LGBT Stories: It’s Time for Action!

by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor for the Province of Canterbury and Vicar of St Mary’s, Battersea

As I write, we are preparing to meet at General Synod for the last time before the elections this summer. Everyone is acutely aware that, among the ‘to do’ items for the incoming General Synod in November, will be the “what next” for the Living in Love & Faith Project. Across the church, people will be preparing to stand and vote with their view about how far the Church should go in respect of its inclusion of LGBTI+ people.

Like many readers of this blog, I have read the distressing and harrowing stories provided by numerous contributors in the past few weeks. Because of my national role, I get approached by individuals with similar stories of pain, rejection and cruelty at the hands of other Christians. These sources of information convince me that, whatever else may or may not change in the coming years, we must take to heart the words of Bishop Sarah from this week’s earlier blog and address the issues of coercion, secrecy, harm and control. If we don’t, the Church of England will continue to be perceived as being on the side of abuse and maltreatment, rather than with the Lord who brings good news to the poor and comforts the broken-hearted.

So far, so good. But this article is aimed directly at those of you who read these articles, nod in agreement, share them on Facebook, and think that is enough. To the keyboard warriors out there, it’s time to act.

This Tuesday past I was able to see the first two episodes of a fascinating documentary series on BBC4 called Philly D.A. In 2017, Larry Krasner, a progressive, reforming human rights lawyer, managed to get himself elected to the most powerful offices in the City of Philadelphia, the District Attorney, responsible for prosecutions in one of the most divided, crime-ridden cities in the US. Since then he has set about dismantling a system that, while seeking to protect the public by sending more and more people to prison, at the same time caused immense suffering for the most marginalised communities, mainly poor, young black people. Having spent a career on one side of the court room, defending people, he realised it was time to try and change the system by getting himself elected. Taking on vested interests, including some extremely wise, sensible people who had been moulded by the system and worn down by ‘the way things are’ into accepting its culture of casual cruelty, he has found himself with the power and ability to start again. It will prove fascinating to see how things turn out in the remaining episodes.

Some of us who have been battling on, seeking to change the culture of the Church of England, feel worn down by it. Maybe we have become a little too comfortable in accepting that ‘the way things are’ is acceptable, or explainable. What we need, at least those of us who feel that the Church of England still has a future in being a vessel for the good news of Jesus Christ, is some more Larry Krasners, some more people fired by righteous anger, a new infusion of energy from those who are not yet worn down. We need people to serve on General Synod who are committed to changing the status quo, and all the negative cultural things that Bishop Sarah mentions, which prevent everyone who wants to belong to our church from flourishing, including I would want to say those who are conservative on sexuality matters.

There will of course be others who will be invested in keeping things the way they are. They are extremely well-motivated to stand and serve our church on General Synod. But, without people who want to change the church standing for election to in the coming weeks, it is almost inevitable that things will remain the same, including the likelihood of yet more fudge emerging from Living in Love & Faith.

For what it’s worth, despite the persistent cynics, I think the emerging vision for the Church of England – Simpler, Humbler, Bolder – offers a real chance for culture change. I know that we now have two Archbishops who long for it. But they, and all of us seeking re-election for Synod, need allies to encourage them and critics to hold their feet to the fire.

As Krasner himself says, “Ultimately if you never break down the wall, you may have to go through the door, because there’s stuff going on on the inside that is hard to fix from the outside.”

Stand for General Synod: we need you on the inside!

If  you would like more information about how to stand for General Synod in your Diocese, please visit www.inclusivesynod or email synod@inclusive-church.org 

Posted in General Synod, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Simon Butler | Leave a comment

LGBT Stories: “Texts of Terror” – Are We Helping or Harming?

by the Rt Revd Dame Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London and Chair of the LLF Next Steps Group

The series of testimonies of LGBT Christians that can be found here are texts of terror.

Vilified, self-condemnation, disgust, self-hatred, abominable, humiliated, contaminated, awful, worthless, lonely, suicidal. These are some of the words that are used to describe the impact of the behaviours of others on these courageous LGBT people who have shared their stories.

