I have expressed my own concerns about reparative therapy on this blog in the past. But Heath Lambert has perhaps the most thoroughgoing critique from an evangelical perspective that I have yet seen. He focuses his attention on the work of Joseph Nicolosi and writes,
I am convinced that one of those unbiblical approaches to change is reparative therapy. Reparative therapy (RT) is infamous in the current cultural context. It has received scorn in the media, politics, and psychology. Many people, including Christians, have embraced it because of the promise of change it holds out to homosexual men and women.
Because of the controversial nature of the therapy it is crucial for Christians to think through it with care. I want to try and begin that thoughtfulness in this blog by evaluating RT as articulated by Joseph Nicolosi in Shame and Attachment Loss: The Practical Work of Reparative Therapy. Many other articulations and modifications of RT are out there, but Nicolosi is the leading practitioner and Shame and Attachment Loss is his most recent—and most thorough—articulation of the therapy.
I will argue here, that in spite of some positive elements, RT is an unbiblical and ultimately unhelpful approach to change for same-sex attraction.
Lambert does not mince any words here. Near the conclusion, he explains why he does not even regard reparative therapy as a Christian approach to counseling:
Any method of change will fall short if it fails to understand the central importance of repentance in the change process. God has ordained that our sinful desires and behaviors are changed as we humbly name our sin, and plead with God for his grace to turn from sin to Him (Prov. 28:13).
This is a crucial matter. If the core problem of homosexuality is something other than sin, the solution will be something other than the grace of Jesus Christ. This is an unacceptable concession for Christians. The gospel is truly at stake in this issue.
Any counseling approach that ignores the importance of repentance and the consequent centrality of Jesus Christ, as RT does, is not worthy to be called Christian.
This conversation will no doubt be explosive, but it is a conversation that evangelicals need to have. Read the rest of Lambert’s essay here.
The article makes some good points, but it stumbles when it says heterosexual desire is not a good thing writ large. This is like saying that desiring food is not fundamentally better or healthier than desiring dirt. If a person never in fact overcomes his homosexual attraction, he may stilll live a sanctified life that honors God, but he still has to carry a kind of mental illness with him that has consequences heterosexual men don’t suffer from. Now, can heterosexual desire be turned in a sinful direction? Obviously yes, this is trivial, but again, it’s like pointing out that if you stuff your face with cake and cookies, you’re going to be ill. But cake and cookies in themselves are healthy things to have an appetite for.
The food-dirt analogy fails because nutritional intake is a baseline biochemical requirement. Sex is not. Otherwise, celibate people would start dying off after a few weeks.
The valorization of heterosexual desire is largely foreign to Christian ethics. It’s largely a feature of the post-WWII era, and owes more to Freudians than to Paul. See I Cor. 7.
My point is that when a man looks at a woman and finds her attractive, and vice versa, this is a normal and healthy desire, just as it is normal and healthy to desire to eat food. It is neither normal nor healthy to desire dirt intensely instead of food, nor is it normal or healthy to desire same-sex intercourse as opposed to heterosexual sex. If you can’t really see that, I’m afraid I can’t help you. Also, enough with this nonsense about how “valorizing” (what a hideous word) heterosexuality is “foreign” to Christian ethics. I don’t know how much plainer Jesus’ pattern for marriage could be: One man, one woman, for life. Nor God’s creation of Adam and Eve in the garden. Oh, but I forgot, (faux)-Science has proven there was no original Adam and Eve. Nevermind.
First, you’re describing aesthetic attraction nor sexual attraction. It is normal and healthy to appreciate the beauty throughout God’s creation. Nothing in Scripture suggests that there’s anything wrong with appreciating the beauty in persons of the same sex. Psychoanalysts suggest that aesthetic attraction–or all attraction, for that matter–is repressed sexual attraction. But I see no reason to read Freud into Scripture.
Second, I’m not sure that Jesus has a pattern of marriage, given that he remained single for his entire earthly life.
