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Posts for January, 2014

Mormon Ex-gay Ministries Merge

Jim Burroway

January 3rd, 2014

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting this morning that Evergreen International, the predominant Mormon ex-gay group founded in 1989, has merged with North Star International, a newer LDS-affiliated group:

Combining the two groups, organizers say, will create “the largest single faith-based ministry organization for Latter-day Saints who experience same-sex attraction or gender-identity incongruence and will also provide increased access to resources for church leaders, parents, family and friends.”

The scale and scope of the challenges facing this community “can sometimes be overwhelming,” North Star board chairman Jeff Bennion writes in a news release, “which is why I am thrilled that so many of the strong and experienced associates of Evergreen will be standing even more unitedly with us.”

Part of the “overwhelming” scale and scope of the challenges is undoubtedly the growing acceptance of LGBT people in society overall, including within the LDS church’s membership. Church officials have acknowledged that many congregations have experienced deep divisions in the wake of the church’s heavy involvement in California’s Prop 8 campaign. The church has taken several steps to try to soften its public image since the divisive 2008 campaign. In recent weeks, Utah has become the seventeenth state to offer marriage equality for same sex couples following a ruling by a federal district judge striking down the state’s ban on same sex marriage as unconstitutional.

The Tribune reports that Evergreen President David Pruden will not be joining North Star, but will remain in his role as Executive Director of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which is ostensibly the “secular” arm of the ex-gay movement. Evergreen board chair Preston Dahlgren will become a member of North Star’s board.

This move is the latest in a larger re-alignment within the ex-gay movement. Nearly two years ago, Exodus International president Alan Chambers after Chambers acknowledged that “99.9%” of ex-gay ministry members “have not experienced a change in their orientation,” disavowed the particular form of sexual orientation change therapy known as Reparative Therapy, and acknowledged that gay Christians can enter heaven. Exodus, a predominantly Evangelical-based organization, was the largest ex-gay organization in the U.S. at the time of Chambers’s statements. Over the next year and a half, Exodus struggled to find a new direction within the ex-gay movement before finally announcing its closure at its final conference last June. A newer organization, Restored Hope Network, comprised of more hard core elements of the former Exodus network, has formed in an attempt to claim Exodus’ role in the ex-gay movement.

In contrast to Restored Hope Network, North Star International appears to be taking a softer approach to the question of whether change in sexual orientation is possible:

As to the question of changing or diminishing sexual orientation, North Star takes no position, says the group’s newly named president, Ty Mansfield.

“If someone had a positive experience with reparative therapy or change, we are OK with them sharing that,” says Mansfield, a marriage and family therapist in Provo. “If they had a negative experience, they can share that, too.”

…This approach “is more consistent with national positions by the American Psychological Association that change is not possible and reparative therapy is not effective,” says Richard Ferre, an adjunct psychiatry professor at the University of Utah. “The group is still trying to provide a support for Mormon gays to maintain their connections with their religion.”

The Evergreen International web site is “being rebuilt” and provides visitors with a link to North Star International, which was founded in 2006, has a lengthy announcement on its web site.

Mormon Ex-Gay Group Still Cites Retracted Ex-Gay Study

Jim Burroway

May 29th, 2012

For more than eleven years, ex-gay groups across the country depended on Columbia University’s Robert Spitzer’s 2001 ex-gay study to justify their programs to turn gay people straight. Spitzer’s study purportedly “proved” that with a great deal of effort, some people could change their sexual orientation, and it was a huge boon to the ex-gay movement. Now that Spitzer has officially withdrawn the study because of its numerous flaws, ex-gay organizations are being left in the lurch. But Evergreen International, the Mormon ex-gay group, continues to defend the study:

David Pruden, executive director of Salt Lake City-based Evergreen International, is sticking with the study’s initial conclusions — even though the author, Robert L. Spitzer, is backing away from them. Pruden told The Salt Lake Tribune the group has no plans to remove Spitzer’s initial research from its website.

Spitzer “defended his methods for 10 years. To suggest that his feeling ‘sorry’ somehow changes the data in any way is totally unscientific,” Pruden wrote in an email to The Tribune. “Science is not about the researcher’s feelings one way or the other. Good science asks a question, sets up a research process and then the data leads where the data leads.”

Pruden is being far less than honest in this assessment. It’s true that good science asks questions, sets up a research process, and then follows the data wherever the data leads. But that is only true when all three parts come together using sound methods. Spitzer’s ex-gay study fell apart on the middle, most important part. As Spitzer explained in his letter retracting his study now online at the Archives of Sexual Behavior (PDF: 1 page/110KB):

The Fatal Flaw in the Study: There Was No Way to Judge the Credibility of Subject Reports of Change in Sexual Orientation
I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the participants’ reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple factis that there was no way to determine if the participants’ accounts of change were valid.

I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some ‘‘highly motivated’’ individuals.

Pruden would have us believe that Spitzer was “feeling sorry” for letting the gay community down. He is, but the reasons for his apology go much deeper to the study’s unscientific methods which led to “unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy.” That fact was so important that he chose to highlight the study’s “fatal flaw” as a boldfaced header to this section of his letter.

When Spitzer’s study appeared in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2003, the journal took the unusual step of publishing 26 “peer commentaries,” many of which examined the study’s numerous flaws and argued that it didn’t deserve to be published. Last week, The New York Times revealed that the study did not undergo an independent, blind peer review where the author’s name is removed before the study is passed to other knowledgeable professionals for suggestions and comments — the normal route for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Because Spitzer was (and still is) one of the giants in psychiatry — he is largely responsible for the removal of homosexuality from the APA’s list of mental disorders in 1973 — Archives editor Kenneth J. Zucker gave his study special treatment.

That is, in effect, the only reason we’ve been talking about this study for the past decade. It wasn’t the study’s scientific merits — there was none. Spitzer’s peers have said so for a decade and now even he admits it. But don’t count on the ex-gay industry letting go of this study without a fight.