Category archives: Human Sexuality

Fairness for Whom?

by Peter Sprigg

December 14, 2018

One major concern about “SOGI” laws—laws which add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected categories in non-discrimination laws governing employment, housing, and/or public accommodations—has been that they would pose a threat to religious liberty.

One response to this conflict between “LGBT rights” and religious liberty has been to propose a sort of grand compromise, in which SOGI protections and specific religious liberty protections are enacted in the same bill.

Only one state, Utah, has so far implemented this approach, enacting what became known as the “Utah Compromise” in 2015. Proposals to do something similar at the federal level have been discussed under the label of “Fairness for All.”

Family Research Council has argued that such an approach is unsustainable, for reasons explained in a 2016 paper.

However, World Magazine has now reported that the boards of two major evangelical organizations—the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—have both passed motions endorsing the “Fairness for All” concept.

According to World, the NAE board unanimously—but quietly—adopted a motion in October that “calls on Congress to consider federal legislation consistent with three principles:” 

• We believe that God created human beings in his image as male or female and that sexual relations [should] be reserved for the marriage of one man and one woman.

• We support long-standing civil rights laws and First Amendment guarantees that protect free religious exercise.

• No one should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The first bullet point is a clear-cut statement of biblical teaching on sexuality and marriage. The second bullet point is a straightforward endorsement of long-standing American principles.

The third bullet point is the problem. What, exactly, is the definition of “unjust discrimination” in this context? Is it “unjust discrimination” for a Christian baker to decline to bake a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding in violation of his own conscience? Or for that matter, is it “harassment” for a schoolteacher to refuse to use pronouns that falsify the sex of a student who identifies as transgender?

These are questions that need to be put to the LGBT activists with whom this “compromise” is being sought. The ball is in their court, not ours. Unfortunately for those seeking compromise with them, LGBT activists are likely to answer those questions with an emphatic “Yes.” Alas, there is virtually no chance that they would endorse the kind of much-needed legislation that would protect the freedoms of that baker or teacher.

Pronoun Police Get VA Teacher Fired

by Cathy Ruse

December 10, 2018

The pronoun police have marched into small-town America.

A high school French teacher in the tiny Virginia town of West Point has lost his job. His offense? He asked permission to avoid pronouns when referring to a biological girl student who now identifies as a boy.

Peter Vlaming (pictured) was fired last week in a unanimous vote by the local school board (all Democrats) because of his Christian belief that God made humans male and female, and that a girl cannot become a boy.

Vlaming was willing to use the student’s new masculine name, and to avoid using pronouns altogether with this student. But he was not willing to use a false pronoun. “I did agree to use the new masculine name [and] to avoid female pronouns,” said Vlaming, but “I won’t use male pronouns with a female student.”

Keep in mind, Vlaming’s position was not a failure of courtesy. Third person pronouns are not used face-to-face, they are used when talking about a person who is absent. Vlaming was happy to use the student’s new masculine name. But that was not enough for the school. They ordered him to use male pronouns for the student even when he was not in the presence of the student. 

Students are allowed to remain silent during the Pledge of Allegiance, but this teacher was not allowed to remain silent when it came to pronouns. Use a false pronoun, or lose your job.

God bless this teacher—he would not speak in denial of God’s truth about male and female, and for his silence the government terminated him.

Speaking the Truth in Love: Lauren Daigle and the Reality of Being a Christian in Modern America

by David Closson

December 6, 2018

Last week, Dove Award-winning Christian artist Lauren Daigle was asked about her view on the morality of homosexuality. Her response and the controversy it has generated provide an opportunity for Christians to reflect on how to approach today’s hot-button issues related to marriage and human sexuality.

Asked directly by a radio host if she “feels that homosexuality is a sin,” Daigle answered: “I can’t honestly answer on that, in the sense of I have too many people that I love and they are homosexuals.”

I can’t say one way or the other; I’m not God. When people ask questions like that, I just say, ‘Read the Bible and find out for yourself. And when you find out let me know because I’m learning too,’” she added.

Daigle, a Grammy nominated artist whose music has garnered cross-over appeal, appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on October 24. Following the appearance, Daigle received criticism from some supporters for her appearance with DeGeneres who identifies as a lesbian.

In early November, Daigle responded to these critics, saying, “I don’t have all the answers in life and I’m definitely not gonna act like I do, but the one thing that I know for sure is I can’t choose who I’m supposed to be kind to and who I’m supposed to show love to and who I’m not, because that’s the mission, right? Be who Christ was to everyone.”

Her recent comments on the morality of homosexuality again have critics upset.

There are two lessons to learn from this cultural moment. The first lesson is that all Christians, especially those in positions of influence, must be ready to answer questions related to marriage and human sexuality. To her credit, Daigle has leveraged her platform before to bring the positive message of God’s love to secular audiences across the country. Her recent appearances on the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” are examples. However, as the recent controversy demonstrates, a vague message on love is not a sufficient apologetic for the Christian faith. In 2018, Christians, including Daigle, must be prepared to answer what could be seen as “gotcha questions” concerning the Bible’s teaching on contentious moral issues including marriage and sexuality.

