Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Orientation change?

One part of the Bishops' doc sure to cause controversy is this one about the possibility of "changing" sexual "orientation." Its cautious wording is important:
A considerable number of people who experience same-sex attraction experience it as an inclination that they did not choose. Many of these speak of their homosexual attractions as an unwanted burden. This raises the question of whether or not a homosexual inclination can be changed with the help of some kind of therapeutic intervention.
There is currently no scientific consensus on the cause of the homosexual inclination. There is no consensus on therapy. Some have found therapy helpful. Catholics who experience homosexual tendencies and who wish to explore therapy should seek out the counsel and assistance of a qualified professional who has preparation and competence in psychological counseling and who understands and supports the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. They should also seek out the guidance of a confessor and spiritual director who will support their quest to live a chaste life.
This strikes every note. There is no scientific consensus on the question of change, properly understood, because there is no scientific consensus on the cause of homosexuality beyond the obvious -- that the cause is complex and the result of the interaction of a bunch of factors, which is only a little better than "we have no frickin idea." (This lack of consensus should not be conflated with a 1984-like conformity among professional groups on bad questions informed by false ideology.)¹

The church leaves open the possibility of "changing," and makes the noncommitally bland statement "some have found [it] helpful." That "change" is *possible* is something all but rigidly blinded ideologues know upon reflection (though it does require getting beyond the whole "gay-straight" discourse). But the USCCB doesn't hold out too much hope (as it shouldn't in fact, and would be beyond its competence in any event).

But as a general indication of priorities, understand that this section, called "Therapy for Homosexual Inclinations?" (note the question mark) constitutes 142 words -- my quote above is its entirety. In contrast, "Homosexual Inclination Is Not Itself a Sin" (note the lack of a question mark) has 618 words; "The Necessity for Training in Virtue" (ditto, plus the term "Necessity") has 733 words; "The Necessity of Friendship and Community" (double ditto) has 396 words. Word-counts are an imperfect measure, sure, but given those noted differences in tone, this is clearly just an aside for the US bishops.

Which inevitably leads to the endorsement of Courage in Note 44. And as someone at Beliefnet asked me earlier tonight (My response in the subsequent paragraphs is adapted from two different notes, with a couple of minor edits for clarity and missed nuance):
Can you explain why the focus is allegedly on being chaste, yet there are links throughout the Courage website to NARTH, Exodus, PFOX and other reversion therapy advocates?
Because some of our members pursue this path. But it is not a requirement or an official goal of the organization. Here are the five goals of Courage, said at every meeting, and orientation change is not one of them (#1 pretty strongly implies otherwise). Here are the description of the apostolate and the article on the Website linked to what is chastity. Neither contain any reference to orientation change. So anyone whose primary description of Courage is "an attempt to change orientation" simply doesn't know what he's talking about.

Now that isn't to say that some members don't pursue this and as the FAQs say, they are at liberty to do so but it is not any kind of requirement. Nor does it mean that Courage discourages their doing so. Or that the central office, or individual chapters and pastors, or Web sites must not provide information on where and how. The group is officially agnostic on the subject (which isn't to say that some of its members aren't). But the goal is Christ not getting hard or damp from the opposite sex.

It is true that at the Courage Web site you will find links to the mentioned groups (plus about 5 others to ex-gay or conversion ministries) among the 50 or so links on the Related Websites page. The "Books, Tapes and Videos" section also has some material that comes from that perspective -- again, among much else. But after spending about a half-hour skimming around the Web site (not exhaustive, sure, but it's not a very elaborate site), that was pretty much all I could find.

Both the amount and the segregated presentation seem about right to me. Their availability is made known for those interested. But it is not in the same place as our own material -- the mission statement, the FAQs, the conference and event listings, the solicits, the Web sites, etc. It's a well-established Internet convention by now that the mere offering of a link doesn't entail endorsement of everything at that site -- merely a general nod that "this is a site of potential common interest, but not our voice per se." This is also true of Beliefnet, the Democratic National Committee site and Instapundit.

So if the question is "does Courage have any link or relationships to these groups whatsoever?" The answer to that is clearly "yes, by a very broad definition of 'relationship' that also would prove that Courage has a relationship to Islam (StraightWay is on the links page)." And there is sufficient common ground that people who advocate reparative therapy have spoken at our conferences, and we don't treat them as ritually unclean pariahs. But that's pretty small potatoes, and linking from the site doesn't prove otherwise.² The USCCB document, which I think could have been written by a well-formed Courage member, pretty clearly indicates from space and rhetoric that "orientation change" is a small part of the Church teaching and not a big priority compared with a much broader orientation change that all need. In fact, here is how it transitions into the next segment after its "Therapy for Homosexual Inclinations?" segment.
There is another kind of “therapy” or healing of which we all stand in need, regardless of whether one is attracted to the same or the opposite sex: Every person needs training in the virtues.
Which is the "The Necessity for Training in Virtue" segment. In fact, I wish I could say I influenced the following segment ...
To acquire a virtue—to become temperate, brave, just, or prudent—we must repeatedly perform acts that embody that virtue, acts that we accomplish with the help of the Holy Spirit and with the guidance and encouragement of our teachers in virtue. ... The acquisition of virtues requires a sustained effort and repeated actions. As the ancient philosophers recognized, the more one repeats good actions, the more one’s passions (such as love, anger, and fear) become shaped in accord with good action.
Which sound suspiciously like this post (OK, fairly unremarkable, but I'll take my synchronicity or Providence where I can)

To wax personal: I'm pretty much a "Kinsey 6" (or maybe a 7), have been for as long as it's meaningful to call me a sexual being, and don't expect this to change any time soon. Being attracted to women is something that I hope for only in the sense that one hopes to win the lottery. My confessor knows all this and has never told me I have to "become straight" or marry. He did strongly encourage me to see a therapist, but about issues relating to my homosexuality and how I act out on it, not for the thing-in-itself. But to get all Matrix-y, if I were offered (1) a blue pill that would prevent me from ever having a sexual thought about a man or acting therein, but didn't change my complete lack of interest in women, or (2) a red pill that would give me normal response to women, but make me a compulsive womanizer, I'd take the blue pill without a second's hesitation.
¹ Aside: I've never really understood why pro-gay groups think that they should push the genetic-inborn theory. Well ... I do understand its short-term appeal (publicly, it seems to clinch the analogy of "sexuality" to race and sex; privately, it salves/deadens the conscience). But does anybody imagine that if we find a "gay gene" or a definitive cause based in hormones or amniotic-fluid or the like, that a pre-natal test for these factors disposing to homosexuality will be far behind? And like with girls in China and India, that the abortion rates will ... adjust.
² I will caveat the following: Some members do in fact pursue the "orientation-change" attempt. So, human group dynamics being what they are, it wouldn't surprise me if in some chapters, there might be more (or less) de-facto "peer pressure" or "groupthink" to do this.


marc said...

Great post, as usual. And you're quite right, too, about the abortion connexion: fetuses with Down syndrome, cleft palate, no fingers on the left hand, no fingers on the right, homosexual, this disease, that disease--abort them.

Joe C said...

Great post. I came here via Amy Welborn. And, I just wanted to say God Bless.

J. Scott said...

Never read your blog before (got here from Amy's). I just wanted to say: thank you for your faithful witness. May God bless you abundantly!