Peter Saunders

BBC article on ‘gay therapies’ is simplistic, misleading and ignores much of the available evidence

Peter Saunders
Peter Saunders
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September 24, 2012 (pjSaunders) - Should people with unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction seek professional help? And if so what kind of help and what expectations should they realistically have?

BBC Religion and Ethics recently published an article on this extremely controversial subject titled ‘Ex-gay survivor’s tales of exorcism in middle England’.

I was asked to submit a quote for it yesterday but was unable to obtain any information about what angle the author would be writing it from. So I sent in four carefully drafted sentences of which they used only the one that most closely fitted with their agenda.

The article relates the story of Peterson Toscano, who ‘after $30,000 for controversial conversion therapy, three attempts at exorcism and one failed marriage, finally resolved the conflict between his faith and sexuality - he was gay’.

At the end there are some comments from Peter Ould and myself (see Peter’s take here).

Toscano’s case highlights the dangers of well-meaning Christians without proper professional training doing more harm than good in attempting to, in effect, ‘pray the gay away’.

But the article throws the baby out with the bathwater. Its fundamental flaw is to argue from the particular to the general, that is, because this man’s personal experience was negative therefore all attempts to help people with unwanted same-sex attraction are misguided and bad.

This conclusion is unwarranted and not actually supported by the available evidence.

I’m not going to comment on the individual case, but rather make some comments on the general issue.

There is first a huge amount of confusion both in the Christian church and in the world generally about the difference between homosexual attraction, orientation, identity and behaviour, which I attempt to address in my earlier blog, ‘Should gay Christians be true to their feelings?

But there is even more confusion about what the media has unhelpfully branded ‘reparative therapies’.

The full quote I gave the journalist who wrote today’s BBC article read as follows:

‘Many people believe that homosexual and heterosexual are distinct biological categories which are unchangeable, biologically fixed and genetically determined but this view is being increasingly challenged by new research. Sexual attractions are now best understood as lying on a spectrum rather than in terms of a simple dichotomous binary categorisation, and mixed patterns of sexual desire, including attraction to both sexes at the same time and changes in the strength and direction of sexual attraction over time are not uncommon. It is on this basis that some people understandably will seek professional help in dealing with their changing feelings. Professionals providing such care should do so in a way that both respects the beliefs and values of the person seeking help and is also evidence-based.’

They chose only to use the last sentence, I suspect because the other three, about the fluidity of sexual feelings, did not fit with the underlying presupposition of the article that sexual orientation is something fixed, unchangeable and genetically determined and that the only approach to people experiencing feelings of same sex attraction is to encourage them to embrace a ‘gay lifestyle’.

But this view is overly simplistic and not actually supported by the evidence (see my article on Max Pemberton for more on this).

Instead the latest research supports the idea that, for some, sexual feelings are often quite fluid and changeable. Many gay rights commentators including Peter Tatchell and Matthew Parris share this view.

This leaves us then with the question of how to help those who are experiencing ‘unwanted’ feelings of same sex attraction.

On this I would particularly recommend a booklet published last year and available on the CMF website titled ‘Unwanted same sex attraction: Issues of pastoral and counselling support’.

The whole booklet is worthy of careful study but I have pasted part of the executive summary below which amplifies on what I said in my quote:

People with unwanted SSA who seek to live in conformity with their beliefs should be free to receive appropriate and responsible practical care and counsel. Most may choose counselling and pastoral support to maintain, within a Christian ethical framework, the disciplines of chastity. Others may wish to explore the possibility of achieving some degree of change in the strength or direction of unwanted sexual interests.

Experience of change in the strength or direction of one’s sexual interests is sometimes possible. Although the extent of such change will differ between individuals, what is commonly referred to as sexual ‘orientation’ is not invariably a fixed and enduring characteristic of the human condition, rooted in biological difference and experienced from birth. Whilst some people experience same-sex attraction from their earliest memories of sexual interest, for others sexual desire can be relatively fluid. There are many personal narratives of change of sexual ‘orientation’ reported in both the secular and religious media. When assessing counselling efforts that seek to promote ‘change’ in the strength, direction, or expression of same-sex desire, the entire range of human sexual experience must therefore be addressed rather than assuming all sexual attraction is always fixed.

