In the early days, as my theology began to transition, I spoke with the minister of my church about my change in thinking. He talked in terms of homosexuality being either a sin or a disease, so as far as he was concerned as a Christian minister, he would want to see a person either repent, or seek healing. I disagreed, but I didn’t at the time, have a clear alternative to argue, I just innately knew it was wrong. I came away from the meeting and worked through the questions until I had better answers, answers that convinced me.
In the end, my theology developed to the extent that it became difficult to stay in his church, particularly as the leaders of the church were adopting an incrementally harder line towards the LGBTQ+ community. As you have read through my attempt to understand and propose a different way of looking at the issue, you’ll know we have dealt with the issue of whether homosexuality is a sin, and concluded that it isn’t. I now believe there is a third alternative to the minister’s argument, which you have probably picked up from my essay – that it’s an entirely natural part of God’s created order, but I briefly want to turn back and look at the idea of healing.
In many ways, healing frequently gets tied in with being a part of conversion therapy, which we will look at shortly. Since homosexuality is seen, by some, as a disease, the argument goes that God can heal it, because he has been seen and proven to heal a myriad of other sicknesses and diseases, and this is just one more. I have been in healing services where people have been healed of a number of conditions, and I briefly talked about this in my essay. However, it is strange that so many churches still insist it is an illness, or disease, in spite of the fact that as I say in the chapter, “the World Health Organisation and other Psychiatric bodies crossed it off their lists of mental illnesses a long time ago (the WHO in 1990, and the American Psychiatric Association issued a resolution stating that homosexuality was not a mental illness or sickness back in 1973).”
It is strange for two reasons: one, that most independent experts and health-based authorities say it isn’t an illness; and two, that healing from homosexuality doesn’t work. Let me ask, what should a healing look like/how should it be recognised?
If we are looking for a proof of concept, without getting into the complicated area of bi-sexuality, I believe you should take a gay person who is exclusively attracted to others of the same sex. Once healing has occurred, this person should only be attracted to a person of the opposite sex, and never to anyone of the same sex. Similarly, although previous orientation would be harder to prove, a bi-sexual person, once healed would only ever be attracted to someone of the opposite sex.
In addition, since our dreams indicate what is going on at our core, I need to ask who is the subject of any erotic dreams we might have? If a person has truly changed from gay to straight, their dreams will reflect this, so will obviously focus on the opposite gender, where formerly it would have been their own gender. Anything less than that, in my view, isn’t a healing, or a transformation to being straight.
This is not a high bar, but only what we should expect in every case where healing is claimed. If conversion therapy has been working since these organisations were first set-up in the seventies, there should be tens of thousands of validated cases. However, also in my view, there is almost no evidence of it verifiably happening that I have been able to find, although there are a fair number of stories of people who have learned to behave as if straight, having repressed their gay orientation. But they aren’t straight, because they continue to need to squash their same-sex desires, which haven’t gone away, but may have been suppressed.
My impression is that faith groups need it to be regarded as an illness or lifestyle choice, so that the argument can continue to be made that being gay is unacceptable to God, and that it must be one of the results of the Fall, as I outlined in the early chapters. If, as I am arguing, homosexuality is simply a part of God’s created order, and nothing can be done to change the orientation, (in the same way some of us have brown eyes, and others green, blue, grey, or whatever,) we must ask whether we have made a mistake in how we understand the words used by the Biblical authors. Have the words and ideas been translated from the original, into our language correctly?
So, if my view is correct, and homosexuality is perfectly natural to life on Earth, it isn’t a sin, so what is there to heal? If the person, made in the image of God, has no disease/illness, yet comes to God to ask Him for healing, what is God going to say? I’m inclined to think He will echo His own words to Elijah in 1 Kings 19: 9 & 13: “What are you doing here…?” I’m sure He will also add: “why do you think you need to be healed? You are just the way I want you to be, and perfect for the work I have for you – I want to use you just as you are.”
As I say in this week’s chapter: “The non-affirming faith communities say that the LGBTQ+ community will be the fuel for the fires of hell because of their sin. However, all Christians say that God is passionate in His desire to bring folk into His kingdom to enjoy a close relationship with Him. That being the case, when a gay person becomes a Christian and repents of their sin, in the same way I did in the early ‘70’s, why would God NOT automatically heal, because if it is as apparently as obnoxious an offence to God, as folk contend, yet the gay person in their very core cannot do anything about being homosexual, it flies in the face of His character and nature not to heal. Without God’s mercy, I am powerless to do anything about my sin, just as the gay person is additionally powerless to be anything other than gay. God grants me salvation and forgives my sin. If the erasure of homosexuality was so important to Him, logic requires he should welcome every gay sinner who repents and give them both salvation, AND guaranteed ‘healing’ from homosexuality. As there are so many spirit-filled ‘Gay’ Christians, obviously God doesn’t see it as a problem. To me, the conclusion is very clear, and to ignore that, is a sin in itself, because of the damage done.”
