In many religious communities, prayer is a solution for everything. Finances, marriages, parenting woes, you name it; prayer changes things. It’s no secret that the power of words, meditation, and faith has inspired people beyond dire circumstances. In fact, some would argue that prayer has taken many to a better place, encouraging surrender to a higher power for a solution to an obstacle. But prayer, like religion, should remain an individual choice. Its power should be judged by individual results. And certainly, its believers should not push its “potential” on others as a cure to their sexual orientation.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, followed by the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives, in 1975, concluding that same sex attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality. Almost forty years later, there are religious-based “reparative therapy” groups encouraging lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to “turn their lives around” and “pray away the gay.”
According to Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a licensed clinical psychologist that helps people develop their “heterosexual potential,” it is possible to reduce same-sex attractions and fight against their “life-disrupting power.” As a co-founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), Nicolosi believes that bodies are made for heterosexuality, and reparative therapy is an effective solution for modifying sexual orientation.
The American Psychological Association has released dozens of research studies on homosexuality and the ineffectiveness of reparative therapy. The APA reports that while some “reparative” therapists claim the ability to change their clients’ sexual orientations from homosexual to heterosexual, close scrutiny of these reports have suggested otherwise. Often, these reports are poorly documented, as reparative treatment outcomes rarely are followed and reported over time. Without this longevity research, these studies fail to meet the standard of validity required of any mental health intervention research.
The APA also notes that the patients pursuing reparative therapy tend to have strong, conservative religious views that encourage them to change their sexual orientation. It’s often stigma that drives these patients into reparative therapy, not necessarily an innate desire to change their sexual attractions.
There have been criticisms raised to Nicolosi’s NARTH regarding a controversy that involved NARTH board member and reparative therapy psychologist George Rekers hiring a gay male prostitute to accompany him during a trip to Europe. As New York Times journalist Benoit Denizet-Lewis writes, “Many ex-gays admit to struggling with same-sex attraction years after they’ve rejected a gay identity, and a handful of high-profile leaders in the movement have been humbled by public slips or ‘relapses,’ a word borrowed from the language of addiction recovery.”
As the APA has condemned reparative therapies as invalid and potentially harmful to patients, religious fundamentalists, like U.S. Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann, continue to tout homosexuality as “personal enslavement.” But who is really personally enslaved? Is it lesbians, gays, and bisexuals that freely accept their sexual desires? Or is it ill-informed citizens that refuse to recognize that there is no solution to sexual orientation?
The answer seems pretty apparent.