They are texts of terror because of the unimaginable harm done and because these ‘others’ are Christians, believing to be acting in good faith.

They are texts of terror that people, like myself, who have never had such experiences, need to read and take to heart. They are texts that call us to examine ourselves and the undercurrents of all our actions.

Coercion or Compassion?

One of the remarkable things about Jesus was that there was never even a hint of coercion in his teaching or actions. When two blind men sitting by the roadside shouted to Jesus for mercy, he asked them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ (Matthew 20.32).

That isn’t to say that Jesus didn’t teach. There are plenty of imperatives in the Sermon on the Mount, for example. Jesus gave the rich young ruler a clear challenge to sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor and follow him. But he didn’t run after the man when he chose to walk away. Instead, he loved him.

Jesus, of all people, knew how good the good news he had to share was. But this good news was offered, not forced. People were invited, not compelled. As David Walker writes, ‘love that is forced or coerced is not love at all.’

Secrecy or Openness?

So many of the stories speak of secrecy. Either the claustrophobic secrecy of hiding one’s own identity or sexuality. Or the secrecy within which victims were subjected to horrific coercive actions and words.

Jesus led a public and exposed life. The only times, it seems, that he was ‘in secret’ was when he was alone with the Father in prayer.

We are called to be people of the light, not of the darkness. This means being people who live openly, transparently. ‘Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.’ (Luke 12.3)

Secrecy should ring warning bells. Why are we keeping a secret? What are we afraid of? What does it say about the community of which I am a part?

Harm or Help?

The mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical harm that is described in the stories is shocking. There can be no justification for acts that bring about harm. Jesus came to heal, restore and make whole. He released people from the captivity of mental and physical illness and spiritual oppression.

Actions that cause harm must not be confused with the call to ‘deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow Jesus.’ Yes, we are called in different ways to share in the sufferings of Christ, but never to impose that suffering on others.

As Christians we are called to liberate others – liberating people to live into the fullness of a life that can only be fully found by following Jesus.

If our actions, however well-meaning, cause harm – distress, emotional, mental or spiritual anguish – we need to think again.

Control or Trust?

So how is it that we are tempted to behaviours that cause harm, that require secrecy and involve coercion? I wonder if they point to a need to ‘control’ – a control that holds up a mirror to our lack of faith in a God who is active and present in the life of every believer. A God who accepts, loves and seeks to save every one of us. A God who has promised, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to change each one of us from one degree of glory to another – that glory that is perfectly embodied in Jesus. That glory that is full of grace and truth.

These stories call us to ask for greater faith – a faith that releases us to be compassionate not coercive, open not secretive, helping not harming, entrusting those in our care to the God who is already at work in us all and has promised to bring that work to completion.

 

 

Posted in Bishop of London, Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Living in Love & Faith, Mental Health, Spiritual Abuse | 3 Comments

LLF: Building the Bridge as We Cross It …

by the Revd David Runcorn, theological teacher, author and Spiritual Director

Living in Love and Faith is unique.

I am not talking about the content. I mean it is unlike anything the Church of England has produced before to discern faith, doctrine and discipleship. This means we do not know how it will work out. We have not been here before. So, as someone put it, we are ‘building the bridge as we cross it’.

Its (unplanned) conception, happened near the end of a long Wednesday in February 2017 when General Synod unexpectedly rebelled on a (usually routine) ‘take note’ vote on a House of Bishop’s report on marriage and same-sex relationships. But Synod voted not to take note. In response, the Archbishop called for a ‘radical new inclusion’ in the church and shortly after announced a new initiative to offer fresh ways of exploring the conflicted issue of human sexuality. Initially called a “Bishops Teaching Document”, it quickly morphed into something very different in content and approach. What eventually came to birth was Living in Love and Faith (LLF).

Reading LLF reminds me of time I spent in the Samuel narratives a few years ago[1].  In that ancient world, national history was usually recorded in epic poems, centred on semi-divine leaders. Israel did something new. The Samuel narratives have been called, ‘post-heroic story telling’. The result is a text that is honest, subtle, vulnerable, non-triumphalist and undefended. Brueggemann calls it ‘survival literature’ because, by abandoning the familiar ways of speaking of and defining what is going on, it becomes a subversive narrative with the capacity to liberate. It frees God’s people to imagine themselves in radically new and adventurous ways.

