Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormon statement officially denounces ‘abusive’ conversion therapy for LGBTs

Alex Cooper today
Alex Cooper today

Alex Cooper today

Yesterday, KUTV ran a story about Alex Cooper, the young woman I interviewed recently who was subjected to months of “conversion therapy” in southern Utah in an attempt to change her sexual orientation.

It was great to see Alex on screen, confidently talking about her experiences before the camera and to a live audience.

But what was also great was this unexpected tidbit at the end of the story:

2News asked the church about its stance on conversion therapy.

“The Church denounces any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices,” said LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins.

“We hope those who experience the complex realities of same-sex attraction find compassion and understanding from family members, professional counselors and church members.”

The Church Public Affairs department confirmed the two-sentence statement to me this afternoon.

Well, hallelujah. This is quite a turnaround from what we’ve seen in the past, even the recent past, in Mormon culture. Recall that just a few months ago, a student ward at BYU-Idaho was planning to hold a sort of fireside to encourage members who were “confused about same-gender attraction” to overcome it through “an evening of discussion with a professional counselor who has helped many overcome same-gender attraction.”

Obviously there’s a huge difference between a public lecture like that and the kind of physical and emotional abuse that Alex Cooper was subjected to, in which she was essentially held captive; you can read about her experiences in her new memoir, Saving Alex.

But people were right to cry foul about the BYU-I church event. Because of the uproar, the lecture was canceled.

Let’s hope this planned church event is the last of its kind, and that we are waking up to what psychologists have known for some time: that any course of action that seeks to change something as fundamental as sexual orientation is damaging. As the American Psychological Association put it in 2009 after studying the results of psychologists’ past efforts, “mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.” The APA report went on to say that:

Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation . . . . Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose. Contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions.

It may have taken a dramatic case like the abuse that Alex Cooper suffered to bring this issue to the Church’s attention, but the reality is that it’s not just reparative therapy programs utilizing “abusive practices” that need to go; it’s all of them.

Today I caught up with Joanna Brooks, Alex’s co-author and an advocate for LGBT persons within and outside of the LDS Church. I’ll close with her eloquent response:

I am so grateful that the Church has spoken out to definitively reject conversion therapy.  I hope it will bring relief to LGBT+ people and their families and put an end to conversion therapy in our communities.  Many generations of gay LDS people have been subjected to cruel, harmful physical, emotional, and religious “treatments” that purported to “change” them from gay to straight and bring them closer to God. Some have undergone extreme “treatments” including electroshock therapy at Church-owned Brigham Young University.  Others have been told by their local Church leaders that extreme self-deprivation, prayer, and scripture study would “fix” them.  Generations of gay LDS people deserve our apology.

But it is not enough to reject abusive “conversion therapy.”  We must also reject any suggestion that LGBT+ people are not created in the image of God as an expression of the beauty and diversity of God’s creation.  As long as Mormons believe that being gay disqualifies anyone from enjoying all the blessings God has to offer, the foundational, harmful logic of “conversion therapy” remains at work amongst us.




About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • ““The Church denounces any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices,” said LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins.”

    I am afraid, Jana, that this statement has a loophole big enough to drive a very large temple through. It’s very much like the Catholic statement in opposition to any “unjust discrimination” directed at gay people. Unjust is in the eye of the beholder– or the target. But if the church proposes discrimination, it is ipso facto NOT unjust.

    If they condemned conversion therapy for what it is– mumbo jumbo and wishful thinking disguised as science and dressed up in its finest Sunday-go-to-meetin, drag, that doesn’t work and as far we can tell, has NEVER worked– then this might have a point.

    But they are not condemning conversion therapy, just ABUSIVE conversion therapy. Not the same thing at all. I contend that the very idea that sexual orientation can or should be changed is abusive.

  • Some bisexual people have been shown to become more heterosexually oriented. Good for them, if that’s what they want.

