Because Ive been fighting fires on other fronts, and because I’ve expected this post to take some time (and because it needs to be given some time), I’ve allowed myself to put this post off for far too long. To refresh your memory, my friend Warren Throckmorton, a Christian psychologist and counselor who teaches at Grove City College, has come under heavy fire from Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, headed by Peter LaBarbera, who has apparently made it his mission to root out heresy (as he perceives it) in all things related to homosexuality. LaBarbera’s website has documented Dr. Throckmorton’s perceived backsliding, and I’ve decided to let Dr. Throckmorton speak for himself on the matter. I believe I know a lot of Warren’s heart on this complicated issue; I was his pastor for the better part of a decade and while he and I may not agree on every point, I find that the charges leveled against him are not only overkill (when there’s the perception of blood in the water, there is a segment of professing Christians who feel the need to move in for the kill, and clarity and precision and, ultimately, truth get lost in the shuffle), but in some instances, clearly misrepresent what Warren believes.
I asked Warren some questions that I feel allow him to express his own beliefs in his own words. One more aside before we get into it: in this current climate, where some well-meaning folks are being stirred up by this rabble-rousing, Warren is well-advised to say less rather than more, and I think we can all understand this, because we’ve likely all had similar experiences in life: a person is out to get us, and anything/everything that we say or do is twisted and turned into more evidence to convict us of whatever egregious sin this person has pre-determined us to be guilty of. With that in mind, a few questions:
Warren, would you classify homosexual behavior as sinful?
While I recognize and respect differing views regarding the morality of homosexual behavior, my personal view is that sexual behavior outside of marriage, including homosexual behavior, transgresses what I believe is taught by the Bible.
You’ve been criticized by some because they apparently believe you’ve “gone soft” on this issue. What is the basis for the way you approach the issue of homosexuality?
I believe that all people are formed in the image of God and as such deserve to be treated the way I want to be treated, with respect, civility and dignity. This is foundational for dealing with all people and forms a graceful response in keeping with Romans 2:4.
It’s been alleged that you believe that homosexual behavior might be OK for some people, in the sense that it’s not sinful. How do you respond to that?
My personal view would not allow for that. In my opinion, those making that allegation fail to respect the freedom to make moral choices.
Where’s the rub, then?
Counselors cannot dictate to people what they should believe. I wrote about this here: An Answer to Critics
Can you explain, in laymen’s terms, this whole “Sexual Identity Therapy Framework” that seems to be at the heart of the dispute?
These ethics codes apply to health and mental health care providers who enter into professional contracts with clients, may be receiving reimbursement for services from third party or government payers, and are often regulated by state certifying agencies. In other words, these relationships are regulated by several state and federal laws which require sensitivity to activities which could be coercive and damaging to clients of all belief systems. Christians who are professionally trained and credentialed are not exempt from these considerations because they of their religious beliefs and loyalties. The sexual identity therapy framework was written with this professional audience in mind.
As a pastor, its important to me that I tell the Biblical truth to everyone—including those struggling with homosexuality. Is there a difference, then, between how you would approach counseling in the mental health field, and how you might advise me to approach it as a pastor?
Of course, pastors and ministries are going to promote a Christian ethic. Counselors may work within the Christian framework of their clients with consent of the clients. If a counselor finds he/she cannot work within the belief system of the client, then a referral to another counselor is a viable option.
One of the more interesting charges is that you’ve lost faith in God’s ability to change people. This seems to stem from your observation that change of sexual orientation seems to be fairly rare—though not by any means unheard of. How would you address this charge?
God redeems people and makes them alive to God. That is the most profound change. I said it this way on my blog:
“Regular readers of the blog will understand the difference between the change and congruence paradigms of sexual identity ministry. The change paradigm seeks change of orientation as a goal and a standard of success. Some who hold to this paradigm believe that such change is an indicator of spiritual growth and what is known in Christian theology as sanctification i.e., becoming holy and without sin.
“On the other hand, the congruence paradigm seeks alignment with ones understanding of Christian teaching. Change in the direction of essential attractions is viewed as infrequent and may actually be better described as better behavioral control. A smaller subset of those people may change their attractions in a more dramatic and abrupt manner. This latter experience may be more common among women than men. Whether it happens or not is not deemed important to the objective of congruence. An assumption is that essential human desires are not likely to change much in this life and so the objective is to align behavior and will to Christian teachings. The congruence paradigm defines change in ideological terms with meaningful cognitive and behavioral implications. Being converted to Christianity or experiencing a recommitment to ones faith is a profound change and from the perspective of my Christian tradition is the most important kind of change.
“So this accusation that I have lost my faith in God’s ability to change people is flat wrong. It also ignores the body of my work and efforts to bring evangelical concerns to the professions. I have been working to make the professional bodies aware that religious identity is powerful and for many evangelicals so vital that it overwhelms all other considerations.
“The chair of the recent American Psychological Association task force on sexual orientation acknowledged this in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, entitled A New Therapy on Faith and Sexual Identity:
“‘We’re not trying to encourage people to become ex-gay, said Judith Glassgold, who chaired the APA’s task force on the issue. ‘But we have to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else.'”
So I make sure I get it, it seems that what you’re saying is that for some folks, those who advocate what you term a change paradigm, a person with homosexual attractions must no longer feel those attractions in order to grow in sanctification, whereas your belief in a congruence paradigm means that you consider it less important and not to be expected as normative that an individual’s orientation would change, but rather that that individual would bring his behavior in line with the Bible’s prohibition on homosexual activity. Did I get that right?
Yes, for the person who holds to the conservative Christian view, the congruence approach would stress alignment of behavior with Christian teaching.
Finally, a hot-button issue in contemporary American society is the whole idea of “gay marriage”. Where do you come down on that issue?
I oppose same-sex marriage but believe the Equal Protection Clause permits homosexual civil unions. Eventually, I suspect the Supreme Court will decide this issue as a matter of law.
Thanks, Warren, for answering those questions.
Well, folks, there you have it, straight from the doctor’s mouth. Now, we might have a disagreement or two; personally, I’m not settled yet on the issue of “civil unions”; I think my preference would be that the government would get out of the business of issuing marriage licenses altogether. You may not like his stance on some other things, but everything he’s said seems eminently-reasonable to me. He believes in God’s power to change individuals (as do I)—no “change” in his position there. It’s his professional observation—and he’s far more qualified than either myself or Peter LaBarbera—that most people do not change as to their sexual desires. It’s his position—and mine—that that fact alone has nothing to do with a person’s sanctification, in the same way that an unmarried heterosexual widower—Scripturally-prohibited from a sexual relationship outside the bonds of marriage—can “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ”, despite being wired—sometimes, powerfully tempted—toward a sexual liaison. Professional counselors have codes of ethics by which they have to abide—and a Christian counselor under that authority is no less bound to those codes of ethics than any other.
And so, to answer Mr. LaBarbera and others whom, it would seem, want to shed a lot of heat—but not necessarily a lot of light—on this sensitive subject, it’s been good to hear Dr. Throckmorton out. Seems like we’d sure save ourselves a lot of trouble if we’d be more careful to listen, and less quick to condemn on the basis of half-truths…