September 14, 2007

Is There New Evidence that Homosexuals Can Change?

This press release was issued by the Liberty Counsel today:

Nashville, TN - A groundbreaking study that will seriously challenge the modern premises of professional counseling associations, regarding whether change in homosexual attraction is possible, was released late yesterday afternoon at the American Association of Christian Counselors conference. AACC has over 50,000 active members.

In a 414-page book published by Intervarsity Press under the title, Ex Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, researchers Stanton Jones, Ph.D. and Mark Yarhouse, Pys.D., conclude that (1) change in homosexual attraction is possible, and (2) attempts to change are not harmful. Both conclusions will have profound implications in the counseling world.

Despite dissenting voices by counselors and ex-gays, the American Psychological Association (APA) categorically states that homosexual attraction cannot be changed and that attempts to change such attraction are harmful. This first longitudinal study of its kind by Drs. Jones and Yarhouse refutes the APA's position. Even Nicolas Cummings, Ph.D, Sc.D., former President of the APA, whose motion caused the APA in the mid-1970s to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder, stated that this "study has broken new ground in its adherence to objectivity and scientific precision" and calls the book "must reading."

Among others in attendance at the release of the study were Mathew Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, and Anita Staver, President of Liberty Counsel. Today at the AACC conference, where about 7,000 people are in attendance, Mat Staver will speak about "Impending Threats to Christian Counselors" and address the threats counselors face to their licenses when they counsel, or refer for counseling, clients seeking to change their same-sex attractions. The APA and other similar counseling associations hold categorically that homosexual attractions cannot be changed and attempts to do so are harmful. This new scientifically valid study dismantles the APA's categorical position on homosexuality.

Commenting on the study, Mat Staver said: "This groundbreaking study showing that homosexual attraction can be changed and that change is not harmful will have profound reverberations for counselors. The debate about homosexuality has too often been driven by political rather than scientific considerations. The American Psychological Association and other similar associations may no longer silence dissent. The APA's political postulate that homosexual attractions cannot be changed has been shattered by new research."

Exodus International, as you would expect, chimed in (no link available).

Nashville, TN- Leaders of the world's largest outreach to those dealing with unwanted homosexuality commended recent research showing change in sexual orientation to be possible at a press conference today in Nashville. The study, released by InterVarsity Press yesterday, is the first longitudinal, peer-reviewed, scientific research of its kind on this topic to date.

Researchers Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse released the results of a three-year study during an address at the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference. Their findings indicate that religiously mediated sexual orientation change is possible for some individuals and does not cause psychological harm to the patient, on average. These conclusions directly contradict the claims of both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association that state that change in sexual orientation is impossible and attempting to pursue this alternative is likely to cause depression, anxiety or self-destructive behavior. The major findings of this study are reported in full in the book Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation (InterVarsity Press).

Former American Psychological Association President, Nicholas A. Cummings, Ph.D., Sc.D., praised the research methods of Jones and Yarhouse, "This study has broken new ground in its adherence to objectivity and a scientific precision that can be replicated and expanded, and it opens new horizons for investigation." In the absence of any scientific, peer-reviewed research on this topic, Exodus International funded the research conducted by Jones and Yarhouse.

Alan Chambers, a former homosexual and President of Exodus International, responded to the study findings at today's press conference, "Finally, there is now scientific evidence to prove what we as former homosexuals have known all along - that those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction can experience freedom from it. For years, opponents of choice have said otherwise and this body of research is critical in advancing the national dialogue on this issue."

Chambers, who was joined by researcher Dr. Stanton Jones at the press conference today, added, "Anyone who has undergone the life-changing process of leaving homosexuality behind will tell you that it is not an easy one. However, for thousands of us, the journey has been well worth it and we are grateful that these study findings give credence to our existence as men and women whose lives have been transformed by Jesus Christ."

Wayne Besen's organization, Truth Wins Out, countered with this release:

NEW YORK - Truth Wins Out warned news organizations today to be highly skeptical of a biased "ex-gay" sham study that will be released by right wing therapists in Nashville this afternoon. The "research," which was conducted by Stanton L. Jones of Wheaton College and Mark A. Yarhouse of Pat Robertson University, reportedly will show that a significant percentage of gay people can become straight through religious-based counseling.

"It comes as no shock that anti-gay 'researchers' at Wheaton College and Pat Robertson University would release a study that claims you can pray away the gay," said Truth Wins Out's Executive Director Wayne Besen. "I suppose their next study will provide support for Pat Robertson's theory that homosexuality causes meteors and hurricanes."

