Conversion therapy, religious belief and the Church – Part 4

faith and sex executive-reportInteresting interviews yesterday morning on the Radio 4 Sunday programme with Ed Stourton.  Before we look at it, let’s try to summarise what we’re being hit over the head with, and then read the interview bearing these points in mind.

The demands of LGBT activists of the Church of England (and others) seem to boil down to four things. They want:

  • Same sex marriage – activists want the Church of England to support and provide same sex marriage, despite the objections of many other people and clergy in the Church and despite the teachings of the Bible that have nothing positive to say about homosexual activity;
  • Same sex marriage for clergy with full ministry and recognition just as accorded to heterosexual married clergy;
  • Elimination of all conscientious objection to LGBT identity, behaviours, rights, and roles in the Church and in wider life; all such objections must be labelled as phobic and/or as hate speech;
  • All decisions and opinions in these matters to be identified, monitored and policed by the LGBT community who will have priority of views over the leadership and membership of the Church; this will involve changing the meaning of portions of the Bible and fundamentally changing the Church’s teachings and values around sexuality and marriage. If this is not done, LGBT Christians will be driven to taking their own lives.

I’m sure readers will also identify other aims being promulgated by the activists around us, but these probably cover the main ground.  It’s interesting that if the traditionalists were proposing to eliminate all conscientious objection to the Bible, Church teaching and so on, they would be – and are – accused of being homophobic, transphobic and purveyors of hate speech.  Apparently free speech and freedom of views only works in one direction.

Is this reasonable? We cannot dictate what others’ views should or shouldn’t be. We can legislate to outlaw certain actions and behaviours, which we already do, and this is right. But when others tell me what should be going on inside my own head, that’s a red line that no reasonable person would agree to. If this is to be the new way of doing things in the interests of ‘social justice’ then we may as well abandon western democracy – and the Church and the Bible – now and just set up the totalitarian state run by minorities.

If you are a Christian and LGBT, that’s between you and God.

When it comes to what the Bible says about this, it is unarguable that there is not a single positive word said about homosexual activity in the Bible.  It’s no good arguing that we don’t ‘kill gays’ anymore as it states we should in the Old Testament, ‘so therefore neither should we take on board all the other stuff the OT says about homosexuality’.  We still have all of the references to homosexuality in the New Testament, none of which are favourable.  You either believe this, or you don’t.  If you want to rewrite the Bible, don’t expect everyone else to agree with your ‘new translation’.

With regard to the argument about having to stay single and celibate if you are to live as an LGBT person in a traditional church, maybe we should widen the discussion a bit.  LGBT people are not the only Christians who are faced with living a celibate and/or single life – although you could be forgiven for thinking they are.  The Bible clearly states that sexual relations are restricted to taking place within heterosexual marriage.  End of.  If you are unmarried, divorced, widowed, in a marriage with a sick spouse who cannot have a sexual relationship, or otherwise not in a heterosexual marriage, the Bible says you can’t engage in sexual activity.  That’s it.  There are plenty of us who would like to be married but we can’t find a partner.  Are we all setting up foundations and campaigning for the Bible to be changed to suit us?

So let’s look at that Sunday morning programme (24 February 2019, the day after Synod finished). The BBC’s Ed Stourton interviewed four people about this issue. Here’s a transcript of the interviews, that I have made.  See what you think about the state of the Church’s leadership when you get to the end.

Chris Butler (guest) – I was a child in the 70s and a teenager in the 80s.  I grew up between Warrington and Liverpool, so I was kind of in the industrial heart of the northwest.  At that stage, geographically and I think culturally in a wider sense, things were quite homophobic.  I didn’t have a religious family but I was sent to quite a hardline religious school, and as a result, I made my own religious conversion at age 17. Obviously when it came out that I was gay, that caused problems within the church and at that stage, that’s how I was referred to what many people would know now as several ‘ex-gay ministry’ organisations.

Ed Stourton (presenter) – What sort of efforts were made to persuade you to change?

