Homosexuality, reparative therapy, and the Jewish community

Matt C. Abbott
October 20, 2010
Reproduced with Permission

As the homosexuality debate rages among Christians (although it shouldn't, given the clear teachings of Sacred Scripture and the natural law), said debate also seems to be taking more prominence in the Jewish community.

To wit: In an Oct. 13 editorial, the Forward, a Jewish publication, states:

The recent spasm of violence and inflammatory rhetoric against gays and lesbians should concern all Americans. From the suicide of a hounded Rutgers University student, to the unforgivably brutal attacks on gay men in the Bronx, the headlines have been chilling. When a major party candidate for governor of the nation's third-largest state can say the sort of things that the GOP's Carl Paladino said in New York and think he can get away with it  well, that's just one indication of how disturbed our public discourse has become.

In this context, it is troubling to see that an organization that seeks to 'cure' Jews of their homosexuality is still sanctioned by the Rabbinical Council of America, representing Orthodox rabbis nationwide. In August, the Forward recounted the horror stories of two Orthodox men who were referred to Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH) for so-called reparative therapy, an approach that's been widely discredited in the mental health community. Yet JONAH is still listed under rabbinic resources on the RCA's website, and the organization's spokesman, Rabbi Basil Herring, told the Forward that 'nothing has changed as far as we are concerned.'

A groundbreaking 'statement of principles' signed this summer by more than 170 Orthodox rabbis and professionals noted that most clergy and mental health experts 'feel that some of these therapies are either ineffective or potentially damaging psychologically for many patients.' Whatever one's halachic view of same-sex marriage or gay ordination, there should be no rabbinic hekhsher for pseudo-science that has badly harmed the very people it claims to help....

In response to the Forward's editorial, Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Silodor Berk, co-directors of JONAH, have issued the following statement:

Your editorial of October 13, 2010, entitled 'A Damaging Cure' is tragic as it denigrates scientifically documented efforts to change sexual orientation, a process that is consistent with Torah principles of teshuvah. In your one-sided opinion piece, you neglect to mention the substantial evidence that sexual orientation may be changed through reorientation therapy as set forth in What Research Shows, a recent landscape review of the scientific literature involving more than 600 reports of clinicians, researchers, and former clients  primarily from professional and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Moreover, professional medical associations such as the American College of Pediatricians disagree with your assessment. They state, 'Contrary to the 'born that way' myth, ... sexual orientation is not fixed at birth but rather is environmentally shaped and unfolds slowly across childhood, adolescence and even into adulthood for some individuals.'

You suggest in your editorial that JONAH's belief in what you call 'reparative therapy,' is 'an approach that has been widely discredited in the mental health community.' To the contrary, not only the American College of Pediatricians referred to above but several officials of the American Psychological Association, the largest organization of mental health professionals, weigh in with similar comments. For example, Dr. Gerard P. Koocher, a former president of the APA stated, 'APA has no conflict with psychologists who help those distressed by unwanted homosexual attraction.' And, after reviewing a specific text describing JONAH's particular approach for healing, another former APA President, Dr. Nicholas Cummings, stated that it is 'a most important contribution to the understanding of homosexuality and same-sex attraction, not only for its clear and factual presentation of the clinical and scientific evidence, but also for its resounding message of hope for those who would seek change.'

And again in contradiction to your unwarranted assertions, there is little scientific evidence that such therapy is harmful. The What Research Shows study affirms, after a review of the scientific literature, 'the documented benefits of reorientation therapy  and the lack of its documented general harmfulness.' Thus, to refer to the process as 'pseudo-science' evidences an agenda that seeks to deny several inalienable rights of individuals. These include the right to receive life-giving information about the existence and effectiveness of various gender-affirming methods and therapies, the right to seek treatment for a sexual orientation that is unwanted, and the right to live a life consistent with Torah values. A denial of these rights is not merely wrong. It is immoral, irresponsible, and potentially lethal.

In a related item, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (who, incidentally, has been a fierce critic of the saintly Pope Pius XII) is critical of the "extreme homophobia" among pro-family activists.

Writes Boteach in an Oct. 19 column:

I have countless gay friends whose greatest fear, like so many straight people, is to end up alone. Should we merely throw the book at these people? Does not the same Bible also say, 'It is not good for man to be alone?' And all I'm asking from my religious brethren is this: Even as you oppose gay relationships because of your beliefs, please be tortured by your opposition. Understand that when our most deeply held beliefs conflict with our basic humanity, we should feel the tragedy of the conflict, rather than simply find convenient scapegoats upon whom to blame all of America's ills.

Goldberg's response:

The missing factor in Boteach's comments is that men or women need not be alone if they are motivated and willing to do the work necessary to overcome their sexual issues. His piece assumes the born that way theory, that homosexuality is immutable and unchangeable and therefore without some form of gay coupling, the individual will be isolated and alone. But that is simply not true; it is not factual for those with unwanted same sex sexual attractions. Innumerable scientific studies and personal testimonies attest to the fact that change is possible through a series of gender affirming processes that involve emotional, intellectual, and spiritual changes. Change is and occurs through an internal, transformational process of self-reflection, value clarification and study. Taken together and as a by-product of this transformational process, an individual has the ability to change their sexual attractions and behavior.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (paragraphs 23572359):

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

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