    For myself, I have never been anything by 110% ‘mo. I haven’t the slightest desire to change, and even if I did, I probably couldn’t. So the multitude of failures for Jesus, Freud, or the fraud of Exgay therapy to change anyone even remotely like me has shown, over and over and over again.

    This is the only therapy in the world which, when it fails, the “doctors” immediately assign the blame to their victim…err, patient…. For not wanting to change badly enough.

    It’s a fraud, and it has always been a fraud. The jones and Yarhouse study proved that, beyond a doubt. The conflicting theories of why people are gay has also proved it. Too much masculinity. Not enough masculinity, it’s all Religious BS given a thin veneer of respectability by calling it “science.”

    It’s not. It’s jiggery pokery. It apple sauce. It’s Argle barge. But not science.

  • I know as late as 1984 this was still happening at BYU. Anyone who claims anything different is lying. I hope the intent to illustrate a slightly new attitude on this is the result of a sincere desire by the Church to treat all of God’s children the same, and not the fear of continued bad press (as the recent membership decline is staggering). I still hope one day Gay people will be welcome (as we know currently there are no Gay Mormons, sarcasm intended..). I understand it is unlikely but I will always have hope.

  • “The Church denounces any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices,”

    I’m thinking… but what about therapists who engage in what the LDS Church considers “non-abusive” reparative therapy. A definitive statement would be “The Church denounces any therapy that purports to change a person’s sexual preference and any other such abusive practices.”

    “We hope those who experience the complex realities of same-sex attraction find compassion and understanding from family members, professional counselors and church members.”

    This is a bit better, but I personally dislike the implication that LGBT folks have something wrong with them that requires “compassion”. A more definitive statement would be no statement at all.

    I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but I find the language evasive and even a tad passive-aggressive.

    I wish the LDS Church could just talk straight for once.

    P.S. And stop calling yourself The Church as if you were the only…

  • I also am less than impressed with the church’s statement. My first thought was -“Thats it, that is the whole statement?” We are so used to the church under performing that we praise them for saying so little.

  • I’m not an expert in any way, shape, form, or fashion, but I have been gay (my preferred designation of orientation) all my life. I realised very early in my childhood (I was about 5 or 6 yo and remember the moment of realisation very well) that I was SSA. I’ve also spent the past 20 yrs in prison where I met a phenominal number of people who are SSA.

    What I wish to say is that from conversation with so many of these ppl who identified as SSA, both in private conversation, and in therapy and support group settings, many are genuinely troubled at being attracted to the same sex, and earnestly want to have a chance at a “normal” life.

    I’m firm in my understanding that this desire is not burdened on them because of pressure from family, peers, or other outside sources, but they just feel that they were “born Wrong.” That troubles me and pains my heart to see ppl who I’ve gotten close to who really have no advocate because of an agenda that says their heartfelt desires are…

  • I think it is pretty clear that when Eric Hawkins states, “The Church denounces any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices,” he is not ruling out the possibility that one might seek a NON-abusive form of therapy or counseling to address the challenges of same-sex attraction in order to remain faithful in the gospel. The church would probably categorically reject the counter-argument that all forms of counseling which seek to help one live the teachings of the gospel fully despite one’s sexual challenges qualify as abuse. While instances of full-blown realignment of one’s sexual impulses might be few and far between, the church will still hold fast to 1 Corinthians 10:13 that there is no temptation for which there is no escape through Christ. Whether the escape is a transformation toward normative sexual desires, or simply the capacity to withstand temptation, it would deny the power of God to demand that neither is doable and therefore gospel teachings are harmful.

  • “there is no temptation for which there is no escape through Christ”

    While we’re quoting the Bible, check out Matt 7:5. Combining masturbation, pornography, child molestation, spousal abuse, and marital infidelity, I am pretty sure 0% of LDS members have managed to escape through Christ, therapy, counseling, nor any other means.

    The only “challenge” with being gay is one the LDS Church has created. And it’s a minuscule “challenge” compared to all the other “challenges” I’ve listed above.

