Robert Gagnon Explains Why SWBTS/ERLC Teamed Up to Fire Professor over Conservative LGBTQ Views

The following was written by Dr. Robert Gagnon, a Presbyterian pastor and professor of New Testament Theology at Houston Baptist University, and former associate professor of the New Testament at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The article from Religion News that Gagnon references is titled Evangelical leader Russell Moore denounces ex-gay therapy and can be read at this link. This was originally posted on Dr. Gagnon’s Facebook page.

This may have some bearing on the termination of Robert Lopez from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. According to a Religion News Service article from Oct. 28, 2014, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission denounced reparative therapy as “severely counterproductive,” despite the fact that many, and possibly most or nearly all, reparative therapists are Christians applying Christian principles. Moore stated: “The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea.”

This was pure slander of good people doing good work. I know of no credentialed reparative therapist and no leader in ex-gay transformation ministry of the kind that Restored Hope Network houses who believes that a person who comes to Christ and goes through their “program” will be assured of being “immediately set free from [same-sex] attraction.” Not one. I suppose when lacking a credible argument, yet still intent on denigrating, a straw man is one’s only recourse.

To my knowledge, he has never apologized for the misrepresentation or claimed that he was misquoted, even though his remarks did terrible damage. If anyone knows otherwise let me know. It is a public statement, widely reported, that still, five years later, needs public retraction.

So it is a way of deflecting the real issues at stake. It is beyond me how the leader of the ERLC can be that grossly misinformed or misrepresent that badly; and, moreover, actually feed into the growing efforts by “LGBTQ” forces to ban any therapeutic help for persons experiencing unwanted same-sex attractions.

According to the late Joseph Nicolosi, surely one of the most prominent reparative therapists and a conservative Christian, reparative therapy involves “a collaborative relationship [between therapist and client in which the therapist agrees] to work with the client to reduce his unwanted attractions and explore his heterosexual potential…. No outcome can be guaranteed…. [Outcomes range] along a continuum from complete change, to partial change (management and reduction of unwanted feelings), to, for some people, no change at all.” That comment was readily available on his online site.

In his last book, published 5 years before the ERLC president made his comment, Nicolosi said this:

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“Of course, reorientation therapy is a long and difficult process, with no guarantee of success…. What if the man doesn’t change? Will he have gained anything of value? There is far more to reparative therapy than change of sexual behavior…. He can explore … past trauma…. liberate himself from old patterns of shame and self-sabotage…. grow beyond the emotional isolation and chronic loneliness that have so long limited him…. develop genuine male friendships … discover healthier relationships with females…. Rather than focusing on sexual-orientation change, the primary work of therapy is to teach the client to relate from a place of authenticity, openness and honesty” (Shame and Attachment Loss [Intervarsity, 2009], 23-24).

Catch the first line? “No guarantee of success” as regards change of attraction. But there is something more important that RT does. Catch the last line? “Rather than focusing on sexual-orientation change, the primary work of therapy is to teach the client to relate from a place of authenticity.”

Reparative therapy’s bottom-line goal is not change of orientation but rather change of the false narrative about one’s sexual identify that exercises a stranglehold on one’s daily life. A man is not half his own sex, nor a woman half hers. Men are whole in their masculinity, women whole in their femininity, each half of a whole sexual spectrum consisting of two primary sexes. The narrative that a person of a given sex can be “completed” sexually through union with his or her own sex is a big lie that needs to be addressed (a man is not a half-male, nor a woman a half-female), often by exploring experiences and beliefs in the individual’s life that have enslaved his or her thinking to embrace the lie. Exposing the lie. Sometimes that process takes more than quoting a Bible verse. That’s what RT is about.

Again, Nicolosi from the same book I cite above:

“Gender identity and sexual orientation are grounded in biological reality. The body tells us who we are, and we cannot ‘construct’ … a different reality in which gender and sexual identity are out of synchrony with biology. The belief that humanity is designed for heterosexuality has been shaped by age-old religious and cultural forces, which must be respected as a welcome aspect of intellectual diversity. This viewpoint is not a phobia or pathological fear. Natural-law philosophy says this view derives from humankind’s collective, intuitive knowledge—a sort of natural, instinctive conscience…. Gay identity is a false construct” (pp. 18-19).

Now how is that an anti-Christian view? Seems to me to be completely consistent with the Christian worldview since it speaks of design in nature.

It’s like the old line: Who are you going to believe? Me or your own eyes? Are you going to believe what the ERLC president says reparative therapy is or are you going to believe the reparative therapists?

My experience when I attempted on numerous occasions to address this issue with him directly (and privately) is that he would either refuse to answer or, worse, sidestep it by unleashing a furious ad hominem attack on me and then proceed to bad-mouth me behind the scenes to other Southern Baptists (somewhat like his scathing personal attack on Evangelical Trump voters as moral hypocrites and relativists in a 2016 WashPost op-ed). My response is simple: Please just answer the question. Were you misrepresented by RNS? Did you misstate what you really believe? Or is this what you actually believed but now in the face of contrary evidence are willing to retract and apologize? It’s not about me or anyone else being a bad person for asking.