Chris Butler – …the soft end of it, you were prayed over, you were counselled, I think there was a mish-mash of unregulated therapy practices kind of mixed in with what would have been called healing prayer; at the most extreme end of it, I was subjected to what would be referred to as demonic exorcisms.  I mean, basically I was told that my sexuality was a result of demonic infestation and in one instance I was actually held down on a vestry floor by three ministers, who were attempting to sort of exorcise me of these demons, so to speak.

Ed Stourton – How did you feel going through all that?

Chris Butler – Er, I think the only way I can describe it now looking back, is emotionally shut down. You kind of…as a teenager back then, the church kind of programmed me to believe that my sexuality was intrinsically wrong. There is this pressure to change, you are under constant scrutiny…the most intimate details of your personal life are basically being claimed by your church leadership, and, I mean, I experienced a breakdown when I was in my late teens, and I then experienced a second breakdown in my mid-thirties when I was actually beginning to untangle the effects of all this and what had gone on.

Ed Stourton – What about what you call the soft end of things? People praying for you, with the best of intentions?

Chris Butler – With the best of intentions, yes, I think this is what makes the whole matter so murky and muddy. You know, if the people who’d been dealing with me had been malicious, I’d have found it a lot easier to deal with to be honest, but actually ‘misguided’ would be a better word.  And then of course, you’re having to work through a whole range of emotions and knowing that these people meant well, that makes it quite difficult to untangle when you’re actually trying to pick up the pieces later on in life.

There were no questions asking Chris if he had voluntarily consented to these activities at the time, and there was no questioning of the assumed link between his experiences and his mental health problems.  In particular, Chris was not asked to explain about the ‘held down on the floor’ situation – was he trying to escape or was he going along with it?  We don’t know.  But was there not also anything else in his life that could have contributed to his subsequent unhappiness?

Ed Stourton then introduced Jayne Ozanne and Ed Shaw (Living Out). Ed Shaw is a pastor at Emmanuel Church, Bristol.

Jayne Ozanne (guest) – What I was really shocked about was the level of mental health issues, much, much higher and more serious than I had realized. 91 people saying they’d attempted suicide, 193 people with suicidal thoughts, and actually when we asked about what sort of therapy people had gone through, 22 people said they’d been forced to have sexual activity with somebody of the opposite gender, I mean, rape.  But the other section was the age at which they said they’d started to go through this. Over half of those 458 respondents who had gone through some attempt to change their ….so we are dealing with their orientation, were 18 or under at the time and some said they were under 12. So we are dealing with minors, dealing with serious issues here…..a third [issue] was the role of the religious leader, significantly above the role of the parent in terms of the person they’d gone to for advice or help or indeed had forced them to go through things, so they hadn’t gone to the medical profession, they hadn’t spoken to their parents but they had spoken to their religious leader.

[This is going to be a new front opening in the ‘battle’ – ‘safeguarding minors’ – even though we don’t know if the 11 people in the survey who said they had experienced orientation change attempts when they were under 12 were actually in churches – they could have been in mosques, synagogues, temples or gudwaras].

Ed Stourton – Without diminishing the seriousness of any of that, one should point out that these were a self-selecting group…[who had responded to the survey]

Jayne Ozanne –Weeeell, they are, but that’s an easy way of trying to write… you know… we went… it was open… we used exactly the same methodology the government used in their LGBT Action Plan so we put this out through all the different social media channels, Stonewall, the national newspapers, the Christian newspaper,  4600 people had responded, and of that, 458 said they’d gone through this. Now yes of course it was going to attract the LGBT community, but when the government helped us look at the spread of responses, the age groups, where they’re from, the different demographics if you like, they are very near the ONS standard of demographics.

[The LGBT Action Plan didn’t have a methodology – the earlier government LGBT survey did; but the government’s survey was far better designed and gained well over 100,00 responses, making it more representative than this survey].

Ed Stourton – Before we talk about the survey, Ed Shaw, can you just explain the position of you and your group about what it means to be gay and be a Christian?

