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Evangelicals Fight Over Therapy To 'Cure' Gays


Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, sits with his wife, Leslie, in their home in Winter Park, Fla., in 2006. Chambers recently announced his group will no longer associate with or promote therapy that focuses on changing sexual attraction.

Supporters call it "conversion therapy." Critics call it "praying away the gay." Whatever name you use, it's creating a ruckus in Christian circles about whether a person can change his or her sexual orientation. And now the largest "ex-gay ministry" is rejecting the approach.

John Smid was 25 when he came out as gay. Three years later, he found religion — specifically, evangelical Christianity. He says the message was clear: You can't be a Christian and engage in homosexual behavior. So he joined Exodus International, the largest ministry that tried to "cure" people of same-sex attractions.

"I followed everything they told me to follow," Smid says. "I became one of the best ex-gays anyone could become."

Smid married and eventually became the executive director of Love in Action, another ex-gay ministry. For years, Smid underwent conversion or reparative therapy, in which he analyzed his childhood wounds and learned to forgive, heal and move on.

"That was a good thing for me to do," he says. "But it was taught that those kinds of things would heal the roots of the homosexuality, that it would change the homosexuality."

But, Smid says, nothing worked.

"I found after 24 years that the changes that I had hoped for, or that I had prayed for, actually never occurred," he says.

New Studies Find No Quick Fixes

Warren Throckmorton, a psychologist and professor at the evangelical Grove City College, has heard this before. He recently surveyed 239 men in "mixed-orientation marriages," in which the husband is attracted to other men and the wife is heterosexual. About half the men had been through some conversion therapy.

Over the course of their marriage, the men's "attractions to the same sex ... increased" and "the attractions to their spouse decreased," according to Throckmorton.

Another study by Mark Yarhouse, a researcher at Regent University — which was founded by Pat Robertson — came to the same conclusion. Throckmorton says the research by evangelical and secular scientists puts ex-gay ministries and conversion therapy on the defensive.

"They're not finding support within the professional community. That's for certain," he says. "And they're losing support within the evangelical community."

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