Comments by an
American evangelical leader who has apologized for
contacts with a gay prostitute have rekindled a debate over
the controversial premise that people can overcome
same-sex attraction through ''reparative therapy.''
The claim by Ted Haggard that he had tried
unsuccessfully to treat himself for a ''repulsive and dark''
part of his life reflects a philosophy espoused by
many religious conservatives and disputed by many
mental health experts.
exhibit A of how people can't change their sexual
orientation,'' said Wayne Besen, a gay rights activist and
author. ''With all that he had to lose--a wife,
children, a huge church--he had to be who he was
in the end. He couldn't pray away the gay.''
some of the prostitute's claims but confessed to ''sexual
immorality'' and resigned earlier this month as pastor of
his 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado. He also
gave up the presidency of the National Association of
Evangelicals. ''There's a part of my life that is so
repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for
all of my adult life,'' he wrote to his congregation.
''Through the years, I've sought assistance in a
variety of ways, with none of them proving to be
effective in me.''
Haggard did not
specify how he had sought help or describe the
healing-and-restoration program he vows to pursue
now--but did say he deserved to be ''disciplined
director of the American Psychological Association's
Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns Office, found Haggard's
statement dismaying. ''There's a profound sadness that
someone should be saddled culturally with such a
negative attitude toward a part of themselves,''
Anderson said. ''From our vantage point as psychologists,
his self-repulsion is not necessary, it's not
psychologist Joseph Nicolosi--a leading advocate of
"reparative therapy"--said such second-guessing of
Haggard was inappropriate. ''If this man is saying,
'This is a part of me that I abhor,' why can't we
respect that?'' Nicolosi asked. ''Why do we have to
attribute that to something external and take away the
dignity of the individual to express how he feels?''
president of the National Association for Research and
Therapy of Homosexuality, representing therapists who
believe it is appropriate to help clients try to
change their sexual orientation. Some take a secular,
psychoanalytical approach; other allies of NARTH favor
suggested that he could help Haggard if the evangelist was
prepared for ''deep, emotional work.'' ''We're talking about
looking at your life squarely in the eye--facing
the realities that you did not get certain central
affirmations from your mother or your father,'' Nicolosi
NARTH's views are
considered fringe by the American Psychiatric
Association and the American Psychological Association. Both
declared in the 1970s that homosexuality was not a
mental disorder and does not warrant a ''cure.''
''There's nothing good that can come from 'conversion
therapy,'" said Doug Haldeman, a Seattle psychologist who
specializes in gay-related issues. ''The wreckage left
behind, for some who go through it, is
frightening--they're depressed, suicidal.''
Jack Drescher, a
New York City psychiatrist who wrote Psychoanalytic
Therapy and the Gay Man, said proponents of
"reparative therapy" ignore its potential for causing
harm. ''They're selling you something without any
warning of what might go wrong,'' he said.
There have been
numerous studies, with varying conclusions, on how
homosexuality originates and whether it can be changed. But
there has been no authoritative study--accepted
by both sides--examining the effectiveness and
possible ill effects of "reparative therapy."
At its national
convention this summer, the American Psychological
Association was pressed by NARTH about its stance on
reparative therapy. APA leaders said they did not
oppose people voluntarily seeking to change their
sexual orientation, but said therapists should warn that
treatment could prove harmful and be sure the client
wasn't motivated mainly by social pressure.
The APA also said
the positions of NARTH and its allies ''create an
environment in which prejudice and discrimination can
NARTH opposes antigay prejudice, but he contended that
social factors that trouble gays are a legitimate reason for
seeking therapy. ''It's more difficult to live as a
gay man than as a heterosexual,'' he said. ''We wish
to respond to those clients who feel that it is....
It's irrelevant if it's society's fault.''
Nicolosi is a
regular participant in Love Won Out, a series of
conferences organized by the Christian ministry Focus on the
Family as part of what is known as the "ex-gay"
movement. The conferences, often protested by gay
rights supporters, spread the message that ''a
homosexual identity is something that can be overcome.''
Another Love Won
Out regular is Alan Chambers, president of Exodus
International, a network of ministries promoting ''freedom
from homosexuality'' through Christian faith.
Chambers, who says he changed his own sexual
orientation through religious counseling, expressed
empathy with Haggard, saying, ''We're all susceptible to
As for Haggard's
future, Chambers said, ''If someone says they want to
change because of their faith-based convictions, you have to
honor that. There has to be a real desire and
motivation on the part of the person to change.'' (AP)
Haggard gay sex
scandal reignites "reparative therapy" debate