Reflections on England 1

Today is our last day in England. We’ve enjoyed being here for nearly a month now. As we make preparations to depart, I find myself reflecting on the experience. I hope to offer a few reflections over the next few weeks, but readers of this blog know that I am a sporadic blogger at best.

I would have to say that one aspect of our time in England that we really enjoyed was the opportunity to worship and fellowship with other Christians. We attended Holy Trinity (HT) Anglican Church in the center of Cambridge. It is an evangelical church in the best sense of the word. The worship was “lower” church, with a drum set and band placed right in front of the altar. In some ways worship was no different from what you would find in an evangelical church in the states (or the “colonies” as my one friend was fond of saying). Having been in the episcopal church previously (and for over 10 years), I tend to prefer a “higher” church worship. The Book of Common Prayer is such a well-written theology of prayer and worship that it is sometimes unfortunate when it isn’t used. However, a lower church taps into the vibrancy of worship that can sometimes be lost in higher church worship, and HT is also right in the heart of University of Cambridge and has adapted services to the interests of students, I imagine.

I could also add that, unfortunately, many – not all – higher churches are also much more theologically liberal, and there is nothing as disconcerting as going to a high church where the people running the service do not actually believe what they recite. (I sometimes wonder about the intellectual integrity of making a career in the church if you no longer believe fundamental tenets of Christianity.) So we avoided that scene. No, the folks at HT believe what they teach and preach and sing and so on. We were warmly welcomed into the community during out time there. We had the opportunity to hear the Bishop of Ely one week and the Bishop of Sabah in Malaysia another week.

When we did go to some of the larger, more formal churches, we typically went to evensong (or as another friend from Britain refers to as “the Anglican gift to the world”). We sat in on evensong services at both the Westminster Abbey in London and at the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. A sung evensong service is beautiful and can be deeply moving, particularly if you are not used to worshiping in large cathedrals that were often built to draw people into a greater sense of awe and reverence for the sacred.

The ideal for me draws on the best of both worlds: a higher church worship experience (even “smells and bells” as it were) with genuine faith reflected in those in the congregation and those leading the worship. And it is not just a service but the ebb and flow of the entire church calendar, something that I know I often lose sight of in more informal settings.

In any case, my first reflection is on our experience of worship in England. The shared sense of identity and community in the Body of Christ is recognizable across the globe, and it was one of the highlights of our time here.

UPDATE: When I first wrote this, we had been to evensong service at Westminster Abbey, and we were planning to go to evensong at King’s College Chapel this afternoon. Well, we just got back from that service, and I have to say that it was very satisfying to participate in the service in that setting. A chapel of that design is not just for visitors to enjoy the architecture; it was designed to facilitate worship and prayer. A car enthusiast does not just want to look at a Porsche 918 Spyder, he or she wants to take it for a ride, to use it as it was originally intended.

Integration Capstone 2012

We begin the summer session in a couple of weeks. I teach a 5-week intensive called Integration Capstone. I am going to have the students read two books, the first of which is Coming to Peace with Psychology by Everett Worthington, Jr. This is how the publisher describes the book:

Worthington demonstrates how the tools of experimental psychology shed light on human nature and the nature of God. Because people bear the image of God, the findings of psychological science help us understand both people and God more clearly. Psychological science provides new perspectives on theology and can help us address theological controversies and hot topics. Worthington gives recent examples of illuminating psychological findings, examines the distortions of the image of God through the effects of sin and points to ways that psychology assists Christians in living more virtuously.

Here is an endorsement by David Myers:

Everett Worthington–accomplished psychological scientist, biblically rooted person of faith and professional writer–is the perfect person to assist Christians in coming to peace with today’s psychology. With his conversational voice and dry wit, he introduces us to startling findings, differing perspectives, and evidence-based insights on faith and faithful living. Highly recommended!

Here is a blurb from Warren Brown:

Everett Worthington is a significant scholar and researcher in the field of psychology who presents in this book a thoughtful and personal view of the relationship between psychology and Christian faith. In a winsome and irenic style, he argues for a relational partnership between theology and psychology that neither simplistically pits the fields in a struggle for authority, nor inappropriately intermingles their concepts and ideas. Most importantly, Worthington argues for the value of psychological research in this very important conversation about theological and psychological views of the nature of persons.