Third, I agree that Scripture at least limits marriage to opposite-sex pairs. But that does not imply a valorization of heterosexual desire, which is precisely Lambert’s point. Again, your commitment to Freud betrays you, as you can’t imagine marriage as anything but a sexualized relationship.
No, I am describing the instinctive kind of sexual attraction that is hard-wired into any sexually healthy human being when he or she contemplates a member of the opposite sex. A man looks at a woman and find her physically attractive in a way that another woman does not when she cerebrally notes, “Oh, that woman is pretty.” However, this need not descend into lust. In fact, it may be the precursor to something wholly right, wholly innocent, and wholly wonderful, i.e., marriage. Just as Adam was SEXUALLY attracted to Eve in the garden, which was a GOOD thing. I’m sorry if you’ve been living under a rock while civilization trundles on around you, but this has nothing remotely to do with Freud. Again, if you don’t understand this basic fact of human nature, I can’t help you.
Also, Matthew 19 might help, a little.
Are you saying that a sexually healthy person experiences sexual attraction whenever that person even contemplates a member of the opposite sex? Would you care to provide a citation to some peer-reviewed studies to back that up?
Also, please point me to the passage in Scripture that says that Adam was sexually attracted to Eve prior to the Fall. Don’t look for too long, though, because Scripture doesn’t support that averment. Moreover, nowhere is this alleged pre-Fall sexual attraction declared as good.
Whether you acknowledge it or not, you’re reading a fair bit of Freud into your exegesis. You can pound your fists all day long about alleged “basic fact[s] of human nature,” and it won’t change that.
Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them and said “Be ye fruitful and multiply.”
Ryan, where do babies come from?
Your proffered evidence fails for two reasons.
First, that’s a command given by God. It says nothing about Adam’s subjective desires. God also told Adam not to eat of the fruit of a particular tree, but he did.
Second, sexual attraction is not a prerequisite for sex. It is fairly well established that people can engage in sex without feeling sexual attraction. For example, I have two gay friends in mixed-orientation marriages who have procreated successfully.
This is my last comment in this conversation. I’ve given you an opportunity to clarify your averments and to proffer supporting evidence, and you’ve not done so. So, I see no sound reason to continue this discussion.
I realize some gay people decide to marry despite the fact that they’re still homosexually inclined. I think this is a BAD idea, precisely because it is not sexually fair to the spouse.
Yes, I’m sure that when God issued the command to be fruitful and multiply, he meant to add, “Sorry guys, but somebody’s gotta do it, I mean it’s not like I created you in a way that would motivate the joyful fulfillment of that command, like at all.” Also, that whole bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh passage when Adam first sees Eve? Yes, I’m sure he’s just impassively “noticing” her the same way I “notice” Lauren Bacall when I watch Key Largo.
I’m sorry you’re offended Ryan, but pretty much everyone else observing this conversation is laughing at you right now, because you’re so obviously clueless about human sexuality. You are also creating a blatant strawman by implying that if I believe heterosexual attraction is a natural, healthy thing to be celebrated within a marriage, I must ignore or disregard the non-sexual aspects of marital love as inferior or unimportant.
If you have kids, I sure hope this isn’t the philosophy you’re passing down. All things considered, maybe it is better if you just stop talking now.
Esther, you might want to take a closer look at Denny’s comment policy. Your comments above certainly violate the spirit of what Denny has called for there.
Esther, you seem enamored with binaries. Your argument certainly isn’t lacking in cerebration (at least, it’s as intellectually demanding as any purely binary argument can ever be). But your graceless repartee (lacking “grace” in every meaning of the word) makes it hard not to take Ryan’s side. Or Ray Fuller’s, for that matter.
God created us male and female, which is a binary. Esther’s error is that she assumes therefore that the male-female binary necessarily requires a binary social expression, i.e., in terms of idealized social expressions of masculinity and femininity. This leap in logic is rather difficult to support biblically. Which probably explains why the proponents of such views invariably find themselves relying on Freud to prop it up (even when they don’t realize that they’re relying on Freud instead of Scripture).