  • I agree with other posted comments. The words in their statement were carefully chosen and evasively phrased.

    Why did not the church spokesman say simply “The church denounces any ‘therapy’ that seeks to change one’s sexual orientation” or “We accept that sexual orientation is a complex matter that we don’t fully understand, and people with SSM are who they are and we are happy for them.”

    I find no joy in them conducting business as usual. The fact that the church has a large paid PR department bothers me too, but that’s a topic for another day.

  • “…jiggery-pokery….”

    You left out “tutti-frutti”. Also, it’s spelled “argle-bargle”. 🙂

    –Antonin Scalia

  • It’s very simple to be ex gay. No love, no sex, no romance, no gay porn, books or movies, no gay friends, no attending the weddings of your congenitally gay former friends who haven’t drunk the Exgay koolaid. You don’t need God or Jesus for that. Just a bit of will power and a deep desire to publish yourself instead of elevating yourself.

    But you are still gay, aintcha?

    So do you need God to change from gay to straight? If such substantial changes are few and far between– somewhere between extremely unlikely and never– then what exactly is God doing? You just didn’t want it badly enough? God likes messing with you?

    Or maybe, just maybe: some very badly translated and misunderstood biblical passages from a world a universe away from ours in thought are used to justify an ancient, vicious, deeply seated and durable prejudice, and god no more cares about this than he cares about the thousands of daily starving children.

    Possibly even less.

  • Millions of gay people think they were born right. You have to be taught to hate yourself.

    Without the fear mongering or religion and the documented existence of this ancient and vicious prejudice for millennia, no one would feel bad about being “born wrong.”

    To claim it has nothing to do with society– well, blindness doesn’t even begin to account for that. But religious ideology certainly does,

  • It would be impossible for the church spokesman to say any of those things because they would be completely untrue.

  • You might be surprisingly pleased to learn that church leaders regularly preach that we are to overcome all such temptations, not just those pertaining to LGBT issues, and indeed one may conquer all through the power of Christ. Not one of us was born without the consequences of the Fall. The entire premise that being born a certain way, therefore God intends me to behave a certain way, is fundamentally flawed considering the doctrine of the Fall. We are all buffeted by the enticings of Lucifer. Not one of us can withstand temptation completely of our own power. We are all dependent upon Christ’s infinite power to overcome. We are going to stumble and fall a lot along the way. And we rise up with renewed determination to repent and do better, ever grateful for a loving elder Brother who can strengthen us when we seek Him.

    It bears noting that we weren’t perfect in the pre-existence either. If some were noble and great, others were probably pretty ordinary. And then there’s Trump!

  • “…we are going to stumble and fall a lot along the way…”

    Well, that’s convenient. Nobody has to conquer anything, just “repent” and do the same thing again.

    My understanding of “conquer” means you fix a problem permanently. For example, I was messy and disorganized my entire life. My wonderful wife helped me conquer the problem. Now I’m neat and organized.

    My point is that you’ve created a problem where none exists. LGBT folks are fine like they are. Meanwhile, people like you go along “stumbling” daily over *real* problems, but as long as you “repent” you can feel self-righteous. Hence my reference to Matt 7:5.

  • Of course, this just begs the question, doesn’t it?

    Being gay is a temptation to overcome.


    Being gay is a natural state of being that this alleged “fall” has turned into the Worst. Sin. Ever. Were it not for the existence of hbis prejudice, gay people might have been growing up for millennia without actually every encountering anything that says there is something wrong with them, that there is something that needs changing, that they are not equally beloved of god…

    exactly as he made them, exactly as he intended them to be.

    personally, I think the great perversion is taking something that has existed throughout history, in every culture and every time, that is in no way inherently bad or harmful, just different. Ad turning it into something that is perverted, dirty, and wrong.

    But that’s just me.

  • Kim Davis. Four times married, fornicating and adulterous. But god forgave her.

    Josh Duggar. fornicating and adulterous. But god forgave him.

