Misconceptions in sexual identity ministry

I also blog on Crosswalk.com and publish articles there occasionally. A recent one regarding misconceptions in sexual identity ministry has not been getting great reviews over there, which is I suppose to be expected given the content. Here is one section which should surprise no regular readere here:

One – All gay people are attracted to the same sex because they did not bond with their parents or were sexually abused.

Untold pain and confusion has been caused to parents and their same-sex attracted children by well-meaning writers and counselors who promote this unsupported view of homosexual origins. The usual evangelical narrative is that persons attracted to the same sex did not get sufficient bonding or love from the same-sex parent and seek these experiences in the present via sexual relationships from members of the same sex. For males, the concept of an over involved, smothering mother is often thrown in as an additional family factor. In addition, claims have been made that most if not all same-sex attracted people have been sexually abused.

The truth is that research on causal factors in sexual orientation is still in the early stages. However, we do know from experience that there are many same-sex attracted people who had loving homes and were not sexually abused or otherwise mistreated as children. On the other hand, some say they believe their sexual desires were shaped in some way by unhappy growing up experiences. What we cannot identify with any certainty is why any given individual experiences same-sex sexual attractions. Recent research on twins suggests that pre-natal factors are associated with same-sex attraction, as are individual environmental experiences which vary among homosexuals. The best we can say at present is that different pre- and post-natal factors may operate differently in different people. For now, not only is it unnecessary to pigeon hole people, it can be harmful and intensely discouraging for parents and children alike to pursue therapy for non-existent problems of bonding or parenting. Where abuse or bonding problems exist, they should be addressed but successfully dealing with issues from the past will not of necessity lead to sexual reorientation.

I then take on change within the context of evangelical doctrine. The comments let me know how large the gaps still are.

UPDATE: The Christian Post also published this article. The comments section is again quite lively.

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  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter O

    Afternoon Warren,

    I think over the past two years I have moved to a position very close to yours. For me, it’s not that in my pastoral ministry I don’t meet *some* men and women who might fit *some* of the models presented by reparative ministries, it’s just that increasingly I recognise that many people who have same-sex attraction don’t fit those pictures. That’s probably because the development of sexual attraction is a massively complicated thing and varies from person to person.

    I’ve also moved towards your position because I’ve become theologically convinced (as I lectured here recently) that the “move from gay to straight” is not in any sense what the Scriptures call us to do.

  • Eddy

    Oh, cool! A topic I can really sink my teeth into. Sorry I missed it…way too involved in the ‘brothers’ thread and the ‘Obama natural born legitimacy’ thread. LOL. I swore no more blogging until I get at least two of my household chores off my ‘to do’ list but in the words popularized by Arnold S…..I’ll be back!!

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren

    Peter – Glad to hear it. When I became involved in the discussion of sexual orientation, the debate was framed as “born that way” vs. “development.” Also, change vs. no change. It occured to me not long after I Do Exist came out that the debate might be framed in a fundamentally unhelpful way. And now, here I am. I may be overstating it but I believe that the reparative motif is a huge source of confustion and pain to families with a SSA member.

  • B.T.Carolus

    Eddy

    The link Peter gave is the same one I was referring to in the other thread. When I watched it, it clicked a lot of things into place for me.

  • Eddy

    A bit of whittling at the chores has been accomplished.

    Warren, I’d been pondering the notion that NARTH created the model for ‘reparative therapy’ and that EXODUS started using those words principally because they made their own efforts sound more credible. But, I wonder just how much EXODUS–or its member agencies–actually subscribe to the reparative therapy model. I’m assuming some still believe in demonic influence, some in inner healing and prayer therapy, some in a discipleship model, some in ‘Roots’ theory, some in a step program. They see these other therapies as attempts to ‘repair’ a person but don’t fully subscribe to the reparative therapy model.

    I was the initiator of the Roots theory. Rather than view SSA as a ‘condition’, I viewed it as a ‘life-dominating sin’. I don’t think anyone willfully chooses to have any behavior dominate their life but, once we identify with or engage in a behavior, we develop habitual patterned responses that override our conscious choices. If I identify as a smoker, for example, I reach for that first cigarette of the morning almost instinctively. After eating, after sex, on break at work. Again, almost instinctively.