The second book we will read is Integrating Faith and Psychology: Twelve Psychologists Tell Their Stories, edited by Glen Moriarty. Here is what the publisher has to say about the book:

In this book we hear about the developmental issues, the sense of calling and the early career insights that shaped their paths. They recount the importance that significant relationships had on their understanding of Christian integration, especially noting the influence of mentors. Struggles and doubts are common human experiences, and the contributors openly share the stresses they encountered to encourage others with similar issues. On a day-to-day basis, we see how spiritual disciplines and the Christian community assist them in their work and in their understanding. Finally, each writer offers a personal note with lessons learned and hard-won wisdom gained.

This second book is helpful because it can foster the students’ sense of their training as part of a larger narrative that is being written about their work in the field. By reading about the lives and careers of other Christians in the field, they can learn about what these other folks have found to be most meaningful in their work and lives. Should lend itself to some good discussions.

Two Developments, As It Were

The gay activist blog Truth Wins Out (TWO) has apparently been working closely with Robert Spitzer and claims to have a letter he wrote to Dr. Kenneth Zucker, editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior. It is being reported that Spitzer, in addition to regretting how he previously interpreted his findings on whether sexual orientation can change, is now offering an apology to the gay community:

I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some “highly motivated” individuals.

This seems to be a natural extension of Spitzer’s recent expressed regret about how he interpreted his findings and particularly about how others have used his study.

The TWO web site is interesting though. There is a press release informing folks about the apology and then a notice that various groups should remove any reference to Spitzer’s study from their web sites.

Organizations that continue to cite Spitzer’s repudiated study, such as PFOX, Focus on the Family, and NARTH, are being dishonest and blatantly misleading their followers,” said Wayne Besen, Executive Director of Truth Wins Out. “By failing to expeditiously remove references to the Spitzer study, these groups are showing themselves to be completely devoid of character and integrity.

I am not going to defend how any one group is using Spitzer’s research, but this is such an odd declaration to make. Spitzer may regret how he has interpreted his findings or how others have used his findings, but he does not own the sole interpretation of his research. If that were the case, wouldn’t that be an interesting development? If the only legitimate interpretation of a scientific study was the interpretation held by the primary researcher? The reality is that others may also read his research and come to different conclusions, just as they did when many critics disagreed with Spitzer’s initial interpretation of his work. It may be informative to someone visiting an organization’s web site to know Spitzer’s current feelings of regret, but organizations do not have to agree with him.

There are still many people trying to make sense of Spitzer’s change of heart. The most frequently cited rationale people have brought to my attention is the pressure he must feel from various activist groups. That pressure is real. I remember him saying when his study was first presented that several people called for his job at Columbia, and his coauthor did not want to be listed on the presentation or publication of the study. But the “activist pressure” theory may or may not be a contributing factor.

The second most frequently cited rationale I’ve heard is that of legacy – not wanting to end a distinguished career on this study. That is another consideration. The study was certainly a departure for him. Again, it may or may not be a contributing factor.

When I spoke with him at the time of his initial presentation of the data and during the filming of the DVD I Do Exist, he often referenced the believability of the people he interviewed, as well as confirmation in some cases from spouses and the way in which people did not provide accounts of dramatic or categorical change, which is what he thought he would hear if people were trying to make a political point about change. That may be part of what he is saying today: they were believable accounts, but he did not have an objective way to assess those claims, and he only had a rating scale that (if I recall directly) he created (a scale from 1 to 100). Today he seems to be saying that that is not sufficient reason to believe others can expect to change sexual orientation if they enter reorientation therapy. Further, he feels regret if others thought it was sufficient reason and attempted change because of it.

At the end of the day, only Spitzer knows his reasons. Some will applaud him and obviously agree with him. Others will not; others will see these other explanations as plausible.

In any case, those who continue to offer reorientation therapy are going to need to collaborate with researchers to conduct well-designed studies to support the claim that it is effective and not harmful. That was the case when Spitzer held his initial interpretation of his study, and it is still the case today.