Western approaches to leadership are essentially ‘Heroic’ in mode, people who rise to the fore in times of crisis. They inspire, solve the ‘problem’ and achieve goals on behalf of everyone else. This is our secular and spiritual default mode in times of corporate anxiety. ‘Give us a king to rule us’ (1Sam 8.6).

‘Heroic Leadership’, by definition, requires everyone else to be helpless: ‘At its heart the traditional view of leadership is based on assumptions of people’s powerlessness, their lack of personal vision and inability to master the forces of change – deficits which can be remedied only by a few great leaders’ (Senge, 2010. p340). This leaves leader and led in an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship.

More recent studies have been asking what post-heroic leadership might look like.  The conviction is that leadership is not something imported from outside or above but is found within – an expression of the whole community. It uses words like ‘collective’, ‘participative’ and ‘dispersed’. The approach is relational, communal, non-directive, collaborative and negotiated. It is embedded in the community’s story, history and vocation.  LLF looks very similar. Its approach is founded on a creative, trusting relationship between leading, facilitating and learning.

Part of the challenge lies in our understanding of authority. And this also applies to our relationship to the scriptures. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observed that while there are 613 commands in the Torah, ancient Hebrew had no word for ‘obey’. Modern Hebrew had to create a word for outright obedience. The Hebrew words shema and lishmoa express a call to hear, listen, attend, understand. Sacks suggested that God seeks from us ‘a greater virtue than obedience’ – more than submission or compliance. He seeks our responsibility[2]. A different understanding of authority is found here and what it asks of us. To discern what ‘follow’ means we must first hear, listen, attend and understand. English translations miss this by nearly always translating those words ‘obey’.

In making narrative and story so central, LLF is faithfully following the example of scripture (and Jesus himself – Mark 4.34). ‘When Israel wanted to speak of her faith, she did not do it in moralistic terms, or through sociological surveys, or in conceptual essays – people simply told a story.’ (Peterson:1996, p87)

This is unsettling for those expecting the bible to be a divine route map with unambiguous paths to follow and a clear destination. It challenges more directive styles, and a hierarchical approach to leadership.

This tension is illustrated in the evangelical tradition where alongside an emphasis on external authority – bible, leaders, preaching – it has always encouraged personal witness to authentic faith. ‘Tell them your story – no one can argue with your experience’ was the advice at the church youth club. But what if the stories challenge the script?

LLF challenges approaches to leading and learning at all levels of the church and in all its traditions. It is founded on the theological conviction that leadership is the vocation of the whole church. The stories there are essential for ensuring that a variety of voices, experience and testimonies are in the room.

This is demanding. No part of the church’s life untouched.  But LLF is a work of extraordinary trust ‘that the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture and the reflections of the whole people of God.’

To those in leadership – national, local and all expressions between – LLF says: “Your task is not to take front stage, guarding received understandings, or ‘telling’ people what the truth is. It is to stand in the midst, to enable others to think, to be alongside them, to journey with and guide the discernment of the mind of God within that.”

It has been said that effective leaders do not produce good followers. They produce good leaders – people and communities who are taking responsibility for the gifts and ministries that are theirs. The most motivated and energised communities are those where leadership is more clearly exercised, not less. There needs to be a wise hand on tiller and tasks. But rather than taking over, this leadership creates spaces for others to grow and flourish in the gifts and roles that are theirs.

Now whilst it is true that leadership can be over-powering and controlling it is also true that ‘followers’ can be powerful and obstructive groups too. There are ways of making leadership near impossible.  I have long thought that the supposed crisis of leadership in our times is in part a crisis of ‘followership’. It is all mutual.

LLF seeks to enable the emergence of biblically discerning and pastorally confident local Christian believers and communities, responsible and flourishing in the vocations that are theirs.

