It’s no secret that I believe “ex-gay” (reparative) therapy is bogus and dangerous. Regardless of my very clear position, people will regularly send (unsolicited) “personal testimony” videos, accompanied by a statement like: “Well, how do you explain this person’s wonderful change?”
Note: For the record, I don’t like to question anyone’s personal experience. It's their experience, not mine. You tell me you were healed when Jesus appeared to you on a piece of toast? I say, Amen. You insist that God speaks to you through your Shar Pei? I respond: Hallelujah!
I will reserve my opinion...right up until you insist that your experience is THE pattern all others must follow. (i.e., God only speaks through small dogs!)
One of my chief problems (it's difficult to boil down my problems to just one) with these testimonies is they rely solely on self-reporting, and therefore are unverifiable. While I appreciate the motivation to share the Good News of God’s work in their life, there’s still the issue of proof. It’s not that I’m calling them liars; I’m sure they are very sincere...but I think they're sincerely wrong!
Let’s be honest, I can make any kind of claim: “I have overcome my cravings for the tasty delights of chocolate. I never even think about eating a luscious Snickers bar.”
Without the aid of ESP or Vulcan mind-melding, finding my well-hidden stash, or catching me with caramel hanging out of my lips, there’s no way to contradict the veracity of my candy victory testimony.
Over the years, I’ve detected revealing patterns in these testimonies that only reinforces my hardcore conviction that sexual orientation cannot be changed. As you listen to someone who claims they changed from gay to straight, please don’t take the declaration at face value, even though the person might be an earnest Christian. Ask these questions:
1. Do they have “lingering” sexual desires or temptations?
No matter what else is claimed, when I hear someone confess they still have those “desires,” it’s Game Over in my mind. They can call themselves “ex-gay,” “former gay” or healed or cured or whatever, but they are…overstating. I’ve heard “ex-gays” who still “struggle” after 10-15 years. Shouldn’t that tell us something?
2. Are they confusing behavior with orientation?
It’s one thing to say “I am no longer sexually active,” but it’s something else to say “I am no longer gay.” If a homosexual never has sex, that doesn’t make them straight; they are merely a celibate homosexual. Let’s not confuse discipline and willpower with an actual change in orientation.
Note: There’s a similar problem when erroneous evidence is presented, such as “I am now married, with a family.” Getting married is a choice, not proof of sexual orientation.
3. Is this simply a contrast of extremes?
Often the person will give shocking details about their former life—sexual promiscuity, alcohol or drug abuse, stealing, hustling, pornography, etc. Then something intervened. Maybe a life-changing religious conversion. Perhaps a 12-step program. We can applaud the miraculous improvements in their life now, but it’s not the same as a change in sexual orientation.
4. What “tense” is being used?
Many ex-gay groups practice “positive confession,” the premise that we say what we want…as if we already have it. Instead of saying “I want to be free of my homosexuality,” I confess “I am free of my homosexuality!” Rather than admit “I’ve asked God to heal me of these desires,” I proclaim “I am healed, in Jesus’ Name.” It’s actually “future perfect” tense, using present tense phrasing—grammatically incorrect, as well as factually misleading.
5. Are they employing accurate terminology?
Statements like “I’ve rejected the gay lifestyle” could mean anything. (Or nothing, since “lifestyle” is not a accurate description of what it means to be gay.) Another common one is “I turned my back on homosexuality.” That’s vague, and is not the same as a change in sexual attraction. (It’s like saying “I dyed my hair, and turned my back on being a red-head?”)
6. Do they have adequate credentials?
Those who talk about the methods required to go from gay to straight are generally not medical or mental health professionals. Most often, those who lead "ex-gay" groups are those who've been through the program themselves, with little additional training.
Likewise, those who insist the Bible is “absolutely clear” are typically not theologians. Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent them from speaking authoritatively as if they were. In point of fact, there is disagreement about what the Bible says about homosexuality; it’s not as black-and-white as some would purport. There is also no consensus about the cause of homosexuality, though reputable professionals know it’s not a choice. (Every major professional medical and mental health organization has come out against reparative therapy.)
7. What is the timeline?
We know that sexual orientation is complex, so be wary of simplistic, quickie methods for “cure.” (“I prayed about it, and God took away my desires.”) In addition, often the person speaking has only been living this new “ex-gay” experience for a short time. It’s like someone who recently lost a significant amount of weight; they’re excited and convinced they will never gain back the weight. But what happens six months or a year…or ten years down the road?
For me, after 30+ years of monitoring the “ex-gay” movement, none of the testimonies have swayed my beliefs that sexual orientation is innate and unchangeable. I’ve been called skeptical, but I prefer to think of it as…weathered. (Okay, cynical!) My advice: when you listen, try to hear what’s not being said. Separate what’s actually true and what is wishful exaggeration.
I’ve shared seven ways to evaluate an “ex-gay” testimony.
Can you share more?
I welcome your comments, insights, feedback, civil disagreements and questions.
(But please, don't send me YouTube videos to prove someone has actually changed their sexual orientation. I've probably seen it.)