    Of course, sexuality is more complex. We have those natural and instinctive responses to bond and connect. If we self-identify as SSA, we’ll be motivated to a same sex way of responding to those instinctive drives. Part of that response will feel completely natural since its instinctive but those of us who are SIBS (hey, no one rejected my proposal so I’ll roll with it…Somewhere In Between Sexually) see a separation between the instinctive ‘connecting’ drive and how we choose to satisfy that drive.

    Some challenge that that’s unhealthy but many who aren’t SIBS live with that reality everyday: celibates, unmarried straights who don’t believe in premarital sex, widowed straights who haven’t remarried, etc.

    I agree that there’s been an unhealthy focus on turning from gay to straight. God is all-powerful and could certainly accomplish that but I’m not sure that’s God’s intent for every individual or even for most individuals. For many, I see the possibility for heterosexual adjustment…meaning that they will develop the ability to respond sexually to an opposite sex person…but I don’t see them developing amnesia re the gratification they’ve received in same-sex partnering and I pray that they never embrace the horny heterosexuality that’s pushed by media sources.

  • Drowssap

    Exactly right on. Scientists don’t know the physical mechanism behind heterosexuality let alone homosexuality.

    As for the cause of SSA nobody knows that either. Every single popular hypothesis has failed to deliver. Evidently the Fraternal Birth Order Effect is about to join that list if it hasn’t already.

    The good news is that the tools scientists have at their disposal get better every year. This is going to be figured out sooner rather than later. By sooner I mean another 10 or 20 years. Ah well… I guess it beats 100 to 200 years.

  • Eddy

    Or, just maybe, it will be figured out by real people who actually spend time in therapy sessions or in conversations with those who have SSA…or by those dealing with unwanted SSA themselves. Science is amazing but it can’t and shouldn’t explain absolutely everything…especially when it comes to matters that involve the soul and the spirit and, to some extent, matters of the mind and emotions.

  • Mary

    but I don’t see them developing amnesia re the gratification they’ve received in same-sex partnering and I pray that they never embrace the horny heterosexuality that’s pushed by media sources.

    I could not have articulated this any better. In my own way through I have almost had disgust at what we see portrayed in the media as being the correct tense of sexuality. That’s not what my idea is nor I think will ever be. Nor will I get up on some soapbox and denounce my past experiences as being something I’ve forgotten. We don’t forget. We don’t take away – we only add to our experiences and it is very important to add quality not just some rampant sexuality as seen in the media. Most ex gays I know – just are never going to be that person.

  • Mary

    Hey can someone tell me what to do to get my quotes in the right box???

  • Eddy

    Mary–

    After you copy and paste the quote into the comment box. Highlight the entire quote and then click on bquote.

  • Mary

    Thanks Eddy!

    Your idea about listening to those wo have SSA or learning from those wo have been through therapy concerning SSA (with a desire to not act on the attractions) will mine a lot of useful info.

    the guessing and specualtion one often runs into by those who “have not been there, have not done that” is just that – a lot of specualtion.

    The bonding issue with the parent??? Well, one might call my relationship with my mother bonded. We are close. I will take care of her in her oldest age. And I was close tomy father – whom I miss since death nearly ten years ago. this is not to say that all was smooth and easy. It wasn’t and there are item on my complain list for each parent. It was the sexual abuse that thwarted my growth into heterosexuality (not the case for some people) It was my interpretation of the abuse, my interpretation of sexuality from my family in general that I rejected, and overall disdain for the so called order of things. Yes, there were other times that a person can point to in my relationships with my parents where I over identified with this one or that one, that I did not recieve the needed attention etc…. But in truth a lot of kids were gyped (no racial slur intended) in the needs category. What it really came down to was my interpretation of things without someone to talk to who had a healthy understanding of sexuality, relationships between men and women etc… and I believe a predisposition that did not repulse me against homosexuality when it was offered as an alternative. Yes, I always felt different than other kids but thankfully had a friend whom I could talk to and whom helped balance some (many) of the insecurities and skewed thinking.