It isn’t just their mental health, it’s their, at times, hatred for what the church stands for. If they had, or if they develop, a faith, how do they grow as Christians? The established church has rejected them. How do they learn about the Bible? How do they keep their faith in line with it if there is no-one to teach or get alongside them? They are fated to remain spiritual babies, or else their faith will cool and die, and this is to the great shame of the church.
There are a few subjective accounts of individuals on the internet, who say they have been healed of homosexuality, but they can’t be objectively verified. For instance, I read one where the writer was wonderfully consumed by their faith, but it was difficult to determine whether the writer was truly gay at the core, or had simply adopted a gay lifestyle as part of a number of seemingly abusive relationships, before Jesus became the central part of their life. There are many people who are critical of the requirement to seek healing, and indeed of conversion therapy, which I will abbreviate to CT, from this point on, as we turn our attention to it.
The basic principle lying behind CT is that it is possible to change a person’s sexual orientation, using treatment, or ministry, to what is described as hetero‑normative – as I described earlier, that of exclusive attraction to a person of the opposite sex.
As I write this week’s blog, the UK Government are looking at the issue of CT and whether it should be banned, or only allowed in certain circumstances. They started looking at the issue around 2018, and this year (2021) they are bringing a Bill to Parliament, which we watch with interest (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-sets-out-plan-to-ban-conversion-therapy). If you live in Scotland, you can contribute to the debate currently going on there. The Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee is inviting your views on a public petition, PE1817: [To] End Conversion Therapy: https://yourviews.parliament.scot/ehrc/petition-end-conversion-therapy-views/. In both jurisdictions, LGBTQ+ agencies, campaigners and psychologists are lobbying for a complete ban on CT whilst churches want there to be exemptions.
One of the problems with the legislation currently being looked at is that no-one can agree exactly what constitutes CT. For a full background it is worth reading the Wikipedia article on: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_therapy#Behavioral_modification. However, in general terms, as that page states:
Conversion therapy is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological, physical, or spiritual interventions. There is no reliable evidence that sexual orientation can be changed, and medical institutions warn that conversion therapy practices are ineffective and potentially harmful…
… Techniques used in conversion therapy in the United States and Western Europe have included ice-pick lobotomies; chemical castration with hormonal treatment; aversive treatments, such as “the application of electric shock to the hands and/or genitals”; “nausea-inducing drugs … administered simultaneously with the presentation of homoerotic stimuli”; and masturbatory reconditioning. More recent clinical techniques used in the United States have been limited to counseling, visualization, social skills training, psychoanalytic therapy, and spiritual interventions such as “prayer and group support and pressure”.
You will remember that Alan Turing, the father of the computer, and designer of the Enigma code-breaking machine that shortened the war by up to two years, was convicted of being a homosexual. He faced either going to prison, or chemical castration. Because he couldn’t face prison, he chose the latter, but found he couldn’t live with himself, so ended his life. So tragic. This was the man who probably should have had statues raised in his honour, but then finding life had become too awful to continue with.
On the one hand I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be happy to ban some of those treatments because if they had been used by the military during a war they would be regarded as inhumane, or torture and probably war crimes. On the other hand, should we ban counselling or prayer in these circumstances, whether that be prayer that God would change a person to straight, or alternatively, in helping them to come to terms with their sexuality? This is where it gets messy.
There are two articles worth reading before we continue: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/what-is-gay-conversion-therapy and the Patrick Strudwick article from 2011, referred to in that piece, written for the Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/ex-gay-files-bizarre-world-gay-straight-conversion-1884947.html
I can’t go into all the detail necessary to properly deal with the issue in what is “supposed” to be a short blog. After all, what constitutes prayer:
- Is it a minister/leader led public prayer for an anonymous person?
- Is it a minister/leader led public prayer for a specific person who has responded to an altar call? Or private prayer in this same public environment?
- Is it part of in-private pastoral support?
- Is it part of an in-private consultation? (Professional or religious counselling.)
- Is it a generalised prayer in public/private asking God for help to come to terms with their identity?
- Is the prayer part of an exorcism (“of the demon of homosexuality!”)?
- If someone had been previously hurt by the attitude of a former church/minister, could they be prayed for by a new “affirming” church?
Which should be banned? Some/all/none? It’s tough, isn’t it? You can come up with others, but I hope you can begin to see how thorny this issue is. Some other instances crop up on this webpage: https://www.premierchristianity.com/home/gay-conversion-therapy-what-the-church-and-lgbt-community-can-agree-on/4007.article. At the moment, it isn’t clear which way the government Bill will go, but some leaks are implying the current direction may not give too many exceptions, although in April, “Boris Johnson has said people attracted to others of the same sex will still be able to receive prayer and pastoral support from churches.” https://premierchristian.news/en/news/article/i-do-not-want-to-see-clergy-and-church-members-criminalised-boris-johnson-offers-assurances-over-conversation-therapy-ban. However, we know the Prime Minister is not known for his reliability and what he says one day, changes a short time later, so who knows?
