depressed man against LGBT flag superimposed with a Bible

Is Banning Gay Conversion Therapy the Right Thing to Do?

Last week, McKrae Game, the former leader of one of the nation’s largest and oldest Christian conversion therapy ministries, came out as gay. In recent years, more than a dozen American states have banned gay conversion therapy. Should Christians support laws that ban conversion therapy?

What Mr. Game Had to Say About His Past and Conversion Therapy

For the sake of accuracy, let me quote what Mr. Game posted on his Facebook page:

Creating a catchy slogan that put out a very misleading idea of “Freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ” was definitely harmful. Promoting the triadic model that blamed parents and conversion or prayer therapy, that made many people believe that their orientation was wrong, bad, sinful, evil, and worse that they could change was absolutely harmful. People reported to attempt suicide because of me and these teachings and ideals. I told people they were going to Hell if they didn’t stop, and these were professing Christians!

Before addressing the question Christians and non-Christians alike need to consider about laws banning conversion therapy, I think Mr. Game’s statement deserves serious discussion about the nature and purpose of this therapy among all who are what he calls “professing Christians.” His experience points out the difference between being a “professing Christian” and the Gospel, and may help Christians move beyond knee-jerk reactions to laws banning conversion therapy.

The First Thing Mr. Game Got Correct

From a Gospel (which simply means “good news”) perspective, Mr. Game was correct to use the word conversion in describing his program. The Gospel is about conversion.

The word in the Greek is metanoia, meaning literally “to change one’s mind.” The change is from seeing God as we want to see Him to seeing Him as He really is and reveals Himself to be in Scripture, and from seeing ourselves as good as we think we are to how God really sees us—people who, in the depths of their very being, have been “against” God from conception, as David put it (Psalm 51:4–5).

However, Christians know that “doing enough” to “make up” just the things we know we’ve done wrong is impossible, let alone getting to a point, after making up for the past, where we can be holy as God is holy.

Mr. Game came to that conclusion, so he got that right. He also knew he needed what he’d heard about in church but has now admitted he did not have—a conversion.

The Second Thing Mr. Game Got Correct

Conversion therapy, though, is not Gospel conversion.

Therapy may prove helpful for certain persons in certain regards, and it may help a person bring certain actions into greater outward conformity with what God requires. However, it does not bring peace with God, which is what is really necessary when we are, from God’s perspective at least, at war with and hostile to Him (Romans 5:1, 8:7; Isaiah 40:2). Never has; never will.

And that is also what Mr. Game got right—he never had any peace with God.

So, Mr. Game did the only think he thought he could do with any integrity—he gave up the charade of professing a “Christianity” that never was Gospel Christianity in the first place.

What Is the Conversion That’s Needed?

It is written that John the Baptist prepared the way for the good news of the Gospel. Here, then, is how he described his own message:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance [metanoia]; but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost [Spirit], and with fire (Matthew 3:11, KJV; emphasis added).

John is not here speaking of a Gospel that is some mystical or emotional experience. He is speaking of a Gospel that says that only when a spiritual life we did not have and could not conjure up on our own is implanted in us by God do we then have peace with Him and a power for walking humbly with Him, “because we are then pressed to it from that which is within us.”1 This is the conversion all are born in need of, and we cannot convert ourselves by our own efforts.

Human-based, human-conjectured therapy, even if couched in Bible words2, can provide neither peace with God nor the power of God.

Should Conversion Therapy Be Banned?

The Gospel Perspective

Given the foregoing, Christians should ask themselves this question: Is it good to suggest to people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction (or any other unwanted desire, for that matter) that all they need is some therapy to change the way they think of themselves or to behave differently?

I think not, particularly if it allows those persons to think they can “obey” themselves into right standing with God and that by going to church or engaging in “Christian” activities they can escape God’s just and eternal judgment. That is humanistic conversion-therapy thinking, not Gospel-based conversion “therapy.”

