One of the more curious ironies of the ex-gay movement is how it has helped popularize the theories of Sigmund Freud among conservative Christians, who for many decades viewed his work with skepticism if not open hostility. As it became increasingly untenable for thoughtful Christians to dismiss homosexuality as some sort of conscious, perverse choice, they discovered a new ally in a man otherwise considered (even by himself) an enemy of the faith. With the help of his theories they could acknowledge that people (with perhaps a handful of exceptions) don’t choose their sexual attractions, yet still reduce homosexuality to nothing more than daddy (or mommy) issues that could be reversed with proper treatment.
Although they are now beginning to recognize that they must concede that homosexuality is far more complex than Freud once speculated (and at least partially if not primarily biological in nature), the Freudian works of Elizabeth Moberly, Leanne Payne, Joseph Nicolosi and others remain popular in ex-gay and evangelical circles. Even at the last ex-gay ministry I attended – whose program more closely resembled Wendy Gritters‘ nuanced and grace-oriented approach than your average Exodus affiliate – Moberly’s text topped the recommended reading list and was frequently quoted in talks and group sessions.
The fruits of that commitment to Freudian thought are evident in the wedge that reparative therapy often drives between a patient and his or her parents. Christine Bakke has posted a new essay at Beyond Ex-Gay that examines the harmful effects that Freudian-based therapy has had on many former ex-gays, including herself. While ex-gay therapy can help resolve genuine relational issues (both with parents and with others who may have caused emotional injury), it can also become a “fishing expedition” that seeks to turn even the smallest problem into a life-shattering event – or occasionally even to fabricate them entirely.
While there is certainly a place for ministries that offer practical support to individuals who believe that acting on their same-sex attractions would be contrary to the will of God, the ex-gay movement would be doing everyone that they serve a favor by retiring the misguided theories of Freud and his disciples.