A couple of paragraphs later, in that same article, it was reported that: “The EA [Evangelical Alliance], along with several other groups, have offered their support to plans to ban conversion therapy but insist freedoms must remain for those who follow traditional Biblical teachings on the issue of sexuality.”
It is that final comment that makes me uneasy. Superficially it sounds reasonable, but when you drill down, you realise the danger. If “John” holds anti-homosexual views and theology, but they are his own private views, I can’t claim to be happy, but I can easily live with it. If he starts imposing those views on others (maybe he has become a church leader) and encourages his church to follow his line, that of requiring any member of the gay community to adhere to his expectations, and his rules, he is either forcing his attitudes and theology on those who don’t share them, or he is encouraging others who DO share them, to act on them, and they end up bringing direct harm to vulnerable people. And that presents a problem. In addition, it’ll be the younger people who will be the most vulnerable, and ill-equipped to protect themselves. Furthermore, they may be already experiencing problems at home if their families have rejected their sexual orientation, and then someone in the church who usually knows the Bible a lot better, tells them they can change, “because the Bible says so”.
At present most gay Christians will have stories about how they were forced to leave a church, or not allowed to join a church, or made to feel guilty and rejected for something they can do nothing about, or made to accept celibacy, or encouraged to “pray the gay away”.
Later in the above Premier news article Boris Johnson was reported to have said, “Like you, I do not want to see clergy and church members criminalised for normal non-coercive activity.” Once again, what constitutes “non-coercive activity”? That description is fairly subjective, because I might claim I was not being coercive – and wholly believe it, but the person I was talking to might argue that it was coercive because I had made him feel obligated to follow through, or guilty if he didn’t.
I think personally I would rather see a couple of my own religious freedoms curtailed, than support a system which will continue damaging people in the name of Jesus. I say this knowing that it is unlikely the law will get it all right first time, and there may need to be some amendments in the coming years.
For me, I think one of the keys to the debate is: does conversion therapy work? If it works all, or most of the time, the discussion can perhaps continue. If it never or rarely works, what are we doing allowing it to continue “on the off-chance” it works occasionally? After all the reading I have done over the last six years, I clearly believe it is the latter, and that the church has made a rod for it’s own back, by advocating for something that does not work and is palpably harmful, and then complaining that other benign or outright positive actions get caught in the crossfire as CT is potentially outlawed.
However, we know that there is almost no evidence that someone who was indisputably gay has become undeniably straight – and by that, I mean only ever now attracted to the other sex and never to their own. There are definitely people who have learned to change their behaviour – to act as if straight, but that is entirely different – that is not a change of orientation.
And this is the problem. Conversion therapy advocates will trot out their “poster boy/girl” to say, “I changed, and so can you”, but there is no independent scientific verification to confirm, or deny, any of the claims. There are no verifiable or peer-reviewed statistics that I have been able to find. Why is that so hard? If CT works reliably, there should be thousands of examples to select from.
CT promises, or gives the impression, that anyone can change from gay to straight, then, when it doesn’t happen, the victim is blamed because they didn’t try hard enough, gave up too soon, or didn’t have enough faith, and the final mental health state is worse than the former. Read their stories in Brandan Robertson’s book: “Our Witness: The Unheard Stories Of LGBT+ Christians” [Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd. Available on Kindle]. It’s an important book to read in this context and is 186 pages.
Indeed, there is some suspicion that some of the reported “successes” are with people who would more accurately be described as bisexual, so it would be easier to hide any attraction to their own sex, but once again without scientific verification, all of this is mere conjecture and waffle. Why haven’t CT agencies shown their success rates and put them up for independent auditing?
Governments across the globe are looking to ban CT, and you can do your own internet search to verify this. This week’s chapter details with a lot of what I have mentioned and refers to the closure of some of these Ex-gay ministries (ministries set up to help people change to being ‘ex-gay’), the most significant of these being Exodus International. I quote one of Exodus International’s founders, Michael Bussee who stated: “The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation, or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted, or are not tempted in some way, or experience some level of same-sex attraction.”
As it doesn’t work, why are Christians still pushing for it? It sounds like it must be made to work, to validate a particular theological worldview, regardless of the cost/damage to individuals. From my standpoint, this isn’t a Christian, or a Christ‑centric attitude, and needs to stop, in the name of Jesus.
So next time, we will explore the issue of whether we can learn to live with disagreement in our respective churches. I’ve called it “Disagreement, differences and Biblical final thoughts”. Obviously we are winding down to the end! This will be the penultimate chapter, and the final chapter will be looking at marriage.
As I conclude, I want to thank Don for some very helpful thoughts and comments, which helped extend this Blog! 🙂 I always enjoy receiving helpful comments, so feel free to get in touch. You will have a different experience to me, whether you identify as straight or queer. We all have different backgrounds and different ways of understanding, and different influences. Do you agree with my stance? Where do we differ? What do you think? Have I missed something important? Tell me about your own experience, or your story. You can use the Contact page or email me on: email@example.com,