On Spitzer’s “Change”

Although I am currently traveling, several people have contacted me about the developments surrounding Dr. Robert Spitzer. People  are asking me about Robert Spitzer’s reported desire to retract his study of 200 people who claimed to have experience change of their sexual orientation. It is unclear what people want me to say. When I first read his reported exchange with Gabriel Arana, I reflected on what I know about retracting studies. Research is typically retracted for gross errors or deception, as when data has been fabricated, for example. I had not seen anyone addressing this, however. All of the blogs and reports were on Spitzer’s desire to make a retraction (or whether he was feeling pressure to do so or whether he was protecting his legacy, etc.) but not on what constitutes or warrants a retraction. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

This line in his reported interview with Arana was puzzling to me: “The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.” This is shared as though it were new information. But that is actually how I tend to think of Spitzer’s study, and it is  how I think he wanted others to interpret his data. Nothing more, nothing less.

There is an interesting report from Alice Dreger’s blog of her exchange with Dr. Ken Zucker, editor of Archives of Sexual Behavior, the journal that published Spitzer’s study back in 2003. Dreger actually knows Zucker and contacted him about a few points in the Arana article that did not make much sense to her. This exchange (as recalled by Zucker and told to Dreger) is interesting:

A few months ago, Zucker told me, Spitzer had called Zucker wanting to talk about the latest DSM revision. During that call, according to Zucker, Spitzer “made some reference to regretting having done or publishing the study, and he said he wanted to retract it. My recollection of the conversation was something like this: I said, ‘I’m not sure what you want to retract, Bob. You didn’t falsify the data. You didn’t commit egregious statistical errors in analyzing the data. You didn’t make up the data. There were various commentaries on your paper, some positive, some negative, some in between. So the only thing that you seem to want to retract is your interpretation of the data, and lots of people have already criticized you for interpretation, methodological issues, etc.’”

The other part of this story brings us back full circle to the issue of a retraction. Does Spitzer’s regret or change of heart or desire to no longer see his study as fueling the so-called ex-gay industry constitute grounds for a retraction? Back to Dreger:

Well, the problem with that is that Spitzer’s change of heart about the interpretation of his data is not normally the kind of thing that causes an editor to expunge the scientific record. Said Zucker to me, “You can retract data incorrectly analyzed; to do that, you publish an erratum. You can retract an article if the data were falsified—or the journal retracts it if the editor knows of it. As I understand it, he’s just saying ten years later that he wants to retract his interpretation of the data. Well, we’d probably have to retract hundreds of scientific papers with regard to re-interpretation, and we don’t do that.”

So we may or may not see a retraction in the formal sense of the word. I don’t know how much it matters. In the blogosphere, where folks on both sides of this particular debate take shots at one another, what constitutes grounds for a retraction will likely be lost on those who want to use Spitzer’s “change” to support their position. It was the case when Spitzer interpreted his data one way; it appears that way with Spitzer interpreting his data another way. (Although, as I suggested from the outset, Spitzer may be interpreting his data in much the same way he did originally–as when he first presented his findings at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in 2001: as evidence that the people he interviewed believed they had experienced change of orientation.)


We arrived Easter morning in London and made our way to Cambridge. It has been cloudy with occasional light rain. To stay awake, we walked to a local co-op for groceries and then through the city of Cambridge. Here’s a photo of King’s College Chapel. Unfortunately, we missed the morning services, which I’m sure would have been memorable. We heard church bells ringing in the early afternoon and toured several of the local sites. I did go back later that night for evening prayer – not to King’s College Chapel but to St. Mark’s, a church quite close to where we are staying.

Here’s a quote from A. E. Housman: “I find Cambridge an asylum, in every sense of the word.” I’m not sure what to say about that, but I am going to work on a chapter this morning. My co-author sent me her comments on the opening chapter on theological perspectives, so that’s what I’ll work on today.


I am at the end of a respite in Sandbridge, Virginia. Tomorrow I fly out to Cambridge for a few weeks to finish writing a book I’ve been working on this spring. The focus of the book is Sexuality and Sex Therapy, in fact, that is likely going to be the title. Something like, Sexuality and Sex Therapy: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. That’s the working title anyway.

In any case, I will be away for a time, not that I post all that often anyway. But unless I find something inspiriting to blog about, I will likely just hunker down and work on the book.