The Atlantic tweeted a link to an article this morning with this statement: “Why did Christian conservatives turn against gay conversion therapy?” It turns out that the article is by Jonathan Merritt, and it describes the shrinking fortunes of reparative therapy. As I mentioned last week, President Obama recently came out publicly against reparative therapy, and now Merritt is explaining how its influence has waned even among evangelicals. It’s a fascinating article, and you can read it here.
As you do that, here are a few initial thoughts about Merritt’s piece:
(1) I’m not sure that the article explains why conservative Christians have been turning away from reparative therapy. To be sure, many medical authorities have denounced the practice, and that has moved the needle for some associated with the evangelical movement. But the decisive factor for many of us isn’t a pronouncement by the APA. The decisive factor is the growing understanding that reparative therapy is a secular approach that is not rooted in a biblical understanding of the human condition. Any approach with a superficial understanding of our fallen condition is going to come up short for hurting people. And that is exactly what has happened with reparative therapy. My reasons for opposing reparative therapy are quite different from President Obama’s, and that leads to the next observation.
(2) I’m not sure that the article explains that evangelicals still differ with medical authorities over the possibility of change. While some evangelicals may be turning against reparative therapy, we are not turning against the idea that gay people can change. This is an all-important distinction that must not be lost if readers are to understand where evangelicals are coming from. Secular medical authorities are saying that any attempt at change won’t work and will cause harm. Christians who believe the Bible will never agree with the secular authorities on this point. Why? Because we believe that the grace of God can change anyone—including homosexual people (Titus 2:11-12).
In fact, we believe that every Christian is a work in progress. The Holy Spirit works in every Christian to transform them into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). It’s a transformation—a genuine change—that occurs gradually over the course of one’s life. To deny that this change can happen in any Christian—including those struggling with same-sex attraction—is to deny something fundamental to our faith. This does not mean that the gospel promises to eliminate all same-sex attraction in this life or to convert someone into a heterosexual. That’s the false promise of reparative therapy. But it does mean that the gospel gives every person—same-sex attracted or otherwise—the resources they need walk in holiness (2 Pet. 1:3). For Christians, the goal of change is holiness not heterosexuality.
So there’s still an enormous worldview clash between secular rejections of reparative therapy and Christian ones. Which leads to my final observation.
(3) It has been said that hard cases make bad law, and I think that the maxim applies here. The failure of reparative therapy should not be used as a pretext to prevent Christians from pursuing the dictates of their faith. Public policies that outlaw all attempts at change are going to force Christian mental health providers to either deny Christian teaching or forfeit licensure. And that is an unfortunate consequence that is already unfolding in states like New Jersey and California and that could be happening in about eighteen other states that are considering similar measures. Read more about that here.
So those are my three observations. Keep them in mind as you read the rest of Jonathan Merritt’s article here.