So here’s to building bridges. To survival literature. And to the freedom of the whole people of God to imagine ourselves in radically new and adventurous ways.

David Runcorn – author of Love means Love – the bible and same-sex relationships. SPCK, 2020.

[1] Fear and Trust – God centred leadership. SPCK, 2011

[2] Genesis: The book of beginnings. OUP, 2010. p45.

Posted in David Runcorn, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith | 9 Comments

Making Ourselves ‘Other’

by the Very Revd Nicholas Henshall, Dean of Chelmsford

It is a privilege to respond to the Via Media series of moving and challenging reflections on LGBT+ Christians experience of the Church and the wider implications of that experience for the LGBT+ community, and for the identity of the Church as a genuinely inclusive culture. As a straight white male, I feel inadequate to the task. These are (in Thomas Merton’s phrase) conjectures of a guilty bystander, offered in the hope that together we can navigate the map of the new country faithfully, inclusively, and assured that Jesus takes us as we are because we can come no other way.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI announced the infamous Catholic ban on artificial contraception. That came as a surprise. The aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council was going into reverse. A young Catholic woman wrote later: “that was the day I took control of my own morality”.

Over recent decades the drip feed of fearful intolerance about human sexuality has had an equally toxic effect. LGBT+ Christians have long since taken control of their own morality. Like the popular response to the Vatican ban, this is corrosive for all of us and gradually erodes the ability of the Church to be heard seriously on a wide range of ethical dilemmas. Why should anyone listen to the churches on major biblical issues such as the evil caused by borrowing and lending money at interest (about which the Bible says so much) when it seems incapable of addressing issues of human sexuality (on which the Bible as a whole says almost nothing, and on which Jesus is completely silent)?

More disturbing still is that the landscape and rhetoric have become increasingly contested. A decade ago, when I was an acting Archdeacon, my evangelical colleague asked me to put together some resources that we could make available to clergy for the blessing of same sex partnerships. We – and our Bishop – saw this as completely uncontroversial. That today we are formally not permitted to bless same sex couples seems astounding. The recent outspoken decision of a hundred Roman Catholic priests in Germany to defy the latest Vatican ban on blessing same sex couples is a standing rebuke to our own lack of courage here.

In his 2006 collection, The Other, the Polish Nobel Prize winning journalist and commentator Ryszard Kapuscinski critiques the Western response to the non-European and says something absolutely crucial about what happens when we “other” people who are different. At best it harms both the other and the other-er. At worst it leads to genocide. Othering may have been theologically validated by parts of the Dutch Reformed church in South Africa, but excluding people on the grounds of taste and culture dressed up as principle is both common and deeply corrosive both for living faith and for wider community cohesion. So-called “conversion therapy” is an extreme form of othering, and responding with compassion is necessary but not sufficient, certainly for churches with a very uneven track record in their response to diversity.

Once again, Jesus in the Gospels gives us startling counter examples. Jesus loves and welcomes the “other” (and those othered by Jesus’ own community): a Jewish tax collector; a pagan centurion and his boy; a Canaanite woman; and so on. Instead of judging them, he holds them up to others as examples for us to imitate. The exception here of course is when it comes to the religious elite. Most extraordinarily, Jesus others himself in extreme ways in order to stand with the other.

Multiple pathologies hover around human sexuality among many Christians. These are inexplicable by reference to Bible, tradition or reason. Sexuality stirs up a much more visceral reaction. Some years ago a senior church leader said that he felt physically sick when people talked about homosexuality. That is not good theology!

Why is sex the stumbling block? At what point did sexual identity and orientation become the touchstone of an entirely novel understanding of biblical orthodoxy?

For western Christians, the double whammy of Original Sin (a doctrine unknown to patristic and orthodox theology, and – I would suggest – unknown to the Bible) plus the linking of that doctrine to genital activity have left a toxic legacy which constantly threatens our ability to have sane and faithful conversations about human sexuality. There is a related and consequent inability to recognise the damage we inflect on others. We still have a significant way to go to climb our way out of an Augustinian pessimism about sex, and indeed about human flourishing more generally.

