Mark Yarhouse needs to decide between honesty and anti-gay activism
July 15th, 2011
On the one hand, he has been willing to conduct research and produce results that have called into question long held presumptions about orientation change efforts. In much of his current writing, Yarhouse has distinguished between experiencing attraction, identity, and behavior and seeks to move away from the affirmation vs. reorientation dichotomy and to focus on reconciling values with a structure of behavior.
But on the other, he has utilized selective language that encourages confusion and has allowed others to mischaracterize his work in ways that he knows to be dishonest. He has allowed, if not encouraged, political positioning that well serves anti-gay activists but which is in direct contradiction with his own endeavors.
And today we have an example of each.
As noted at Dr. Warren Throckmorton’s site, Yarhouse released a study in Edification (aChristian psychology journal published by the American Association of Christian Counselors) that found that same-sex attracted men in heterosexual marriages
experienced an increase rather than * do not experience a decrease of such attractions over time. (Actually, the entire journal is fascinating in how it illustrates the way in which some within the most conservative end of Christianity are struggling to make sense of conflicts between doctrine and observation.)
But also today we have Yarhouse speaking to the Christian Broadcasting Network in defense of the Bachmann clinic’s prayer and promise about complete reorientation:
If you’ve watched the mainstream media’s reporting in the last day or so, you’ve seen these tapes which suggest that changing sexual orientation is not possible. In fact, at least one major study shows change is possible.
Psychologist Mark Yarhouse explored the question in a six year work that he presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference.
Yarhouse: I think our study raises that question again, says wait a minute, here’s a change effort sustained over time and there’s a pretty significant percentage of people for whom this is helpful.
Let’s stop there. Or, as Mark would say, “Wait a minute!”
There is a world of difference between “this is helpful” and “change is possible.” I don’t doubt for a moment that many people who stay year after year after year in Exodus ministries find the efforts to be “helpful”. If they didn’t, they probably would eventually quit, as more than a third of Yarhouse’s study did.
But did they change their orientation? That is a different question, one the CBN tries to answer through bulletin points.
Yarhouse and coauthor Stan Jones followed 63 people who tried to change with the help of Christian ministry.
Thirty percent were able to reduce their homosexual attraction enough to be celibate without distress. And (smugly) another twenty-three percent were able to convert to opposite-sex attraction. Total the change, fifty-three percent.
Is this a truthful representation of what Stan Jones and Mark Yarhouse discovered? No, not at all. Not even close.
First the numbers: Actually they followed 98 people, of which 37 dropped out of the program. While in testing drug efficacy it might be appropriate to ignore drop-outs, in testing whether one can change orientation, it’s pretty relevant whether they stick around.
After all, if Mark is going to say that “change effort sustained over time” is evidence of efficacy, then surely not sustaining it over time is evidence of inefficacy. Dr. Yarhouse simply cannot have it both ways.
Taking the 37 dropouts into consideration, we come up with a different calculation:
- Success: Conversion – 14 (14%)
Success: Chastity – 18 (18%)
Non-Success – 29 (30%)
Drop-Outs – 37 (38%)
But this deception goes beyond numbers. It presents definitions of “success” that are laughable outside of hard-core anti-gay conservative Christian circles.
I don’t know of a secular person or a moderate to liberal Christian who would characterize achieving celibacy as a change in sexual orientation. We all know of a few gay people who have “achieved celibacy” who would much rather than they hadn’t and such an “acheivement” says nothing about their orientation.
But where the CNB report is most dishonest is in their smug announcement that twenty-three percent were able to convert to opposite-sex attraction.
Really? Opposite sex attraction without any caveat, asterisk, or explanation?
Then explain why Jones and Yarhouse’s report said this:
[W]hile we found that part of our research population experienced success to the degree that it might be called (as we have here) “conversion,” our evidence does not indicate that these changes are categorical, resulting in uncomplicated, dichotomous and unequivocal reversal of sexual orientation from utterly homosexual to utterly heterosexual. Most of the individuals who reported that they were heterosexual at T6 did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and they did not report their heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated.
Or why Jones clarified:
A typical hetero male finds himself attracted to a wide range of females. But among the successful people who reported conversion the typical response was I’m very happy with my sexual responses to my wife, but I don’t experience much hetero attraction to other women. Also, when asked and pressed about whether they still find attraction to men, they will say: ‘Yes, if I let my mind go in that direction.’
Sorry, but that isn’t a heterosexual. It’s just not. And that isn’t the kind of change that is being promised by Bachmann’s clinic.
A dishonest researcher is not just one who misrepresents their own research. A dishonest researcher is one who sees others misuse or misstate his work and does nothing to correct them.
It’s time for Mark Yarhouse to decide which is more important to him, his honesty or anti-gay activism.
* More accurately, the participants expressed increased heterosexual behavior but measures that included both behavior and attractions, fantasies, and emotional attachments illustrated no material change (though a small change in the direction of homosexuality). It is reasonable to conclude that removing the behavior component would likely reveal a moderate shift towards homosexual attractions, but this is not clearly reported by Dr. Yarhouse.