Ed Shaw (guest) – yes, I’m part of a group that’s called Living Out. We are people who are very open and honest about our sexuality and aren’t ashamed of our sexualities, but feel that Bible teaching about sex being for marriage and between a man and a woman means that we’re expecting to remain single and celibate and to enjoy life to full like Jesus.

Ed Stourton – What is your response to this report, how do you feel reading it?

Ed Shaw – I feel devastated that some people’s experience of being a gay man or woman in the church has been very different to mine.  I’ve had a positive experience, I’ve been looked after, I’ve been cared for, I haven’t had any of the experiences described here, so I want to make sure these voices are heard, and I think its really important that Jayne’s allowed their voices to be heard through this survey. But I also want to make sure that other voices are heard too, particularly because I don’t want people growing up in the church now to feel that if they are open and honest with religious leaders, they’re going to have the sort of horrific experience that Chris Butler had.

Ed Stourton – To what extent do you think the picture painted here is a historic one, and to what extent do you think this sort of thing is still going on?

Jayne Ozanne – That’s a good question. We can track that because we asked what age they are now, and we asked what age they went through this. For instance, in the case of the 22 people who said they’d been forced, I went back and looked at how old they are now, and there are people in the 16-18 group now.

[This last sentence makes no sense – she does not answer Ed’s question].

Jayne Ozanne  – But it’s the scale, you know, in terms of did it work, 13 people said yes, they thought it had, but overwhelmingly, hundreds of people said no, it didn’t.

[What about some consideration of those 13 people, Jayne?]

Ed Stourton – Do you think it can work?

Ed Shaw – I don’t think there’s evidence it can work.

[So the 13 people must have been dishonest then].

Ed Shaw – I don’t think there’s a need for me to change my sexuality, I think people who present godliness to use a Christian word, as heterosexuality, are misreading scripture.

Ed Stourton – I saw you grimacing when Chris Butler was describing the demonic exorcisms, what about the other point we talked about, when people are simply praying for you to change? What do you feel about that?

Ed Shaw – Well, yes, I tried to think , I don’t think I’ve ever prayed for God to change my sexuality, I don‘t think anybody’s ever prayed over me in that way, for God to change my sexuality. I can see that both the horrific end of the experience that Chris went through and also the prayer experience, are things that Christian leaders need to hear and learn lessons from, to make sure that people don’t feel there’s an abuse of power in that sort of dynamic, which there obviously was in the struggle on the vestry floor, which is horrific, but can also happen, you know, in more subtle ways, in a situation of prayer.  And as a lay pastor myself, when I’m praying with somebody, I’d be wanting to ask them what are the sort of things you want me to pray for you, rather than saying I’m going to pray for this outcome in your life and which I am going to subtly enforce upon you through the words I use as I pray.

[How do we know that those praying for the people who responded to the survey didn’t  ask them what they wanted praying for?  Another assumption of a ‘power abuse’].

Jayne Ozanne – for many people, and I put myself in this category, I actively sought some healing, so it wasn’t that I was told to go through it, I sought it, because I did not want to be single for the rest of my life. And so I went to people I knew to ask for help, and that’s how I got into these deliverance ministries…I too have had many exorcisms, and in a sense the teaching of having to be single and celibate was what drove me there.

[So Bible teaching drove JO to activities that made her have breakdowns. Where are all the single, divorced or widowed straight Christians who are being driven to despair over being told they should be celibate?]

Jayne Ozanne  – You know, one of the things that saddened me, if I can be honest, in the report, we asked the single people are you happy being single and celibate, do you want to be dating, would you like to be dating but think it’s wrong, and 117 people, 8% , came back to us and said I believe I have to be celibate, but I believe, because I… but I’d like to be dating, and that to me is a ticking time bomb for many people because I do think that pressure for them will drive them into conversion therapy.

[The Church’s teaching, based on the Bible, is producing a ticking time bomb].

Ed Shaw– ….The church has failed to articulate that you can be single and enjoy a whole host of loving, intimate relationships and you can be single and part of the church community and enjoy church family.

