Father Ray comes out…


I have been thinking a little about this issue again recently- partly because of the film above, but also because sexuality is a subject that always seems to get people in the church steamed up.

The other day, my nephew Josh posted a link on FB to this organisation in America- Truth Ministry- Healing From Homosexuality Through Jesus Christ.  Josh was not particularly complementary- and I have posted about my feelings in relation to these ‘ministries’ before- here and here for example.

The root of all this has nothing to do with therapy- and little to do with ministry- rather it is all to do with how we understand scripture.

Father Ray seems a decent bloke- although the film above (despite his stated wish to avoid controversy and upset) was clearly made as a political statement by a man who is not averse to risk taking. It does humanise the debate again though- which is something I am a lot more comfortable with than trying to make rigid theological arguments.

I wonder when this will all be behind us? I think it will be one of those things that we (the Church) will look back on and wonder how we got so steamed up about it all.

Faith and homosexuality collide again…

A couple of news stories this week brought this issue out into the open again-

Firstly, there was the story about the gay couple who won a court case against a Christian hotel for discriminating against them by refusing to offer them a bed.

Then in another story reported on the news today Lesley Pilkington, a psychotherapist for 20 years, faces being stripped of her accreditation to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) after treating a patient who had told her he wanted to be “cured” of his homosexuality.

You can listen to the short news item with associated interviews here-

\’Gay cure\’ row- from \’Today\’, radio 4

Full story in the telegraph, here.  It describes how a gay journalist struck up a conversation with her at a conference run by the US organisation called the ‘National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality’ or NARTH (see here for an earlier discussion about NARTH on this blog.) She then offered the man therepeutic help for his homosexuality.

She is quoted (here) as saying this- “When a therapist believes in good faith that a person can change his or her lifestyle she should be free to offer her expertise without the fear of the loss of her job or professional credentials.  The equalities and anti-discrimination agendas are undermining the freedom of individuals to choose to change their lifestyles. These laws are leading to the elimination of a fundamental human right.”

I found myself feeling very sorry for this woman- she is facing a media witch hunt, as well as a threat to her livelihood. But I also find myself wondering at her naivety, and also worrying about her approach to therapy.

She is not without her supporters- see here and here. Some would see this as another attack on Christian values, undermining the Biblical basis for our society. I am afraid I do not concur.

Most therapeutic approaches (eg Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, Person Centred Counselling, Rational Emotive Therapy etc) start from a set of core beliefs about the nature of our psyche, and offer more or less evidence based therapeutic tools to provide opportunities for meaningful change.

But the kind of help being offered by some Christian Counsellors, such as Mrs Pilkington, starts often with a different kind of fixed position- one based on a view of sin, and in particular, the nature of sexuality-

“We don’t use the word ‘cure’ because it makes it [homosexuality] sound like a disease. We are helping people move out of that lifestyle because they are depressed and unhappy.

“We say everybody is heterosexual but some people have a homosexual problem. Nobody is born gay. It is environmental; it is in the upbringing.”

It seems (rather startlingly) that Mrs Pilkington has a son who is gay-

“He [my son] is heterosexual. He just has a homosexual problem,”

“[My son] is still gay … we are developing a relationship that was quite difficult for many years but is now coming back in a very nice way. I am confident he will come through this and he will resolve his issues and that he will change.”

I am a Christian, who has worked as a mental health specialist for 20 years, including a number of years as a therapist/counsellor, using CBT and Person Centred therapies. But I beleive that when ‘therapy’ is allied to narrow views, even narrow Christian views, it becomes very dangerous. It becomes very easy to lose sight of the individual, and focus instead on ideology.

You could argue that Mrs Pilkington gave fair warning to the journalist, and he carefully manipulated her and set her up. It is also quite possible that the full story has not come out in all the news articles that are out there.

But this kind of intervention has no place when practiced by someone working in a position of trust accredited by the BACP.

