The Yahnke Tapes: Harmful “Reparative Therapy” Advocated.

A post by Neil Hart on homosexuality, LGBT lesbian and gay stuff and the Lutheran Church of Australia

The LCA College of Presidents sanctioned a seminar on sexuality which was held in the Mannum Lutheran Church, South Australia in August this year. The Seminar entitled “Clear Conscience, Courageous Living” was conducted by the directors of “Doxology”, a recognised service organisation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. One of those directors is Beverly Yahnke a registered Clinical Psychologist who also serves as Professor of Psychology at The Lutheran Concordia University in Wisconsin.

Dr Yahnke conducted the first 2 sessions of the seminar which focused on homosexuality. It is disturbing that a person with attitudes such as those expressed in these 2 sessions is not only allowed to counsel young people who are gay or gender questioning but lectures undergraduate psychology students.

The full videos of all the sessions can be viewed here

My previous posts describe her use of a fabricated statement purporting to be the wording on a Californian Senate Bill to spread anti-gay community fear , her  assertion that homosexuality should be considered a mental illness  and unfortunate comments about societies that  kill homosexuals.

Here is the next instalment.

Recently the California Governor signed into law a bill preventing the use of so-called “reparative therapies” on minors. The bill seeks to address the damage that is done to vulnerable young gay people who are brought to fundamentalist religious based counselling organisations by well meaning parents  to change their sexual orientation, to get them “fixed”.  There are already moves to present similar legislation in  other US states.

When I first started looking  into the whole “ex-gay”, ” pray- away- the- gay”, “Reparative Therapy” ,”Change is Possible”, snake- oil- sales routine it didn’t take long before I came across these Youtube clips. One time proponents of these ideas (including some foundation members of Exodus international)  apologised  for  the harm and even suicides they had caused over the years.

It was disappointing, but not really surprising, to find that the LCA’s visiting expert on homosexuality advocated just such   a harmful practices. Allow me to throw a little additional light on the Dr Yahnke’s presentation.

Dr Yahnke indicates that there are varieties of research in her handouts from “radical Christian reactionary groups”  to “completely scientific groups”. She champions the research done Yarhouse and Jones as a  “land mark study… scientifically exquisitely rigourous”.

But, dear reader, we HAVE learnt by now not to take things on face value…havent we?

Firstly, neither Yarhouse nor Jones can be described as unbiased scientists without an agenda of their own.

Stanton Jones is Professor of Psychology at Wheaton College, a conservative Evangelical Christian institution. It is reported that as provost of the College he led a purge allowing only those scientists to stay at the college who did not endorse human evolution. The same report indicates that  his belief that the Bible unambiguously condemns monogamous same-sex relationships also helps to shape his employment policy.

Mark Yarhouse was mentored by Jones at Wheaton college when he studied Theology and Psychology. He is now a professor at Regent University. Originally called the Christian Broadcasting Network University, Regent University was founded by Tele evangelist Pat Robertson. Their Motto is “Christian leadership to change the world.”

I’m not saying that conservative Christians operating in conservative Christian institutions cannot produce rigorous scientific research but with an issue as theologically biased as homosexuality Jones and Yarhouse’s pedigree is surely worth noting.

Secondly, while  Dr Yahnkle is positively gushing about Yarhouse and Jones’ exquisite science she is somewhat less enamoured with the work of Exodus International. She describes them as a

“militant Christian group who almost move to a process of brain washing an individual to move from homosexuality back (?) to heterosexuality.

There is just one problem. Yarhouse and Jones’ “scientifically exquisite” study was actually commissioned by the “militant brainwashing” Exodus International .

(In the immortal words of  Texas Governor Rick Perry  after a monumental gaff which eliminated him from  the 2012 presidential race….”Oops!”)

The initial findings of the study were released as a book in 2007. The release was timed to coincide with the Christian Counsellors World Conference. When Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus announced the release of the book at that conference, he said…

  “Finally, there is now scientific evidence to prove what we as former homosexuals have known all along – that those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction can experience freedom from it.”

There is the point.

“Freedom from homosexuality”…”FORMER homosexuals” or, as the Exodus banners boldly claimed at their annual conferences for the last few decades…

“Change Is Possible”.

The only problem is… as much as the conservative Christian lobby would like it to be otherwise… it  just isn’t true.

The study itself  seems to say as much. One review of the study summarised it like this

Out of 98 highly motivated subjects, the authors found that a small, unspecified number (less than 6) can use prayer and counseling to shut down their sexual feelings or become a bit more bi.  And possibly none who turned straight.

A more detailed critique of the study can be read here 

Even Alan Chambers and Exodus International have had a change of heart and direction. Early this year Chambers, apparently tired of keeping up the pretence of being a “former homosexual” said the following in a panel discussion  at a 2012 Gay Christian Network Conference.

The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.

Since then Exodus have removed all books recommending “reparative therapy” from their website and all links to NARTH the major organisation which advocates such practices.

But the real issue here is not whether a gay person can become a little bit more bi or not. The real issue is the harm that is done to  young, vulnerable, confused gay christians who are subjected to “reparative therapies”. Dr Yahnke chooses to read out and bold print in her notes the following sentence…

Evidence from the study suggested that change of sexual orientation appears possible for some and that Psychological distress did not increase on average as a result of (people’s) involvement in the change process.

That Dr Yahnke chose to focus on this one questionable study betrays her own prejudice. She could rather have focused on the statements and studies of  (in alphabetical order)…

American Academy of Pediatrics

American Association of marriage and Family Therapy

American Counseling Association.

American Medical Association

American Psychiatric Association

American Psychoanalytic Association

American School Counselors association

National Association of Social Workers

All of these groups are critical of and do not recommend or endorse any form of “reparative therapies”

The wording of the Californian Act  banning the use of these  therapies on minors also gives a long list of the research outlining the very real dangers posed by such therapies. It states…

The task force concluded that sexual orientation change efforts can pose critical health risks to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, including confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.”

When Dr Yahnke advocates the possibility of a change in sexual orientation and denies the real harm that is caused by such attempts one wonders who she is speaking for, who she is defending. When the authorities of the LCA invite Dr Yahnke to speak on this subject and continue to promote the videos of her anti-gay lectures who are they speaking for. Whose good are they seeking? Neither Dr Yahnke nor the LCA are speaking for, defending or seeking the good of the LGBT people in their care.  All reputable health care professionals have made that clear.

The only thing they seem to be defending is one particularly narrow interpretation of scripture and it looks like they are determined to defend it regardless of the human cost.