[Really???]

Jayne Ozanne – Well that’s where you and I completely disagree…

Ed Shaw – I know we do, but I think it’s important to hear that possibility.

[Why???]

Ed Stourton – Slightly different point but, at Synod, the church is going to be presenting pastoral guidelines on sexuality. Jayne, what, do you make of them? [New Pastoral Guidelines by the Pastoral Advisory Group, PAG].

Jayne Ozanne – I welcome them as a first step, and it’s really important that they’ve had the courage to name six evils – as it were – the church has colluded with in terms of prejudice and fear and silence, and an inability for people to come out.

[So there you have it – the Church is guilty of evils against the LGBT community and this is approved by – the Church].

Jayne Ozanne – My challenge back to the church is well, are you actually guilty of these six evils yourself, and so I think once they start to model how to address those evils, the rest of church might start to embrace them. So it’s a first step but it doesn’t go anywhere near, in my opinion, far enough to deal with the real safeguarding issues that this survey shows. Young people attempting suicide, being driven to that because of what’s happening in their churches should make us all sit up and want to take some really robust, you know, steps to make sure these young vulnerable people are protected and I don’t personally see how the principles are going to help us with that.

Ed Stourton – …Christine Hardman is the Bishop of Newcastle and chairs the Church of England’s Pastoral Advisory Group [PAG] which produced the pastoral guidelines on sexuality presented to the Synod this week. ….before we deal with that challenge to what you’ve done, can you explain to me what you set out to achieve with these guidelines?

Christine Hardman (guest) – yes, the PAG was set up by the archbishops in 2017, and we’ve been working to produce what we’ve called Pastoral Principles for living well together.

[So there’s an avoidance of anything that looks like going against teaching but the onus is out on the rest of us to fit in with the LGBT agenda so that we can all ‘live well together’].

Christine Hardman  – And at the very heart of this, is saying, how do we, as members of the body of Christ, treat one another. How do we behave to one another, how do we identify and call out behaviours of which we all complicit? So I entirely agree with Jayne when she says the church has to own our… that we are involved in these [unclear], well of course we are. As human beings we’re all involved in this, but when we begin to name all that diminishes what it is that it means to be a human being and how we can diminish one another, when we name it, we can start to change.

Ed Stourton – But our point was that this doesn’t go anywhere near doing that in the end, that, that, as she put it, the church itself may be guilty of the evils it identifies?

[Ed, you slipped up there with that ‘our point’ when you meant Jayne Ozanne’s point….]

Christine Hardman – Of course the church is guilty of evils it identifies, um and it’s a kind of examen that we hope will be relevant for every church in the Church of England across the country. Looking at actually repenting and naming and seeing where we are guilty of these things.

[No question here – we all need to repent of believing in the Word of God].

Christine Hardman– But when you begin to realise what you are doing, when you own it, then you can allow God’s transformation to come in, and we can change our behavior and start to treat each other in the way that we need to if we’re to be members of the body of Christ. So it isn’t about um, er saying the church is completely innocent of any of this, of course it isn’t, the church is made up of human beings and as human beings we’re all caught in behavior that can be negative, destructive and diminishing. So I think that if these principles stay as words on bits of paper, they will be completely useless, but if we actually allow them to touch us, and change our behavior, they could be so powerful.

[Has she heard of irony??].

Ed Stourton – Well, yes, behavior or beliefs? You quite rightly quoted to us your purpose, which I was reading through your document, this document, which has set out some principles of pastoral practice for how the people of God in the Church of England can live well together, but you didn’t go on to say that last part of that sentence, which is ‘within the parameters of its current position on marriage’. And that’s actually the real issue, isn’t it?

Christine Hardman – um, I don’t think it is the real issue. …I mean….

Ed Stourton – No?