Christians are still getting into such strange waters over the issue of homosexuality. I find it so frustrating. Even if you accept the reading of the three Bible references that are unequivocally condemnatory of homosexuality as being directly translatable into our context- and there is a real theological debate about this- then you are forced to acknowledge that there are far more references in the Bible (and particularly the words of Jesus) against other things- Greed, avarice, jealousy, misuse of power over the weak and poor, religious bigotry etc etc.

Some of you may think that this is just because I have been sliding like a liberal for too long and if the Bible says it, then it is true. And you are entitled to your opinion. And to my continued friendship.

But please- do not take up therapy.

There was this gay man and a fundamentalist Christian on a plane…

I had a lovely time on recently with a couple of friends. We were meeting up to have ‘that church conversation.’ You know the one- about how we are hungry to live a life that has passion and integrity- in the Jesus kind of way- but at the same time Church is ripping us apart.

There are all sorts of reasons for this- many of my friends have gone through it. It is about relationship, theology, styles of worship, boredom, leadership issues. And sometimes just a longing for more. For a better way of living out faith.

My heart goes out to these friends, as it is a painful time.

Don’t get me wrong- I am not advocating leaving church, neither do I think that the hurt and pain we go through in this process is good, like a partially healed wound that we pick at. But the transition to new things often means a process of separation from the old- even if later we are able to find ways to reconnect with the rich traditions that are part of our DNA.

Both of my friends described their own struggles and hurts. Many of them were familiar to me. One of them was not however- because one of these good people was gay.

And as a gay person, their connection to church was always going to be filtered through a different set of experiences. I hope that this person gets the opportunity to tell their own story in full- I have no right to do this on their behalf.

It set me thinking again about how we hurt one another in the name of ‘truth’. And of Joseph Nicolosi and his quasi scientific religious exploitation.

Then this evening, by chance I came across this. A story told rich in grace and humility. From outside the Church.  A voice from the margins that we need to hear.

4 thought TV…

Just discovered 4thought.tv “A series of highly personal short films, broadcast 365 days a year, reflecting on a broad range of religious and ethical issues, and aspects of our spiritual lives. These 90 second films challenge some traditional views, providing a platform for both scepticism and devout religious beliefs.”

Somehow passed me by, but there is some wonderful stuff-

Here is a little Foy Vance

Then there is the polar opposites of the homosexuality debate-

And lots more besides!

I think I might be visiting from time to time…

Bishops, Centurions and sexuality…

So the Church of England is in the middle of another storm caused by the nomination of Jeffrey John as one of the candidates to take over as Bishop of Southwark. He is openly gay, although celebate, and has already had to stand down as suffragan bishop of Reading because of his sexuality after protests from traditionalists.

It makes more likely the prospect of a split in the Anglican Communion, a prospect which makes me sad, as the real strength of the C of E is it’s diversity- and generosity to a wide range of theological positions.

Tonight, our housegroup had a discussion around chapter 8 of Matthew’s gospel- including this familiar passage-

5When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6“Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”7Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”

8The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

(NIV)

Audrey and Paul discussed the fact that they had hear it suggested that the relationship between the centurion and his servant may have been sexual. Apparently it would not have been unusual for Romans to take ‘servants’ as homosexual lovers.

The speculation then is whether the centurion did not want Jesus to come to his house because he was trying to hide the true nature of their relationship.

But if this is true- then Jesus would have known. He was Jesus after all.

And if he knew, it was not relevant to him was it? He did not mention it, focussing on the faith of the centurion, and the fact that those outside the religious institution of his day- or even outside the ‘kingdom’- might yet be welcome at the table.

I am sure you get my point.

My position has moved a long way on this issue. The dominance of individual sexuality as a measure of a person, and as an exclusion criteria for their service in the church- I am increasingly frustrated by it.

And I remain convinced that in 20 years, the dominant view within a broader cross section of the church will move in this direction also. I just hope that the C of E will make it that far.

Oppression, freedom and homosexuality…

stonewall riots

How far we have travelled…

There was a really interesting programme on Radio 4 this morning- part of the ‘Reunion’ series. This is the blurb from the website-

Sue MacGregor presents the series which reunites a group of people intimately involved in a moment of modern history.

