Why we don’t offer conversion therapy
Members of the press and other individuals sometimes contact True Freedom Trust with questions about our stance on so-called “conversion/reparative therapy”. What conversion therapy is has been a source of much debate. Colloquially, however, the term is perhaps most often used to describe any kind of attempt or intervention which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation. This popular definition is the one I have in mind in this article.
The topic of orientation change is emotive for many people, and we should lament the damage done to individuals where they have been coerced into undergoing ‘treatment’ they did not need, or where they have encountered practices which are clearly abusive. Where the church has had a hand in this should also be a source of great sorrow. In our Basis of Belief, we are clear that TFT does not aim to change anyone’s sexual attractions, nor do we practise any form of conversion/reparative therapy. Below I want to offer three principles, drawn from scripture, that inform our stance on this matter.
Our orientation does not exclude us
We believe that God does not exclude anyone from entering into relationship with Him on the grounds of sexual orientation and, therefore, we do not consider it necessary to have/gain a heterosexual orientation in order to be saved. The Bible makes important distinctions between orientation, temptation, lust and action. Have you ever heard anyone say something like “homosexuality is sinful”? A few times when hearing this, I’ve caught myself having raised my eyebrow in reflex. As I hoist it back down again, I gently ask the person to explain what they mean. Almost always, they’re referring only to sexual practice and not to sexual orientation. Being clear on this distinction is important. Most of the biblical passages that directly address homosexuality only talk about behaviour (see Lev 18:22 & 1 Cor 6:9). While these passages are clear that same-sex sexual activity is sinful, they cannot be used to show that a same-sex orientation (i.e. the capacity to experience sexual desire/temptations for the same-sex) is also sinful.
The only passage that speaks directly to thoughts involving the same-sex is Romans 1:26-27. Here, Paul talks about men being “consumed with passion for one another”. The word frequently translated ‘passion’ in English comes from the Greek ‘pathos’. Paul uses the word again in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, where ‘pathos’ is something that all believers are urged to repent of. This broad use suggests that Paul had lust in mind, any wilful sexual fixation outside of God’s purposes for sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual in nature. This too is separate from our experience of sexual orientation, which is the pattern of characteristics to which we are attracted.
Scripture would not seem to consider a homosexual orientation in itself to be a roadblock to experiencing the fullness of God’s grace. This means that we can’t say that changing a person’s attractions is a necessary part of their Christian journey.
Temptation will always be there
Having concluded that changing a person’s orientation is not necessary for them to be saved, we next have to ask if seeking to do so would be helpful to them on their Christian journey. Nothing has the potential to derail a Christian quite like temptation. In our everyday lives, we face a barrage of internal impulses and external stimuli that seek to lead us into sinful behaviours. One of the wonderful truths of scripture is that Jesus faced this barrage of temptation too, such that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).
Being tempted is not sinful, and nowhere in scripture do we read that we will be entirely free of temptation this side of eternity. We face a constant call to flee from temptation. Proverbs 5 talks about the adulterous woman, whose lips drip with honey. Apparently this means she is enticing, however we’re told to stay far away from her door. In our passage from Thessalonians earlier, and in other places like Galatians 5:22-23, we’re encouraged to exercise self-control as a means of resisting temptation. By God’s grace, as we walk with Him He helps to grow in our ability to do this. This is great news as it means we can strive for holiness no matter the type of temptation we face.
We will face sexual temptation whatever our orientation. God does not encourage us to trade one type for another: both can be just as deadly. In this sense, we cannot argue that one type of orientation is inherently preferable to another in our walk with God. However, that is not to say that being gay/same-sex attracted does not hold its own unique difficulties. For some, having this orientation has led to them experiencing homophobic abuse or rejection, sometimes at the hands of the church. I suspect many gay people, facing these types of reactions, have at some point in their lives thought that “being straight would be much easier”. I was a teenager at a time when being gay was not something you talked about with your peers and I often had these thoughts myself.
There are others who, while being primarily same-sex attracted, have a genuine strong desire to marry somebody of the opposite sex. This could be for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps they long for a particular family dynamic, have noticed some fluidity in their pattern of desire or have otherwise found themselves attracted to a particular person of the opposite sex. Changes in desire can occur in all manner of people, Christian or non-Christian. We would also never doubt God’s power to change a person’s orientation if it were in His will to do so, even if we play no active part in this ourselves. These scenarios can leave people with a lot of questions. Is marriage really right for me? What’s it like being married to someone of the opposite sex when you’re mainly same-sex attracted? What might sexual expression look like in those circumstances? While we don’t practise conversion therapy, we believe support should be available for those with these sorts of questions and we seek to help to the best of our ability.
Christ offers a better sort of conversion
As Christians, we talk about conversion a lot. Our conversion is to be a turning point, a turn away from sin (repentance) and toward Christ (faith). In doing this, we see several things happen. Paul lists some of them in 1 Corinthians 6:11, right after a prohibition about same-sex sexual behaviour. He says “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified”. Moreover, God takes us and He places us in the church as members of his family. In doing so, He sets us in a community that is to become our primary source of intimacy with others. There should be no conflation of this type of conversion with the kind offered by so-called conversion therapy. God does not promise to change our sexual orientation, but He makes it so that we can enjoy the full measure of His grace, whatever our sexuality, and He offers us the means and the relationships needed to live to live a fulfilled life in worship of Him.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Summer 2021 edition of Ascend