A grassroots call to support the wellness of LGBTQ+ individuals by ending efforts to change their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
Sexual orientation and gender identity or expression change efforts (SOGIECE) including conversion “therapy” (sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy,” “reintegrative therapy,” “therapy for those experiencing same-sex attraction [SSA],”) refers to a range of dangerous and discredited practices that aim to change, deny, or suppress one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Rather than cherishing the sacred gift of an LGBTQ+ individual as a person created in God’s image, such practices force them into a fabricated existence, depriving them of the blessing of an authentic life.
Regardless of the labels used to identify conversion “therapy” practices (CTP), they are neither legitimate therapy nor productive exercises in dealing with young people and/or those in the process of recognizing their sexual or gender identity. These interventions have been discredited by countless medical professionals and organizations and exposed as “dangerous”, “harmful”, and “lacking efficacy”. Because of the higher rates of suicide within this demographic, at least 20 U.S. states and hundreds of municipalities have already banned conversion “therapy” by licensed mental health practitioners for minors completely, while 5 U.S. states and 1 U.S. territory have instituted partial bans. Globally, at least 14 countries have some form of a national ban on conversion “therapy” practices, and many other states, cities, and provinces have introduced legislation to protect their citizens from such abuse.
As Christians, we recognize that any practice such as conversion “therapy”—involving as it does the exercise of mental and/or physical abuse, shaming, and manipulation of another—is sinful, and specifically at odds with the teachings of Christ. Study after study has shown that young people who are exposed to such practices are significantly more likely to suffer depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse and addiction, and homelessness than those who have experienced the love and acceptance we find mandated in Scripture. Research indicates that LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other) young people forced to endure conversion “therapy” are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide. Because of the long lasting damage they can cause, conversion “therapy” practices and efforts to change another’s sexual orientation and gender identity or expression are not only wrong, they directly contradict Jesus’ commandment that we love and not harm others.
There is ample evidence that societal and religious denigration and rejection causes significant harm to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals. Experts from around the world, including a growing number of clergy and laypersons, now recognize certain conversion “therapy” practices as forms of violence, abuse, and even torture because of the harmful techniques used and their detrimental long-term–sometimes tragic–consequences. Simply put: conversion “therapy” practices are not only ineffective, but harmful and cruel — even life-threatening.
And yet, these harmful practices persist. Even within our own denominational family, there are ongoing attempts to subject LGBTQ+ young people—already vulnerable through the mere fact of being persons finding their way and place in a complicated world—to practices that convey to them (either implicitly or explicitly) that there is something inherently “wrong” with them; to practices that insist they have something to be ashamed about, something that makes them less than lovable in the sight of God; to practices that suggest to them that unless they carry out the impossible task of becoming something other than who they understand God created them to be, they are failures in God’s eyes. Ironically, continuing to try to lend legitimacy to these practices by pressuring people to go against their own good createdness, and against their Christian conscience by coercing them to attempt to alter their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression may be among the most insidious sins of all…
Expert consensus and scientific evidence demonstrate that same-gender orientation and variations in gender identity or expression are a part of the normal spectrum of human diversity. As Christians, we recognize every person bears God’s image and these variations are gifts that are integral to God’s plan for a diverse humanity. We believe that every person is loved by God and created with the freedom and ability to explore, understand, and develop their own identity, personality, gifts, and talents. Each person has an inborn capacity for love and self-expression that is unique in history and a testament to the infinite variety of God’s creation. As Cumberland Presbyterians, we affirm the sacred dignity of our LGBTQ+ siblings and find no justification for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression change efforts in science, Scripture, or our Confession of Faith. Conversion “therapy” practices or any such attempt that results in shaming, coercing, or threatening another into suppressing or denying their own authenticity, and thereby rejecting the person God created them to be, is immoral and antithetical to our faith.