While the Apostle Peter’s admonition to always be prepared to give a reason for Christian belief and behavior is a timely warning, we should apply this truth graciously. While Daigle could have handled this better, there is no reason to question her sincerity at this point.

Second, this incident also reminds us that Christians must be willing to speak the truth in love. Loving people and acknowledging biblical truth are not incompatible. In fact, the highest expression of love is to speak the truth even when it bears a cost.

On the nature of marriage, the Bible is clear: Marriage is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman (Gen. 2:24, Mat. 19:5, Mark 10:6-9, Eph. 5:22-23). Scripture is also unambiguous regarding the moral status of homosexuality (1 Cor. 6:9-11, Rom. 1:26-28, 1 Tim. 1:10-11, Lev. 18:22, 20:13, Gen. 19:1-5). On these issues the Bible is unmistakable; there is a clear “Thus saith the Lord.”

Therefore, Christians must decide whether they accept or reject the Bible’s authority on these issues. Christians must choose whether to yield to the truth of Scripture or not. This trust in the Bible’s authority extends beyond issues related to sexuality. In fact, the exclusivity of the gospel is even more offensive than the Bible’s view on marriage. It was Jesus who said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

What the secular world doesn’t understand is that Christians don’t believe homosexuality is wrong because they dislike gay people. Similarly, Christians don’t believe a relationship with Christ is the only way to heaven out of animus toward other religions. Rather, Christians hold convictions on these issues out of a commitment to the authority of the Bible. In our culture, this commitment to biblical truth is confusing to many and may even seem subversive.

However, commitment to the truthfulness of God’s Word is a nonnegotiable truth of the Christian faith. Christians who believe the Bible must be willing to defend it. But it’s important to remember that there is no one right way to go about this. Depending on the relationship one has with the person who is being witnessed to, and depending on the context of the conversation, there are different ways of conveying the truth to someone while still staying true to biblical truth. Meeting people where they are at can make all the difference in being effective witnesses for the gospel.

This is an important moment for millennial Christians. Daigle is a role model and highly respected Christian artist. Her Instagram account has over one million followers. She is instructing the next generations. By representing herself as a Bible-believing Christian artist, she has a great responsibility.

Daigle admitted she is learning. Christians should believe her and lovingly point her to what Scripture teaches.

This episode is instructive because it shows how important it is for Christians to be ready to answer the questions our culture is asking. Further, it demonstrates how our answers must be full of both grace and biblical truth.

Daigle is right when she sings about God’s tender words of healing for those who are weak and hurting. Her most popular song titled You Say includes the lyrics: “You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing/You say I am strong when I think I am weak/You say I am held when I am falling short.”

In response to what God says about His children, Daigle sings, “When I don’t belong, You say that I am Yours, And I believe… What you say of me, I believe.”

She beautifully captures the appropriate response of a Christian to God when he speaks: “I believe.”

Not only must we believe what God says about us, we must also believe what He says about Himself—His love of people and hatred of sin. We must also believe what He says about marriage, sexuality, and what makes for a flourishing society and culture. Whenever God speaks, a Christian’s duty is to respond in faith and obedience, even when it goes against the grain of a post-Christian culture.

Daigle is right. When God speaks, we must believe. No matter what the cost.

Starbucks for Coffee, Not Porn

by Cathy Ruse

December 5, 2018

Congratulations to Donna Rice Hughes and Enough is Enough (EIE) for their successful public online petition that put pressure on Starbucks to filter its public Wi-Fi services. The company recently announced it would stick to its promise to stop providing pornography through its free Wi-Fi starting in 2019.

Two years ago, the company promised to filter out pornography in its 14,000 U.S. shops. Enough is Enough called out that broken promise in a recent press release demanding that Starbucks “do the right thing.”

Protecting the innocence of children in America is even more precious than green efforts and paper straws,” Hughes said. “By breaking its commitment, Starbucks is keeping the doors wide open for convicted sex offenders and others to fly under the radar from law enforcement and use free, public WiFi services to access illegal child porn and hard-core pornography.”

Customers deserve a porn-free coffee stop—especially children.

Having unfiltered hotspots also allows children and teens to easily bypass filters and other parental control tools set up by their parents on their smart phones, tablets and laptops,” said Hughes.

EIE has had other successes in its SAFE WiFi campaign to persuade major public service companies to filter out pornography, of which Family Research Council is a part. In 2016, McDonalds adopted a Wi-Fi filter policy.

It is greatly encouraging to see another one of our country’s biggest providers of free public Wi-Fi acknowledge, at least through its actions, the dangers of pornography. Five states have declared it a public health crisis.

Times Op-Ed Admits Key Justifications for Gender Transition are False

by Peter Sprigg

November 28, 2018

As recently as ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable that The New York Times, the “grey lady,” the so-called “paper of record,” would run an article with the headline and sub-head, “My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy; And it shouldn’t have to.” But that’s what happened on November 25.

Andrea Long Chu was “born a boy” (don’t ban me, Twitter—this is what Chu said). Chu’s op-ed began, “Next Thursday, I will get a vagina.” In other words, this biological male will undergo gender reassignment surgery.

In a 1,200-word piece, Chu vigorously defends that choice. But by bluntly telling the truth about the prospects for patients after such surgery, Chu effectively debunks most of the mythology that underlies the transgender movement’s policy demands. There is nothing so dangerous to the sexual revolution as one of its advocates who admits the truth.

Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, author of the most definitive conservative book on the transgender movement (When Harry Became Sally), has written a lengthy and detailed response to Chu’s piece in Public Discourse. (Chu had attacked Anderson by name.) But here is a condensed summary of Chu’s remarkable concessions.

Myth: Gender reassignment surgery can make a man into a woman.

In the third sentence, Chu admits that this surgery will not magically make him a woman: “Until the day I die, my body will regard the vagina as a wound.” Chu also essentially admits it will not make him look like a woman, saying, “When she [“my girlfriend”] tells me I’m beautiful, I resent it. I’ve been outside. I know what beautiful looks like.”

Myth: Gender transition makes transgender people feel better.

Chu: “I feel demonstrably worse since I started on hormones.”

Myth: Gender transition alleviates “gender dysphoria.”

Chu: “Like many of my trans friends, I’ve watched my dysphoria balloon since I began transition.”

Myth: Allowing cross-gender hormone treatments and gender reassignment surgery is necessary to prevent transgender people from committing suicide.

Chu: “I was not suicidal before hormones. Now I often am.”

Chu also has a beef with the medical profession—practically all of it. Some doctors, like esteemed psychiatrist Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins University, argue that gender transition treatments should not be offered because they fail to ease the suffering of transgender people. Others, who wish to affirm the latest ideologies, like those in the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), argue these treatments should be available because they do ease suffering. Chu accuses both camps of “compassion-mongering”—“peddling bigotry in the guise of sympathetic concern.”

Chu directly and explicitly attacks a core principle of medical ethics, known as “nonmaleficence”—the idea that doctors should “first, do no harm.” In its place, Chu substitutes the philosophy that I believe is at the core of the entire LGBT movement—one of radical personal autonomy.

To Chu, the potential for harm from a gender transition is irrelevant: “I still want this, all of it. I want the tears; I want the pain. Transition doesn’t have to make me happy for me to want it.” Chu believes that “surgery’s only prerequisite should be a simple demonstration of want.”

Ironically, the world that Chu envisions—where desire is all that matters—is very close to the world we already live in. If Chu wants gender reassignment surgery, can find a doctor willing and able to perform it, and is willing to pay for it, he can obtain it. Although I believe that there are serious ethical concerns about such procedures, virtually no one is trying to erect any legal barriers to people obtaining them voluntarily at their own expense. (This is in notable contrast to how the Left approaches the issue of sexual orientation change efforts, and now seeks to prevent even adults with unwanted same-sex attractions from obtaining such care.)

The public policy concerns regarding transgenderism virtually all center around the efforts of the Left to force people to do things they do not want to do—affirm, celebrate, and subsidize (as payers of taxes or insurance premiums) such procedures. We can only hope that Chu’s admission that these procedures are elective and cosmetic—not “medically necessary,” as is usually claimed—will relieve the pressure for such a denial of the personal autonomy of those of us who choose not to publicly affirm the transgender movement.

Truth Obscured by Hollywood Take on Sexual Orientation Therapy

by Peter Sprigg

November 13, 2018

LGBT activists are pushing for an end to sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)—the various forms of voluntary religious or secular counseling or therapy (referred to by critics and the media as “conversion therapy”) intended to help people with unwanted same-sex attractions to overcome those feelings or not act upon them. That campaign suffered a setback in August 2018 when an extreme version of a SOCE therapy ban, AB 2943, was withdrawn by its sponsor after strong resistance, especially from the religious community.

However, critics of SOCE are now hoping for a boost from the release of a new movie, Boy Erased, intended to dramatize the problems they associate with “conversion therapy.” The movie, starring Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as the parents of the college student sent to counseling, premiered in limited release on November 1, and is gradually being rolled out around the country.

The movie is based on a 2016 memoir with the same title by Garrard Conley. Conley was a 19-year-old Arkansas college student in 2004, when he attended one-on-one counseling and then an intensive two-week group program offered by Love in Action (LIA), a Memphis ex-gay ministry run by John Smid, a man who had testified to his own transformation from gay to ex-gay.

In anticipation of the movie’s release, I recently read the book on which it is based. On November 8, the first day the film was screened in the D.C. area, I went to see it. The first screening in downtown Washington was sold out, but I was able to catch a later screening in a nearly empty theatre in Bethesda, Maryland. What follows will address both the book and the movie, but I will focus primarily on the book.

Conley and Love in Action

I will say one thing in the book’s favor—it does not appear to be a complete fabrication. That is more than I can say for some testimony given in favor of state therapy bans—accounts which have either been proven false or are highly suspect. Love in Action was a real organization, and the approach Conley describes in the book is roughly consistent with group therapy used by some (not all) such ministries. According to Conley, his personal memories were augmented by LIA’s 274-page handbook—which he still has.

This means that in Conley’s account, there is no electric shock therapy; no application of heat or ice to create an aversion to homosexual stimuli; no deliberate exposure to heterosexual or homosexual pornography; in short, none of the horror stories one usually hears about outdated treatments that were abandoned 40 or 50 years ago. Although often raised in critiques of SOCE, no one has been able to prove that any of these methods have been used in this century.

