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APA study on ex-gay policy causes concern

NEW YORK (BP)–Conservative and evangelical leaders are expressing concern that an American Psychological Association task force might condemn efforts on the part of some homosexuals to change their sexual preference.

An APA task force assigned to revise and update the organization’s policy on counseling homosexuals met for the first time July 17 and could issue its full report early next year. Conservatives are particularly concerned because they say the six-member task force is stacked with those who don’t believe it’s possible for people to leave homosexuality.

Current APA policy — adopted in 1997 — condemns therapy that considers homosexuality a mental illness, although it doesn’t specifically prohibit conversion therapy. Conservatives and evangelicals simply want the APA to leave room in the official policy for homosexuals who, on their own, want to change and are seeking professional help.

“We consider it a foundational principle that respect be afforded to clients who determine that their religious teachings forbid homosexual conduct and construct their lives accordingly,” a June 29 letter from more than 100 conservative and evangelical leaders to the APA board of directors reads.

The document was signed by numerous psychologists, as well as such leaders as Bob Stith, the new national strategist for gender issues for the Southern Baptist Convention; Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and James Dobson of Focus on the Family. In addition, several signees — such as Alan Chambers of Exodus International and Tim Wilkins of Cross Ministry — themselves are former homosexuals.

“[W]e are writing to express some concern that the mission of the task force may not recognize same-sex attracted persons who also have solid and unwavering religious commitments which lead them to avoid homosexual behavior,” the letter reads. “Such persons frequently experience significant religious, spiritual and emotional distress and as a consequence seek psychological therapy.

“We strongly believe that psychologists can offer a valuable service if they respect the religious commitments of their clients to the same degree that they respect sexual orientation diversity.”

The leaders asked the board of directors to consider either expanding the focus of the task force to include recommendations for psychologists who “respect religious identity” and are willing to counsel homosexuals who desire to change, or to form a second task force that would provide such recommendations.

If the APA website is any indication, conservatives may have little hope. A Q&A portion on the site presents a one-sided view of the debate over homosexuality, asserting that homosexuality is not a choice and that therapy cannot “change sexual orientation.” It acknowledges that there are success stories from therapists, but is asserts that “close scrutiny of these reports … show several factors that cast doubt on their claims.” It further says, “The American Psychological Association is concerned about such therapies and their potential harm to patients.”

But the question & answer section of the APA website — although appearing official — is not official policy.

Already, some homosexual activists are arguing a new APA policy should lead to legal action against such groups as Exodus International.

“If the APA does in fact ban reparative or conversion therapy, we will at long last have a solid legal argument for shutting down such groups as Exodus International and Homosexuals Anonymous,” Richard Rothstein, a regular columnist/blogger at Queersighted.com, an AOL website, wrote July 16. “This will also mean that under standard and existing malpractice laws, psychologists and therapists who continue to advocate and practice such therapy would be subject to license revocation, hefty fines and even imprisonment.”

The task force is known as the “Task Force on Appropriate Responses to Sexual Orientation.”

A March press release from the APA listed five issues the task force is expected to address. Among them, the task force will examine “appropriate” therapies for homosexuals “who present a desire to change their sexual orientation or their behavioral expression of their sexual orientation.” The task force also will examine facilities for teenagers the APA says “offer coercive treatment designed to change sexual orientation.”

All nominations for the task force were first reviewed by the APA’s Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns, which subsequently issued its own list of recommended nominees. The nominations then were reviewed by the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest. The APA president made the final selections.

The task force’s recommendation will be reviewed by the APA board of directors and the council of representatives. The council of representatives, the press release said, will make the final decision.

Other Southern Baptist signees of the letter to the APA board of directors were R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Stuart W. Scott, associate professor of biblical counseling, Southern Seminary; David P. Nelson, senior vice president for academic administration, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Sam R. Williams, associate professor of counseling, Southeastern Seminary; and Larry L. Cornine, pro temp director of counseling, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The entire letter is available online at http://www.citizenlink.org/pdfs/apa_letter.pdf.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust