Reparative Therapy and the Gospel

by Denny Burk

In my last post, I noted that California has just become the first state in the union to outlaw therapies aimed at altering the sexual orientation of minors. If you read the law, you’ll find that the vast majority of it is taken up with explaining the medical basis for prohibiting these therapies—including some rather negative assessments of reparative therapy in particular. In the opening section of the law and in other writings on this story, I see persistent misunderstandings about what reparative therapy actually is. Consequently, there’s a good bit of confusion about how Christian teaching relates to this particular therapy. Here’s the definition given in Joe Dallas’ and Nancy Heche’s book The Complete Christian Guide To Understanding Homosexuality (Harvest House, 2010), 104-105:

Reparative therapy is a phrase referring to counseling, psychotherapy, or other forms of psychological treatment for homosexuals who are in conflict over their sexuality. It first became prominent with the 1991 publication of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi’s book Reparative Therapy for Male Homosexuality and soon became a common term of reference. It derives from a theory (shared by Dr. Nicolosi with others) that homosexuality represents unmet emotional needs or conflicts that need repairing, in which cases therapy should attempt to repair the damage or deficits the person experiences. It is a controversial term, sometimes used as a pejorative by those who oppose attempts to modify sexual orientation. It is also used in a more neutral or even respectful tone by those who condone it, and practitioners of it often refer to themselves as “reparative therapists.”

“Reparative therapy” should not be used as an umbrella term covering every treatment approach for women and men with unwanted homosexual desires. Other forms of counseling or therapy may be designed to help such people, but without subscribing to all the tenets of reparative therapy. Some counselors, for example, may support their client’s goal to abstain from homosexual behavior, yet they may not believe male homosexuality always springs from deficiencies in father/son relationship, or that gender-identity issues always contribute to homosexuality. Likewise, not everyone who offers treatment for people in distress over their homosexuality should be referred to as a “reparative therapist.” The term is properly used when referencing treatment approaches and practitioners subscribing to the theories and approaches cited above.

So reparative therapy is an approach based on the assumption that homosexuality has a psychological pathology. It’s not an attempt to “pray away the gay,” as some people derisively charge. In fact, the approach has no necessary religious basis at all—though some Christian therapists may follow its tenets.

It’s not the only approach that counselors use to help someone alter their sexual orientation, but it is the one that is cited heavily and denounced as bad science in the new California law. In the words of California Governor Jerry Brown“This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.” Nevertheless, the new law outlaws all therapies aimed at changing sexual orientation/behavior, not just reparative therapy.

And this is the real point of concern for Christians. Christians have no moral obligation to subscribe to the specific tenets of reparative therapy, but we do have an obligation to believe that the Christian gospel can save and sanctify sinners.

Thus Christians must insist that sexual orientation/behavior is alterable. We believe that not on the basis of any particular study—although there are studies that support the claim—but on the basis of what the Bible teaches. That does not mean that we believe all homosexuals become completely cured of homosexual desires once they become Christian. But it does mean that we have hope in the progressive sanctification of all repentant sinners, including homosexual ones (2 Cor. 3:18). Some Christians may find themselves struggling against homosexual desires for the rest of their lives as Christians. Nevertheless, Christians do believe that God can alter sinful desires and behavior over time, including homosexuals ones (Phil. 2:12-13). To abandon that belief is to abandon Christianity altogether (1 Thes. 4:7-8).

It’s here that Christians are likely to feel the pinch in the coming years. As states like California find a “compelling interest” in protecting minors from Christian teaching about sexuality, there will be tremendous social (and perhaps legal) pressure to abandon any notion of changing sexual orientation. But Christians cannot surrender to this pressure, no matter what the cost may be.”

-Denny Burk,

Can Christians hide in the basement during the gay marriage debate?

by Denny Burke

“I think Jen Hatmaker probably represents the feelings of a lot of folks who are worn out by the culture wars. In a recent post, she urges Christians to sit out the public debate on gay marriage. Her argument is simply that we have better things to do and that we are alienating gay people from Christianity by participating. So she plans to retreat to the metaphorical “basement” to ride out the storm in seclusion, and she urges other Christians to join her. In her own words:

Christians, do you really think posting pithy statements on Facebook about “standing firm in our values” and “resisting the liberal media” is helping? The lines we draw in the sand do absolutely nothing except assure everyone else: YOU’RE OUT. When we turn to politics and power to legislate our brand of morality, we take the opposite approach of Jesus whose power was activated in the margins with the outcasts…humbly…peripherally.