Esther: I think Heath was trying to get at the same issue that Jesus addresses in the beatitudes: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Heterosexual desire is only permissable between a man and a wife. Any other form is sin.
There is a major problem with the theory behind reparitive therapy (which is neither). It is based, when you trace it back to its beginning on the writing of Elizabeth Moberly who based her work on psychoanalytic theory gleaned from journal articles. This is from a lady who admitted she never saw a client and based entirely on Freudian theory, which no one gives much credence to.
There has never been a credible study using non RT industry clients that indicates that it works and there are many stories of suicides and damage.
This also ignores the ~50% of females that are homosexual.
I have talked with clients of Nicolosi and Jerry Leach none of which indicated RT helped in any way and had in fact done a huge amount of damage. The anecdotal evidence is discredited.
Lambert seems really all-or-nothing in his thinking in 2 avenues:
1) that because the RT philosophy on origins of homosexuality might not cover all bases, the base it does cover (a broken child parent relationship) isn’t worth exploring with RT?
2) that RT couldn’t have sprung from repentant faith or that it itself isn’t an expression of repentant faith? Show me a guy who prays that he can stop doing something and then show me a guy who prays it and then goes out and actively tries something to stop it…. and I’ll show you the more repentant guy.
Admittedly I don’t know much about the subject, even so I don’t understand how using an RT approach necessarily means you have “traded the profound resources of the gospel.” What of taking one approach under the guidance of the bigger principle?
I’d like to take this opportunity for thanking the Southern Baptists for throwing Dr. Nicolosi under the bus after having had him speak in their churches ALL OVER AMERICA in cooperation with the “Love Won Out” Seminars sponsored by Focus on the Family… and joining with the Homosexual Activist community in denunciation of the only practice and ministry that was being done to help them.
I for one will not be participating in the circular firing squad that was initiated by the organizations that are attempting to influence and indoctrinate the churches with ANOTHER agenda that deviates from actually helping people to rolling over like a dog needing to be pet by every kid on the block.
Sandra hit the nail on the head. I suspect that reparative therapy was popular among evangelicals because evangelical thinking on sexuality has always been heavily influenced by psychoanalysis. I don’t think we can begin to address these questions adequately until we go back and de-Freud the way we think about sex, gender roles, and the family.
I agree with Lambert regarding the changeability of one’s perception of sexual orientation. That doesn’t mean that one’s actual orientation is necessarily changeable; only that we’re often not very good at assessing our sexual orientation. People can generally correctly recognize that they’re not heterosexual. But that doesn’t mean that they’re homosexual. In many cases, they may be asexuals who (because they don’t know what sexual attraction feels like) mistakenly confuse aesthetic attraction or interpersonal attraction with sexual attraction. But we’re all prone to amounts of self-delusion. If asexuals are misdiagnosed as homosexual at an early age, they may well adopt a gay identity anyway.
I say this because I fear that we evangelicals are prone to discussing homosexuality without addressing the elephant in the room: heterosexuality. Until we accept that heterosexuality (as a social construct) is a Freudian concept that finds no support in Scripture or the Christian tradition, we can’t begin to address homosexuality adequately.
The Bible never declares that heterosexuality is the goal of a full and contented life.
I can say it more strongly. The Bible never says that heterosexuality, in general terms, is a good thing.
I don’t understand this statement. Isn’t the general decree of God “and God saw that it was good” – Genesis chapter 1 – that “He created them male and female” – and Genesis 2:18-25 – “it is not good for the man to be alone”, etc. and “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh; and they were naked and not ashamed” – Genesis 2:24-25 – doesn’t that imply that the heterosexuality was the created desire and a good thing? Along with the whole book of Song of Solomon and Proverbs 5:15-23, and 1 Cor. 7:9 – all of this together seems to be saying that heterosexuality is a good thing.
Sex that the Bible praises is the kind that happens in heterosexual marriage—that is sex in a marriage between one man and one woman.
The Bible, however, never commands or commends heterosexual desires in general terms.