Pope Francis’ made a splendidly inclusive statement in the context of Black Lives Matter: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of human life.” Fantastic logic, but – as a comedian quipped recently on the radio – banning the blessing of same sex couples was not the obvious way to follow that up. And as a young woman involved annually in Pride, my youngest daughter has developed a wonderful sense of irony as year by year she faces fellow Christians (of rather different convictions) yelling at her that she’s on the road to hell. Really?

It would be helpful if we were a bit more honest – that for most of us there is very little theology in our response to most issues in human sexuality, but rather a visceral response. At least the medieval church – hardly sympathetic to LGBT+ rights – recognised that there was very little in Scripture to support their position and largely resorted to arguments from natural law.

In a beautiful comment recently on the BBC World Service a devout Moslem lesbian described the resolution of her own struggle with her sexuality. She came to the conclusion that because Allah did not make mistakes, Allah could not have made a mistake in making her. Those are words of deep reassurance that the Christian churches need to say unequivocally to all of those it has “othered” – not simply expressing a vague liberal tolerance of difference but insisting that all of us are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139) and intended by God. Our failure to see that is part of our own alienation.

Traditional Christian moral teaching takes seriously both the sensus fidelium (i.e. what most Christians are thinking) and personal conscience. These have not been so obvious in contemporary Anglican discourse. The challenge of the experience of so many of those whom we have “othered” – so powerfully expressed in the Via Media testimonies about conversion therapy – suggests strongly that churches need to go rather further than therapeutic listening and have the boldness to embrace the “other” as the lost part of ourselves.

Posted in Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, Mental Health, Nicholas Henshall, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | 2 Comments

Apology without Change is Manipulation

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, Member of General Synod and Trustee of the Ozanne Foundation

Sometimes the synapses fire!

I could never quite understand why repeated apologies from the Archbishop and other senior church figures made me mad. I probably ought to have been thinking how gracious and humble they were trying to be. This is surely the beginning of healing. But no! When they stood in front of the TV cameras or at General Synod offering yet another sometimes tearful apology it left me pretty cross.

Then I saw this little phrase posted by the wonderful Maurice Tomlinson -a Human Rights lawyer and phenomenal LGBTI+ right warrior. It simply said: ‘Apology without change is manipulation.’ Zap went that little electrical impulse between two nerves. The synapse fired. That was it. I couldn’t get hold of the apology because I had heard it so often before and so little had changed. When I sat at General Synod listening to someone telling us they had no idea how deeply terrible things were and they were profoundly sorry – well I felt manipulated. Of course they knew! Survivors have been saying it for years. I’ve been saying it for years.

Repeatedly, anyone who challenges the disconnect between promise and delivery is told ‘that was then, this is now. Things have changed’ But the witness statements say otherwise.

Here on Via Media Jayne Ozanne has just run an extraordinary series of the personal testimonies of LGBTI Christians. The first person to describe their experience was Timothy and I have just gone back to read it again. The word ‘manipulation’ jumped off the page. The psychological abuse was made possible because of the spiritual abuse and Tim writes movingly about just how powerful, deep and life changing that was.

Of course, we are manipulated in most areas of life, but there does seem to be a religious variant which is particularly pernicious. Within a faith setting it is quite easy to do great harm under the guise of doing good. Apology is supposed to be a good thing, especially when accompanied by then accepting responsibility. Contrition is the beginning not the end of the matter. What Jayne Ozanne is discovering as she works with the government to draft a bill on the banning of conversion therapy, is that there is a powerful lobby that both apologises, although mostly in a very half-hearted way, and makes a special case to be allowed to continue their abuse.

How can this be? How can you recognise the harm and at the same time argue to perpetuate it? Because…. apology without change is manipulation. The apologies we have been hearing over the past few years do not move on to taking responsibility and of course never will because they dump all the responsibility on God. I find quoting scripture and ‘the will of God’ or even ‘the love of God’ as your reason for ongoing abusive behaviour grotesque. It was ever thus. Scripture has been used to legitimise other abuse. Capital punishment, beating children.

