GROVE CITY, Pa. — Twenty years ago, Warren Throckmorton, a psychologist and evangelical Christian, was a leading voice in the “sexual reorientation” movement, which sought to turn homosexuals straight.
Today he no longer promotes sexual reorientation in light of the scientific evidence that most gays are born that way. He has also emerged as a scourge of many on the Christian right, such as antigay activists who supported the movement in Uganda to criminalize homosexuality, as well as prominent authors like David Barton and Eric Metaxas.
Throckmorton’s ideological journey, which began a decade ago at Grove City College in western Pennsylvania, where he was and still is a professor of psychology, was shaped by scientific inquiry but sparked by concern about the harm being done to people undergoing reparative therapy.
“He is a person of real, deep and uncommon integrity,” said Jeff Sharlet, a journalist who has written about fundamentalist Christianity. Sharlet added that Throckmorton has allowed data and evidence to shape his views “in a way very few people of any ideological or political stripe would.”
Throckmorton is also symbolic of a shift occurring among some evangelicals who are wondering if their faith tradition has misinterpreted or overemphasized biblical texts about same-sex relationships for centuries.
The question of just how radically to reinterpret Christian Scripture is a matter of further debate. There is a group of evangelical authors and leaders who have said they believe there is no conflict in being a gay Christian. But that movement has been met by the more confrontational approach embodied in the recent Nashville Statement. And there are those who take a centrist approach, like Preston Sprinkle president of the Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender.
Throckmorton is unique because he has scientific credentials on the origins of sexual orientation, which conservative Christians regard as central.
Evangelicals have believed that homosexuality, like other sins, is a choice. The alternative is to accept that God would allow people to be born with natural, irrevocable desires for something forbidden.
And while many gays have been the victims of bigotry and hatred in the Christian church, many believers are sympathetic to the stories and struggles of individual gays and lesbians, but feel bound by the long-held view that the Bible clearly forbids homosexuality. That’s a debate that relies on textual interpretation and analysis…