That does not seem true, according to Genesis 1-2, Song of Solomon, Proverbs 5:15-23; I Corinthians 7:9
Greetings. I’ll offer up a few thoughts based on a series of sermons out pastor just finished.
First, I believe that the “ideal” is a single person fully devoted to Christ. I believe Paul teaches this, and he is a good example.
Second, if you cannot control your passions, then by all means get married. But that is not the “ideal”, singleness is. I think this is the point of 1 Cor 7. Here marriage is commanded in a specific circumstance as opposed to general terms as Lambert makes in his point.
Third, I believe that American culture, especially in the church, has elevated heterosexual marriage to a status that is not biblical. Our pastor specifically said that a single man (let’s say late 30’s/early 40’s for example) could probably not get a job as a senior pastor of an Southern Baptist church. I agree. My family and I came out of a family-integrated SBC congregation a few years ago. Once you hit about age 17, you are expected to be actively seeking marriage.
Just my 2 cents.
I totally agree with Michael Sweet that many Christians have put marriage on a much higher level than God does. Jesus doesn’t get married. Paul tells us that he wishes that all were like him and could be single, but it’s better to marry than to fornicate. Couldn’t Paul have come up with a better reason for marriage than that? And then there’s the Old Testament. Everyone knows about the accepted polygamy of the Patriarchs, but if you really want to take your view of marriage down a tad, read what God commanded the prophet Hosea to do. God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute who will cheat on him and have illegitimate children, to demonstrate what God’s relationship with Israel looks like. Clearly, God has a much different view of marriage than your average evangelical.
These two sentences are not understandable. Everything else was great.
The Bible never says that heterosexuality, in general terms, is a good thing.
The Bible, however, never commands or commends heterosexual desires in general terms.
Besides not understanding those two sentences above; everything else in Lambert’s article was excellent.
Why is that confusing? It was the universal position of the Christian church until the 20th Century, when Western Protestants–including evangelicals–broke with Paul and a 1900-year tradition. Lambert’s statement is still the position of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. In fact, the notion of heterosexuality didn’t even take shape until the late 19th Century.
Well, social construct or not, its practice sure has been going strong since Adam.
Huh? The notion of heterosexuality was first articulated in 1868, and didn’t take hold culturally to any significant degree before the 1890s. For the better part of Christian history, sexual attraction and romantic feelings did not figure prominently in our conceptions of marriage and family. A guidebook from the late 1700s noted that “the intent of matrimony is not for man and his wife to be always taken up with each other, but jointly to discharge the duties of civil society, to govern their families with prudence, and educate their children with discretion.” Only in the middle of the 20th Century did Protestants depart from that view of marriage to any substantial degree. In my view, we’d do well to go back to that view of marriage.
Sir, I get that you have a bone to pick about something, but choosing to deny the biological/physiological reality and redefine the simple label that has been given to denote that reality, in order to continue on all these seeming soapboxes, just seems to be hurting your point rather than helping you get it across. I have a feeling that there isn’t as much disagreement in all these discussions as there seems to be, but your points are kind of muddied and hard to grasp because at first reading they seem to be very far removed from reality. Perhaps if you could rephrase concisely and bring your thoughts into a cohesive whole. At the end of the day, it seems to have taken the discussion – unintentionally, I am sure, quite far afield from the original post topic.
I’m simply trying to point out that you and Ken are conflating two separate concepts: sex and gender. Sex describes a biological phenomenon, i.e., whether one is male or female. Gender describes a social phenomenon, i.e., the social expressions or roles (or range of social expressions or roles) that people of a particular sex generally adopt in society.
The term “heterosexuality” refers to gender, not sex. In particular, “heterosexuality” assumes that the sex binary (of male and female) necessarily implies that there is a natural, idealized gender-role binary (in terms of a masculine ideal and a feminine ideal). The “science” that supported these theories was the same “science” that gave us things like the eugenics movement and social Darwinism. The goal of this “science” was to identify which men and which women were more fit as representatives of their respective sexes.
The Freudian pseudo-science supporting heterosexuality was debunked long ago. But it has gained a certain illegitimate foothold in American and northern European culture, particularly among social conservatives.
