The Misnomer of Conversion Therapy

 
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“Boy Erased,” a 2018 film that has garnered worldwide acclaim, is the story of a teenage homosexual who is sent to a “conversion camp” to overcome his same sex attractions.

Set aside the fact that this film was written and produced from an entirely pro-gay bias. And feel free to dismiss the film’s exaggerated claim that “77,000 people are currently being held in conversion therapy across America.”

Still, the basic message of the movie is, in fact, correct: conversion therapy does not work and probably does more harm than good.

Born this Way?

To understand the issue however requires a brief look at the great debate that began in the early 1980s between activists from the homosexual community and those from the ex-gay movement.

The homosexual community staunchly contended (and still does) that God created them the way they are, and therefore their behavior cannot be considered sinful. Ex-gay psychologists countered that homosexual desires develop as a direct result of poor parent-child relationships in early childhood. The solution to their same sex attractions is to be found in years of “Christian” psychotherapy.

The problem with debates over lightening rod issues is that winning often becomes more important than truth. The fact of the matter is that some people have homosexual leanings from their earliest memory, and to say it isn’t so is just plain dishonest. However, it is also true that many others do not start off their lives with a same-sex attraction; it develops because of external factors along the way.

Personally, I reject the “one-size-fits-all” approach both sides employed in that debate. I believe people become involved in homosexuality through different means.

Before political correctness banned such talk in the secular realm of psychology, it was accepted as fact that many young boys became homosexual in large part because they were raised in the stereotypical family where there is a strong mother and a weak or absentee father. The absence of a good male role model seems to create a certain need inside some little boys in their formative years, which may lead them to seek acceptance through sexual activity with men later on. Although it may begin in a misguided attempt to gain approval and/or attention from other males, it quickly becomes intertwined with the adolescent’s budding sex drive. At some point during puberty, the two cravings can become fused into an integrated inner compulsion. The more this burgeoning homosexual lust is entertained and acted upon, the more it becomes ingrained in the young man’s psyche. These thought patterns become even more deeply entrenched as he surrounds himself with other homosexuals.

I have also heard from many men who said that they had had no same sex attractions until they were molested as boys. Such experiences can ignite a homosexual lust, which is further inflamed by pornography, fantasy and other similar encounters as they grow older. Likewise, many lesbians developed revulsion to the thought of intimacy with men because of having been molested as children.

Then there are those straight men who have told me that viewing pornography led them into bisexual activity. Years of watching men have sex on film ignited a newfound lust inside them for males. Engaging in such encounters was effortless in the easy-sex-culture of the homosexual community.

So this is why I don’t believe the “one-size-fits-all” approach is right. And for homosexual activists to claim that “God made them that way,” is also a dishonest argument. Yes, there are undoubtedly many who felt more inclined toward the same sex from earliest childhood but certainly not all.

Did God create them that way? No, God created the human race sinless and perfect. And the account of Creation in the book of Genesis makes it clear that marriage was to be between a man and a woman. It was the introduction of sin in the Garden of Eden that brought forth all sorts of deviant desires. There’s not a person alive who doesn’t have inherent lust for some particular form of sin. The fact that some individuals have a bent toward homosexual sin shouldn’t surprise us.

The Case for Biblical Conversion

So… back to the debate over conversion therapy. Ex-gay psychologists claim that, through proper counseling, a person’s same sex desires will be replaced with an attraction for the opposite sex. Gay activists claim that convincing a person to question his or her “self-identity” is emotionally damaging.

Again, I must disagree with both of these premises.

My answer to proponents of conversion therapy is that a person’s flesh—or fallen nature—will never change. I have said many times that if I ever get to the place where I am no longer walking in the Spirit, I will immediately revert back to my old sin patterns—yes, the very same ones that I have been free from for 35 years. My flesh is still attracted to those things, but what has changed is the Spirit of God living within me, empowering me to live above those desires.

As the apostle Paul exhorted: “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you…” (Romans 6:11-14) That perfectly describes my testimony of victory. It’s not that I don’t face temptations; the difference is that I don’t give in to those temptations.

As to the gay activists who tell their supporters to maintain their “self-identity,” I would say that the self-life is what the Bible calls the flesh. To identify oneself with any kind of sin is dangerous and unwise.

The bottom line is that the need isn’t to be converted from homosexuality to heterosexuality; the need is to be converted from a life of habitual sin to a life of godliness.

And here is where the misguided use of the word “conversion” comes in. If a person has always had a predisposition toward the same sex, no amount of therapy is going to change that. And I agree with gay activists who claim that teaching people this while hanging over their heads a threat of divine judgment if they don’t “convert,” only causes unnecessary fear, shame and emotional pain.

A person’s inherent sexual attraction has no bearing on his eternal destiny. Whether he is disposed toward the opposite sex or same sex does not determine what he will face on Judgment Day. The way he lived his life will be the only thing that matters.

Every human being is “born into sin” and therefore must be redeemed through the atoning work of Christ at Calvary. That redemption only comes about through conversion: not conversion from homosexual tendencies into heterosexual tendencies, but from a life of rebellion to God’s authority into a life of obedience.

In spite of what our culture tells us, a person’s sex life is not the most important thing in life. Our time on earth has been granted to us as an opportunity to enter into a loving, saving relationship with God.

So, if you find yourself ministering to someone who struggles with same sex attractions, my advice is to share with him or her your own testimony of redemption. God promises to all sincere believers freedom from the power of sin. That freedom does not come through therapy; it comes at the Cross through repentance and faith. The same God who set you free from the power of sin can set anyone free. So, let’s proclaim the power of the Gospel to all who have ears to hear!


Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.

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