The extent and depth of damage done by conversion therapy stands alongside sexual abuse is now public and there is no choice but to apologise. Yet still nothing changes. I am still waiting to meet a survivor who hasn’t regretted their disclosure and the very same people who apologise are lobbying the Government to allow them to continue to ‘pray away the gay’ because it is part of their belief and as such should be protected.

It is therefore apparent that the reason there has been so little change is that so few hearts have changed. Could this be because over the centuries, little by little we have replaced the God that Jesus loved with a monster. A God who is more interested in controlling than loving and who holds onto power rather than giving it away. In other words, we have done to God what the Romans did to Jesus. His God was too challenging and so we redesigned him, and we have done it so effectively that some Christians honestly believe that they are doing God’s work when they shame and humiliate and terrorise people whose identity they will not accept.

 

I have recently retired and have been finding it rather difficult to go to church. I can shape a sort of faith, but at the moment even the sweetest and most open church still breathes trouble. The language of the hymns or songs, the architecture, the deference, the division between those who know about God and those who don’t. This is very sad. I know some wonderful people whose faith is strong and a has shaped in them a beautiful character. However, as I hear or read yet another survivor tell their story I am left with the feeling that at the heart of institutional religion there is a God shaped void, or worse than that a man shaped God.

Much of my energy and time over the past years has been spent trying to be part of the change, and I am 100% behind Jayne’s work. Conversion Therapy is an abuse which needs to be stopped. I am less certain that our institution has the capacity or the desire to be born again. There has been a gradual and powerful move towards theological certainty and uniformity and it is pretty much the sort of domination that John Smyth and his cronies were aiming for. In many ways it was the theology that enabled such terrible spiritual abuse.

Unless we learn from the past we will continue to be manipulated in to repeating it.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, Rosie Harper, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | 1 Comment

Banning Conversion Therapy Must “Focus on the Victim Not the Perpetrator”

by the Right Reverend Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

The General Synod debate on Conversion Therapy was easily one of the hardest it fell to me to chair. We were allowed something like 75 minutes in which to deal with the substantive motion, several amendments and even one amendment to an amendment. So many members wanted to speak that it was vital not to lose sight of the thrust of the motion amid the practical issues of moving of amendments, motions for closure, and voting. When I came to leave the chamber, I could hardly move for members wanting to thank me for having managed the debate with pace, clarity and good humour. Not everyone was happy; there are always some who think a balanced debate is one where half of the speakers are advocating their particular view, and the other half cover all remaining possible views. But, outshadowing the process, was the outcome. Synod called for a ban on Conversion Therapy by massive majorities in all three Houses.

It has taken a while for the proposal to go further, but in the recent Queen’s Speech, opening the new session of Parliament, the UK government has given a clear commitment to progressing matters. When the debate on the Speech took place in the House of Lords, I took the opportunity to remind Parliament of the Synod vote and was delighted when the government minister responding to the debate, Baroness Susan Williams, endorsed my comments.

Progress, but not as yet victory. The government have continued to send out mixed messages, saying there will need to be consultation before legislative proposals are formed. Consultation, of course, but that has all too often been a phrase used to excuse foot-dragging. We are never going to achieve legislation that everyone agrees is perfect, especially when balancing potentially conflicting human rights. Sometimes we need to just get on with things, and make any necessary changes later, in the light of experience.

So, if there’s going to be consultation, let’s make it as short and snappy as we can. In which spirit, let me offer a couple of starter points, to see if we can get the conversation going. I’ve shown my theological working, but you do not need to agree with all my beliefs in order to engage with the rest of the argument.

First, let’s focus on the victim not the perpetrator.

As Mary’s wonderful song, the Magnificat, illustrates, our God does not side with the powerful but with the weak and outcast. He is the God who seeks remedy for the oppressed not protection for the strong.

In the nineteenth century, when Parliament raised the Age of Consent to 16, it did so in the teeth of considerable opposition from members who were worried that their attraction to young girls would land them in trouble, for failing to distinguish a 14 year old from a child of 16. If the children featured in their conversation at all, it was as temptresses, looking to lure unwary older men into criminality. It never occurred to them that the onus to ensure their proposed partner was of age fell on them, and if in doubt, to refrain.