Of course, one you create a category that describes a social ideal, you inevitable generate a category of those who do not conform to that ideal, which is what the LGBT spectrum is.
I would encourage you to read Michael Hannon’s article, “Against Heterosexuality” that appeared in Firth Things earlier this year.
It seems to me that heterosexuality is inherently created within Genesis chapters 1-2, the whole book of The Song of Solomon, Proverbs 5:15-23; and 1 Corinthians 7, specifically verse 9.
Are you reading the same version of Paul’s writings that I am? Yes, Paul mentions sexual desire, but certainly not in a positive way. In fact, when you read the whole of I Corinthians 7, it’s clear that Paul views sexual desire as an indicator of a weakness that must be accommodated, not a strength that must be valorized. There is simply no way to square the standard evangelical (i.e., Freudian) approach to sexuality with Paul.
Song of Solomon and Proverbs are both open to a variety of interpretations. Neither commands the valorization of heterosexual attraction.
For the better part of Christian history, sexual attraction and romantic feelings did not figure prominently in our conceptions of marriage and family.
True, duty and raising children are important; but the whole book of Song of Solomon seems to say that romance and sexual attraction are inherent also, as in Genesis 1-2. (God saw it was good; they were naked and not ashamed)
Evangelicals in recent years have swung the other way to unknowingly letting the culture and sexual revolution (like Driscoll’s bad aspects of “Real Marriage”, that Denny did an excellent review of ) and romance take over emphasis over duty and raising children; but it seems to me in the Bible that marriage includes all of those elements.
A guidebook from the late 1700s noted that “the intent of matrimony is not for man and his wife to be always taken up with each other,
but jointly to discharge the duties of civil society, to govern their families with prudence, and educate their children with discretion.”
True also; but without completely getting rid of the other aspects.
Only in the middle of the 20th Century did Protestants depart from that view of marriage to any substantial degree. In my view, we’d do well to go back to that view of marriage.
There should be a balance of all the above, it seems to me; accounting for different emphases according to different stages of the marriage relationship.
The Church swings back and forth in reactions and over-reactions to culture and trends in history.
Hi Michael Sweet –
the ideal of a single person like the apostle Paul devoted to Christ is true for some; it seems, very few. Christ Himself was single also; so there is a sense in which it is ideal for a few persons. But most people get married and it seems Gen. 1-2 is the ideal from creation.
The key seems to be that one is an ideal for some and the other is ideal for others. what you wrote, taken to a logical extreme could go toward an over-emphasis toward the early church view of exalting virginity over marriage, which later developed into the Roman Catholic view of exalting virginity and celibacy and the discipline of not allowing priests to marry. Obviously, the apostle Paul was right in what he wrote, as it is God’s word; but it seems to be the exception and rare; and it seemed to be a temporary ideal for the circumstances of the “present distress” (1 Cor. 7:25-26 – “Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.”) What was “the present distress” ? around 55 AD ? The apostle Paul says it is a charimata/ gift. (1 Cor. 7:7) The more common state for most of humanity is Genesis 1-2. Most eastern cultures have no concept of singleness. Marriage and family seem to be the Creator’s ideal.
Some people think the apostle Paul was married before his conversion, and is possibly hinted at in “I have suffered the loss of all things” and was “a Pharisee of Pharisees” (they were all married); that his wife left him after his conversion. I don’t know if that is true, but I have heard that speculation.
The “family integrated” emphasis and “quiver-full” movements (an extreme in itself, it seems to me) and home-school movement, are also sometimes taken to extremes that don’t always turn out the way the idealist preachers give their vision for.
Ryan Davidson wrote:
Are you reading the same version of Paul’s writings that I am? Yes, Paul mentions sexual desire, but certainly not in a positive way.
You are sounding like Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, and Jerome now; who were negative toward marriage and saw it and only necessary to produce children; and saw sexual desire even in marriage as a negative thing.
In fact, when you read the whole of I Corinthians 7, it’s clear that Paul views sexual desire as an indicator of a weakness that must be accommodated, not a strength that must be valorized.
