Evangelical Leader Russell Moore Denounces Ex-Gay Therapy

By Sarah Pulliam Bailey 10-28-2014
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right. Photo via Adelle M. Banks/RNS.

Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has denounced reparative therapy, the controversial idea that people who are gay or have same-sex attraction could become straight.

Joining a chorus of other religious leaders who have departed from a once-popular therapy, some evangelical attempts at reparative therapy have been “severely counterproductive,” Moore told a group of journalists during a press conference at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s national conference in Nashville on Oct. 28. He also gave similar remarks to the conference of about 1,300 people.

“The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea,” Moore told journalists. “Faithfulness to Christ means obedience to Christ. It does not necessarily mean that someone’s attractions are going to change.”

Moore said evangelicals had an “inadequate view” of what same-sex attraction looks like.

“The Bible doesn’t promise us freedom from temptation,” Moore said. “The Bible promises us the power of the spirit to walk through temptation.”

Moore attributed the trend in decades past towards reparative therapy to other therapies popular at the time.

“There were utopian ideas about reparative therapy that frankly weren’t unique to evangelicalism,” Moore said. “That was something that came along in the 1970s and 1980s about the power of psycho therapy to do all sorts of things that we have a more nuanced views about now.”

When prominent ministry Exodus shut down in 2013, it began a more prominent crumbling of ex-gay ministries that encourage reparative or conversion therapy. Ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network still exist, but many religious leaders are now encouraging those with same-sex orientation or attraction to consider a life of celibacy.

“No matter what the issue is, we want to encourage people by giving them models of triumph and victory. You see this when it comes to alcohol. I’m not equating same-sex attraction to alcoholism. But someone will stand up in a testimony and say, ‘I was an alcoholic and I came to Christ and I haven’t wanted alcohol ever since.’ We assume that’s encouraging. That’s deeply discouraging because that’s not the experience most Christians have when coming out of substance abuse.”

Moore said people who are gay and lesbian have experienced a range of psychological harm for a variety of reasons.

“The idea that one is simply the sum of one’s sexual identity is something that is psychologically harmful ultimately,” Moore said. “And I think also we have a situation where gay and lesbian people have been treated really really badly.”

Moore said the ERLC is working with parents of those who are gay and lesbian.

“The response is not shunning, putting them out on the street,” he said. “The answer is loving your child.”

In 2009, the American Psychological Association adopted a resolution that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation. Since then, California and New Jersey have passed laws banning conversion therapy for minors, and several other states have considered similar measures.

Earlier this year, the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors amended its code of ethics to eliminate the promotion of reparative therapy, and encouraged celibacy instead.

John Paulk, who was once a poster boy for the ex-gay movement, apologized in 2013 for the reparative therapy he used to promote. Earlier this year, Yvette Schneider, who had formerly worked for groups such as the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and Exodus, published a “coming out” interview with GLAAD calling for bans on reparative therapy. Also, nine former ex-gay leaders have denounced conversion therapy.

For years, those who were gay or struggled with homosexuality felt like they had few good options: leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups like Exodus have become increasingly unpopular, a growing number of celibate gay Christians seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.

A newer question among some Christians is whether those with same-sex attraction or orientation should self-identify as gay.

In his address Oct. 27, speaker Sherif Girgis plugged the website Spiritual Friendship, a group of Catholics and Protestants who identify as gay and celibate. But some Christians are debating over whether identifying as gay or having a same-sex orientation is itself unbiblical.

“It’s not the way I would articulate it because I think it puts in an appendage to a Christian identity,” Moore said. “So I don’t see them as enemies who are trying to be destructive, I just don’t think it’s the best way to approach it.”

Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian who rejects the “ex-gay” label and the movement behind it, has said that Christians should not use “gay” as a descriptive adjective. Moore interviewed Butterfield, whose address at Wheaton College generated protests earlier this year, at at the conference on Oct. 28.

“There is no shame in repentance because it simply proves that God was right all along,” Butterfield told Moore.

Another conference speaker and Moody Bible Institute professor Christopher Yuan teaches a more traditional message of celibacy for those who, like him, are attracted to the same sex. He shuns labels, but he believes more younger Christians are self-identifying as gay and celibate.

“I’m kind of label-less,” Yuan said before his address. “I think I’m a dying breed, though.”

Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. Via RNS.

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