A guest post By Patrick M. Chapman, PhD
Continued from Part 2
A Focus on the Results — Examining if it is Harmful
The American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association regard attempts to change sexual orientation as “potentially” harmful or risky. However, Jones and Yarhouse misrepresent the American Psychological Association as saying that such involvement “would be” harmful (p. 353) or “is highly likely” to be harmful (p. 365). Likewise, the authors state they are examining whether the change process is “always” harmful (p. 19), “potentially” harmful (p. 77), or “likely to be harmful” (p. 77). They conclude there is “no evidence” such attempts are harmful (pp. 296, 332), it is not harmful “in and of itself” (p. 359), there is “no meaningful” evidence for it being harmful (p. 363), there is “little evidence” for harm (p. 365), and it is “not harmful on average” (p. 367), the latter being a far cry from there being no evidence it is harmful!
The participants themselves refute the authors’ assertion that change therapy is not harmful. One participant says these groups are not “healthy or necessarily beneficial” (p. 301), another reports his faith is “taking a beating” (p. 313), a third feels “hopeless”, “helpless”, “empty”, “frustrated”, “hurt”, and “very alone” (p. 314, all after 3 years in the Exodus program), a fourth bemoans he spent so many years trying to change that he has missed out on other goals in his life (p. 316), and a fifth claims involvement in the therapy made life “more difficult” (p. 317). One wonders what would have to be the reports of the participants for Jones and Yarhouse to declare the ministry harmful? However, they do recognize that the 23 participants (of an original 98) who dropped out of the program may have been harmed, but they cannot be sure of such a conclusion (p. 354). Nonetheless, dismissing this possibility and ignoring the statements of the participants that remained in the program, Jones and Yarhouse confidently declare the change process is not harmful. Once again, their conclusion is not based on the evidence: those who declare they are hurt by the process are evidence of harm.
One might be inclined to forgive Jones and Yarhouse for their optimism if they had not presented anecdotal stories of individuals not related to the current study who committed suicide because they were unable to change. The authors plead: “should such anecdotes foreclose the option of the individual choosing to attempt orientation change?” (pp. 359-360). Jones and Yarhouse do not indicate how many deaths and testimonies of harm they consider permissible in order to allow other individuals the opportunity for a change that, by all evidence, is unlikely to ever happen.
Jones and Yarhouse recognize that individuals who enter ex-gay ministries are vulnerable (p. 64). Thus, it is disappointing to have the authors draw unwarranted conclusions that are in direct opposition to their own decree as to what the study can and cannot indicate. While their book will be likely and erringly used to convince some homosexual Christians or their families that change is possible, the results demonstrate nothing of the kind. How many lives must be broken before the authors realize the actual damage caused by these ministries outweighs any potential good?
It is clear to me why the participants in this study retain homosexual desires, attractions and arousal: they were born that way. While Exodus and many conservative Christian leaders argue that postnatal causes lead to homosexual orientation (p. 69), to this day no scientific study has successfully identified any postnatal causal factor or factors. Meanwhile, scientific organizations, supported by considerable research summarized in Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman’s Born Gay, recognize the importance of prenatal factors in determining sexual orientation, specifically prenatal hormones and genetics, and believe that a homosexual orientation is immutable.
The evidence indicates that while a person can change his or her behavior, sexual orientation cannot be changed. Homosexuality is not a disorder or illness that requires healing. Contrary to the conclusions of Jones and Yarhouse, the data from the current study adds additional support to this conclusion.
This is the final part of Dr. Chapman’s critique. One of the subject book authors, Dr. Stanton Jones, will be providing a response here within the next few days — check back.
Patrick M. Chapman has a PhD in biological anthropology and is author of “Thou Shalt Not Love”: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays (Haiduk Press: in press).