“valorized” is a new term for me; – “to enhance”; “to assign merit”, “to increase the value of”; to see as “valor”. It does seem to be part of what Genesis 2:18-25 says; along with the whole book of Song of Solomon and Proverbs 5 that I already quoted.
There is simply no way to square the standard evangelical (i.e., Freudian) approach to sexuality with Paul.
I disagree with a Mark Driscoll type of take on it; or others who took that kind of emphasis before him.
I disagree that I am assigning a Freudian approach. I am just reading those above passages already cited several times.
Song of Solomon and Proverbs are both open to a variety of interpretations.
You think Song of Solomon is an allegory of God’s love for His people? When the book is talking about romantic love within monogous marriage, talking about breasts and the beauty of a woman’s foot in sandals? How can that be an allegory of God’s love? It makes no sense whatsoever, and was started by those early church fathers who had a negative view of sex and marriage. (Origen, who castrated himself, and the others already mentioned.
Neither commands the valorization of heterosexual attraction.
Proverbs 5:15-23 are full of commands (“let her breasts satisfy you at all times”, etc.) ; and 1 Cor. 7:2-9 is full of commands for the husband and wife to minister to one another in those areas, lest they be tempted by the devil.
if ‘reparative therapy’ causes harm even to some, it needs to be re-examined as a ‘therapy’ for sure, as it has within itself the ability to injure people who are already distressed . . . I don’t know a lot about what people have gone through, but I have heard that some of the intervention ‘treatments’ did cause more problems for folks than not, and if that is the case, then something is wrong with the ‘therapy’ that ought to be recognized and abandoned
I personally don’t think that people HAVE ‘a choice’ in their sexual orientations, even if they are ‘straight’. Because of this, it may be the best suggestion at this time for a practicing Christian who experiences same-sex attraction to remain single and to live out his or her faith as a celibate person. It is possible to do this, as celibacy has been a model for many Christian people over the millenia.
it behooves Christian communities to offer support for those who struggle, rather than condemnation . . . and if someone falls, it is not something to be set up as different from other sins, no . . . the more one sin is pointed to, and not other sins present in the congregation, then the more the community ceases to be able to help ALL the sinners in its midst . . . that is something that is not realized in many faith communities, but there is truth in this, if the community wishes to be a place of strength and healing for broken people who need Christ as all sinners need Him
Christine, very good answer. I once did a study on Sin and as with most Bible concepts it is very rich and when you get into the seven Greek words, nuanced,
I think we can safely say that a very simple definition of sin is anything that separates us from God. This has very all encompassing implications.
There are seven words in Greek which are translated into one English word, “sin”.
This is one place where translation breaks down and we lose a great deal of clarity and nuance.
Hamartia which means missing the mark (as in bow and arrow), literally trying to do the right thing but failing through moral weakness.
Hasebeia means ungodliness which is “positive and active irreligion in direct opposition to god”. In other words actively doing something you know is wrong.
Parakoi means to fail to hear either through carelessness or in attention. Failing to hear when god speaks or ignoring what he has to say.
anomia means lawlessness, a contempt of Gods law.
Parabasis is transgression or passing some defined limit. Or the active breaking of a commandment. It means more than hamartia in that it implies intention.
Hittima means a failure of duty or a fault in doing that which one ought to do. A sin of omission.
Parptouma; ignorance of what one ought to have known a sin you don’t know you have committed.
What does this tell us, that it is hopeless. God provided a way out of this hopelessness, a Soter “a savior, deliverer, preserver,” Christ. The cost, it costs nothing for the recipient. The price was paid by the giver.
I also did a study of homosexuality looking at ever verse, that study is ten pages long and contrary to what many think I do not feel it is inherently sinful.
Th clobber verse Rom 1:26-27
26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.
I can go into excruciating detail but it boils down to the word nature, did it mean then what it does now (the original Greek is para phusis) and it is clear that it does. Heterosexuals were engaged in homosexual acts, and there is a discussion concerning this I can go into.