    I still am disgusted with the sexuality that gets portrayed in the media. But so is my step sister who is a conservative christian and has never had SSA. And so are a lot of other people. I like the idea of one man with one woman and not a bunch of people sleeping around to prove one’s sexuality. I am not sexually liberal by today’s standards and it has taken a long time to unwind the development of my thinking that went into sex and sexuality.

    So, there it is in a nutshell. My parents were average dysfunctional, my needs were unmet like most, the sexual abuse had a greater affect on my development than other girls who were abused, and I always felt differently than the other kids in school. I was atheletic, smart, liked by others etc….

    The idea of sexual identity works well for me to a point but it does get confused with reparative therapy (which has assumptions that can lead some down a wrong path of blaming their parents for a long time… and that’s too bad)

  • Lynn David

    This is what DR. Warren Throckmorton isn’t telling you. …. See Narth.com

    …..educated in the ways of the world.

    …..the fingerprints of The Father of Lies.

    LMqAO! Switzerland!

    Warren you might have some commiseration with others who are moving towards the center, see:

    http://oudaily.com/news/2008/nov/25/column-oklahoma-heartbreak

  • B.T.Carolus

    Warren

    Would you like someone to go over to Crosswalk and leave a post supporting you?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    @Lynn David: Yeah, the FOL thing kinda stuck out there didn’t it? :)

    It is pretty humorous to see NARTH advanced as the antidote to the FOL.

  • Legolas

    It is pretty humorous to see NARTH advanced as the antidote to the FOL.

    Heh.

  • Michael Bussee

    Warren noted: “On the other hand, some say they believe their sexual desires were shaped in some way by unhappy growing up experiences. “

    Well of course they do. Once you decide (based on what has been pumped into your little brain by church and culture) that homosexuality is bad, disordered, sick or sinful, you have to find something to explain why you are “that way”. What went wrong? Think!!! Something must have gone wrong to develop what Eddy calls a “life-dominating sin”.,.

    As an aside, I know of many gay folks (and straight folks) with low sex drives, or who are celibate or whose sexuality is just a part of their lives for whom sexuality is in no way “life-dominating”. Maybe Eddy and I were/are obsessed with it to the extent that our homosexuality “dominated” our l;ives, but not every one is.

    As for what shaped it, think back… What made me gay? Oh, I know! Those unhappy childhood experiences! And of course, we will find them, because everybody had some. People can believe this, but that doesn’t make it so. I doubt that straights spend much time trying to figure out which “unhappy childhood experiences” made them hetero.

    As for Eddy’s claim that he intiated the Roots Theory, I think he gives himself way too much credit. It’s actually a very old idea — older than Eddy I am sure. .”..If we identify with or engage in a behavior, we develop habitual patterned responses that override our conscious choices.” Come on Eddy! That’s true of almost any human behavior, like riding a bicycle, for example. What makes you think you came up with the idea?

  • Eddy

    Michael–

    I was clearly speaking of Roots Theory (which I referenced in my first paragraph) as it pertained to SSA. I’ve never allowed a printing or reprinting of the booklet that did not elaborate on the fact that it was based on teachings I’d already heard that had been applied to other ‘life-dominating sins’ but not homosexual behavior. “Roots”, as I presented it, was intended to demystify the homosexual condition and demonstrate to counselors and therapists that they already had this common theory, they simply needed to stop seeing SSA as a ‘condition’ so that they could trust the resources they already had at their disposal.

    Of course, you and I disagree on whether it’s sin or not. If you don’t accept the possiblity that it’s in any way ‘fallen’, then your logic is certainly true. But, on the other hand, someone caught up in any behavior that we would all agree is wrong could employ that logic too. “Well, sure, if you presume that there’s something wrong with it (insert any questionable behavior), of course you’ll start looking for causes and you’ll find any number of experiences that you could label as a cause.”

    And the debate over whether it’s ‘fallen’ or not is one we never really have here. It’s the question that polarizes us to the nth degree.