Sue Lawley brings together the men and women who founded the gay rights campaign group, Stonewall. She is joined by Sir Ian McKellen, Matthew Parris, Lisa Power, Michael Cashman and Olivette Cole-Wilson.

In 1989 a small group joined forces in a campaign against a law now known as Section 28. This law banned councils from ‘promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’.

The gay rights scene at the time was radical and activist and there were no campaign groups engaging both gay men and lesbians together. Stonewall aimed to create a professional lobbying group that would fight against the discrimination of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. Dubbed Stonewall to signal doggedness and to commemorate the New York riots in which gay protestors had fought back against police brutality two decades before, it called for full legal rights, which still seemed a loony-left pipe dream.

Stonewall’s moderate tone attracted criticism from more radical veterans of the gay rights movement, but also lent its advocates greater media respectability and a hearing from government ministers.

Since its inception, Stonewall has led the way with an impressive number of reforms, pressing ministers and taking test cases to court. These reforms include the repeal of Section 28, equalising the age of consent, permitting civil partnerships and overturning the ban on gays in the military. Another legacy has been to allow gay and lesbian politicians into the mainstream – not just demanding equal rights, but as representatives of the wider community.

You can listen again to the discussion- here.

I remember the time in the 80’s when Stonewall were starting to be listened to by the media. I was part of a Christian community who were at best uncomfortable with homosexuality- and at worst rabidly condemning and judgemental towards anyone who ‘came out. Even the most liberal of us who were uncomfortable with the hard doctrine, would have thought that homosexuality was just plain WRONG. Unbiblical. Against the laws of God. Sin.

Listening now to what the protestors were subjected to- I am ashamed.

Why were Christians not standing in the streets alongside these brave campaigners?

Because no matter what your theology, our greatest call is not to condemn people for their private sin, but to stand with the oppressed and the marginalised.

Isn’t it?

Listen to the programme, and I invite you to imagine twenty thirty years into the future, and wonder what people of faith will make of this matter then. Ask how this will compare with other civil rights battles fought in the 20th Century…

Nicolosi and the ‘cure’ for gay people…

joseph-nicolosi

There was an interview/discussion on the radio 4 Today Programme this morning featuring the controversial American psychologist Joseph Nicolosi. You can listen again here.

This man appears to have a lot of exposure in the US- and I started a bit of internet searching to see what I could find out about him. Here is a bit of a trawl through some of the main organisations and players in this issue;

He is one of the brains behind NARTH- the National Association for research and therapy of  homosexuality. Check out the many stories on the site by people who appear to have been ‘cured’ of their sexuality.

Conservative religious groups like focus on the family have embraced this viewpoint wholeheartedly. Check out their ‘Love won out’ conference.

The American Psychological Association condemned the findings, and released this primer entitled ‘Just the facts’.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists are quoted as saying this by the BBC here.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) said there was no evidence that the treatment worked, and that it was likely to cause considerable distress.

An RCP spokesman said: “There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.

“Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”

The Royal College said the American Psychiatric Association had concluded there was no scientific evidence that homosexuality was a disorder and removed it from its diagnostic glossary of mental disorders in 1973.

The World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases followed suit in 1992.

So what is Nicolosi actually saying?

As far as I can see, his theory is based on a rather unsophisticated simplistic view of the acquisition of gender, shaped through parenting style and in particular, interaction with male authority figures. Then there is a lot of quasi-scientific language used to wrap it all up in. Here are some quotes (from here);