Therefore, some professing Christians who know the necessity and power of Gospel conversion might support a conversion therapy ban, believing that “conversion therapy,” at least that which is presented as “Christian,” is a hindrance to a struggling person’s understanding of the Christian Gospel conversion that is really needed. (See footnote 3 if that statement bothers you.)

The Larger Question for All

But not all advocates of conversion therapy are Christian or are concerned with the Gospel, and certainly not all their clients are concerned with God, either.

Therefore, the question with which all, Christian and non-Christian alike, must wrestle is whether conversion therapy is helpful at all or, conversely, so pervasively unhelpful that it should be banned, like with any other practice negatively affecting the public health and welfare.

That is harder because it brings into question the proper jurisdictional boundaries between the state and the individual seeking the help that he or she thinks will bring relief from suffering or struggles.

As to that question, for now at least, I would leave the market for therapy open because some say it has helped them.

Of course, that argument pretty much does away with all psychological therapy for all forms of stresses and undesired behaviors.

If we are simply biologically programmed receptors of and responders to present and past stimuli responding, what’s the point of therapy? If that’s what we are, then all we can do is change our current stimuli environment, not ourselves; and we surely cannot change the stimuli from our past. The argument of the “banners” proves too much.

The Good That Mr. Game’s Confession Makes Possible

While some Christians wag their heads in despair that “another Christian” has bit the dust and denied the faith, and while it is heartbreaking that Mr. Game had been in the church and among Christians for years and never embraced the Gospel, there is some good news about him coming out of the closet.

It allows the converted Christian to point beyond the door of the closet in which we all want to hide from God to the very good news that Jesus came out of the tomb, and, by doing so, we can truly be changed by Him from inside out in order that we can be made fit to be in and enjoy His presence forever. 4

NOTES

  1. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Vol. 9, Sermon 5, “Of Walking Humbly With God.”
  2. “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40, NKJV; emphasis added).
  3. John Owen, perhaps the greatest theologian England ever produced, spoke to those “professing Christians” who put their emphasis on right behavior rather than the inward principle of spiritual life that presses them toward right behavior: “Are there none who are utter strangers to a new spiritual life—a life from above, hid with Christ in God, a life of God—that mock almost at these things; at least, that can give no account of any such life in them;—that think it strange it should be required of them that they should give any account of this life, or of being begotten again by the Spirit; yea, that make it a most ridiculous thing? What, then, is it they will yet plead for themselves? Why do they not walk with God? Is not their conversation good and blameless? Who can charge them with any thing? Do they not perform the duties required of them? . . . . If it be from a pure conscience (that is, a conscience purified in the blood of Christ), and faith unfeigned, which is the life, or a fruit of it, whereof we are speaking,—it is glorious and commendable; if from other principles, the Lord abhors it.” The Works of John Owen, Vol. 9, Sermon 5, “Of Walking Humbly With God.”
  4. “Aiming at the enjoyment of God, as our reward . . . cuts off the obedience of many from being a walking with God. They perform duties, indeed; but what sincerity is there in their aims for the glory of God? Is it almost once taken into their thoughts? Is not the satisfaction of conscience, the escape of hell and wrath, the sole aim they have in their obedience? Is it of concernment to them that the glory of God be exalted? Do they care, indeed, what becomes of his name or ways, so they may be saved? Especially, how little is the glory of his grace aimed at! Men are destroyed by a self-righteousness, and have nothing of a gospel obedience in them. Look on the praying and preaching of some men: is it not evident that they walk not with God therein, seek not his glory, have no zeal for it, no care for his name; but rest in the discharge of the duty itself?” Ibid.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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1 reply
  1. Jim Dunlap
    Jim Dunlap says:

    Thanks David, this article certainly helps my thinking on the issue.
    However, the laws that prohibit conversion therapy will, if they
    aren’t already, be used to prohibit any efforts to help someone
    who suffers from same-sex attraction. How can an evanlegist
    share the gospel with such a person without talking about sin,
    and the necessity to repent of his or her sin? I am not familiar
    with how Christian conversion therapy works, but surely they
    emphasize the need for a changed heart, and the need for God
    to intervene in order for such efforts to be successful.

    Reply

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