Another common charge is that minors are coerced into therapy by their parents. Therefore, it’s important to note that Conley was not a minor when he went to LIA, and he states explicitly, “I was here by my own choice.” Despite its short term of two weeks, Conley’s program was not even a residential one—he spent evenings in a motel room with his mother. This was no “conversion therapy camp” as they are sometimes depicted.

What the book, and at least the first part of the movie, feature instead is lots of talking and lots of writing. This makes the book and first half of the movie, frankly, rather boring.

Smid (depicted in the film as “Victor Sykes”) and LIA approached homosexuality using an addiction model, and many of their techniques were borrowed directly from the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Different programs and different therapists use different methodologies—what unites SOCE is only the goal, not any particular technique. While AA and other twelve-step programs have their critics, as far as I know no one has ever tried to outlaw them.

For example, one exercise drawn directly from AA was the “Moral Inventory”—an effort to account in writing for as many past sins as the participant could recall. Another exercise was drawing a “genogram”—essentially a family tree noting patterns of sinful behavior by various forebears and relatives. These techniques may be questioned by some—but hardly constitute “torture,” or even stirring drama.

The Real Trauma

That’s not to say there are no traumatic events in Boy Erased—it’s just that most of them predate or are unrelated to the LIA program. In the book, Conley admits that in early puberty, he was so addicted to video games he would urinate on his bedroom carpet, rather than walk to the bathroom. (Later, in college, he would urinate in empty water bottles in his dorm, putting them under his bed to be discovered later.) In high school, he would “crouch on the toilet seat to hide from overcrowded lunch tables.” Conley, a runner, admits that in the summer before he started college, “my weight loss took an angry, masochistic turn that verged on anorexic”—something even a gay-friendly family doctor would call him on. Conley also admits several times to having suicidal thoughts. Note that almost all of these things happened before he went to LIA—and all were omitted from the movie.

If Conley had chosen to re-frame his story, it could have put an important male twist on the #MeToo movement. The worst thing that happened to Conley, and to the lead character in the film (renamed “Jared”), was that he was raped by a fellow male college student in a dorm room. (The under-a-blanket rape scene, as well as some strong language, are the main reasons for the film’s R rating.) The rapist then confessed to having done the same thing to a younger teen in the youth group at his church.

Conley told a pastor at his Presbyterian college about the latter crime—and was told “to stay quiet” because “there was nothing to be done.” However, he told no one—not the pastor, his parents, nor Love in Action counselors—about the assault he had suffered. He remained silent on this point even after the rapist was the one who “outed” him as “gay” to his parents. One is left to wonder whether his counseling might have had a different outcome if he had been more honest with the people who wanted to help him.

Family Dynamics

Family dynamics play an important role in Boy Erased—but this is one of several areas in which Conley appears to have misunderstood the theory behind some SOCE. It is true that many counselors have identified a pattern which is common (but not universal) among men with same-sex attractions, in which these men had strained relations with their fathers and male peers and unusually close relationships with their mothers.

This is the exact pattern evident in Conley’s description of his own life. With his father, a Christian car dealer who experienced a mid-life call to pastoral ministry, Conley had “moments of misunderstanding” that were “often damaging.” Sports is a common way for a boy to bond with his father or peers, but Conley admits, “It’s true that I was never any good at sports… I never liked to toss the ball with my father in the front yard.” (The film, however, makes “Jared” a high school basketball player.) With his mother, a glamorous Southern belle who married “in her sixteenth year,” he would go “to Memphis for weekends of shopping and movie binging.” In fact, when client Conley tells a counselor, “Yes, my mother and I were too close,” author Conley calls it his “first ex-gay utterance.”

The climax of both the book and the movie—and the incident that led to Conley walking out of LIA before the program was over—was an exercise called “the Lie Chair” (the name is puzzling, since it involves telling the truth). Conley was instructed to sit across from an empty chair “and imagine your father sitting across from you and you saying everything you’ve always wanted to tell him but couldn’t.” Conley says, “I tried working myself up into an angry fit,” but finally declared, “I’m not angry”—and walked out, never to return.

Conley seems convinced that the family dynamics theory did not apply to him, because his parents were not actually abusive—just once, “my father had raised his fist to strike me,” but thought better of it—and because he loves them. He does not seem to understand that there can be a deficit in meeting the developmental need for warm, non-sexual affection from the same-sex parent, even in the absence of any overt abuse.

Distorted Theology

Conley also seems to have a distorted view of Christian theology. For one thing, he (like many LGBT activists) seems obsessed with “Hell”—far more than any Christians I know, or any pastors I’ve ever heard preach. Even after having his horizons broadened by going to college, Conley declares, “I still believed that I would feel its fire licking my skin for all eternity if I continued on this path.” As an evangelical Christian myself, I also believe in hell (capitalizing the word, as Conley does, is unnecessary). Yet I’ve never believed—and know no one who teaches—that merely being (or becoming) straight is the key to avoiding it.

Critics of SOCE, including Conley, are also obsessed with “shame,” and a belief that such counseling operates by instilling a sense of shame over the client’s homosexuality. Yet every sexual reorientation therapist I have met has said the exact opposite—that one of the primary goals of such therapy is to overcome the shame that clients already feel when they begin therapy.

