Debbie Thurman, of Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church, has founded an ex-gay web site: theFormers.com.
What, one might wonder, qualifies Thurman to mislead people into joining ex-gay political groups?
Almost nothing, apparently — she has no professional training in counseling or mental health. Her autobiographical sketch cites a college degree in English and a stint as public affairs officer in the Marine Corps. Despite her lack of competence, Thurman has spent years profiting from shell “ministries” that inflict her ignorance upon Christians who suffer from clinical depression.
Thurman’s site is well-designed, but it offers little if any original content. TheFormers.com seems to be merely another in a family of religious-right linkfests for Exodus International, Focus on the Family, NARTH, and PFOX — a pricey method of inflating the Google PageRank of these organizations.
For someone who claims to be a counseling and recovery expert, Thurman’s public statements suggest extraordinary arrogance, insensitivity and hostility toward the people who supposedly require her services.
To Thurman, same-sex-attracted people are political pawns to be derided. In March 2008, Thurman criticized conservative columnist Michael Gerson for mentioning the truth that Falwell was notorious among conservatives for spouting hate. Specifically:
- Falwell declared AIDS to be God’s official punishment for same-sex-attracted persons, and
- Falwell implicitly encouraged his congregation to crush gays because if they didn’t, gays would “literally crush all decent men, women and children.”
Thurman not only denied that these actions were hateful; she also parroted another religious-right activist’s demand that the columnist apologize for telling the truth.
Besides being driven by an unhealthy and politicized vision of a violent church, Thurman is also motivated by blame. In a February 2008 article at NARTH’s web site, Thurman blames same-sex-attracted people for at least three problems for which she flees personal responsibility:
- the near-failure of her 26-year marriage due her same-sex attractions.
- her inability to love other women, which she atttributes not to her own shortcomings, but to a “self-destructive, counterfeit version of love” that she asserts is universal among all persons who are same-sex-attracted.
- her decision to closet her sexuality and adopt a false “identity” as a “former” homosexual rather than acknowledge the truth that, if she indeed is attracted to women and her husband, then she may be bisexual.
With no academic experience or reputable evidence to support her, Thurman nevertheless uses the web site of NARTH, a self-styled ex-gay think tank, as a platform from which to dictate the following myth as if it were reputable mental-health science:
No, they [same-sex-attracted persons] are not unhappy because of a society that discriminates against them. Their misery lies much deeper. I believe it is an instinctive recoiling against the new, man-created image of human nature that bears so little resemblance to the divine image we are meant to reflect. Humanity will never be able to draw what it needs from its own shallow, self-contained wells. The most effective therapists are the ones who understand human nature in this way.
As TWO reported Sept. 23, NARTH has been caught lying about sex-orientation research while the American Family Association has been caught lying about research which actually finds that depression and other mental health problems result from antigay stigma, not honesty about one’s same-sex orientation.
Thurman apparently suffers from a similar tendency to abuse science. In the previously cited article for NARTH, Thurman took already-distorted results of informal surveys published in 2007 by two conservative Christian researchers, Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse — and further distorted them.
These surveys utilized rigged samples, mostly of exgays-for-pay, and defined ex-gay “success” to include complete failure to change one’s orientation. Yet, for all the attempts by Jones and Yarhouse to predetermine and politicize results, their data — along with subsequent repudiations by survey participants — revealed that Jones and Yarhouse had to exaggerate and misrepresent their participants’ experiences in order to claim that a mere 11 percent of ex-gay participants had successfully drifted slightly toward heterosexuality. Jones and Yarhouse also mischaracterized the suffering of ex-gay program participants. According to Patrick M. Chapman, Ph.D.:
The participants themselves refute the authors’ assertion that change therapy is not harmful. One participant says these groups are not “healthy or necessarily beneficial” (p. 301), another reports his faith is “taking a beating” (p. 313), a third feels “hopeless”, “helpless”, “empty”, “frustrated”, “hurt”, and “very alone” (p. 314, all after 3 years in the Exodus program), a fourth bemoans he spent so many years trying to change that he has missed out on other goals in his life (p. 316), and a fifth claims involvement in the therapy made life “more difficult” (p. 317). One wonders what would have to be the reports of the participants for Jones and Yarhouse to declare the ministry harmful? However, they do recognize that the 23 participants (of an original 98) who dropped out of the program may have been harmed, but they cannot be sure of such a conclusion (p. 354). Nonetheless, dismissing this possibility and ignoring the statements of the participants that remained in the program, Jones and Yarhouse confidently declare the change process is not harmful. Once again, their conclusion is not based on the evidence: those who declare they are hurt by the process are evidence of harm.
One might be inclined to forgive Jones and Yarhouse for their optimism if they had not presented anecdotal stories of individuals not related to the current study who committed suicide because they were unable to change. The authors plead: “should such anecdotes foreclose the option of the individual choosing to attempt orientation change?” (pp. 359-360). Jones and Yarhouse do not indicate how many deaths and testimonies of harm they consider permissible in order to allow other individuals the opportunity for a change that, by all evidence, is unlikely to ever happen.
Jones and Yarhouse recognize that individuals who enter ex-gay ministries are vulnerable (p. 64). Thus, it is disappointing to have the authors draw unwarranted conclusions that are in direct opposition to their own decree as to what the study can and cannot indicate. While their book will be likely and erringly used to convince some homosexual Christians or their families that change is possible, the results demonstrate nothing of the kind.
Thurman failed to inform her readers of the flaws and distortions in Jones and Yarhouse’s interpretation of their own survey data. Instead, she declared (via NARTH):
A new book by Dr. Stanton Jones and Dr. Mark Yarhouse, Ex-gays?: A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, concludes that there is little risk of harm from therapy willingly sought by individuals seeking to change their same-sex attraction, and substantiates that change (either the ability to maintain celibacy, or a shift toward satisfactory heterosexuality) does occur in a significant percentage of people, at a success rate at least equivalent to treatment for depression. This study, combined with the growing numbers of people drawn to ex-gay conferences sponsored by Exodus or Focus on the Family, has greatly agitated the gay-activist community.
Agitated? Yes. People who value honesty, integrity, and freedom are indeed “agitated” by advocates for dishonesty, denial, discrimination, and blame-shifting. Debbie Thurman’s blame game and deceit against sexually and spiritually honest persons is a sad reflection upon her own faith in a god of deception, self-delusion, skin-deep morals, and flight from personal responsibility.
Hat tip: Ex-Gay Watch