Haggard Case Refuels Debate on Gay Conversion

Evangelical leader Ted Haggard's comments on struggling with his sexually immoral side revived debate on whether people can overcome same-sex attractions through therapy.

"Haggard is Exhibit A of how people can't change their sexual orientation," said Wayne Besen, a gay-rights activist and author, according to The Associated Press. "With all that he had to lose – a wife, children, a huge church – he had to be who he was in the end. He couldn't pray away the gay."

Haggard, who lost his pastorship from the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado and gave up his presidency of the National Association of Evangelicals, had confessed to "sexual immorality" after a male prostitute claimed they had sexual relations for three years.

The former evangelical head had sought assistance to combat his struggles but found none "effective" in him. Although gay-rights activists argue that Haggard's case proves a homosexual person cannot change who they are, others are acknowledging Haggard's desire for change.

"If this man is saying, 'This is a part of me that I abhor,' why can't we respect that?" said California psychologist Joseph Nicolosi, president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. "Why do we have to attribute that to something external and take away the dignity of the individual to express how he feels?"

Opposing therapists, however, say such conversion therapy could cause harm and leave people depressed.

"There's nothing good that can come from conversion therapy," said Doug Haldeman, a Seattle psychologist who specializes in gay-related issues.

On the other hand, Nicolosi argues, "It's more difficult to live as a gay man than as a heterosexual. He explained that social factors which trouble gays are a legitimate reason for seeking therapy. Nicolosi participates in Focus on the Family's ex-gay conferences called "Love Won Out."

A former homosexual now leading the largest ex-gay organization in the nation is representing "Exhibit A" of how people can change their sexual orientation and come out without the harm that others warn of if the person has that desire to change.

"If someone says they want to change because of their faith-based convictions, you have to honor that," said Alan Chambers, head of Exodus International. "There has to be a real desire and motivation on the part of the person to change."

Persons struggling with homosexual attractions can take several routes to changing their sexual orientation. While some take a secular, psychoanalytical approach, others favor prayer-based counseling.

Chambers took the prayerful route. Haggard is taking a similar road to "restoration" with a team involving Pastors Jack Hayford of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif., and Tommy Barnett of First Assembly of God in Phoenix, and H.B. London, Focus on the Family’s vice president of church and clergy.