  • There is no such thing as a homosexual. … That’s the first thing we teach our clients when they come in. You’re not a homosexual. You’re a heterosexual with a homosexual problem. And your homosexual problem has to do with early things… things that happened to you in your childhood. Emotional traumas, hurts, childhood wounds that have set you up for homosexual activity.
  • In the relationship between the mother and the son, over-emotionally involved, strong personality, dominant personality. The father is quiet, withdrawn, non-verbal, non-expressive, and/or hostile. The son is temperamentally sensitive, shy, introverted, artistic, imaginative. … That child with that temperament in a particular family dynamic will set him up gender deficit, and that gender deficit becomes compensated through homosexual activity.
  • We advise fathers, if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.
  • If he reaches out to the father who is not interested, he will experience what we call a narcissistic hurt. … And so he surrenders his masculine strivings. He says basically to his father, “If you’re not interested in me, I’m not interested in you.” … And that narcissistic injury produces an adult, a homosexually-oriented adult, who is cautious, fearful, easily hurt, easily slighted, easily offended, self-protective – that is what we call the shame posture. If men get to see me they’re not going to like me. There’s something inferior about me.
  • Homosexuality is not about sex, it’s about your sense of self. If you change your sense of self, your homosexuality will become a non-issue. Homosexuality is a masculine inferiority. It’s a striving to connect.
  • So the faith is a very important dimension to bring in because it gives not only direction, but because it gives the interior resources. It gives that inner power to pursue the direction. So our Christianity isn’t just telling us what to do, but it’s giving us the power to do it. And I have found that whatever the person’s religious convictions are at the beginning of therapy, it usually deepens naturally in the course of therapy.

By way of contrast- I came across this series of clips from a Gay activist who had been invited to attend the ‘Love won out’ conference. They seemed to be very graceful…

There is no surprise that Nicolosi’s message has been greeted with such enthusiasm by Conservative Christians. It ticks all the right boxes. In fact, it seems to fit rather too well, and we have to ask which came first-the ‘science’ or the ideology?

So, what do I think? I am going to make some general statements, then tell a story.

If Nicolosi is right, then homosexuality is indeed a result of dysfunctional experiences in early life. I am afraid this is rather too simplistic for me. Why do people who have the same experience in childhood (Positive or negative) develop such different sexuality? Most human characteristics develop through the interaction between both nurture AND nature. This means that causality is almost always impossible to be categorical about, even where dysfunction (which is often a social value judgment) is agreed upon- for example where people are mentally ill.

Science that begins with a narrow ideological/theological perspective is likely to be extremely problematic. Morality is not usually very scientific. But then science is never value free either- there are always interests that will introduce bias. I think we have a duty to be as honest as we can be about these however.

It is clear that there are many stories of people who claim to have been ‘cured’ by therapy of their homosexuality. I have no doubt this is true for some- as the variety of human experience is wide and wonderful. I would expect some to people to remain straight (a small group though) most to revert, and many to be damaged and disillusioned.

Gay=dysfunction? This is almost certain to perpetuate prejudice against one group of people. Perhaps this is acceptable, if your reading of the Bible allows you to draw hard lines on this issue. I think we are called to love first however- and to stand with the oppressed, not to pile stones as projectiles.

Statements that equate homosexuality with sexual molestation in childhood are simply not supported by evidence.

Blaming parents? An easy hit. Psycho-dynamic therapists have done similar things for lots of issues. There was this dreadful phrase ‘schizophrenogenic mothers’ who were supposedly the cause of schizophrenia…

Now- the story.

I used to work in a northern English town as a mental health therapist running clinics in GP surgeries. GP’s would refer people to me for assessment after which we might agree a referral elsewhere, or a short run of therapy from myself.

In this context I met lots of wonderful people- most carrying wounds. Some had had very difficult and abusive backgrounds. Many had experienced depression and anxiety. Others were living with grief. Others had secrets that were eating away at them.

I met one man whose story stayed with me. He lived with his wife of 45 years. They had three children, all long grown up and gone. He was desperately unhappy.

Soon after marriage his secret was out. He had been having homosexual affairs.

With all his might he wished that these overwhelming sexual urges that he had experienced as long as he could remember would just go away. And it being the 1960’s, and homosexuality was still illegal, and classified as a mental illness, he sought treatment.

A hospital in Manchester offered behavioural modification through the application of aversion therapy. This involved being exposed to erotic images and at the first signs of sexual arousal, he was subjected to electric shocks.

