The term ‘conversion therapy’ is generally not helpful and widely misused and misunderstood. Here, we try and answer the most common questions and misunderstandings.
1. What is ‘conversion therapy’?
There is no clear definition of what is meant by ‘conversion therapy’. It was a term invented by LGBT activists.
The government states,
“So-called conversion therapies, sometimes also referred to as cure, aversion or reparative therapies, are techniques intended to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These techniques can take many forms and commonly range from pseudo-psychological treatments to spiritual counselling. In extreme cases, they may also include surgical and hormonal interventions, or so-called ‘corrective’ rape.”
2. Do you support using the term ‘conversion therapy’?
No, because it is a term that has no clear definition, and which is misleading in its own implied meaning of ‘conversion’.
In the state definition above, it includes ‘spiritual counselling’. Some take that to include talking therapies, Biblical counselling and prayer – whilst others do not.
Ultimately, ‘conversion therapy’ is an unhelpful term for the discussion. No good therapist sets out to ‘convert’ a client. Good therapists seek to help the client to achieve the client’s own objectives.
3. Do you support using the term ‘gay cure’?
No. Again, this term, invented by LGBT activists, suggests that any or all of these practices promise simple, guaranteed results.
4. What term do you propose?
We don’t propose any term because ‘conversion therapy’ is not one any mental health professionals or pastors in the UK have ever used. We think the practices which we discuss below should be considered part of ordinary pastoral practice or discipleship, counselling or therapy and does not need a specific name.
Born gay, forever gay?
5. Are people born gay?
There is no evidence to support the idea that people are ‘born gay’. The most detailed study to date shows five genes associated with sexual behaviour, but no markers reliable enough to predict someone’s sexuality.
This means that ‘born gay’ is a myth.
6. Why do people ‘become gay’?
There is no one clear reason why we experience the desires we experience. It is unwise to make blanket statements about the causes of something as complex as sexual attraction. People are individuals with their own unique stories, histories and backgrounds, and they should be free to explore and discuss the roots of these desires in a safe and loving environment.
Ultimately, all desires for what God describes as sinful are the result of our fallen nature.
7. Do you believe someone’s sexual desires or behaviours can change?
Yes. Firstly, the strength of the desires can change so that the pull of desires in a particular direction can weaken. Secondly, desires towards those of the opposite sex can increase. In fact, this is uncontroversial, so-called “sexual fluidity” is widely recognised generally in the social sciences.
What kind of help does Christian Concern support?
8. Do you support the use of ‘corrective’ rape, electric shock therapy, or pornography in trying to change someone’s sexual desires or behaviours?
No. So-called ‘corrective’ rape is a crime and a form of honour-based violence, and rightly illegal anyway. Electric shock treatment was administered by some psychiatrists between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, and is not relevant today, but we would oppose if it existed. We oppose all use of pornography to try to help people with sexual problems. None of these have ever been endorsed or practiced by mainstream Christian groups.
9. Do you support the use of talking therapies, prayer, biblical counselling and pastoral support for those who want to reduce their same sex desires or behaviours?
Yes. All Christians are called to flee sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18), including same-sex behaviours. Furthermore, the Lord’s prayer – at the heart of Christian worship throughout church history – asks God to “lead us not into temptation”. Every Christian should want to see their attraction or temptation to sin diminish.
10. Do you think people should be forced into these forms of help or treatment?
No, this should be voluntary and non-coercive. We are not aware of any therapist who would be willing to work with anyone who does not want to change.
Is this support safe and does it work?
11. Can people experience change in their behaviours through therapy, prayer, Biblical counselling and pastoral support?
Yes. There is nothing unique about sexual attraction that forces a person to act on those feelings. If there were, any number of other sexual behaviours (e.g. adultery) would be justified as inevitable.
12. Can people experience change in their desires through therapy, prayer, Biblical counselling and pastoral support?
Yes. Many people who have received this help have experienced change. As with any other treatment, therapy or support, there is no guarantee that any practice will always result in a particular outcome. See for example, testimonies from ‘ex-gay’ people, more stories of people who identify as ex-LGBT and James Parker’s testimony.
13. Does this kind of support change people forever?
Regression is always possible. Many people are greatly helped through all kinds of programmes and therapy for all kinds of issues, e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous, cognitive behavioural therapy, physiotherapy. But people who don’t continue to practise what they have learned often see regression. In no way does this discredit any of these forms of support.
14. Are these practices harmful to those who go through them?
Opponents claim that all forms of what they call ‘conversion therapy’ are harmful. This is not backed up by research.
The Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK is a joint document written by opponents of ‘conversion therapy’, effectively banning mental health professionals from providing any of these therapies. Even this document only goes as far as to say it is ‘potentially harmful’ – a meaningless term, since just about everything is potentially harmful.
The American Psychological Association said in 1998 that there is no evidence on harm “one way or the other” and continues to say that “sound data on the safety of SOCE [sexual orientation change efforts] are extremely limited”. There are no peer reviewed journals stating that it is categorically harmful.
Counselling, therapy and discipleship can always be difficult, going deep into people’s lives and motivations – even more when addressing the core of who people perceive themselves to be.
It is worth noting that homosexual practice itself carries a high risk of harm with increased prevalence of mental illness, alcoholism, drug addictions and a greatly increased risk of catching STDs.
15. Do you believe you can “pray away the gay” or that deliverance ministries/exorcisms can remove same sex desires?
As with all sinful desires, most commonly people experience change slowly over time. We would caution against an overemphasis on prayer and deliverance alone, but who are we to say what God can or cannot do? God is sovereign and if he so chooses to remove particular desires instantly from someone through prayer then so be it.
‘Conversion therapy’ and the Church
16. Would a ban on ‘conversion therapy’ affect the Church?
Yes. Campaigners are explicitly targeting religious settings, including churches and ordinary pastoral practices. In the state of Victoria in Australia, a conversion therapy ban has even restricted churches from preaching the Biblical view on marriage because it encourages abstinence from same sex activity, which is deemed “suppression”. A conversion therapy ban would effectively criminalise ordinary Christian approaches to discipleship and sanctification.
17. Why do you support secular counselling and therapies?
The Church is called to point to the hope of Christ. We want to see people move from the darkness to light, from spiritual death to spiritual life. This meaning of ‘conversion’ is the most important change anyone can see in their life.
When someone puts their faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit begins to work in their lives, shaping their desires and behaviours to honour God. No secular counselling or therapy can solve our biggest problem and fighting unwanted desires without the Spirit’s help will be an uphill struggle.
Nevertheless, God in his common grace allows secular practices to bear good fruit, largely because they often borrow from a Christian worldview. Would Christians oppose non-Christians who seek out Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (a secular therapy) which, when practiced appropriately, can have success, or would we oppose non-Christians attend Alcoholics Anonymous? They may not address the ultimate root of the problem, but they are still a positive good. People should be allowed to seek this kind of help.
18. Don’t these practices just move someone from homosexual lust to heterosexual lust?
All lust is sinful. But support aimed at reducing same-sex behaviours or desires does not mean increasing lust towards the opposite sex. In some cases, it does lead to attraction to people of the opposite sex, but this can be legitimately fulfilled within marriage, unlike same-sex attraction.
19. Why do you oppose a ban on’ conversion therapy’?
You can find out more here.