Stanton L. Jones
In the first longitudinal, peer-reviewed, scientific study of its kind, researchers have concluded some homosexuals can change their “orientation” through religiously mediated guidance.
Researchers Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse released the results Thursday of a three-year study during an address at the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference.
Their conclusions contradict the claims of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, which contend such change in sexual orientation is impossible and attempting to pursue it likely will cause depression, anxiety or self-destructive behavior.
The new study concluded such changes do not cause psychological harm to the patient.
Nicholas A. Cummings, former American Psychological Association president, praised the research.
“This study has broken new ground in its adherence to objectivity and a scientific precision that can be replicated and expanded, and it opens new horizons for investigation,” he said.
Exodus International, the world’s largest Christian ministry to homosexuals, said it funded the research because of the absence of any scientific, peer-reviewed research on the topic.
The major findings are reported in a book to be released by the evangelical Christian publisher InterVarsity Press, “Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation.”
A homosexual-activist group called Truth Wins Out warned news organizations “to be highly skeptical of a biased ‘ex-gay’ sham study.”
The homosexual group said, “Caution should be taken in prematurely critiquing the study until the full methodology is available. However, based on unconfirmed reports there is great concern that these notorious anti-gay researchers did little more than telephone professional ex-gay lobbyists and ministers from Exodus International and ask them if they had ‘changed.’”
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International and a former homosexual, said, “Finally, there is now scientific evidence to prove what we as former homosexuals have known all along – that those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction can experience freedom from it.”
“For years, opponents of choice have said otherwise, and this body of research is critical in advancing the national dialogue on this issue,” he said.
Chambers said “the life-changing process of leaving homosexuality behind” is not easy, but, “for thousands of us, the journey has been well worth it, and we are grateful that these study findings give credence to our existence as men and women whose lives have been transformed by Jesus Christ.”
Jones, a provost and professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Wheaton, Ill., told CitizenLink magazine in an interview he was prompted to do the study because of the “ever-increasing pessimism expressed in the professional world that sexual orientation could ever be changed.”
“This was in contrast to the fact that I occasionally met individuals in Christian circles who claim to have experienced precisely such change,” he said. “When the mental-health field actually began to say that change is impossible – that sexual orientation cannot be changed – it formed the perfect scientific hypothesis to be able to conduct a study.”
Jones noted there have been dozens of studies conducted suggesting change is possible for some people, but “the research is not of the highest quality and has been deeply and highly criticized.”
After studying the criticisms of those studies, Jones and Yarhouse concluded the proper methodology would need to be both “prospective and longitudinal.”
“Prospective means that you catch people before they begin the change process and follow them through the process, while longitudinal means that you’re actually following people over time to see if the change is stable,” Jones explained to CitizenLink. “The scientific characteristics of the study are unique, in that no one has ever started early and then followed people over a long period of time like we did.”
Jones said they found that by following the subjects over time “not everyone is successful, not even a majority is successful, but a very substantial group of people report fairly dramatic change.”
“We found that 15 percent of our sample of about 100 claimed to actually have changed from homosexuality to heterosexuality,” he said. “These people experienced significant enough change that they really felt like they had left one sexual orientation to shift into another.”
He acknowledged “life is still complicated for these people, and some still have some residuals of their homosexual attractions.”
“However, they are people who report being able to function as heterosexuals, they’re happy with their marriages and they feel that their lives have changed dramatically,” he said.
The other type of success he found – in almost a quarter of the subjects – was “people who left the homosexual lifestyle and experienced very substantial reductions in homosexual attraction by embracing the Christian discipline of chastity, not acting on their sexual impulses.”
“These were people who felt like they were free now to orient their lives not on their sexual, erotic desires and needs, but on their relationship with God and on healthy, nonsexual intimacy with other people,” Jones said.
The two groups together, those who converted and those who experienced chastity, made up about 38 percent of the sample.
“We feel these changes observed over this substantial period of time provide clear indication that the opinions of the secular mental-health field that change is impossible are simply wrong,” Jones said.
The second area of the research focused on the secular mental-health community’s claims that the attempt to change is harmful.
Jones and Yarhouse administered a standard psychological inventory that measures psychological distress to subjects at every point along the way.
“We found that there was essentially no change in their psychological distress over time,” Jones said. “On that basis, we feel that there is no evidence that the change attempt is harmful, and we found evidence that change is possible for some people.”
He added, however, the research does not prove anybody can change or that no one has ever been harmed from the attempt to change.
“It just suggests that the forceful way in which the secular mental-health community is saying change is impossible and harmful is just not well-advised,” he said.
Jones pointed out the American Psychological Association has a blue-ribbon panel right now examining the question of how it should formulate its policies on the subject of attempts to change sexual orientation.
Certain members, Jones noted, have already said publicly change is impossible and harmful.
Jones said he hopes “there will be enough of an open mind on the part of the secular mental-health community that they will not continue the movement towards banning these kinds of attempts to change sexual orientation, harassing them out of existence and labeling as unethical any professional person who cooperates with them.”
“There is a need to respect the autonomy of individuals who are distressed about what they have experienced sexually and for religious or moral reasons want to try the attempt to change,” Jones told CitizenLink. “Those people first need to be fully informed about just how complex and difficult that process is and then they should have the right as individuals, as an exercise of personal and religious freedom, to seek support in their attempt to change sexual orientation.”
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