Robert Jeffress, a pastor and Fox News contributor, has become a leading evangelical adviser to President Donald Trump and figures to be a prominent media surrogate during the 2020 campaign. In prior remarks and writing which haven’t been widely reported on, Jeffress promoted dangerous and discredited conversion therapy and wrote that he counseled an LGBTQ teenager with a history of suicidal ideation to change her sexual orientation.
Jeffress is a Fox News contributor and host of Pathway to Victory, which airs on Fox Nation. He is part of the campaign’s “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition and has spoken at Trump events. The president has said that he loves Jeffress and has repeatedly praised him on Twitter.
Jeffress has made numerous bigoted remarks about religious individuals, including Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists.
He also has a well-documented history of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and actions. He’s said that LGBTQ people have a “miserable lifestyle” and what they do “is filthy. It is so degrading that it is beyond description”; claimed that support for same-sex marriage (“the acceptance of perversion”) is a sign of the coming apocalypse; and stated that the Supreme Court's marriage equality decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was “the greatest, most historic, landmark blunder in the history of the United States Supreme Court” (the court previously ruled in favor of segregation and slavery).
But what hasn’t been widely documented is Jeffress’ support for conversion therapy, a harmful and discredited practice also known as reparative therapy that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person. Medical groups such as the American Psychiatric Association oppose the practice, with the APA writing that “there is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of ‘reparative therapy’ as a treatment to change one’s sexual orientation” and noting that risks include “depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”
Jeffress has characteristically backed conversion therapy. In 2014, Jeffress told a Dallas-Fort Worth’s CBS affiliate:
Supporters of the therapy believe it helps.
Dr. Robert Jeffress with First Baptist Dallas is one.
“I have talked to people who have undergone therapy like this and they have said as Christians it has helped them manage their temptations,” says Dr. Jeffress. “No therapy can remove those desires that we all have in different area’s of life, but as a Christian we have the power to overcome those desires and I think that’s the true reparative therapy that only comes to those who know Jesus Christ his savor.”
He also promotes changing one’s sexual orientation in his 2004 book Hell? Yes! (The book was republished in 2008 under the title Outrageous Truth… Seven Absolutes You Can Still Believe; the text in this article is taken from the 2013 ebook version of that book.) One of Jeffress’ purported truths is that “Homosexuality Is a Perversion,” which is also a chapter title.
In his book, Jeffress complains that “those intent on converting America’s attitudes toward gays were able to convince the APA to no longer refer to homosexuality as a ‘disorder,’ but rather, ‘a condition’ like being left-handed. In time, it was no longer homosexuals who needed therapy, but those who opposed it.”
He then draws from his own ministry, telling the story of a high school senior named Susan -- Jeffress states that “details in some anecdotes and stories have been changed to protect the identities of the persons involved” -- who has had suicidal ideation and recently came out as LGBTQ. Jeffress relates that he asked Susan how she thinks “God feels about your homosexual activity?” to which she replied: “I understand now that God created me with these desires, desires that I have had since I was a little girl. For years I have been miserable trying to deny those feelings and have seriously contemplated suicide. But now that I have accepted who I am, I am happier than I have ever been in my life!”
That explanation wasn’t satisfactory to Jeffress, who segues into writing numerous pages about why homosexuality is purportedly wrong, which include false narratives that “homosexual relationships are neither ‘normal’ nor ‘healthy’” and that “homosexual apologists” are trying to “‘normalize’ homosexuality” in order “to cover over the darkest secret associated with this perversion: child molestation.”
He also writes that “through the power of Jesus Christ, all of us can be freed from acting on” desires such as homosexuality:
That magnetic pull toward the forbidden, present in all of our hearts, manifests itself in different ways. Some are drawn toward adultery, some toward violence, some toward substance abuse, and some (possibly) toward homosexuality. Whether those desires are caused by nature (biological factors), by nurture (environmental factors), or by some combination of both is ultimately inconsequential. None of us gets a “pass” from God for rebellious behavior just because it arises from our innate desires, regardless of the cause of those desires. But here is the good news: Through the power of Jesus Christ, all of us can be freed from acting on those desires.
At the end of the chapter, while discussing the purported “myth” that “homosexuality is a fixed desire and cannot be changed,” Jeffress returns to the story of Susan and cites the discredited late psychoanalyst Dr. Irving Bieber in writing that people can change their sexual orientation. He then writes that he “brought up the issue of choice,” before lamenting: “I wish I could report that after hearing the above information, she renounced her homosexual tendencies, confessed her sin to God, and left my office with a newfound attraction to the opposite sex. She didn’t.”
Jeffress’ book also cites conversion therapy proponents, including Charles W. Socarides, the late co-founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and “one of the most vocal proponents of the view that homosexuality was a pathological disorder”; Joe Dallas, an ex-gay “counselor” who was the president of the now-defunct conversion therapy organization Exodus International; and material from Exodus International itself.
Media Matters reported last week that Jenna Ellis, a right-wing commentator and senior legal adviser to Trump, has also promoted conversion therapy and made toxic anti-LGBTQ remarks.