In 2007, Mark Yarhouse of Pat Robertson’s Regent University co-wrote an informal study of ex-gay therapy. The study was funded by Exodus International — the North American network of evangelical ex-gay activists — and co-written by Stanton Jones, another evangelical who is employed by the conservative Wheaton College in Illinois.
Exodus falsely marketed the study as “peer-reviewed” — it wasn’t — and Yarhouse and Jones were criticized for rigging the sample of subjects and standards of success or failure in order to guarantee a result that would satisfy Exodus.
Specifically, Jones and Yarhouse’s work suffered from the following flaws:
- The study originally sought 300 participants, but after more than a year of seeking to round up volunteers, they had to settle on only 98 participants.
- During the course of the study, 25 dropped out, and one participant’s answers were too incomplete to be used.
- Of the remaining 72 only 11 reported “satisfactory, if not uncomplicated, heterosexual adjustment.” Most of these 11 remained primarily homosexual in attraction or, at best, bisexual, but were satisfied that they were just slightly more attracted to the opposite sex, or slightly less attracted to the same sex.
- After the study ended, but before the book was finished, one of the 11 wrote to the authors to say that he lied — he really wanted to change, had really hoped he had changed, and answered that he had changed. But he concluded that he hadn’t, came out, and is now living as an openly gay man.
- Dozens of participants experienced no lessening of same-sex attraction and no increase in opposite-sex attraction, but were classified as “success” stories by Jones and Yarhouse simply because they maintained celibacy — something many conservative gay people already do.
- The study purposely declined to interview any ex-gay survivors: people who claim to have been injured by ex-gay programs and who have formed support groups such as Beyond Ex-Gay. Despite — or because of — this omission, Yarhouse and Jones made the unfounded claim that there is little or no evidence of harm resulting from unproven, unsupervised, unlicensed, and amateur ex-gay counseling tactics.
In short, the study design was so flawed that no mainstream, peer-reviewed, mental-health journal would publish it.
Nevertheless, Exodus, Focus on the Family, and other Christian Right political groups immediately cited the study as proof that anyone can change their orientation without fear of ill effects from disproven methods or disreputable amateur counselors.
Now, however, Yarhouse is backing away from some of the early reactions to the study.
At a Sept. 25 symposium at Regent, Yarhouse said — according to The Virginian-Pilot — that while same-sex attraction may be changeable in some individuals, not everyone can change.
“For me, in my own practice, I would not focus on change of orientation,” said Yarhouse, a psychologist and counselor who teaches at Regent, an evangelical Christian school. …
Yarhouse’s study focused on those who said their same-sex attractions collided with their religious beliefs. He said his research found that there was “modest” movement away from homosexuality among some Exodus participants, but categorical conversions to heterosexuality were rare.
Yarhouse recommended that counselors avoid uniformly steering struggling gays toward heterosexuality and focus instead on the best outcome for the individual.
That could include celibacy or exploring different faith groups with various attitudes toward gays and lesbians, he said.
Despite Yarhouse’s statements, no one on the Christian Right who misreported the study’s findings in 2007-2008 has yet retracted their false boasts. Until Yarhouse becomes much more vocal, the public in general and Christian Rightists in particular will remain purposely misinformed about the inability of most same-sex-attracted persons to change their orientation.