InterVarsity Press Announces Release of Exodus Ex-Gay Study
September 9th, 2007
InterVarsity Press issued this press release, announcing the Sept 13 release of a study by Stanton L. Jones (Wheaton College) and Mark A. Yarhouse (Regent University). Titled “Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation,“ the study is intended to address two questions: can people change, and is trying to change harmful?
When Robert Spitzer’s ex-gay study, “Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation?” appeared in the October 2003 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the journal took the highly unusual step of publishing twenty-six peer review commentaries, both critical and laudatory. Among the commentaries was Mark Yarhouse’s “How Spitzer’s study gives a voice to the disenfranchised within a minority group.” He notes a few of the limitations of Spitzer’s study and muses on what a better constructed study might look like:
There is a need for studies with improved methodology. This would include a prospective longitudinal design in which participants provide information on sexual behavior, attractions, fantasy, and so on, prior to or in the early stages of therapy, and then tracked over tie, so that something as potentially unreliable as memory recall would not play so prominent a role in studies that touch on such a controversial topic.
I would also suggest another set of data: follow-up on those who drop out of ex-gay ministries, and their post-therapeutic experiences and perspectives. Yarhouse wrote another paper titled, “An Inclusive Response to LGB and Conservative Religious Persons: The Case of Same-Sex Attraction and Behavior”, which appeared in the June 2002 issue of Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. In that paper, he recognized the existence of “ex-ex-gays”:
A similar tension exists when we consider “ex-ex-gays.” They are individuals who once lived an LGB lifestyle, later attempted to change their behavior or attractions, and still later returned to living an LGB lifestyle. From a conservative religious perspective, ex-ex-gays may be the result of poor therapeutic technique, insufficient client commitment or motivation, moral or spiritual failure, or failure of ministries to offer realistic expectations of change. This last consideration is particularly important. It might be that conservative religious persons hold out expectations for change that are too high (i.e., that a person would be free from every vestige of same-sex desire and would be happy and fulfilled in marriage). From this perspective, ex-ex-gays are discouraged, sometimes angry, about their experiences within religion-based ministries.
Gay-affirmative theorists tend to see ex-ex-gays as casualties of professional interventions and religious ministries (Haldeman, 1994). Gay-affirmative theorists propose that ex-ex-gays are the result of the predictable failure of sexual reorientation therapy and religion-based ministries to accomplish what they purport to accomplish. According to Haldeman, some question whether these proponents of reorientation and reparative therapies are not disturbed themselves, preying on vulnerable persons who are hoping against hope to experience change.
Again, is there merit to both accounts? Is it possible that some people are misled about what reorientation and reparative therapy can offer? It is possible that some people do hold expectations for change that are too high. Whether the individual is freely seeking changes for personally felt reasons or is being taken to a program for change by a third party is also a factor in relation to this topic. All of this depends on several factors, including what sexual orientation is, whether it is immutable, and what evidence exists for the effectiveness of reorientation and reparative therapies.
Having talked to a number of ex-ex-gays myself, I think this discussion of their perspectives are highly over-simplistic. While some may have held a number of unrealistic expectations — expectations that are often promoted by ex-gay ministries themselves — most whom I talked to had more realistic expectations. They just found the prospect of living with those expectations unrealistic.
When discussing possible harms of attempting to change, it will be essential for this study to also follow the experiences of those who drop out of ex-gay ministries, and to talk to ex-gay survivors directly.
Jones and Yarhouse have collaborated before. They wrote “The Use, Misuse and Abuse of Science in the Ecclesiastical Homosexuality Debates,” which appeared in the 2000 anthology Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture” (edited by David L Balch and published by Eerdmans). This article, which largely limits its focus on the “misuse and abuse” by the gay-affirming side rather than the anti-gay side, clearly shows their biases in discussing whether homosexuality is a pathology and in dealing with the possible biological and environmental causes of homosexuality. I’ll have more on this later.
This latest study will be released during a press conference at the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference on September 13 in Nashville, Tennessee. And what a coincidence. Exodus will be holding their regional conference in Nashville that same weekend. Gee, what are the odds?