In fact, despite Conley repeatedly associating LIA and its teachings with terms like “self-loathing” and even “self-annihilation,” the actual quotations from LIA’s handbook and other materials express the opposite:

  • I believed many lies that I was worthless, hopeless, and had no future.”
  • I’ve learned that I am loved and accepted even though I have been involved in sexual addiction.”
  • I have worth. I am intelligent, funny, caring and strong.”

Film Fabrications

Because “moral inventories” and “genograms” don’t exactly make for compelling cinema, the filmmakers spiced up the last half of the film—by adding scenes that didn’t actually happen. The most dramatic—and most outrageous for its absurdity—is one in which an uncooperative LIA client is literally, physically beaten with a Bible (by family members including, apparently, his own little sister). Perhaps this is meant to be a metaphor for spiritual abuse, but some gullible viewers are likely to take it literally.

The character Jared’s “escape” from LIA is exaggerated in the film. Apart from having to ask a second time before his cell phone was returned, the book recounts no effort to physically prevent him from leaving or his mother from reaching him, the way the movie does. And the film’s biggest emotional gut punch is when we learn that the fictional victim of the fictional “Bible-beating” has committed suicide. (In his book, Conley reports no such event, but writes, “Various bloggers” have estimated that “twenty to thirty” suicides resulted from LIA, “though figures like these are impossible to pin down.” That’s probably because they are made up.)

One thing the film does somewhat better than the book is address the character Jared’s nuanced relationship with his parents after he left Love in Action. However, we have no way of knowing if the portrayal is a truthful one reflecting Conley’s actual experience, or merely a dramatic one serving Hollywood’s purposes. In the book, Conley addresses the decade after his LIA experience only cryptically, and somewhat confusingly. His father never followed through, apparently, on a threat to withdraw funding for his college education. Yet describing visits to his parents’ home, he declares, “I will refuse to even look at my father.” He concludes the Acknowledgments, though, by saying, “Thank you, most of all, to my mother and father, whose love has made all the difference.”

Love in Action—The Rest of the Story

In 2005, a year after Conley left Love in Action, the ministry was subjected to a storm of controversy after a teenager named Zach Stark complained on social media that his parents had sent him to LIA’s residential program for adolescents, called “Refuge.” (The Boy Erased film conflates this program with the adult-focused one, “The Source,” that Conley attended—a staffer in the film says, “Welcome to Refuge,” but the notebooks say “Source” on the cover.) This sparked a round of protests by LGBT activists, and investigations by Tennessee state officials.

State officials said LIA required a license because they were providing mental health treatment; LIA insisted it offered discipleship programs, which are exempt from state regulation. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF, now known as the Alliance Defending Freedom) filed a federal lawsuit to protect LIA, and ultimately prevailed, with the state dropping its efforts to regulate the LIA ministry.

The controversy about the short-lived Refuge program seems to be the source of the mythology that there is a network of “conversion therapy camps” across the country holding teens against their will. The trailer on the film’s official website ends with the dramatic and absurd declaration, “77,000 people are currently being held in conversion therapy across America.” Yet the Refuge program—then already defunct—was the only such program identified in a 2009 American Psychological Association report on sexual orientation change efforts. Indeed, a 2015 Ph.D. dissertation agreed that “it is likely the media frenzy surrounding the story of 16-year-old Stark being forced into a conversion therapy residential program by his parents in 2005 led to these bans” on such therapy for minors.

The controversy took a toll on Smid, however, and on the ministry. In 2008, Smid resigned; he has since returned to living as a homosexual and married a man in 2014. Smid now has a gay-affirming ministry called Grace Rivers, and has apologized for the work he did with Love in Action. (LIA, under new leadership and with a completely new ministry model, changed its name to “Restoration Path” in 2012.)

Conclusion

The therapy bans enacted in fourteen states so far apply only to licensed mental health providers and only to clients who are minors. Since Garrard Conley was not a minor and Love in Action was not licensed by the state, his experience would not have been affected by such a law, even if one had been in place in Tennessee. Ironically, the passage of such laws, cutting off access to care consistent with their values from licensed providers, might only have the effect of driving desperate parents and clients into the hands of unlicensed religious programs such as Love in Action. For SOCE skeptics who see this as undesirable, therefore, such laws may actually be counter-productive.

California’s AB 2943, on the other hand, would have applied to any SOCE provider or program that charges a fee, even religious and unlicensed ones. This type of approach, however, raises constitutional questions even beyond those raised by the license restrictions.

Regardless of what one thinks of Conley’s story, its fictionalized film version, John Smid’s story, or the techniques of Love in Action, they all represent only anecdotes about a particular instance of sexual orientation change efforts. They cannot be taken as representative of all SOCE. The claim that SOCE in general has been shown to be ineffective and harmful is not supported by the scientific research.

Boy Erased is not particularly entertaining; and not at all informative for making policy regarding sexual orientation change efforts.

The Times En-“genders” Controversy with Ignorance of “Sex”

by Peter Sprigg

November 5, 2018

When I was a college student in the New York metropolitan area, I subscribed to the New York Times. For a while, I even set the goal of reading every article that appeared on the front page, no matter what it was about. I thought if it was important enough to be on the front page of the New York Times, it was important enough for me to read it. It was known, after all, as “the paper of record.”