I’m sick of the Jesus forwards and judgment. Sick of majoring on gay marriage. Enough, everyone. With every hate Tweet and finger jab and Bible bludgeon, you are telling my gay friends they are indeed unwelcome, unloved, unvalued, and uninvited. If your agenda is to battle homosexuality, how’s that going? How many gay folks read your Prop 8 yard sign, knocked on your door, and said, “Thank you for voicing your opinion to the neighbors in this manner. Would you kindly invite me in and teach me how to be straight? And do you have a Bible study I can join?”…

How are these culture wars working out for us? Well, the church is losing around 50K folks a week, and the next generation downright refuses to come. The gay community is ostracized entirely (oh, they’ve gotten the message alright), and Christianity has turned into white noise.

At one level, I understand the frustration reflected in this post. I have dear friends who are gay who disagree with my point of view. I take no joy at the impasse over what is such a sensitive and personal issue. Also, I don’t like the careless, shrill tones that sometimes come from some traditional marriage supporters. Nor do I care for the confusion of Christianity and politics that sometimes emerges in these conversations. So I’m not altogether unsympathetic to Hatmaker’s concerns.

Having said that, I think it’s a mistake to respond to these frustrations by disengaging from the issue altogether. For a variety of reasons, this is not a debate that Christians are going to be able to opt-out of (see Owen Strachan’s excellent essay on this point). Instead of opting out as Hatmaker urges, I would suggest a different approach. Christians need to face this issue, but they need to do it in the right way with the right mindset. Here’s what I mean.

First, regardless of what’s happening in the culture wars, Christians must be clear about what the Bible teaches concerning human sexuality. As Christians, our first commitment is to the cause of Christ in the propagation of the gospel. Christ commissions his church to make disciples of every nation, and Christians cannot opt-out of this calling (Matt. 28:19-20). That means that we are in the business of calling sinners to repentance and faith so that they can be reconciled to God and inherit eternal life. But that task is undermined when sinners fall prey to the lie that their particular sin isn’t sin after all (1 John 1:10). And that is exactly what’s happening among Christians and churches all across the land. Younger evangelicals are less likely to hold the views of their parents on the issue of homosexuality (see here). There are simply many people—even some associated with the evangelical movement—who do not agree with the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality.

Where the Bible’s message is rejected, repentance and faith become impossible. Salvation passes by, and sinners remain unconverted.

To opt-out of the debate means to give free reign to the spirit of the age which would keep homosexual sinners blinded to their deepest spiritual need.

Second, Christians need to have a better understanding of their stewardship as citizens living in a democracy. We are not going to usher in the kingdom of God by getting the right laws passed or electing the “right” candidates. It doesn’t follow from that fact that Christians should withdraw from the process altogether. Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). That means that Christians must seek the good of their neighbor in the public space. Our neighbor’s good, however, is defined by God, not by our neighbor. That means that from time to time, Christians will love their neighbor by seeking his good even when our neighbor disagrees with what his good is. In the current debate, God defines the good when it comes to marriage. He defines what makes for the health and vitality of the family and the community. If you love your neighbor, then you will leverage your democratic privileges in favor of the Bible’s definition of the good of marriage.

Third, Christians are going to have to learn how to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). There are some people who act as if the truthfulness of what they are saying excuses the rudeness of how they are saying it. As Christians, we know that we are dying men speaking to dying men. We are supposed to live in the knowledge that we ourselves have been rescued from our own devices by the grace of God. We don’t have any grounds for haughtiness in our addresses to other sinners. We partake of Adam’s sin ourselves, and it ought to humble us in the manner in which we communicate. We must speak like Jesus did, whose opponents marveled at the gracious words that fell from his lips (Luke 4:22).

