It was called the Thomas Project. When its principal investigators — Stanton Jones of Wheaton College and Mark Yarhouse of Pat Robertson University — published Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation (InterVarsity Press, 2007), the Christianist Right hailed the study as “scientific proof” sexual orientation can be changed:
“While we’ve known all along that long-term change is possible for people with unwanted same-sex attractions, it’s interesting to note how high the percentage of reported change was,” said Melissa Fryrear, director of Focus on the Family’s gender issues department. [italics added]InterVarsity Press is a Christian publisher. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family runs its own “ex-gay” program. No surprise about IVP, no surprise about the FOF spokeswoman’s comments, but what is surprising — even for the Dobson organization skilled in spinning things to suit their theopolitical agenda — is the irrationality of “how high the percentage of reported change was.”
The Thomas Project included a pool of only 98 people, all of whom had been referred to various Exodus ministries for “treatment.” Exodus International claims to be “the largest information and referral ministry in the world addressing homosexual issues.” Exodus is not a medical or science-based organization. It’s a ministry. “Freedom is possible through Jesus Christ!” is their mantra and they, like Dobson’s Focus on the Family, are well known for exaggerations.
Peterson Toscano’s August 21, 2007 comments bear repeating:
I first heard of a five year study from Alan Chambers [President of Exodus International] when we sat for a taping of the Faith Under Fire TV program back in February 2005. (The show aired in April of that year. Read transcript here. See video here.)
In March of 2006 some of us were discussing the fuzzy math of how many ex-gays there were in the world. Thousands? Tens of thousands? More?
On my blog I shared an exchange that took place on Faith Under Fire that never got to air: “When I appeared with Chambers on the Faith Under Fire TV show, he insisted that millions and millions of people have found freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ. I questioned him, ‘Millions and millions?!? Do you have data to back this up.’ He proceeded to tell me about a five-year study they started with 100 people. I asked, ‘What happened to millions of millions?’”
Perhaps the Thomas Project will have more than just 100 subjects and perhaps most of them won’t be people who work for ex-gay programs.
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Focus on the Family’s Melissa Fryrear chirped about the “high … percentage of reported change.” But look at the numbers reported in the study:
– 33 people reported change in the desired manner (from gay at time 1 in the heterosexual direction at time 3)
– 29 reported no change
– 8 reported change in the “undesired direction”
– 3 were unsure how to describe their experience
– 25 dropped out of the study.
Add up those numbers: 33 + 29 + 8 + 3 + 25 = 98 (72 men and 26 women). A study claiming such global conclusions was based on a subject pool — selected from Exodus clients — of less than 100 people. The “high percentage” Ms. Fryrear chirped about is less than the combined percentage of those reporting “no change” and those who were “gayer” than when they entered the project.
Even more suspicious, only 73 participants completed the project. One has to wonder why 25 people — one quarter of the total participants — decided to drop out. According to the study, these people quit because A.) they believed they had successfully changed and didn’t want to participate anymore, or B.) they no longer wanted to change.
Group A sounds like Ted Haggard wannabes. Group B sounds like honest people who decided to be who they are and not what someone else thought they should be.
Some participants reported that they were still homosexual, but were living a “chaste life.” As noted in “What on earth is ex-gay ‘success’?”
If “change” means one is constantly fighting off same-sex urges, then that sounds more like “ex-gay” means ticking time bombs (Bob Allen, Larry Craig, and the like, who truly believe they are straight but seek out sex with men) or chaste individuals suppressing their orientation than it does a true conversion. Sexual orientation is not simply about sex acts, something the ex-gay movement continually fails to acknowledge when touting “success.”Even some of the providers of “ex-gay” therapies admit that what such programs teach is repression. Witness the executive director of Love in Action, another “ex-gay” ministry: “Rev. John Smid… is married to a woman and claims to have left behind ‘the homosexual lifestyle,’ if not same-sex attractions” [italics added]. From Christianity Today’s story about the Thomas Project: “Most of the individuals who reported that they were heterosexual at Time 3 did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and did not report heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated.”
Acknowledging and accepting one’s homosexuality are major steps toward mental health and living an honest life of self-respect. Denying one’s sexual orientation leads to a disingenuous life of repression and the psychological problems that usually follow.
Ex-Gay Watch offered further insights into how the Thomas Project was conducted:
An anonymous source said they have contact with someone participating in the study, called the Thomas Project, out of Wheaton College, and the study consists of questions asked once a year by phone. This participant also noted that the questions were oversimplified, requiring basic responses where they felt detailed explanations were needed. We have good reason to trust this contact, though we will respect their request for anonymity.A weak methodology that included only participants likely to yield the desired results: junk science encouraging potentially harmful “therapeutic” practices.
There are unconfirmed reports that the study has a sample of as few as 100 to 150 participants. While we don’t know what work was done during selection or preparation, we now know that the data was collected via annual phone calls. A picture is forming of some weak methodology…
At its October 2007 meeting, the American Academy of Family Physicians will discuss a resolution opposing “ex-gay” therapies. The American Psychological Association’s official website states, “The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable.” The APA further warns that “conversion therapy” is poorly documented and could cause potential harm. The American Psychiatric Association’s website notes that there “is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of ‘reparative therapy’ as a treatment to change one’s sexual orientation. The potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.” The Thomas Project did nothing to provide that missing “scientific evidence.” Quite the contrary.
That being said, should individuals have the right to seek “ex-gay” therapy? Yes: caveat emptor. Before entering into such programs, however, those offering such “treatments” should be required — ethically and legally — to tell prospective clients the scientific, medical facts. Perhaps then those seeking change might consider legitimate psychological counseling to learn to accept themselves rather than opting for hocus-pocus religion-based “therapy” designed to teach them to reject who they are and lead fraudulent, repressed lives of denial.
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