Christine Hardman – Our group is set up, er,  recently, as you say, and er, not to, er, suggest anything that changes the doctrine or teaching of the church, and that’s not an easy task actually, when we’re constantly being told we are changing doctrine or teaching when we say something , but in fact, what we’ve done in our group together, we have a whole spectrum of people, er, different beliefs, different life experiences, different parts of the church, and we have been determined that we’re going to actually live in the way that we proclaim , um, in our principles, that we’re going to value difference…

Ed Stourton – But if you don’t address that fundamental question, which is to do with belief, it can only in the end be a bit of a fudge, then….

Christine Hardman – Um, no, I don’t agree with that.  Um, the er, parallel group that’s been set up Living In Love and Faith, is particularly charged with addressing the theological, doctrinal issues, so this work is being done, but it’s not the task of our group.  Our group is to look at how we can be the body of Christ that says [long pause] ‘without Jayne Ozanne, without Ed Shaw, without Chris Butler, we would be diminished.  We need… the eye cannot say to the… to the hand, I have no need of you, we need and we value difference and we want to show a deep respect’.

End of the interview.

So there you have it, folks.

More waffle about how representative of the population the survey was, which is highly disingenuous, as online surveys always attract those with strongly-held opinions far more than those who take a more laid-back approach to an issue.  Jayne Ozanne doesn’t actually say here that the government people who ‘looked over’ the results approved the methodology, just that the demographics are ‘near’ the ONS standard of demographics, which is actually a meaningless statement.

Amazement is expressed at the rate of mental health issues experienced by LGBT people as if this is something new, when this has been recognized in thousands of medical studies for decades.

Implications made that all these mental health issues in Christian LGBT people are due to the Church and its teachings, despite the known level of mental health problems in the LGBT community.

Plenty of focus on the small number of outliers (people at the extreme ends of the range of experiences) and little or none on the middle ground.

Blanket dismissal of the 13 people who said that conversion therapy had worked for them.  A flat refusal from Ed Shaw to even accept their responses as true at all.

People who say that sex and marriage is just for heterosexual people are misinterpreting the Bible (no verses cited in support of this).

Being told at church that you can’t engage in sexual activity unless you are married to someone of the opposite sex has been driving people to suicide for years.

And finally, the Bishop of Newcastle. Oh, the irony!  Let’s have a quick look at the six ‘evils’ we’re all guilty of:

Prejudice, silence, ignorance, fear, hypocrisy, power.

PAG says in its new guidelines, ‘The quality of our relationships is hindered by six pervading evils. You are invited to consider whether these are at work in your church community and how your church might …

Acknowledge PREJUDICE;

speak into SILENCE;

address IGNORANCE;

cast out FEAR;

admit HYPOCRISY;

pay attention to POWER’.

That’s just the non-LGBT members of the Church who have to do this, of course, as we’re prejudiced, silent (usually because we’re too polite to make a fuss), ignorant, full of fear of what LGBT people are going to do to us, hypocritical –  presumably because we want to believe what the Bible says, and we need to pay attention to power.

Strangely enough, I think most of us just want to pay attention to the power of the Word of God as it is stated in the Bible.  I suppose here ‘power’ means ‘anything that ranges itself against what some LGBT activists want’.

So, Bishop of Newcastle, let’s look at what you said in the interview, but consider it from the opposite direction, shall we?  Let’s just imagine that a heterosexual vicar is using your words to explain the Biblical view of homosexuality to a LGBT parishioner who has asked for help:

‘But when you begin to realise what you are doing, when you own it, then you can allow God’s transformation to come in, in the way that we need to if we’re to be members of the body of Christ…….So I think that if these principles stay as words on bits of paper (i.e. in the pages of the Bible), they will be completely useless, but if we actually allow them to touch us, and change our behavior, they could be so powerful.’

Sounds a bit different that way, doesn’t it?  But I suppose any vicar daring to say such things would undoubtedly be homophobic and purveying hate speech.  It’s encouraging, isn’t it, to know that a Christian telling another person about what the Bible says is actually being homophobic and speaking hate?  And if the LGBT activists get their way, he will also soon be a criminal.

And of course, according to the Bishop, none of this is about changing what people believe, is it?  No, of course not.

Double-speak, anyone?

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