We recognize that some people have been misled and have come to believe that conversion “therapy” is a faithful course of action for LGBTQ+ individuals. But the experiences of LGBTQ+ people have shown again and again that efforts to change another’s sexual orientation and gender identity or expression are ineffective, harmful, and do not bring wholeness to LGBTQ+ people, their families, or the church. Conversion “therapy” practices are detrimental to human flourishing, as they employ tactics such as shame and manipulation to force conformity to traditional views and restrictive gender roles. This includes denial of scientific evidence and the use of injurious interpretations of religious texts. Research has shown that conversion “therapy” practices–in the wanton discrimination and profoundly harmful effects they produce–cost the U.S. an estimated $9.23 billion each year. Replacing conversion “therapy” with affirmative therapy—which validates and advocates for LGBTQ+ individuals—would save an estimated $6.19 billion annually. Simply stopping conversion” therapy” would save an estimated $4.38 billion.
The Confession of Faith for Cumberland Presbyterians calls for embracing all individuals in the life of the church, and our General Assemblies have spoken out against the oppression of LGBTQ+ people. Conversion “therapy” practices are a recognized form of oppression and abuse against sexual and gender minorities, causing harm to LGBTQ+ individuals, pushing people away, and dividing families and churches. Many who support or practice conversion “therapy” may do so out of fear, misunderstanding, or ignorance of the harm it causes. But, those who promote and practice sexual orientation and gender identity or expression change efforts harm an already marginalized minority population, implicating themselves in the damage such efforts cause. We urgently implore members and leaders of the church to abandon conversion “therapy” practices and all efforts to change another’s sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
We lament those who continue to claim that conversion “therapy” or efforts to change another’s sexual orientation and gender identity or expression offer healing while ignoring clear evidence of harm and refusing to listen to the experiences of those who have suffered under these practices. We urge everyone to consider the evidence and listen to the stories of survivors in order to better understand the serious damage these practices cause to human lives. We invite the church to educate themselves on the risk and harm associated with these dangerous and discredited interventions, and instead learn what can be done to support the wellness of LGBTQ+ individuals.
Any parent who thinks their child should change and undergo conversion “therapy” because they are having difficulty coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity, should know that conversion “therapy” is never the solution! The Christian answer is to show them love, acceptance, and support. Listen to them, comfort them, and help them navigate their feelings. This is what we ultimately need to do for every child. LGBTQ+ persons, like all persons, deserve to be treated with respect, love, and support, not endangered by coercive and dangerous pseudoscientific practices.
Conversion ‘therapy” and sexual orientation and gender identity or expression change efforts are harmful and fraudulent and in direct and complete opposition to the mandate we have to love and care not only for all, but especially for “the least of these”. We therefore call for an end to all such change efforts, and for all people to support the wellness of LGBTQ+ individuals by affirming their sacred dignity, embracing their authentic identity, and acknowledging the validity of their loving relationships.
- Good Fruit Project: A Christian Case Against LGBTQ Change Efforts. The Project Guide, available for download in both English and Spanish, outlines the faith- and research-based evidence of the “bad fruit” of conversion therapy.
- Professional Policy and Position Statements on Conversion Therapy
- Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth. This report presents therapeutic practices related to youth, and sexual orientation and gender identity. These practices are based on research, clinical expertise, and expert consensus. The report makes the case for eliminating the use of conversion therapy among youth.
- Report from Family Acceptance Project show “Change” Efforts Linked with Double and Triple Rates of Depression, Suicide Attempts, Decreased Self-Esteem, Social Support, Education & Income in Young Adulthood.
- The Trevor Project: So-Called “Conversion Therapy” and LGBTQ Youth Mental Health
- Report on Conversion Therapy from the United Nations Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity – IESOGI
- Former leaders of ex-gay ministries apologize
- John Smid, former director of Love in Action Director. Smid had counseled hundreds of men to rid them of their homosexuality, but now admits he has seen no real success story of anyone who has changed from homosexual to heterosexual.
- Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation
- ‘Dangerous, Discredited’ LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy Costs U.S. More Than $9 Billion Each Year, Study Finds
- Gender-Affirming Care for Youth: Gender-affirming care has been shown to reduce suicide ideation and attempts in transgender individuals, along with social support, familial support, and reduction of discrimination.
- Conversion Therapy Dropout Network strives to bridge that gap between survivors and provide a support network through shared experience
- Report Conversion Therapy
- Made in the Image of God: Catholic Perspectives on the Dangers of Conversion Therapy.