But then this is similar to his claim that by the late 1950s, MLK had become an orthodox Christian, even though all the evidence that we have indicates that he was a Unitarian Universalist wanna-be who denied nearly every major doctrine of the Christian faith till the day he died, not to mention a notorious womanizer, and that literally until the day he died. I prefer to deal in reality, not bend the evidence for gain, and celebrate MLK’s civil rights accomplishments without the hagiography. But then I also don’t celebrate MLK’s life while at the same time being a Never-Trumper who chastises Christians for voting for a man whose notorious immorality was committed almost a decade prior to running for the presidency and whose policies at least are pro-life and not nearly as LGBTQ-coercive and inimical to free speech and the free exercise of religion as a Democrat’s would be.

Sometimes there is a fundamentalist approach to the whole matter of psychology where any therapeutic knowledge that doesn’t involve the direct citation of a Bible passage is rejected out of hand — even if that knowledge is in no way contradictory to the Bible — as anti-biblical. Even though this anti-knowledge view is not posited for any other field of study (e.g., engineering), it is sometimes adopted in fundamentalist circles for psychology (and of course I’m not advocating wholesale, uncritical acceptance of the discipline). While that is the misguided motivation for some fundamentalists for rejecting reparative therapy, I think that this is at least part of the motivation driving this ERLC president, since I’m sure he subscribes to Heath Lambert’s view of things. But it may not be the whole motivation.

Sometimes Evangelicals start out with a naive view that homosexual attractions are fairly easy to eradicate once one becomes a Christian. Then, when they discover that it is not so easy for most, they sometimes flip in the opposite direction. His apparent rejection of therapeutic methods and disdain even for transformation ministries may be due in part to the same factors that led him to say that it was okay for Christians to attend a “gay” wedding reception. The reasons are similar to the reasons now given by SBC President J. D. Greear favoring “pronoun hospitality” for “transgender” persons who visit SBC churches. Or for claiming the scripturally untenable view that having sex with a person of the same sex is no worse than, say, being disobedient to one’s parents because (you know) all sin is equal; or, worse, we should give much less attention to sexual ethics because the Bible allegedly only “whispers” about sexual immorality in comparison to “screaming” about materialism. (Remember that the ERLC president had Greear be the keynote speaker on homosexuality at one ERLC-sponsored event.)

Now Drs. Moore and Greear are certainly not promoting homosexual practice and transgenderism. And that’s where their defenders get misled. But they are adopting positions that represent the start of the slide, a slide that I witnessed in the PCUSA and which I want to spare the SBC of experiencing.

So, yes, for Robert Lopez to criticize this blanket rejection of RT and ex-gay transformation ministries would indeed get him into trouble with the people at the ERLC.

That’s been my personal experience with the ERLC president as well. ERLC offices five years ago told an SBC church that they wouldn’t recommend use of the Restored Hope Network (a ministry to persons struggling with same-sex desires, successor to Exodus) because I was on the Board. True story. The claim was that I allegedly believed redemption required that a person become heterosexual by losing all same-sex desires. This allegation was made even though my work from the first book on specifies otherwise.

I was also told a few years ago by an SBC insider, who would know, that no one who favored such therapy or such ministries, much less engaged in them, would ever be invited to speak by the ERLC. The ERLC takes an our-way-or-the-highway approach to such matters.

Of course, this is not the only thing that the ERLC heads would dislike about Dr. Lopez. Dr. Lopez has often made the case for voting for Trump and against the ERLC position of being harsh Never-Trumpers. And he criticized Karen Swallow Prior (who at the time was a major go-to person for the ERLC president) for her then-support of the Revoice Conference with its exaltation of the “gay” label. Dr. Lopez also criticized the ERLC for failing to help him in Texas with his efforts at exposing the LGBTQ indoctrination of children in the public schools there. Then there is the fact that he was grateful to Paige Patterson for hiring him when no one else would, and was not on the bandwagon for his removal. The ERLC helped to bring about Patterson’s removal (with KSP) and prevent an investigation of the Board’s action.

So it didn’t surprised me at all to read that SWBTS’s Provost would tell Dr. Lopez that his unfavorable rating by the ERLC was a major consideration in whether he could remain at SWBTS:

“I happen to be around some folks from the ERLC, where your reputation is not good there with those folks. So now there’s a growing concern of mine in terms of a failure to relate constructively* to another major entity of the SBC. Which in turn compounds the problem of failure to relate constructively* to this institution.”

Two months later Dr. Lopez was (coincidentally?) terminated. Now it might have had nothing to do with the ERLC not liking Dr. Lopez. But that’s not how Provost Stinson represented the matter to Dr. Lopez. And I would presume that he would know since he is still a research fellow with the ERLC.

If you were to die today, where would you go? Heaven? Hell? Not sure?