  • Jayhuck

    Michael,

    “Once you decide (based on what has been pumped into your little brain by church and culture) that homosexuality is bad, disordered, sick or sinful, you have to find something to explain why you are “that way”

    ABSOLUTELY! Its not a mystery why some would try and blame a laundry list of individuals and events for their homosexuality.

  • Jayhuck

    Warren,

    I appreciated what I was able to read of your Crosswalk.com post!!!!! :)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    @Jayhuck: Thanks, if you read the comments, you can see you were in the minority there. I am planning a follow up series expanding on the three points.

  • MIchael Bussee

    Eddy is right on here: “And the debate over whether it’s ‘fallen’ or not is one we never really have here. It’s the question that polarizes us to the nth degree.”

    So, the deeper issue is not really “science” — or “ethics” after all. It’s about whether or not one believes that the Bible calls all homosexual behavior “sin”. To arrive at the conclusion that it does, one must pick and choose which Biblical prohibitions to keep and which to conveniently ignore — a practice known as “selective literalism”.

    Such persons don’t really believe that Scripture is the “infallible word of God” — just those passages that fit their bias. Otherwise, we could still stone our wives and kids, could still rape a woman if we follow-up by paying her Dad the “bride price”: and marrying her, etc.

  • Eddy

    Michael–

    Thanks for the excellent example of polarization thinking.

    Allow me to rephrase your comments. “People who think homosexual behavior is sin view the Bible selectively, while I Michael Bussee do not. I, Michael Bussee, am completely pure and unbiased in all my interpretations.

    People, like Eddy, don’t really believe the Bible is the infallible word of God like I do…They are biased.”

    I’m on a blogsite, Michael, and I’m sharing the conclusions I’ve come to as they apply to the topic. I’ve reached those conclusions through prayer, Bible study and witnessing the lives and struggles up close of hundreds of people. You’ve done the same. We came to different conclusions. I will continue to discuss the conclusions I’ve come to for their potential merit. And I’ll engage in the discussion of whether or not it’s a sin when that is the topic.

    I am not discussing the punishments for sin employed either by God or his followers; I’m simply saying I believe God calls it a sin. Those behaviors you cited at the end, although not punishable by stoning or able to be ‘fixed’ in the eyes of man by buying the woman, are still, at the bottom line, regarded as sin.

  • MIchael Bussee

    Eddy: Nope. I do not believe that “I, Michael Bussee, am completely pure and unbiased in all my interpretations.”

    Far from it. Each person brings his own set of experiences, attitudes and viewpoints to the Bible. I do. You do. We all do. What I am pointing out is that people who insist that the Bible is perfectly clear on the topic of homosexuality do not view the rest of the Bible that way. They pick and choose.

    The best we can do is to say, “This is what I believe…” To insist that we know is arrogant. The Bible may or may not be “infallible”. We (including me) are not.

  • Eddy

    Nice try, Michael.

    What I am pointing out is that people who insist that the Bible is perfectly clear on the topic of homosexuality do not view the rest of the Bible that way. They pick and choose.

    Your comments came as a rebuttal to my comments re another possible way of viewing the origins of SSA. I have never insisted while blogging here that the Bible is perfectly clear on the topic. I have presented what I believe is a plausible possibility…that it’s merely a sin likely many others with the same remedies. If it helps, you can call it a theory…just like the genetic theory, the germ theory, the ‘its perfectly natural’ theory.

    And while it is true that some do ‘pick and choose’, that applies to both sides. I’ve known many from ‘the other side’ who believe so strongly that it’s not sin that they won’t even consider that homsexual promiscuity (sex with numerous partners) is sin. Both sides have people who muddle the messages we try to represent.

    Since we don’t have anyone currently blogging who is trying to defend promiscuity, I avoid bringing it up in my conversations here. Since I’m not insisting that my theory is anything more than a theory, I’d appreciate it if you don’t bring the rigid folks into our conversations either. Actually, when they do show up from time to time, I’m usually one of the first to challenge their rigidity. I believe I did so in the recent Proposition 8/Castro thread.


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