    Bristol Palin. Telling other people about how they ought to live. Fornicating but nhot adulterous, because she never got married to her baby daddies. But God forgave her.

    Every heterosexual man EVER. Looking at women with lust, and committing adultery with them in their hearts. According to Jesus, and he should know. But that doesn’t count, because it’s heterosexual. And besides, god forgave them.

    A veritable heavenly host of pastors, divorced for some reason other than adultery, and then remarried. But god forgave them.

    A heavenly host of mega-rich mega pastors. It’s easier for a desert quadruped, etc. Give away all that you have, etc. But god forgives them.

    God doesn’t have to forgive anyone of them for the slandering and reviling they deliver to gay people. Not really a sin.

    I’m beginning to sense a pattern here.

  • god forgive me for the sin of not catching all of my typos, or letting the Great God Apple do it for me, as imperfect a deity as it is. He sent the angel of AutoCorrect, but not the angel of proof-reading.

  • Exactly. Same with masturbation. Every normal human (or animal, judging from my puppy) masturbates. Yet doing do breaks the “law of chastity”. Therefore, a vanishingly tiny percentage of Mormons uphold the law of chastity. Or, like Castiel, they just “stumble” and “repent” a lot. 🙂

  • The process of the perfecting of the saints is continuous. Indeed, some things are conquered and done forever. Other things involve a lengthier struggle. Not one of us, having surpassed the age of accountability, will depart this life having mastered all. The better question is whether we are persistently striving to inch ever closer to the Savior’s outstretched arms along our journey, or if we resist such striving, declaring our prevailing natural man to be all we are intended to be.

  • I see. All members of the LDS Church, including the LGBT members, and including you, Castiel, are sinful, but you accept it because you are all “perfecting yourselves”. And, even though you are all in exactly the same boat, some of you have no problem pointing fingers at others and claiming moral superiority… your sin is worse than mine, so I need to “help” you. In that case, since you all have so much to work on, maybe you should all just keep your fingers to yourselves.

  • I was hoping that they’d condemn the things that were done (electro-shock therapy) at BYU. The Church basically apologized for needlessly denying Blacks the priesthood. I was hoping that they’d apologize for what was done to gay kids in the past. That would have mended a lot of fences.

  • I am left wondering what the LDS Church’s real objection to gayness is. Unlike mainstream Christians, they believe people will have human form, have human sex, and be married after death. Anyway, don’t they believe gay people will become hetero in heaven? If so, why “convert” them here on Earth? I mean, gay marriage is legal, so they aren’t fornicating. But if they both become hetero in heaven, will there be a heavenly breakup? But what about gay couples with kids? Will they be together in heaven? Maybe it just complicates their already complicated theology.

  • Spot on. In this same analogy, Male and Female couples who can’t have kids (for one reason or another) are obviously being punished on earth. But they are promised they will have kids in the next life. I can’t get past this. If their plumbing doesn’t work here, it will be corrected later? BUT they CAN adopt and have them sealed on earth? Why not offer the same deal to the Gays?

  • i felt the same way with regard to the essay addressing our Mother in Heaven. People praised the Church for saying, “Sorry, we know next to nothing about her.”

  • More to the point, Mormons are ready to point to the Bible in claiming marriage is between a man and woman (Gen 2:24 ) and that gay sex is forbidden (Lev 18:22) (I am not sure if the Bible forbids lesbian sex).

    Yet they ignore the Biblical statement: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matt 22:30).

    Maybe these are the kinds of questions Sunday school and seminary teachers are allowed to discuss now. I know I’d be asking.

  • It’s just amazing how many times an anonymous poster will claim he’s gay, but thinks it’s perfectly OK for other LGBT Americans to undergo torture that is never, ever going to change their sexual orientation. If Phylo was really gay, he’d know that’s impossible.

  • Remember Elder Oaks comment – The church doesn’t “seek apologies,” he said, “and we don’t give them.”