Reparative Therapy: What it Is, What it Isn’t, Why it Matters (Part One of a Five Part Series)

Then said Evangelist, ‘If this by thy condition, why standest thou still?’ He answered, ‘Because I know not where to go.’
-Pilgrim’s Progress

Been There, Done That, Thank God
Thirty one years ago I asked for help, and I got it.

I’d just had a crisis of truth over my sexual behavior, but now I was repentant. A clear reading of Scripture (in concert with relentless conviction from the Holy Spirit) told me any kind of sex outside heterosexual marriage would take me outside God’s will, and that’s a place I was determined never to be again. After a failed marriage, an adulterous affair with a friend’s wife, an aborted child, several male to male relationships, a seven year porn habit, gay activism, and countless sexual partners, I knew I’d been wrong for years. Now I wanted to be, and
stay, right.

So I wasn’t asking anyone to tell me whether or not homosexuality was OK. I’d already decided, as an adult Christian with free will and a mind of my own, that it wasn’t. Now I wanted a professional counselor who shared my views to help me deal with the sexual feelings I was already determined not to give into.

Thankfully, I found a therapist who understood my goals, helped me manage my feelings, walked me through some horrendous parts of my life I’d never faced, encouraged me to confront my intimacy fears, and guided me through a realistic appraisal of my potential for marriage.

I wanted help with my unwanted sexual desires, and I don’t think I was asking too much. But if I was that 29 year old guy asking for it today, the number of hurdles and hoops thrown my way would be pretty formidable. Because today, that sort of help carries the controversial label Reparative Therapy.

For the next five weeks I’d like to talk about Reparative Therapy, exploring what it is, what it’s not, why it matters, its upside, its downside, and its relevance to us

Because it is relevant, especially to anyone concerned about ministry to homosexuals, modern gender-related apologetics, and effective, Biblically based approaches to homosexuality, transsexualism, and other sexual issues.

A Loaded Term
Those two words – reparative and therapy – have become awfully combustible when placed alongside each other. These days, the term’s become an outright pejorative. Google it for yourself and you’ll find it usually referred to in a negative light, with adjectives like “pseudo-scientific”, “discredited” , and “harmful”  slapped onto it. Often with sinister overtones, it’s described as attempts to “convert people from gay to straight”  sometimes through scary practices like shock treatment and nausea-inducing drugs;  sometimes through naïve-sounding approaches derisively referred to as “pray the gay away.”  And as it that weren’t enough, the President himself has weighed in, condemning the practice and encouraging laws that would forbid practitioners from offering it to minors.

Yet Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, generally regarded as the most visible proponent of this approach and author of the 1991 book Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality, defines it in much more modest terms:

“The Reparative Therapy psychotherapist agrees to share his professional experience and education to help the client meet his own goal. The therapist enters into a collaborative relationship, agreeing to work with the client to reduce his unwanted attractions and explore his heterosexual potential.”

Next Friday in Part Two of this series, we’ll break that definition down more fully. For now, let’s consider why anyone who is gay or lesbian would even consider making such changes.

An Involuntary State
Homosexuality isn’t chosen, it’s discovered.

That is to say, people who are attracted to the same sex never asked for such attractions. They simply realized, around the same time their peers were discovering their arousal towards the opposite sex, that they were experiencing similar desires towards their own.

Heterosexuals who maintain that gays simply “choose to be that way” should seriously ask themselves if they could make such a choice. Could you, as a man who’s always been turned on by women, simply decide to have the same internal erotic response to other men? Highly doubtful; generally impossible. Granted, some heterosexuals engage in homosexual behavior for any number of reasons: experimentation, lack of opposite-sex companions (as in a prison environment) or an out of control drunken episode. But their inward attractions are still solidly heterosexual. Choosing our behavior is certainly an option. Choosing our orientation isn’t.

The choice involved, then, is not what one’s orientation will be, but whether one chooses to express it or resist it; to accept it as normal, or to view it as problematic. And that choice is largely determined by world view.

Desires in Conflict
If a person realizes he’s homosexual and has no moral or religious objections to it, then he’ll probably choose to express his desires, adopt a gay identity, and move on in life. But when sexual orientation clashes with world view – as is often the case when a Christian realizes his sexual feelings are at odds with his faith – then hard choices have to be made.

Plainly put, if I’m attracted to the same sex, yet believe that expressing those attractions is wrong, then I won’t view the attractions as “just a part of who I am.” I’ll see them as a problem to be dealt with. And, more often than not, I’ll want to discuss that problem with someone who shares my beliefs, understands the issues involved, and can help me explore and pursue options I can in good conscience
live with.

When your conscience testifies against what you’ve been doing and identifying with, you can either try to silence your conscience, or you can try to conform your life to its demands. Usually, conforming involves repentance, and repentance is followed by the need for guidance as the repentant soul asks, “So now what?”

Saul of Tarsus could tell us a thing or two about that. Having been blinded by a stunning confrontation on the Damascus road, and having realized he’d been entirely wrong in belief and action, he uttered the classic plea of the repentant: “Lord, what would You have me to do?” (Acts 9:6) Ananias, a believer aware of Saul’s past, was led by God to meet with Saul, baptizing and strengthening the inquiring man whose life was caught between a past he’d rejected and a future he couldn’t imagine.

I get it. I’ve been Saul, devastated by the knowledge that I’d been so wrong, and bewildered as to where I should go and how I could get there. In my vulnerability, and with my countless questions and concerns, I needed an Ananias.

And if Ananias happened to have a PhD and a good couch to cry on, so much
the better.

Tomorrow: Our response to tonight’s 20/20 interview with Bruce Jenner.

Next Friday: Part Two of our Series The History and Practice of Reparative Therapy – Commendations and Concerns


  1. Your honesty, and courage are as phenomenal as your insight Mr Dallas. Thank you Sir.

  2. Cindy Brown says:

    Your ministry and perspective is a tremendous blessing. Thank you for sharing your struggle and what God has taught you through it. As a compassionate Christian, I struggle with balancing my love for God’s standards of holiness with my love for those who have adopted the worldly view. Yours is a voice of reason and Truth. I know it’s not easy to take the stand you’ve taken. Bless you!

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