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. On October 22, the Times published—on the front page—one of the worst-written, worst-edited newspaper articles I have ever read.

The article begins, “The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth . . .”

The fake news begins with the eighth word of the article—“gender.” It is simply untrue that the Trump administration is re-examining the definition of “gender.”

What is actually under consideration is the definition of the word “sex”—particularly where it appears in a law or policy that forbids discrimination on the basis of “sex.”

This is evident in the parts of the article that quote or directly cite a draft memo leaked to the Times from the Department of Health and Human Services, such as these (emphasis added):

  • Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo . . .
  • The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”
  • For the last year, the Department of Health and Human Services has privately argued that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity . . .

Despite this evidence from their own reporting, the Times reporters continued throughout the article to use the word “gender” instead. For example (emphasis added):

  • The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender . . .
  • The agencies would consider the comments before issuing final rules with the force of law — both of which could include the new gender definition.
  • The department would have to decide what documentation schools would be required to collect to determine or codify gender.

What’s wrong with this? Well, the very people who were stirred to outrage against the Trump administration by the Times article—transgender activists and their allies—are the ones who have been telling us for years that gender is not the same as sex! Yet the New York Times breezily assumes that the two words are synonymous. This mistake would not be tolerated in the average undergraduate term paper—yet somehow it slipped by the editors of the New York Times.

Unless it didn’t slip by at all.

In reality, there is little dispute that the word “sex” refers to biology. The American Psychiatric Association, for example—hardly a bastion of conservatism—defines “sex” as “Biological indication of male and female (understood in the context of reproductive capacity) …” Nor is there any dispute (even among conservatives) that the phrase “gender identity” commonly refers to a subjective, psychological state of, as the APA puts it, “an individual’s identification as male, female or, occasionally, some category other than male or female.”

The word “gender” standing alone, however, is ambiguous and contested ground. It has come to be used as a reference to someone’s essential “maleness” or “femaleness.” The cultural and social debate is about whether that is determined by a person’s objective “sex” (biology) or their subjective “gender identity” (psychology).

However, this debate is largely irrelevant in interpreting and applying current federal law—which is what the Times article was ostensibly about. Few federal laws or regulations even use the word “gender.” The key ones mentioned in the article—non-discrimination provisions in statutes regarding education (Title IX, 1972), employment (Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act), and health care (the Obamacare law)—all use the word “sex,” not “gender.”

If the Times’ unjustified conflation of the words “sex” and “gender” did not arise from incomprehensible ignorance, it can only have arisen from inexcusable bias. Acting as though the clear-cut term “sex” is the same as the ambiguous term “gender” seriously tilts the playing field in favor of the Left’s preference for psychological rather than biological definitions. It assumes the very point that is in dispute.

This is bad logic—as well as bad journalism.

Notre Dame Students Take a Stand Against Porn

by Patrina Mosley

November 2, 2018

Recent studies have shown that young adults aged 18-24 are the most frequent porn users—almost six in 10 young adults seek out porn either daily, weekly, or monthly. It’s no wonder why students at the University of Notre Dome are calling for pornography filters on their campus Wi-Fi as part of a “White Ribbon Against Pornography Week” campaign created by NCOSE. The original request came from the male students in a letter emphasizing that “pornography is an affront to human rights and catastrophic to individuals and relationships. We are calling for this action in order to stand up for the dignity of all people, especially women.”

We applaud these men for showing concern for the well-being of their female peers and their own sexual health.

Women and Pornography

What is unique about this story is that after the males issued their letter, the female students stood in solidarity by issuing their own response letter acknowledging that pornography consumption correlates to sexual assault and that women themselves struggle with pornography addiction:

We want a filter because we want to eliminate sexual assault and sexual abuse on our campus. We want a filter because we care deeply about Notre Dame students — including women — who struggle with pornography addictions.

To some, it may be shocking to see that pornography can no longer be labeled as just a man’s issue. With 76 percent of 18 to 30-year-old women reporting that they watch porn at least once a month, and with the term “porn for women” seeing a 359 percent growth among female users in just one year, pornography can no longer be siloed to one sex.

By and large, men prefer images and graphic sex sites; women prefer erotic stories and romance sites. The connection between erotic materials and women seeking online porn makes sense when the erotica genre generated $1.37 billion in sales, making it the “the single largest share of the fiction market,” with over 90 percent of the consumers being women. Female-targeted erotica novel series like Fifty Shades of Grey are being turned into movies (the film grossed over $1.3 billion). In a recent Marie Claire survey of 3,000 women who sought out internet porn, 40 percent said they sought erotic stories. Erotica has proven to be a gateway to more “hardcore” content, which has led to a rise in women consuming this type of pornography.

And when it comes to curbing sexual assault and harassment, these ladies are right for wanting to curtail the consumption of pornography.

A recent review found 50 peer-reviewed studies directly linking porn use to sexual violence. Pornography also has been shown to play a role in shaping how women think they should be treated, leading to an increased likelihood that they will become victims of sexual assault by physical coercion or other abusive behavior. When you have nearly 80 percent of adult males consuming pornography, of which 88 percent of pornographic scenes are sexually violent against women, how do you think this will affect sexual behavior? In the era of #MeToo, we must look seriously at how pornography is shaping our cultural beliefs about what is acceptable behavior. 