Caution should be taken in prematurely critiquing the study until the full methodology is available. However, based on unconfirmed reports there is great concern that these notorious anti-gay researchers did little more than telephone professional ex-gay lobbyists and ministers from Exodus International and ask them if they had "changed." If this is the case, it is likely that the study results are not only suspect, but wholly invalid, says Truth Wins Out.

"It appears as if this study is the equivalent of the Phillip Morris 'research' team interviewing members of the company's public relations team on the safety of cigarettes," said Besen. "This study may be a deceptive sham with the goal of making it appear as if science backs fundamentalist beliefs on homosexuality."

There is also the concern that the study sample is unusually small. Additionally, there is no indication that key physical measures or tests were included, such as a "No Lie MRI," which is a scientific truth-detecting brain scan.

"Any 'ex-gay' study that does not include physical components that measure truth are essentially meaningless," said Besen. "After several key ex-gay leaders have been caught in sex scandals, their tales of transformation lack credibility," said Besen. "It is folly to suggest that telephone interviews can be considered genuine research. News organizations should be extremely skeptical of such a mockery of the scientific method.

"Jones and Yarhouse have made a cottage industry of attempting to mold scientific conclusions so they will conform to their devoutly held religious beliefs. Commenting on a 1991 debate over the ordination of gay Episcopal priests, Jones told the Associated Press that those who support ordaining homosexuals are trying "to normalize a pattern which is destructive and abnormal.

"In a Sept. 14, 2004 interview with The Virginian-Pilot, Yarhouse explained that he tells clients that their homosexual feelings do not mean they have to identify as gay. "Christ, or God, has a pre-existing claim on their sexuality" that trumps same-sex attractions, Yarhouse said.

In an April 2006 interview for the anti-gay website, Jones and Yarhouse explain the motivation for their work. "As evangelical Christians, it seemed to us that homosexuality is the area where more pressure is being put on the church to depart from the explicit moral teachings of scripture than any other area.

"The release of their study results in Nashville coincides with a regional conference of the ex-gay organization Exodus International and the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference. The full study results will be distributed on Oct. 10, in the form of a book by Christian publisher InterVarsity Press.

I have not seen the study, but I am sceptical for several reasons:

o The study was funded by Exodus International according to the orgainzation's own press release. How do you THINK it would come out? That's like tobacco companies funding a study about the harmfulness of cigarette smoking; how much credibility would either one really have?

o The book is published by InterVarsityPress, a fundamentalist Christian publisher which has printed another title written by Jones and Yarhouse. That book, "Homosexuality, The Use of Scientific Research in the Church's Moral Debate, was published in 2000. From the description in the InterVarsity website, it sounds a whole lot like their new work. Jones also wrote a booklet published by the company titled "The Gay Debate." The official description of that is:

Stanton L. Jones presents an overview of the Christian understanding of sexuality in general and then skillfully tackles the revisionists of Scripture who are challenging the traditional Christian position of homosexuality. He then calls for Christians to act with compassion and yet continue to speak the truth without fear. This booklet will no doubt spark further inquiry into this timely topic for all who read it.

Objectivity is critical if one is compiling and, more importantly, interpreting scientific data. It is not clear, as Wayne Besen wonders, if this work even meets acceptable research standards, but even if it does how reliable, how credible, can it be when it is clear both doctors have an anti-gay sentiment, if not agenda.

Religious right fundamentalists have already shown a tendancy to overrun science with theology and try to repackage it as science. I don't have enough information to know if that is the case here, but to have essentially have a "house band" put this study together gives the apperaance of fitting right into that trend.

Sadly, we can all be sure that much smoke will be blown over this study, and groups like Exodus will use it to fortify their work, and by that their income. If they want to delude themselves, that's their issue. If Alan Chambers wants to call himself a "former homosexual" instead of a gay man living a straight lifestyle, that is his right.

What makes me sad and angry at the same time is the people that will be drawn into this false paradigm and have their lives twisted completely out of shape, perhaps with tragic consequences. Those of us who are either part of the GLBT community or allies need to work to minimize the damage that this latest event could cause innocent, confused gays and lesbians.

After I posted, I found this report on Box Turtle Bulletin. If anyone reads these details (how many will, though, and just hear the high level summary touted in the press releases), they won't be very impressed with the "changability" of homosexuality, or the fact that only 73 people completed it, all of whom were referred by Exodus. I can a study to say just about anything if I limit my sample size to something that small. The results were:

33 people reported change in the desired manner (from gay at time 1 in the heterosexual direction at time 3)
29 reported no change
8 reported change in the undesired direction
3 were unsure how to describe their experience of change

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting all this info and your own comments. I appreciate your honesty.