When I listened to "Why Reparative Therapy is not an Evangelical Option", Heath Lambert's talk for the 2015 ETS debate about Reparative Therapy, I appreciated Heath's desire to honour Christ in counseling. His plea for Christians to not miss Christ for the reparative trees is something I can get whole-heartedly behind. But, listening to his talk, I also wondered whether he should have changed the title from "Why Reparative Therapy is not an Evangelical Option" to, "Why Reparative Therapy needs Evangelical Revision". Read on to find out why.
The talk began, after the initial introduction, with Lambert offering definitions of the two main terms:
'Evangelicals' were defined as characterised by the Bebbington Quadrilateral.
'Reparative Therapy' was defined as addressing a break in the parent/child relationship by re-parenting through therapy, resulting in the emergence of a natural heterosexuality.
(Lambert quoted his own article extensively in this section - see my review of that article).
Lambert then went on listing 6 points of difference between Reparative Therapy and what-Evangelicals-should-do. (He mentions 7 at the beginning, but he missed identifying a fourth point.)
The points are listed in summary below:
Reparative Therapists advocate for freedom of choice for people who struggle with homosexuality to pursue therapy.
Evangelicals must say more than people should be allowed to choose.
Evangelicals must take every opportunity to call homosexuals to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
Evangelicals must not take part in affirmation of homosexuality.
Reparative Therapists "are some of the few honest people left in the universe" when they say homosexuality is harmful. It does bring about harmful effects on people's body's and lives.
Evangelicals must not just say homosexuality is harmful.
Evangelicals must say that homosexuality is a grievous evil against God, and call people to repentance.
Reparative Therapists say and show that homosexuality is changeable.
Evangelicals must say that change is assured (1 Cor 6:9-11), even if not achieved in fullness in this life.
Evangelicals must say that change is required (Eph 5:3-6).
Evangelicals' first goal must be change into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18), partially in this life, fully in the next.
[Missing from presentation].
Reparative Therapists see the importance of the parent/child relationship. Research is there and should not be ignored, but assimilated into a biblical worldview. The importance of the parent/child relationship is also witnessed to in the Bible.
Evangelicals must not allow the truth of the parent/child relationship to prevent them addressing other crucial issues, i.e. sin, grace - common grace and special grace. "We can account for all the data, and Reparative Therapy can only account for some."
Reparative Therapists see the benefits of heterosexual relationships.
Evangelicals must say the bible never encourages people to heterosexuality generally. [Odd idea.]
Reparative Therapists see the importance of process: teaching and relational and initiatory, but some of the ways Reparative Therapy process has been used is sinful (e.g. pornography, nakedness). Even non-sinful methods are not biblical.
Evangelicals must use only the Bible, call people to conversion and have Jesus Christ at the centre of therapy.
It was here at the end of his talk that Heath finally came out and said why he thought Christians should not just improve on Reparative Therapy, but completely reject it.
Here is a long quote:
"The problem that homosexuals face are too serious and the stakes are too high to adopt any other approach, to spend any of our time talking about any other therapy than the one that points people to the source of light, life, strength, hope and joy.
"Christians embraced reparative therapy based on a false assumption: There's something special and wrong with homosexuals and they need something special to combat it. But God wrote the Bible so that we would understand the sin problem like homosexuality. He sent Jesus to give us the power to change the most ingrained sin problem. And he calls us into the world to preach a resurrected Saviour so that people will turn from their sin to Christ [unclear].
"Evangelicals don't need one little thing that Reparative Therapists use for helping homosexuals. Anything helpful they've got they ripped off from the Bible, and anything that's wrong they stole from secularism."
Heath Lambert wanted to draw a bold line between Reparative Therapy and Evangelical counseling, the prime example, one assumes, being that of his own "Biblical Counseling". In practice, however, Lambert engaged in what I considered to be a largely responsible critique of Reparative Therapy (though a couple of his specific critiques are odd and unhelpful) without actually explaining why the aspects of Reparative Therapy he praised or was thankful for should not also be utilised by evangelicals.
For example, at one point Lambert acknowledges the importance of the parent/child relationship both in studies and in the Bible, and comments, "So we're not afraid, as Christians, of any fact. We just want to take the facts and assimilate them into an Evangelical worldview." This is exactly the sort of attitude with which I believe we need to approach Reparative Therapy, an attitude that Heath demonstrated throughout the majority of his talk.
The predominant thought I had while listening to his talk was, "He's not saying anything more than Evangelicalism does it better."
It was only at the end of his talk that Heath actually gave some indication of why he believes Reparative Therapy should be rejected - as opposed to improve upon - by Evangelicals.
Why Evangelicals should not reject Reparative Therapy.
I really appreciate Heath Lambert's concern to bring the gospel to people and to keep that as the overall goal of any Christian therapy. If it were a question of either Reparative Therapy or therapy such as Lambert's "Biblical Counseling", I would choose the one that led people directly to Christ.
But it is not a question of either/or.
Reparative Therapists have been working for years with people who struggle with homosexuality. It would be incredible if a person such as Joseph Nicolosi, who himself comes from a Roman Catholic background, would not have insights and practical wisdom that corresponds to Biblical truths about sin and holiness. Yes, there is a need to do the hard work of measuring that wisdom and those insights against Biblical revelation, but hard work is no reason to reject such help.
Lambert, after doing such work himself, refuses to accept that there might be any crossover, or even any prodding from Reparative Therapy to recognise neglected theological truths. If it didn't originate from Biblical study (within his own tradition), it's to be rejected. If Biblical truths are not framed in particular language, they are not to be found. He says:
"Reparative Therapy...does not make room for Christ and so we should not make room for it."
The problem is that many Christian ministries have found that Reparative Therapy does make room for Christ. They have already taken insights from Reparative Therapy, measured them against the Bible and pointed people exclusively to Christ through repentance with the help of the Biblical principles found within Reparative Therapy. And the principles apply to sins far more numerous than homosexuality.
The truth is this: Christians thought that homosexuality was a special sin because the Church has failed to truly seek change for all sin (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11). Sins like pride and heterosexual lust and anger could be hidden, whitewashed or reasoned away, but, thanks to the culture, homosexuality refused to be swept under the carpet. It is a sin where real change is needed.
Where the Church failed, secular Reparative Therapists attempted to pick up the slack. Like Abraham, we have been rebuked by Pharoah (Genesis 12:10-20). With the light they had, Reparative Therapists saw results that the Church did not because they dug deeper. They did not have the option of "praying the sin away" or "repent and you're right". Instead, they discovered practical wisdom that lined up with Biblical truths.
But now that the Church as a whole has been forced to face this particular sin head on, Heath Lambert and others are suggesting that Reparative Therapy has nothing to teach us. Perhaps the stream of counseling Heath represents was faithful all along the way, but it is dishonourable to pile on to a secular therapy whose practitioners (many of whom are Christians) have been more faithful than the vast majority of the Western Church and are right now suffering persecution for it.
Reparative Therapies have not "ripped off" things from the Bible. They operate out of practical wisdom, some of which is biblical, some of which is sinful. Even now they challenge a disoriented Church who are swaying this way and that. The humble among us would be wise to listen.