Moral Ambiguity is Dissolving

The latest Barna research shows that just one in 20 young adults report talking with their friends about porn in a disapproving way.

But the evidence of its harmful effects are being brought to light. Much of the Notre Dame students’ letter cites the studies that acknowledge that pornography consumption is “associated with a host of issues: addiction, child sexual abuse, divorce, male fertility problems, sexual assault and the acceptance, normalization and sexualization of cruelty towards women. It contributes to prostitution, human trafficking and the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases.” I encourage you to read the full letter.

Yet many do not want to debate the morality of pornography. They would rather ignore the fact that this generation has been the primary subject of what has been dubbed “The Largest Unregulated Social Experiment In History.” Recognizing among their own personal relationships that pornography harms both the individual and society, buyer’s remorse on porn is slowly growing. Its devastating effects are being studied and recognized.

A Public Health Crisis

Pornography has been officially declared a public health crisis in five states, and the U.K. Parliament has been called upon to address pornography usage like other public health hazards in order to tackle sexual harassment of girls and women.

Society now warns potential users of the addictive harms of nicotine. Hopefully one day we will see  pornography in the same way.

Allied for Truth and Freedom Regarding Unwanted Same-Sex Attractions

by Peter Sprigg

October 15, 2018

Some of the most compassionate and courageous—and least politically correct—people in the country are mental health providers who assist clients with unwanted same-sex attractions. I had the privilege of spending time with some of them on October 5 and 6 in Orlando, at the annual conference of the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (“The Alliance,” formerly known as the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, or “NARTH”).

Although LGBT activists have been critical of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) for decades, the threat to such therapy has become an existential one only in the last six years, as several states have enacted laws prohibiting licensed mental health providers from engaging in SOCE (often referred to by critics and the media with an outdated term, “conversion therapy”) with minors. However, this year’s Alliance conference came in the wake of an unexpected win, when an even more extreme therapy ban proposal in California was withdrawn by its sponsor, Assemblyman Evan Low, on August 31 (the last day of the legislative session).

The conference featured a variety of presentations and workshops touching on medical, clinical, and cultural issues, as well as research. Attorney Geoff Heath gave an overview of the therapy bans—including several different arguments as to why they should be found unconstitutional. He touched on ways in which they infringe freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion, in addition to noting the more technical legal principle that they may be “void for vagueness.”

It is ironic that attacks upon such therapies have grown ever more extreme, even as the therapists themselves are becoming ever more scrupulous about following “best practices” that avoid the kind of behaviors (such as “coercion” of clients or “guarantees” of complete transformation) of which they are regularly accused. Christopher Rosik, Ph.D., introduced an updated set of Guidelines for the Practice of Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy (or “SAFE-T,” an acronym coined by the Alliance to better describe the actual focus of such therapy). This carefully reasoned and thoroughly documented 62-page document (not yet available on the Alliance website, at last check—an older version is here) features 13 specific guidelines to ensure that client goals are respected, fully informed consent is obtained, and any potential harm is avoided.

Several sessions addressed research questions. Philip Sutton, Ph.D., gave an introductory presentation with the explanatory title, “Are Same-Sex Attractions and Behaviors (SSA) REALLY Innate, Inconsequential, and Immutable? What Research and Demonstrable Clinical Experience Does and Does Not Show.” Key research findings he explained show that:

  • SSA is not innate.
  • SSA is consequential (that is, it does have many significant negative consequences and co-occurring difficulties—undermining claims that it is a “normal, positive variant of human sexuality”).
  • SSA is mutable (that is, it can change).
  • Some intended and beneficial changes in SSA (often along a continuum) occur through professional and pastoral assistance.
  • Therapeutically assisted change is not invariably harmful.

One of the conference keynote speakers, the Rev. D. Paul Sullins, Ph.D., discussed several research questions. He described existing research showing that the genetic influence on the development of homosexuality is relatively small, while showing that the influence of being a victim of child sexual abuse on developing a later same-sex orientation is significant—both of which undermine the theory that people are “born gay.” He discussed follow-up research he has done (but not yet published) concerning children in same-sex or opposite-sex parent households. He also discussed findings regarding the crisis involving sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests. (Dr. Sullins is a Catholic priest himself, albeit an unusual one—he is married, having been a married Episcopal priest before converting to Roman Catholicism.)

Carolyn Pela, Ph.D., provided useful training on how to evaluate published research studies. She noted the existence of several different types of studies—exploratory, observational, quasi-experimental, and experimental. Exploratory studies are just that—they simply explore a topic, often through anecdotal accounts, but are incapable of arriving at conclusions that can be generalized to a larger population. Ironically, an often-cited 2002 article on the potential harms of change therapies by Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder was, by its own account, merely an exploratory study, and thus offered no conclusions about the actual prevalence or likelihood of such harm.