Fourth, we must resist the temptation of muting the Bible’s message simply because we think it will win more converts. That is not the pattern that Jesus modeled for us. Jesus spoke the truth in season and out of season. He never trimmed his sails to fit the prevailing winds of popular opinion, but was always willing to bring a confrontation when necessary (e.g., Matt. 3:7). If Jesus didn’t shrink back, neither should we. We must shine the light even when people run from it (John 3:20).

Again, Christians cannot hide in the basement on this debate. It is coming to us whether we want it to or not. The only question is whether or not we’ll be ready.”

-Denny Burk,

Gendercide and Planned Parenthood

by Denny Burk

“In my previous post, I highlighted Live Action’s latest sting operation of a Planned Parenthood (PP) facility in Austin, Texas. A hidden camera disclosed a PP worker counseling a patient about sex selective abortion. The patient claimed that she only wanted a boy and that she intended to kill the unborn child if an ultrasound indicated it was a girl. The worker showed the patient exactly how to get this done.

PP has now released a statement in response to the video. PP’s response is a moral outrage for many reasons, but I want to highlight two.

First, Planned Parenthood fails to condemn sex selective abortions. The statement reads:

Planned Parenthood condemns sex selection motivated by gender bias, and urges leaders to challenge the underlying conditions that lead to these beliefs and practices, including addressing the social, legal, economic, and political conditions that promote gender bias and lead some to value one gender over the other.

It’s a shame to have to do this, but this statement is deceptive and must be parsed. Notice that PP doesn’t condemn all “sex selection,” but only sex selection that is “motivated by gender bias.” PP will continue to allow any woman to pursue a sex selective abortion. Their main concern is the “gender bias” on the part of the mother, not protecting female babies from being killed because they are female. No surprise here, but PP continues to show no regard for the humanity of the unborn. The lives of unborn girls are disposable as far as Planned Parenthood is concerned.

Second, Planned Parenthood has fired the worker who is shown in the video, but not because she facilitated sex selection. PP says the worker “did not follow our protocol for providing information and guidance when presented with a highly unusual patient scenario.” PP does not define what that protocol is, but apparently their protocol allows for women to pursue sex selective abortions. In fact, PP says that they “do not believe that curtailing access to abortion services is a legitimate means of addressing sex selection.” In short, they fired the worker, but sex selection will continue at PP.

The statement is an absolute chapter 11 morally bankrupt response. It has no regard for the lives of the unborn, and it affirms PP’s intention to continue to allow sex selection in its facilities.

With over 50 million babies having been legally killed since 1973, abortion on demand is certainly the greatest human rights crisis of our time. But Planned Parenthood doesn’t see it that way. PP is the America’s leading abortion provider. In 2010 alone, it provided 329,445 abortions in its facilities while only referring 841 customers to adoption agencies. Estimates say that PP made $135 million dollars in 2010 on their abortion services.

Without question, PP has learned well how to leverage our national sin for its own profit. They are not about to allow sex selection to slow their abortion mills. They’ve got way too much at stake.”

-Denny Burk,

Planned Parenthood Assists Gendercide

Planned Parenthood & Gendercide

“Lila Rose and Live Action have exposed the dark underbelly of Planned Parenthood once again. In the video above, the undercover cameras catch Planned Parenthood helping a woman who says she wants to kill her unborn child if it’s a girl but to keep it if it’s a boy. The Planned Parenthood worker even informs the mother how she can manipulate the system to get Medicaid to pay for her ultrasound.

This is a chilling video. At one point, the Planned Parenthood worker assures the patient that the abortion won’t affect her ability to have children in the future. The worker does so by informing her that she herself has had two abortions and four children.

In 2010, The Economist called the worldwide killing of unborn girls a “gendercide”:

It is no exaggeration to call this gendercide. Women are missing in their millions—aborted, killed, neglected to death. In 1990 an Indian economist, Amartya Sen, put the number at 100m; the toll is higher now. The crumb of comfort is that countries can mitigate the hurt, and that one, South Korea, has shown the worst can be avoided. Others need to learn from it if they are to stop the carnage.

Watch the video above. Read the rest of The Economist article here.”

-Denny Burk,