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Landmark study: Change for homosexuals is possible

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In what some are calling groundbreaking research, a new four-year study concludes it is possible for homosexuals to change their physical attractions and become heterosexual through the help of Christian ministries.

The data was released Sept. 13 at a news conference in Nashville, Tenn., and is published in the new book, “Ex-Gays?” (InterVarsity Press) by psychologists Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse. Thirty-eight percent of the subjects followed in the study said they had successfully left homosexuality, while an additional 29 percent said they had had only modest successes but were committed to keep trying. In another significant finding, Jones and Yarhouse said attempts at conversion do not appear to be psychologically harmful.

Experts in the field call it the first scientific study performed on a sample of individuals undergoing Christian counseling, monitoring their successes and failures from the beginning. A follow-up study is being conducted and will be released in the future.

“These findings contradict directly the commonly expressed views of the mental health establishment that change in sexual orientation is impossible, and that if you attempt to change it’s highly likely to produce harm for those who make such an attempt,” Jones, professor of psychology at Wheaton College in Illinois, said at the news conference.

Although the study simply affirms biblical truth, it nonetheless could have a significant impact in the professional realm, where such research carries much weight. A Q&A portion of the American Psychological Association’s website says homosexuality “does not require treatment and is not changeable.”

The research is certain to be criticized, particularly by homosexual activist organizations. Yarhouse, professor of psychology at Regent University in Virginia, said their literary agent tried for 10 months to find a secular publisher but “no one would touch it.” IVP is a Christian publisher.

The study followed 98 subjects — 72 men and 26 women — over a period of between 30 months and four years. Interviews were conducted three times, although by the third interview several subjects had quit the study, leaving the sample with 73 subjects. Some of them quit because they believed they had successfully changed and didn’t want to participate anymore, while others quit because they no longer wanted to change, the study said.

All the subjects were being counseled by various ministries of Exodus International, a Florida-based organization that seeks to help people leave homosexuality through faith in Christ.

At the end of the study, the subjects were placed in six categories, in order from success to failure:

— 15 percent reported their conversion was successful and that they had had “substantial reduction” in homosexual attraction and “substantial conversion” to heterosexual attraction. They were categorized as “success: conversion.”

— 23 percent said their conversion was successful and that homosexual attraction was either missing or “present only incidentally or in a way that does not seem to bring about distress.” They were labeled “success: chastity.”

— 29 percent had experienced “modest decreases” in homosexual attraction and were not satisfied with their change, but pledged to continue trying. This category was labeled “continuing.”

— 15 percent had not changed and were conflicted about what to do next.

— 4 percent had not changed and had quit the change process, but had not embraced the “gay identity.”

— 8 percent had not changed, had quit the process and had embraced the “gay identity.”

[Malfunctions in the taping of interviews accounts for the remaining 5 percent.]

The study was released as an American Psychological Association task force is examining the organization’s policy on counseling homosexuals. The task force reportedly is stacked with those of a more liberal perspective, and Christian psychologists fear the APA will change its policy to one that officially condemns the idea that change is possible. The report is due next year.

Said Jones, “We hope our research will say to people, ‘Slow down. Let’s have a civil dialogue. Let’s talk about people who are making autonomous adult choices about what they do…. Let’s give people the opportunity to exercise their religious freedom.”

Bob Stith, the national strategist for gender issues for the Southern Baptist Convention, said he hopes the study will impact churches.

“It is important for the church to recognize that [changing] is difficult,” he told Baptist Press. “The first time I went to an Exodus conference, my wife and I were stunned with the level of struggle that many of the people were still having. We had to reevaluate our whole perspective on that. I’ve worked with drug and alcohol addicts for years, and I’ve seen the same thing…. I’ve sent some to live-in rehabs, and they leave because it’s too hard. Personally, I have seen more people walk away from homosexuality than I have from drug and alcohol addiction.”

He added, “We know that Christ changes lives. You can’t quantify that.”

Many of the subjects had been sexually promiscuous prior to the study. Of the initial group of 72 men, 33 percent had been involved with more than 30 male partners, while 21 percent had had 10 to 30 such partners. The females were far less promiscuous, with only 4 percent having had more than 30 female partners and 8 percent having had 10 to 30 partners. The large majority of females, 80 percent, had had between one and nine female partners.

In addition, 67 percent of men and 69 percent of women reported having been touched sexually prior to age 13.

Yarhouse said it’s difficult to understand why some people are more successful than others in changing. He speculated it could be because some people are “making the decision in isolation.” Although such a homosexual would be embraced by their own community, “when they turn to the Christian community they often don’t feel the same embrace of, ‘We’re going to walk alongside you as you go down this path.’”

Jones and Yarhouse also said skeptics should not dismiss the research simply because the researchers are Christians. Much research in the field, they noted, is conducted by researchers who are homosexuals and is nonetheless considered reputable.

Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, called the study groundbreaking.

“I think this is going to set the standard for research in this arena,” he told BP. “It’s significant because it does address the skepticism among mental health professionals that living by your faith is going to be harmful in some way…. [Jones and Yarhouse] did not find the kind of harm that has been predicted.

“The fact that it is a long-term study makes it superior to the most recent other work in this field. So I believe it does break ground.”
Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press.

Detailed information about the study is available in the book “Ex-Gays?” and at http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=2846

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  • Michael Foust