"We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice,
we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (1943-1945)

Transformation Potential: a report of the conference

Posted by Andrew Symes on 24th April 2015

Published by Anglican Mainstream

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

“Transformation Potential: Is Change Possible?” was the title for a conference at the Emmanuel Centre on Tuesday 14th April. Mike Davidson of Core Issues Trust was the driving force behind this effort to bring together theological, pastoral, scientific and political perspectives on the vital question of whether people with unwanted same sex attraction might be able, with help and support, to achieve some degree of change in orientation. Christian Concern provided much of the organisational work, and handled the Press interest, of which more below. Speakers included biblical scholars from the US and the UK, experienced counsellors, therapists and academics in the field of psychiatry, including some who have in the past lived a gay lifestyle and do so no longer. We heard analysis of cultural change, sexualisation of children, and the increasing restrictions on freedom from Christian Concern’s legal perspective. Highlights of the programme are available to view on this link (and also on the Christian Concern website).

Most of the delegates (around 100 in number) were Christians holding to a traditional understanding of sex and marriage, with a good variety of ages, but there were some also who were not Christian believers but nevertheless sympathetic to what was being said. Talks were given of varying lengths, and there were opportunities for group discussion and questions from the floor as well.

The theological framework was unashamedly bible-based, assuming an understanding that God has made human beings male and female, and that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian discipleship. There was affirmation that God has already changed every Christian; that he brings visible change in many areas of life, and that the church as a welcoming, non-judging, hopeful community of disciples is the best context for seeing God at work in this way. As with physical healing, dealing with the psyche requires a sensible partnership between pastoral and clinical expertise. But even for people with no faith and for those who have no problem with homosexual practice and gay identity, one might think that for individuals to be able to, if they wish, access trained counsellors or therapists to help achieve a level of change and wholeness consistent with their worldviews and life goals should not be controversial.

But as we know, it is. Any attempts to change or reduce same sex desire must, according to the authorities of today, be inherently wrong, and in fact have been ruled as unethical by a number of professional bodies. This is despite the failure of these bodies to produce sufficient evidence for their claim that change therapy is “harmful”. In fact they have ignored other crucial evidence that sexuality is fluid and pliable, especially in teens and young adults and that more people appear to change their sexual orientation (with or without assistance of counselling) than identify as gay long term (see evidence here).

The conference speakers rejected many times the false ideas that this was about offering “cures” or promising healing for homosexuality, and opposed “conversion therapy” as if this was something intrusive done to people against their will. But some of the journalists present seemed determined to use these false descriptions, and to show the very existence of orthodox Christian views on sexuality, proper psychiatry, and the transforming power of God as somehow dangerous to all gay people. The Independent has published a very critical report here.

Respected biblical scholar and theological college professor Robert Gagnon, whose electrifying talk on God’s love opened the conference, has responded with a piece on the First Things blog. Gagnon comments, quoting Robert George:

“This kind of manipulation and defamation is as predictable as the sun’s rising in the east. It is not rooted in innocent mistakes. Quite the contrary. It represents a tried and true strategy designed to stigmatize and marginalize anyone who dares to dissent from sexual liberationist orthodoxy. Its aim is to silence dissent by raising its cost.”

Although the Guardian’s report, as one would expect, disagreed with the arguments presented on the science of homosexual orientation at the conference, at least there was more integrity in reporting than in the Independent piece. One of the readers on the Guardian’s site went off message in his comment:

“…it strikes me that the idea that someone might be in some way alienated by their own nature/desire is not wholly dissimilar to the trans experience of biological gender. If someone wants to change their sexuality because – for whatever reason – they don’t identify with it, is that any different from wanting to change their gender?”

But this was quickly slapped down by other readers. In the new revolutionary world in which we live, apparently to want to orient your sexual desire towards the opposite sex is due to internalised homophobia produced by society, but to change gender is noble and just. And those who promote this anti-Christian view simply assert it, with no evidence; have intimidated even august authorities in the medical world to support their cause, and have attempted to close down debate in the public realm.

It is not pleasant to see sound, bible-based and fair ideas being attacked in the press, and the temptation is to run for cover. But we can be thankful that the conference has raised key issues for discussion in the national media. “Transformation potential” for those with unwanted same sex attraction has been up for debate; essential values of client autonomy and freedom of choice have been put forward in the public square, and secular journalists hostile to Christian faith and worldview have heard the Gospel of Christ crucified and exalted – the God who brings transformation.

Other reports in the secular media include this one here (BBC) and here (Times).

I was very encouraged by the conference: the clarity and truthfulness of the presentations, the engagement of the audience, the sense of unity as experts in different fields came together to say the same thing, encourage one another, and in particular support people like Mike Davidson who have, for the sake of truth, lost permission to practice their profession. Andrew Comiskey, one of the speakers, has written of his experience of the conference in his blog.