” A long list of health organizations have spoken out against the medically debunked practice, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of School Psychologists, the American Psychoanalytic Association and the American Counseling Association.

There is currently a nationwide effort to ban gay conversion therapy for minors. In 2012, California become the first state to do so, and now a total of 10 states and Washington, D.C., have outlawed the practice for minors, according to the LGBTQ think tank Movement Advancement Project.

And yet, Mr. Luis’s story has nothing to do with conversion therapy. It’s totally irrelevant to the testimony he shared on Facebook. He doesn’t even mention conversion therapy, although he does mention his conversion.

And I think this is where the disconnect is. Reporters often do not understand the difference between conversion and conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is based on secular psychoanalytic theory. Its basis is in no way Christian or even religious, although some Christian therapists have adopted it. But the important point is that conversion therapy does not derive from religious principles but from secular theory. It treats homosexuality as having a psychological pathology, not a spiritual one.

Reporters need to understand that conversion is not the same thing as conversion therapy. Conversion is simply the word that we use to describe a religious experience in which a person changes from unbelief to belief. J. I. Packer defines conversion as “a turning, or returning, to God.” Packer elaborates:

Turning to God under any circumstances is, psychologically regarded, man’s own act, deliberately considered, freely chosen and spontaneously performed. Yet the Bible makes it clear that it is also, in a more fundamental sense, God’s work in him (“Conversion,” New Bible Dictionary, 223).

Conversion, therefore, is not the same thing as conversion therapy. To confuse conversion with conversion therapy is not only misleading, it also gives ammunition to critics who wish to paint biblical Christianity in the worst possible light. Those critics wish not only to say that the Bible is wrong but that it is harmful to gay people. They want to shame anyone who publicly identifies with Jesus’ teaching about sexuality. They want to convince people that conversion is harmful because conversion therapy is harmful.

Perhaps some writers are conflating these two things on purpose. I know that some activists wish to discredit Christian teaching on sexuality, and perhaps they have calculated that this is one way to do it. But that is a strategy that employs deception to achieve its aims. Let’s be clear. Conversion is not the same thing as conversion therapy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is being untruthful.

I am grateful that Mr. Luis is sharing about his conversion. Let’s hope and pray that it is a real and authentic move of the Spirit in his heart. But let’s not confuse this with conversion therapy. It’s not, and it is misleading to suggest that it is.