Something New To Discuss During Our Q&A Session: Rosaria Changes Her Mind About “Conversion Therapy”

The category “conversion therapy” (CT) was always dubious. Coined in 1991, the term was a grab-bag, a way of lumping together a variety of approaches to the treatment of same-sex attraction (SSA). As a result of the various bans on CT, when a parishioner comes to her pastor or another counselor to seek counsel about her struggle with SSA (almost always stemming from childhood neglect, abuse, or some other trauma, e.g., a violent sexual attack in Middle School or High School), under some existing and proposed laws banning CT, that pastor faces possible punishment. The bans completely ignore those who have addressed and rejected their SSA.

In 2014, Dr Rosaria Butterfield, who is speaking at the free conference in Escondido on July 29, 2022, published an essay in which she repudiated “reparative therapy.” She wrote,

3. The reparative therapy heresy. This position contends a primary goal of Christianity is to resolve homosexuality through heterosexuality, thus failing to see that repentance and victory over sin are God’s gifts and failing to remember that sons and daughters of the King can be full members of Christ’s body and still struggle with sexual temptation. This heresy is a modern version of the prosperity gospel. Name it. Claim it. Pray the gay away.

She argued, on the basis of the doctrine of progressive sanctification, that reparative therapy is a form of perfectionism. Recently, however, she published an essay titled, “Retraction Of My Position On Reparative And Ex-Gay Organizations.” In this new essay she concedes that her earlier claim that reparative therapy is a “heresy” and a “modern version of the prosperity gospel” is “among the most misguided words I have written as a Christian.”

She explains that she conflated CT and “Reparative Therapy” (RT). She previously thought that CT/RT “harmed people by making undeliverable promises” and wrongly blamed parents for their childrens’ problems. She incorrectly believed that “the darkest days of mental health—think ‘electroshock therapy’—fell under the umbrella term ‘conversion therapy.'”

What changed her mind was the report of the physician Andre Van Mol, a California family physician who reported on the research of sociologists Paul Sullins, Christopher H. Rosik, and Paul Santero.

Swiftly on the heels of his 2021 study showing sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) “strongly reduces suicidality” and that restrictions on SOCE may “deprive sexual minorities of an important resource for reducing suicidality, putting them at substantially increased suicide risk,”[1],[2] Sociologist Paul Sullins’ new peer-reviewed analysis revealed, as per its title, an “Absence of Behavioral Harm Following Non-efficacious Sexual Orientation Change Efforts: A Retrospective Study of United States Sexual Minority Adults, 2016–2018.”

Sullins characterizes SOCE as a “summary term for therapies or programs that support change from same-sex orientation in sexual attraction and/or behavior.”

Van Mol notes that the term CT was coined in 1991 by opponents of SOCE. In other words, prejudice was inherent in the very creation of the term CT. The use of the term CT was never about science or experience. This, of course, has been the pattern of the psychiatric establishment since the early 1970s, when, under political and cultural pressure to approve homosexuality, the psychiatric establishment reversed course regarding homosexuality, despite the evidence and their experience as therapists.

Van Mol quotes Sullins et al.,

“The SOCE group was statistically indistinguishable from the non-SOCE group on any measure of harm. For behavioral harm, risk ratios were 0.97–1.02.” Put another way, “sexual minority persons who had undergone failed SOCE therapy did not suffer higher psychological or social harm.” That contradicts the claims of SOCE/SAFE-T harm studies.

In fact, Sullins, Rosik, and Santero conclude,

We analyzed a sample of 125 men exposed to SOCE to investigate the perceived efficacy and safety of such change efforts in modifying unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, and identities. On average, participants reported significant changes in their sexuality in line with their SOCE goals, possibly contributing to an enhanced integration or congruence among these dimensions. The maintenance of religious norms of sexual fidelity within and abstinence without heterosexual marriage appeared to be an important motivating factor for many in our sample, and our findings are consistent with the inference that most participants found SOCE beneficial in this regard. We also found pursuit of SOCE to be associated with enhanced psychological well-being for a large majority of participants, with negative effects being reported by less than 1 in 20 consumers. While our findings preclude strong assertions that therapy-assisted change in sexual orientation is never possible, they also do not support strong assurances that therapy-assisted change is generally achievable in the sexual minority population. The polarization within organized psychology over SOCE appears to have led to insular research that treats one subgroup of sexual minorities as representative of the whole population, with detrimental consequences for accurately comprehending the complexities of sexual orientation change among these individuals.

It is not only that SOCE does not harm but that in the cases surveyed, it did positive good—something which the CT/RT bans fail to acknowledge. In other words, the war on RT/CT was just politics, a way of forcing the rest of us to affirm the new orthodoxy of the sexual revolution: expressive individualism.

In light of Sullins’ work and Van Mol’s reporting, Butterfield writes,

I believe homosexuality and transgenderism are sins, which means their root cause is sin. God’s remedy? The atoning blood of Christ is applied to those who repent and believe in Christ alone for our salvation (Mark 1:15). The gospel compels us to love God (John 14:15) and live in the power of our new nature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our new nature in Christ empowers us to die to sin (Romans 6:2) and fight remaining sin (Gal. 5:16–17). Pastoral teaching is crucial for the Christian, but Christian medical care comes to our aid when our bodies groan with illness and Christian counseling when our minds ail with trauma and abuse. Christians may work together to help a struggler be victorious in Christ over homosexuality and gender dysphoria. God does not leave his people defeated by sin and discouraged by facing trauma and illness alone. Seeking Christian care for mind, body, and soul is a good and godly approach.

She writes that she supports “freedom in health care including biblical counseling…and change-allowing therapy for undesired same-sex attraction and gender anxiety.” She affirms that living in light of God’s natural order is good and right for both believers and unbelievers. She closes with a quotation from Chris Gordon’s New Reformation Catechism on Human Sexuality (Q. 29):

God, in the Gospel of his Son, has announced that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Any unholy desire, even if unchosen, such as same-sex attraction, is covered by the blood of Christ (Col. 2:13). Believers who continue to struggle against same-sex attraction should trust in God’s forgiving mercies (1 John 1:9), and with earnest purpose, by the strength of the Holy Spirit, strive to live in the newness of life (Romans 6:4; Col. 3:1–5). Further, the body of Christ should not avoid or shun those those who struggle against any sexual sin (2 Sam. 12:1–13; Luke 15:1–2). Instead, believers with a spirit of compassion (Jude 22; 1 Peter 3:8) should “bear each other’s burdens, an so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

Sanctification is progressive, gradual and part of sanctification is a change of one’s mind. Augustine grew beyond his Manichaean and Platonic influences. In Christ, we all grow toward Christ, as we daily die to sin and are gradually remade in his image. Augustine published a report of how his mind changed and so Rosaria is in good company as we all must be.

This essay certainly gives us something meaty to discuss during our Q&A session at the upcoming conference.

RESOURCES

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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3 comments

  1. Good news. But probably SSA-sympathetics would say celibate SSAs do adhere to the new catechism in their struggles. And likely they say others should not deem an SSA to be unfit for ordination just because strong SSA temptations do not diminish.

    What is reasonable (in regards to pca/revoice) is that a leader/bishop, or one being considered for leadership, who declares himself to have an especially strong (“side b”), as-yet unshakeable or non-diminishing sin tendency (fornicating, adultrous, homosexual, violent, addictive, or other) is not qualified for ordination.

    • Brad: There’s no way examining committees can work with some nebulous standard as “especially strong (“side b”), as-yet unshakeable or non-diminishing sin tendency (fornicating, adulterous, violent, addictive, or other)…”. To include someone who harbors homosexual desires of whatever magnitude is to conflate categories. Of all the sins you list, homosexual desire of any magnitude or frequency is *unnatural*. The natural sins can certainly be disqualifying but the category of unnatural sins should be disqualifying for ordination if present in either thought or deed.

  2. Thank you for that reply Bob. (sorry i didnt check back here earlier). Agree with your contention of “nebulous” – but “struggle” is a nebulous word when examining someone’s sexual sin, no? My aim is to persuade SSA sympathisers, who claim celibate SSA christians are perhaps most admirable for their ongoing “struggles” with sin. The “unnatural” sins enumerated in Romans 1 seem to be mixed with what are considered “natural” sins: covetousness, pride…

    It seems to be headed in PCA that a celibate SSA candidate can answer that he is biblically fit for ordination because he is only tempted to sin, and battles without indulging. Younger PCAs are persuaded this is acceptable.

    I contend a examination standard needs to declare that a candidate is unfit who cannot affirm that, by God’s grace, he has no especially notable/worrisome/powerful temptations that define his personhood.

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