No high quality scientifically controlled trials have been carried out on efforts to promote change in sexual ‘orientation’ and claims for or against the effectiveness of specific approaches must therefore be treated with caution. ‘Sexual Orientation Change Efforts’ have provoked passionate opinions on all sides. Various mental health bodies and professional associations have made negative declarations about their desirability and effectiveness. It has been asserted that there is ‘no evidence’ that efforts to promote change in sexual ‘orientation’ are effective. Such statements, if allowed to stand unqualified, are potentially misleading. Because no randomised controlled trials have been carried out in this area, it is not possible to assert conclusively whether efforts to promote ‘change’ are effective or whether they are not effective. There is no ‘cast iron’ evidence either way. A balanced and objective assessment would note there are many personal reports of change in sexual orientation from within both secular and religious cultures, but that there remains uncertainty about the effectiveness of any particular psychological or counselling approach designed to promote such change.

Health and counselling professionals must practice ethically by respecting the religious beliefs and convictions of their clients and exercising due care in distinguishing between fact and personal opinion.

Given the absence of conclusive, high quality, scientifically controlled trials, those offering formal counselling to people with unwanted SSA must exercise considerable caution. They must follow conventional ethical guidelines in terms of informed consent and show respect for client autonomy and self-determination. When counselling clients with unwanted SSA, harm could result from raising unrealistic expectations or claims that go beyond the available evidence.

Those with unwanted SSA who seek to live within the orthodox boundaries of Christian faith and ethical practitioners who support them deserve our honour, support and respect. Both groups should be free to act in accordance with their conscientious beliefs without harassment, misrepresentation or discrimination.

Reprinted with permission from Christian Medical Comment.

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Indiana faces backlash as it becomes 20th state to protect religious liberty

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By Ben Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, March 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Thursday, Indiana became the 20th state to prevent the government from forcing people of faith to violate their religious beliefs in business or the public square.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101) into law, saying the freedom of religion is a preeminent American value.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.

Gov. Pence, a possible dark horse candidate for president in 2016, cited court cases brought by religious organizations and employers, including Catholic universities, against the HHS mandate. “One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.”

The new law could also prevent Christian business owners from being compelled to bake a cake or take photographs of a same-sex "marriage" ceremony, if doing so violates their faith. In recent years, business owners have seen an increased level of prosecution for denying such services, despite their religious and moral beliefs.

The state's pro-life organization applauded Pence for his stance. "Indiana's pro-life community is grateful to Gov. Mike Pence for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law,” said Indiana Right to Life's president and CEO Mike Fichter. “This bill will give pro-lifers a necessary legal recourse if they are pressured to support abortion against their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

“RFRA is an important bill to protect the religious freedom of Hoosiers who believe the right to life comes from God, not government,” he said.

The state RFRA is based on the federal bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Supreme Court cited the federal law when it ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to refuse to fund abortion-inducing drugs, if doing so violated its owners' sincerely held religious beliefs.

In signing the measure – similar to the one Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed – Pence and the state of Indiana have faced a torrent of venom from opponents of the bill, who claim it grants a “right to discriminate” and raises the spectre of segregation.

"They've basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it's OK to discriminate against people," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual pressure group.

The Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination based in the state capital, has said it will move its 2017 annual convention if the RFRA became state law. The NCAA warned the bill's adoption “might affect future events” in the Hoosier state.

Pence denied such concerns, saying, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would've vetoed it."

The bill's supporters say that, under the Obama administration, it is Christians who are most likely to suffer discrimination.

"Originally RFRA laws were intended to protect small religious groups from undue burdens on practicing their faith in public life,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “It was not imagined there would come a day when laws might seek to jail or financially destroy nuns, rabbis or Christian camp counselors who prefer to abstain from the next wave of sexual and gender experimentation. And there's always a next wave.”

The bill's supporters note that it does not end the government's right to coerce people of faith into violating their conscience in every situation. However, it requires that doing so has to serve a compelling government interest and the government must use the least restrictive means possible. “There will be times when a state or federal government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression – to ensure public safety, for instance,” said Sarah Torre, an expert at the Heritage Foundation. “But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom.”

Restricting the ability of government to interfere in people's private decisions, especially their religious decisions, is the very purpose of the Constitution, its supporters say.

"Religious freedom is the cornerstone of all liberty for all people,” Tooley said. “Deny or reduce it, and there are no ultimate limits on the state's power to coerce."

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Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting.
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Porn is transforming our men from protectors into predators. Fight back.

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By Jonathon van Maren

Since I’ve gotten involved in anti-pornography work, I’ve met countless men who struggle, fight, or have beaten pornography. Each person seems to deal with the guilt and shame that accompanies porn use in a different way—some deny that it’s “all that bad,” others pretend that they could “stop whenever they want,” many insist that “everyone is doing it,” and most, when pressed, admit to a deep sense of self-loathing.