Over a considerable period of time he yo-yo’ed through life, in out of his family, gay then straight, a member of his society, then a pariah.

Now here he was. Estranged from his children, still caught up with the same confusion and pain. His wife an alcoholic. Life almost over.

Wanting and waiting to die.

Whatever your theory of sexuality- whatever moral stance you adopt- this man life has been blighted by societies response to his sexuality.

So Lord help us. Let us learn the position of love. And have no agendas that we subject others to.

And for my money- Nicolosi, go home.

Lambeth and Gene

gene-robinson.jpg (JPEG Image, 350×350 pixels)

I heard the controversial Bishop Gene Robinson speaking on Radio 4 this morning. He was asked some pretty searching questions, including one about whether he was being deliberately provocative in order to force the Anglican community to change their position in relation to homosexuality. I thought he responded graciously and was impressed with his suggestion that he was testifying to what he felt God was calling him to.

Agree of disagree- this is a brave man. He apparently has bodyguards, and wears a bullet proof vest because of death threats against him, and he runs the gauntlet of abuse wherever he goes. Check this out-

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7504472.stm

The bishop is a fellow blogger, and you can check out his own story on this link-

http://canterburytalesfromthefringe.blogspot.com

I have had quite a few discussions about homosexuality recently. I have Christian friends who have recently had to face up to this in a real way as close family members have come ‘out’.

This is such a divisive, polarising issue. For many, the Bible is categorical- homosexuality is an abomination, full stop. Any suggestion that openly gay people should be shown fellowship and love is then accommodation with evil. I could never agree with this. Philip Yancey in his book ‘Whats so amazing about grace?’ describes his own reaction to the ‘outing’ of a Christian leader in the USA as gay. His description of Christian protestors at a gay rights march is hard to feel anything for but shame.

Yancey also makes another gentle but hard hitting point. There are about three verses that make specific reference to homosexuality in the Bible, but several more that forbid marriage after divorce. Most Protestant churches (but not Catholic ones of course) over the last 30 years have moderated their position in relation to re-marriage, despite what the Bible clearly says. Don’t get me wrong- I am glad they have done this- and given people a second (or third) chance at happiness after the trauma of broken relationship. I have never heard a satisfactory theological reason why this is OK however, and other specific commandments remain inflexible.

In even asking this question, I suppose I will already be typecast as a liberal heretic by many. But I have no fixed opinion in regard to the theology of sexuality. I suppose this is a bit of a cop-out- but there appear to be many variations on this- not just the polar opposites represented by Robinson and the Anglican ‘Evangelicals’.

  • Given the increasing (if hotly debated) scientific basis for homosexuality having a significant genetic component- not a ‘lifestyle choice’- then many would point to the need for Christians to understand more, and pathologise a lot less. This has led some (Tony Campolo for example) to suggest that to be gay can not be regarded as sin- but that homosexual sex should still be regarded as unacceptable. In short, Gay people can not help who they are, but should remain celibate.
  • Others would suggest that openly gay people should be tolerated by the church, even as priests, but not as leaders- hence the fuss about Bishop Robinson.
  • Still more are like me- unsure and wondering what the next generation will make of all this. Will theology be shaped by culture- with all the attendant risks of allowing such a thing (as if this has not always happened!)? Is it possible that we will just have to leave this to God? But this does not change the fact that it is still the cause for much prejudice and conflict.
  • Then there are those whose motivation is towards the poor and broken. Who point out that the voices of Christians should never be raised against a persecuted minority- that rather we should be the peace makers, the ones showing love and forgiveness. I have even heard the Good Samaritan story retold, with a gay person cast as the Samaritan.

Faced with people whose sexuality is different from ours, who might (Lord help them) seek to attend our Church- what should our response be? Would you rather they were inside, or outside?

Faced with a real person, hurting and seeking after the living God, would you make relationship conditional on sexuality?

I think my answer to these two questions is yes, and no. How I work out the rest will be an adventure with God.

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