Grey Matters: Should gay conversion therapy be provided to minors?

Pray Away Your GayMiles is 17 years old and wants to be a Southern Baptist preacher, the same as his father and grandfather. But Miles has a problem. He struggles with same-sex attractions. For the past year, he’s been dating Tracy, a girl who goes to his church. But Tracy has a brother named Scott, and Miles is more attracted to the brother than his own girlfriend. Tracy’s family has a pool, and Miles spent all summer over there, trying not to look (but failing) at Scott. Miles just wants to have normal feelings like everyone else. He wants to look at Tracy and notice her for what she has to offer. But he can’t stop thinking about the fact that her brother has the same emerald green eyes and red hair, and that if he squints hard enough, he can pretend that he is kissing Scott.

Miles reads his Bible daily and he concentrates on a passage in Romans 1:24-27 that talks about “men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” Miles prays every day for God to cure him, but the more he suppresses his feelings towards Scott, the brighter the fires burn.

Miles went to the counseling office at the Christian high school he attends to speak with his guidance counselor, Paul.

Paul pulled up Miles’ grades on the computer. “I see that you’re doing pretty well in your classes this semester, except for Calculus.” Paul punched in some data and then pulled up Miles’ prior transcripts. “Looks like you’ve always been an A+ student in math. What’s going on?”

Miles had been so distracted in his Calculus class because he sat behind the two best looking guys at school that he couldn’t focus on what the teacher was saying. He figured that this was a good way to bring up his problem.

“I have unnatural attractions to guys,” he said. “In that class, I sit behind Jake Lawson and Luke Jones, and I can’t even look forward without staring at one of them. I can’t pay attention in class because I have to read Bible verses the whole time to avoid temptation.”

“But your father is a preacher,” Paul said. “How can you of all people be gay?”

Miles lowered his head and didn’t look up. “I’m not gay. I just have same-sex attractions.”

Paul opened up his top drawer and pulled out his Bible. He opened it to Leviticus and started to read, “13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

Miles was beginning to regret his decision to talk to Paul. “Don’t you think I’m well-aware of the  teachings about homosexuality in the Bible. That’s why I’m here. I have these feelings but don’t want to.”

Paul didn’t have experience working with folks with same sex attractions, but he’d worked with plenty of alcoholics and drug abusers, so he figured he could help. “You’ve come to the right place. I’m gonna work with you so that you can overcome these demons. You’re broken, but through Christ, we can forge a path to wholeness.”

COMMENTARY:   Conversion therapy for minors is banned in California, Oregon, New Jersey, Vermont, Illinois and the District of Columbia.  The American Psychological Association has spoken out strongly against conversion therapy because of the potential risks and danger to the patient, including significantly higher likelihood of depression (5.9x) and suicide attempts (8.4x). Many may think that conversion therapy is an outdated practice, but it is not only legal in 45 states, it is promoted in the Republican Party platform. Many Republicans are likely against conversion therapy, but it was put into the platform at the request of religious conservatives, and conversion therapy is strongly supported by Republican President candidate Mike Pence. He has even advocated that the government should divert money from AIDS/HIV prevention towards anti-gay therapy.

MIT graduate Sam Brinton was twelve years old when his parents first sent him to a therapy who promised to “cure” Sam of being gay. His family and the therapist told Sam all gay people have AIDS and that God had abandoned him. Sam was completely isolated and was locked him in his room when he wasn’t in therapy.

The therapist strapped Sam’s hands to a table, placed ice on his palms, and showed Sam pictures of two men holding hands. Later, the therapist used copper heating coils, which were wrapped around his hands, burning hot for pictures of male couples but not for pictures of heterosexual couples. It was after the therapist started strapping Sam to a chair and sticking needles with electrodes into Sam’s fingers that Sam first attempted suicide.

Today, Sam is an MIT graduate who fights for legal protections for LGBT people. He also joined a support group for survivors of conversion therapy; of the ten members when he joined, eight have since committed suicide.

For someone like Miles, it is clear that he is too young for any sort of conversion therapy, but what about in a year, when Miles is older? If Miles wants to be a preacher and remain in the Southern Baptist denomination, then he’s not going to be able to live a gay lifestyle. It’s difficult for me, and I don’t know that I’ll always feel this way, but I am ok if as an adult, Miles seeks counseling so that he does not act on his same-sex attractions.

I don’t believe that I have the right to tell someone else what is a sin or isn’t a sin for him or her or whatever gender-neutral pronoun a person wants to use. If Miles considers being in a gay relationship a sin, then I’m ok if he wants to get help.

Paul is not in any position to counsel Miles, and he needs to get Miles the help that he needs. At a minimum, Paul should make Miles feel comfortable that this is how God made him. It’s ok for Paul to tell Miles that he shouldn’t act on these feelings, but Miles needs to be taught that a cure isn’t possible or even desirable.  And if Miles doesn’t want to act on those feelings, then it should be ok for Paul to find someone to help Miles. It would be better if it were someone who had struggled with those same feelings because Paul has no experience in dealing with this very complex situation.

I know it’s not a popular view, but I feel that it’s important for me to accept interpretations of the Bible contrary to mine because I insist that others don’t judge me for my actions. I believe in a God who made me to have same sex attractions to other guys, and he doesn’t want me to try to change that. I spent so many years praying and trying to change, but things only got worse, to the point that my junior year in college, I considered taking any easy way out. But I knew that God didn’t want me to stop loving myself and others. He wanted me to embrace the gift that he’d given me, and to understand that I was made in His image and that He loved me. That I needed to love myself. And from that place of love, I could be the man He made me to be. And I could love the person He created for me to be with.

Conversion therapy should be banned, but in its place we should allow adults to seek counseling in accordance with their religious beliefs. And if that means, they want to suppress their same-sex attractions because of their reading of the Bible, then I would fully support that. I just ask people of faith to have the same respect for my view of the Scripture.