One worry surfaces often in conversation: What do my past or current struggles with pornography say about me as a man? Can I ever move past this and have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship?

I want to address this question just briefly, since I’ve encountered it so many times.

First, however, I’ve written before how I at times dislike the language of “struggling” with pornography or pornography “addiction,” not because they aren’t accurate but because too often they are used as an excuse rather than an explanation. It is true, many do in fact “struggle” with what can legitimately be considered an addiction, but when this language is used to describe an interminable battle with no end (and I’ve met dozens of men for whom this is the case), then I prefer we use terminology like “fighting my porn habit.” A semantic debate, certainly, but one I think is important. We need to stop struggling with porn and start fighting it.

Secondly, pornography does do devastating things to one’s sense of masculinity. We know this. Pornography enslaves men by the millions, perverting their role as protector and defender of the more vulnerable and turning them into sexual cannibals, consuming those they see on-screen to satisfy their sexual appetites.

What often starts as mere curiosity or an accidental encounter can turn into something that invades the mind and twists even the most basic attractions. I’ve met porn users who can’t believe the types of things they want to watch. They haven’t simply been using porn. Porn has actively reshaped them into something they don’t recognize and don’t like. 

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Porn is this generation’s great assault on masculinity and the role of men in society. It is essential that we win this battle for the sake of society’s survival. Contrary to what the gender-bending and family-morphing progressive elites claim, good husbands and good fathers and good church leaders are necessary for a healthy society. But pornography is destroying marriages, creating distant and disconnected fathers, and, metaphoricaclly castrating men, hindering their ability and desire to make a positive difference in the society around us.

So, with this sobering set of facts in mind let’s return to the question: what do pornography struggles, past and present, say about a man?

The proper way to respond is with everything that is good about masculinity. We have to fight pornography as men have fought countless evils throughout the ages. We need to fight pornography to protect women, and wives, and children, and our society at large. This is how pornography threatens society, by castrating men, and turning them from protectors into predators. Rooting out the evil in our own lives allows us to better fulfill the role we are called to perform in the lives of others. Battling our own demons enables us to battle the wider cultural demons. Every day without porn is another bit of virtue built. Virtue is not something you’re born with. Virtues are habits that you build. And one day without porn is the first step towards the virtue of being porn-free.

Many men ask me if men who have had past porn addictions are cut out for being in a relationship or working in the pro-life movement or in other areas where we are called to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable. And the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Our society needs men who know what it means to fight battles and win. Our society needs men who can say that they fought porn and they beat porn, because their families and their friends were too important to risk. Our society needs men who rose to the challenge that the evils of their generation threw at them, and became better men as the result. And our society needs men who can help their friends and their sons and those around them fight the plague of pornography and free themselves from it, too—and who can understand better and offer encouragement more relevant than someone who has fought and been freed themselves?

So the answer to men is yes. Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting. Lend them support and encouragement. We cannot change the fact that porn has left an enormous path of destruction in its wake. But we can change the fact that too many people aren’t fighting it. We can change our own involvement. And we can rise to the challenge and face this threat to masculinity with all that is good about masculinity.

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Red Alert!

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By John-Henry Westen

I don’t like having to do this, but we have always found it best to be totally upfront with our readers: our Spring fundraising campaign is now worrying us! 

You see, with just 6 days remaining, we have only raised 30% of our goal, with $125,000 still left to raise. That is a long ways to go yet.

We have no choice but to reach our minimum goal of $175,000 if we are going to be able to continue serving the 5+ million readers who rely on us every month for investigative and groundbreaking news reports on life, faith and family issues.

Every year, LifeSite readership continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This year, we are again experiencing record-breaking interest, with over 6 million people visiting our website last month alone!

This unprecedented growth in turn creates its own demand for increased staff and resources, as we struggle to serve these millions of new readers.

And especially keep this in mind. As many more people read LifeSite, our mission of bringing about cultural change gets boosted. Our ultimate goal has always been to educate and activate the public to take well-informed, needed actions.

Another upside to our huge growth in readers is that it should be that much easier to reach our goal. To put it simply: if each person who read this one email donated whatever they could (even just $10) we would easily surpass our goal! 

Today, I hope you will join the many heroes who keep this ship afloat, and enable us to proclaim the truth through our reporting to tens of millions of people every year!

Your donations to LifeSite cause major things to happen! We see that every day and it is very exciting. Please join with us in making a cultural impact with a donation of ANY AMOUNT right now. 

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