Observational studies can demonstrate correlations between variables (“A is often accompanied by B”), but cannot definitively prove causation (“A causes B”). However, correlational studies can still be highly important—the conclusion that smoking is associated with lung cancer was based on correlational studies, for example. Only an experimental design can scientifically prove a causal relationship, but that requires the existence of a control group and random assignment to the study group or control group (this is how studies of new drugs are conducted, for instance). But for some research questions, a truly experimental design is either not practical or not ethical—studies of parenting outcomes, for example, would require that children be randomly assigned at birth to parents! Pela also reviewed questionable research practices that can be found in the areas of recruiting, research procedures, and reporting of results.

One of the clinical presentations was offered by Joseph Nicolosi, Jr., Ph.D. His father, one of the founders of the Alliance, died suddenly in 2017. Dr. Nicolosi, Jr. is carrying on his father’s work, but re-branding it—quite literally, in that he has trademarked the term “reintegrative therapy” to describe his approach (and to distinguish it from the ill-defined term “conversion therapy”). His father had coined the term “reparative therapy” in the 1990’s, but this was often (mistakenly) taken as implying a view that homosexuals were broken and needed to be “repaired.” Nicolosi, Jr. introduced an approach he calls the “reintegrative protocol,” which he insisted is not premised on any particular view of sexual orientation and can be used by therapists of any ideological persuasion. Its goal, he said, is not to change sexual orientation, but to heal trauma and sexual addiction—but a change in same-sex attractions may sometimes result when the protocol is followed. 

Two films were also screened at the conference. One, Voices of the Silenced, is an international effort produced by British expert Michael Davidson. It features personal testimonies from clients as well as from experts about the potential for sexual orientation change, while also placing the issue in a larger cultural and historical context, noting how the sexual revolution represents an effort to undo the advances made by Judeo-Christian culture and return to the pagan worldview of ancient Greece and Rome. The other, Free to Love (a 38-minute documentary that can be viewed free online), presents an overview of the debate over SOCE in the American context, and includes interviews with four ex-gay men as well as the views of attendees at a Gay Pride event.

Although geared largely for therapists, the Alliance conference is an important event every year for public education and networking as well. With the freedom to seek change ever more under attack, the Alliance is a vital ally in promoting the truth and protecting clients’ rights to self-determination.

The Unity of Body and Soul: Why It Matters

by Caleb Sutherlin

October 4, 2018

Many of the most pressing issues in our society come from a lack of love for the body. On October 3rd, Nancy Pearcey visited Family Research Council to discuss her new book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality. In her talk, Pearcey tackled difficult aspects of human sexuality that seem independent but are really part of the same ideology.

In Old Testament Hebrew, the word for the “soul” is nephesh, and the New Testament uses the Greek word psyche (pronounced “sue-kay”). These words are used to encompass the whole person. That includes the emotions, the spirit, and the physical being. These elements are immutable and can never be reduced or separated from each other. Today’s liberal ideology seeks to do just that. Pearcey, a renowned apologist, explores the attempt by many on the Left to rewrite the person by ignoring biology and logic.    

While researching her book, she recalled an article in which a pro-choice woman became pregnant. The woman said that she considered the life inside her a baby because she wanted it, but if she didn’t want it, she and those who share her worldview considered it a clump of cells. Seeing the contradiction, the woman decided that life begins at conception, but still questioned the personhood of that life.

The current cultural movement that seeks to redefine personhood is the topic of Love Thy Body. Pearcey observes that this movement is attempting to argue that a human life is separate from being a person. Therefore, a human can be killed, but a person cannot. Pearcey aptly notes that according to this philosophy, the fetus must earn the right to life by being chosen to live by the mother. Furthermore, the body is relegated to being disposable. Simply being human is not enough to justify having human rights. (Therefore, unborn children who are aborted can have their body parts harvested, and Terri Schiavo can be starved to death, according to this philosophy.)

Even bioethicists cannot decide on what constitutes a person. When biology is removed from humanity, anything is possible. Love Thy Body gives several examples of what can happen as a result. Some bioethicists even argue in favor of infanticide, saying that a certain level of cognitive function is needed to be a person. In that light, the elderly, or even those who are mentally handicapped might not qualify for life. As disgusting as that is, legitimate voices are arguing for it.

This disregard for the body is also present in the hookup culture. As Pearcey noted, many young women in college have given in to the dehumanizing campus sexual culture that encourages them to separate their natural desire for emotional intimacy and commitment from their physical sexuality.

Disrespecting the body puts the mind and body in conflict. That conflict can be seen in the fact that 80 percent of people that identify as homosexual will change their self-identification at least once in their lives. Love Thy Body takes a holistic view of the human person and points out the natural unity between the soul and the body. Instead of thinking of the body as a patchwork of contradictory pieces, the body and soul should be thought of as whole.

Perhaps most distressing in this ideology is the removal of pre-political rights. When the government embraces the discontinuity of the body, our human rights become a gift of the government instead of what we innately possess. Today, the government has claimed the right to decide when a person has the right to live by legalizing abortion and euthanasia.

Interestingly, a number of feminist groups are turning away from the idea that the body is meaningless. One cannot be an advocate of women’s rights and simultaneously believe that everyone can be a woman.

As Nancy Pearcey so eloquently reminds us, the only way to keep the rights of personhood fully intact is to base personhood in biology and Scripture. Be sure to view her entire talk for more on this critically consequential topic.

Caleb Sutherlin is an intern at Family Research Council.

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