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, http://www.dennyburk.com/what-is-reparative-therapy/

How Can We Tell If Our Repentance Is Deep Enough?

This post from a few days back by Phil Johnson is very helpful to those of us who tend to become overly introspective about our emotional response to sin. I’ve often been tempted to judge the depth of my repentance based on my emotions. I’ve also found myself trying to emotionally manipulate myself to a deep level of sorrow so that I can resist temptation through my own strength. Instead I should have been worshiping Christ and forsaking reoccurring sin because of love for Him and through the power of the Word of God. Phil gives us a great reminder that the only way to lasting repentance is trust in Christ and through the cultivation of faith. Do I trust that Christ will save me to uttermost even when I feel He should be so fed up with my sin as to reject my pleas for mercy?

Complement’s of PyroManiacs: http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-can-we-tell-if-our-repentance-is.html

“I recently received an e-mail from a gentleman who described his faith as fragile. He said the first time he heard the gospel (from some people doing street witnessing!) the immediate emotional impact was profound. There in the open air he acknowledged his guilt; he trusted Christ for forgiveness; he was later baptized; and he has ministered in his church ever since in a behind-the-scenes servant’s role.

But now, some six years after his conversion, he said his sense of contrition feels as if it has diminished somewhat. When he sins, he isn’t always moved by the same profound sense of sorrow he felt at the first. He wonders if he has taken the promise of forgiveness too much for granted. Could it be that he was never truly saved? Questions such as those were keeping him awake nights, and he asked for my candid opinion.

This was my response:

It’s faith, not tears, that proves the reality of repentance. David, a man after God’s own heart, did sometimes weep over his sin, but not always. In that notorious instance when he sinned with Bath-Sheba, he tried for nearly a year to cover his sin without any evidence of remorse. What marked David as a man after God’s own heart was his faith, not the quality or depth of emotion associated with his repentance; not even the speed of his repentance.It’s impossible to judge the depth of someone’s conviction or the genuineness of a believer’s penitence based on the potency of an emotional reaction alone. If the question is whether your repentance is genuine or not, I personally think what you “feel” emotionally has very little significance. Judas wept bitterly; Esau shed many tears. Neither of them truly repented. By contrast, the thief on the cross seemed almost stoically resigned to his fate. But there was enough genuine repentance in his dying plea that Jesus assured him of salvation on the spot.

Few people are genuinely and perpetually sodden with the sorrow of remorse all the time. And that is a good thing. As Christians we are commanded to be joyful and always rejoicing. The very thing David prayed for at the end of that year-long rebellion was that God would restore to him the joy of his salvation. There is a legitimate joy in salvation that in the usual circumstances of life overwhelms and overshadows the sorrow of repentance. That joy is a better gauge of your spiritual health than the feelings you get when you ponder how sinful you are.

As believers, we confess that in and of ourselves we are utterly wretched, so it is fitting that we should have sorrow (James 4:9). In fact, we will never be completely finished grieving over our sin and its destructive consequences until God Himself wipes away our tears in heaven. There certainly is “a time to weep . . . a time to mourn” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

But that same text says there is “a time to laugh” and “a time to dance” as well. We don’t have to wallow perpetually in the shame of self-reproach in order to prove our repentance is real. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). After all, God’s “anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

If you hate sin and love Christ and confess before Him that you are indeed a helpless sinner, then I wouldn’t be over-analytical about the emotions you feel when you confess your sins. That kind of introspection will make you a fruitless Christian. Did you ever notice that qualities like regret and misery are missing from the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 2:22-23).

Scripture says, “Examine yourself to see whether you are in thefaith”—not, “Dissect how you express your repentance to see if you have been piteous enough.”

My advice to you is to cultivate faith, not an emotional response. Emotions by definition rise and fall. They are neither the instrumental cause nor the evidence, much less the ground, of our justification. Faith is the instrument of justification, and the work of Christ is the ground of it. Focus on that, and your faith will grow, your joy will increase, and your emotions will take care of themselves.

PS: Here’s a sermon on Psalm 51 that examines David’s repentance and observes the true marks of genuine repentance. It’s a more thorough answer to questions about how to distinguish true repentance from mere remorse.”

-Phil Johnson, 03-05-2012