Our tough questions about homosexuality series with Stand to Reason speaker Alan Shlemon continues. Up this week? “Gay people can’t change. In fact, it’s psychologically harmful to try to make them.”
You may have seen the sign, “Some people are gay. Get over it!”
But I’d like to modify it: “Some people used
to be gay. Get over that.”
It would, unfortunately, be met with a dismissive response because
many people believe the discussion is over. The “experts” have spoken. Sexual
orientation is an inborn and immutable trait like eye color. Change is not
possible. Case closed.
But this is an incredible assertion. If it can be
demonstrated that just one person has
changed, it would falsify the claim. It turns out that not only is change
possible, but there are multiple and independent lines of evidence to warrant
such a belief.
First, it should be noted that people reported change was
possible thousands of years ago. The sixth chapter in the biblical book of 1
Corinthians states that some of the inhabitants of the city of Corinth were
homosexuals. But the passage goes on to say, “Such were some of you…” indicating that some of them were able to change
(1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
I realize that some people will dismiss this account,
claiming they don’t believe the Bible is the word of God. But one doesn’t have
to believe in the divine authorship of scripture in order to accept this
account of changed lives. The epistle to the Corinthian church is, at the very
least, a first century letter to a community of people in a city which still
exists in modern Greece. It is a historical correspondence between Paul of
Tarsus and the Corinthians. It is highly unlikely that Paul could get away with
making false claims about the changed lives of people who live in the city
where the letter was publicly read.
Second, many reputable scientists who are experts in the
field have testified that change is possible. Dr. Robert Spitzer, who has been
called the most influential psychiatrist of the 20th century (more
than 275 publications to his credit), published a peer-reviewed paper in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The purpose
of his study was to evaluate the claim that homosexual orientation is immutable
and, consequently, change is impossible.
Spitzer indicated that of the 200 people in the study, many
of them increased in the frequency and satisfaction of heterosexual activity. He
also noted that, “Almost all of the participants reported substantial changes
in the core aspects of sexual orientation, not merely overt behavior.” More
significantly, 11% of the men and 37% of the women reported complete change. Spitzer
said that these results go beyond, “anecdotal information and provide evidence
that reparative therapy is sometimes successful.” Moreover, he concluded that,
“This study provides evidence that some gay men and lesbians are able to also
change the core features of sexual orientation.”[i]
But what about the claim that this kind of therapy is harmful?
According to Spitzer, there wasn’t evidence of harm. “To the contrary,” he
said. The participants reported that therapy, “Was helpful in a variety of ways
beyond changing sexual orientation itself.”
The obvious response would be to dismiss Spitzer as an
anti-gay homophobe. But this is a man who has fought for homosexual causes. Spitzer
was the architect behind the movement in 1973 to remove homosexuality as an
illness from psychiatry’s manual of mental disorders (referred to as the DSM).
This was a monumental milestone in the history of gay rights spearheaded by Spitzer
Dr. Nicholas Cummings is another researcher who affirms that
change is possible. He was the past president of the American Psychological
Association (APA) and served as Chief of Mental Health at Kaiser Permanente for
20 years. While serving in that capacity, he personally saw over 2,000 patients
with same-sex attraction (SSA) and his staff saw another 16,000. You can read
more about his impeccable credentials here. I met him
in November 2011, where he told an audience of clinicians that he personally saw
hundreds of people change their sexual orientation and estimated that 7% of the
16,000 patients his staff saw experienced successful reorientation. Many of
them went on to marry and live heterosexual lives.
Dr. Cummings is another clinician that can’t be dismissed. He
has been a champion of gay rights and, while serving as President of the APA,
appointed the APA’s first Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Issues.
But these two researchers are just the tip of the iceberg. There
have been clinicians and other scientists who have known that change is
possible and have been reporting it for over 100 years! Jean-Martin Charcot,
known as the father of modern neurology, wrote about how “the homosexual became
heterosexual” through his treatments back in 1882. Sigmund Freud would later
report change in sexual orientation using psychoanalysis in the 1920s. Researchers
continued to report these findings throughout the 20th century:
Wilhelm Stekel in the 1930s, Frank Caprio and Albert Ellis in the 1950s, Russell
Monroe and Edward Glover in the 1960s, Irving Bieber in the 1970s, Karolynn
Siegel in the 1980s, and Houston MacIntosh in the 1990s to name just a few.
With this long history of evidence, it’s not surprising that
a recent psychiatry textbook, Essential Psychopathology & Its Treatment, concluded
that homosexual orientation can be changed and that therapy isn’t necessarily
harmful. The section addressing this topic states:
While many mental health care
providers and professional associations have expressed considerable skepticism
that sexual orientation could be changed with psychotherapy and also assumed
that therapeutic attempts at reorientation would produce harm, recent empirical
evidence demonstrates that homosexual orientation can indeed be therapeutically
changed in motivated clients, and that reorientation therapies do not produce
emotional harm when attempted (e.g., Byrd & Nicolosi, 2002; Byrd et al.,
2008; Shaeffer et al., 1999; Spitzer, 2003).
Given the existence of this clinical research, it would
follow that there should be thousands of people who have personally experienced
change. And there are. Every year more individuals come out and publicly
declare that although they lived as homosexuals for significant periods of
time, they no longer are today. This might not constitute peer-reviewed
research, but it is worth noting the sheer number of people who claim they have
How can anyone deny that change is possible given all the
evidence from psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, peer-reviewed studies,
and personal testimonies? I’ll tell you how. One would have to believe that every
clinician who treated homosexuality during the 19th and 20th
centuries has lied about their professional work and deceived the readers of
their published studies. Therapists around the world who treat homosexuality today
would also have to be dishonest about their patient outcomes. Every religious
and secular organization that provides counseling to homosexuals would be
fraudulent about their results. Every homosexual – thousands of them around the
world – who is now living as a heterosexual is just faking it. And every friend
and person I’ve met over the years who has claimed to have changed has been
misleading me. This would entail a massive and well-orchestrated scheme to deceive
vast numbers of people around the world. One would have to believe all that
deception is occurring in order to believe that homosexuals can’t change.
Does everyone who tries to change succeed? No. In fact, most
people fail. Is it an easy process for those who achieve a measure of change? Absolutely
not. Does change always entail complete transformation? Rarely. Do some people
return to homosexuality? Of course. But is it possible for some to experience substantial
and enduring change? Yes. That’s good news, given that there are many people
with unwanted SSA. They have hope.
The bad news is that there are many advocates that are
extremely hostile towards these change efforts and would deny some homosexuals
the right to self-determination. These are the same people who allegedly
champion diversity. But ironically, not only do they deny that change is
possible, they deny those who have changed even exist.
Though homosexuality is nothing new, neither is the ability
of some people to change. I’m not suggesting we try to change every homosexual,
but we can give hope to those with unwanted SSA. It’s a hope that many have
realized and, as a result, have turned to others who want to change and offered
them the truth and compassion they desperately need.
Read the previous 10 posts in this series here.
[i] Spitzer, R.
L., “Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation? 200
participants reporting a change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation,”
in Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 5, 2003, 403–417.
Think Christianly with Jonathan Morrow
Labels: Alan Shlemon, Bible, Christianity, same sex marriage, Tough Questions - Homosexuality