If the consultation on Conversion Therapies (and I confess I’d rather call it Conversion Abuse, rather than dignify it with medical terminology) spends too much time and effort on trying to define exactly how far a perpetrator can go, or what procedures they can use, before breaking the law, then we will have lost that vital victim centrality. We need to focus on the wounding not the weapon. What matters in a victim centred approach to law is the severity and durability of the harm done, not whether that damage was done by prayer, hypnosis or psychological techniques.

There is now a massive pile of evidence to support how damaging these abuses are in general. When it comes to the particularities of an individual trial and conviction, the discretion of judges to sentence at an appropriate level provides ample scope to distinguish between levels of severity of abuse. Let it remain the responsibility of those who wish to carry out “therapies” to ensure their actions will never cause harm.

Secondly, consent is only consent if informed and freely given.

At the heart of the Gospel lies the love of God, shown fully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This love, freely given, invites every person to respond equally freely. Love forced or coerced is not love at all.

The harrowing stories of those damaged by attempts to change their sexuality usually begin in the victims’ early or mid teens. Pressure from parents, or from church leaders, has all too often played a major part in them feeling they have to change. The procedures to which they are exposed are then often led by those same individuals who have applied the pressure. There is a deep irony in the fact that the voices who argue most stridently that a teenager cannot give consent to life changing gender therapies, in the highly controlled and monitored environment of the NHS, are often the very voices who believe that same teenager can give free and informed consent to Conversion Therapy, in the far less transparent and accountable environment of a prayer meeting or attempted exorcism.

Putting it bluntly, I struggle to see how any child judged not old enough to make an informed and free enough judgment to place a cross on a ballot paper can be considered capable of giving informed consent to attempts to change their sexual feelings, outside of a setting at least as managed and monitored as that provided by public health services.

Finally, we don’t have to get everything right in a piece of legislation prior to publishing a Bill. Parliamentary process allows many opportunities to reflect and consider, and for those interested to lobby for amendment to this or that clause. Even when a Bill becomes an Act, it doesn’t have to be the last ever word on a subject. If a law is not working well enough, it can readily be amended or repealed. Meanwhile, whilst we fail to press on with draft legislation, young people are continuing to suffer abuse disguised as therapy. Their harm is real and immediate. For their sakes we need to make this consultation both short and to the point.

Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, Mental Health, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | 3 Comments

Trigger Warning!

by the Venerable Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight and Chair of OneBodyOneFaith

Have you noticed how often this warning appears on social media posts or blogs in recent years? A friendly statement that there may be material which can ignite a past issue or make an old wound start hurting again. I am relatively tough and generally don’t pay much attention to these, partly because I assumed I haven’t experienced some of the things which far too many of my LGBTQ+ siblings have.

I have been reading the Via Media posts on conversion therapy and have experienced the horror and revulsion that many of you will have at how the church has abused so many for so long. I shared one of these, ‘Peter’s Story’, on Facebook. Within a very short space of time, I received lots of comments from friends offering support and care because I had gone through such an awful experience. I realised with horror (and emotion that people were so caring) that people assumed the Peter referred to was me! I quickly responded that it wasn’t my story but, in the end, took the post down to stop any further confusion. It was then that a cold realisation crept over me, and I went back and re-read Peter’s story.

It was not my story, but it wasn’t that different to my story. I didn’t believe I had gone through any form of “conversion therapy”, even though I grew up and spent many years in churches where I regularly heard that being gay meant you would burn in hell, that you were dirty, evil and perverted and God hated you. I knew I was gay but couldn’t accept it so sought help and was offered prayer ministry in a couple of different settings. People commanded demons to leave me but of course nothing changed, except I developed a deep self-loathing of myself and who I was. A legacy of emotional and spiritual damage which into my fifties I am still working through. This prayer ministry was not a consistent experience of course, it was a few isolated incidents between the ages of about 15 and 27, but what was consistent throughout that time were the prayers I said, no pleaded, for myself on my own because I thought I had to. The prayer ministry I sought to do to myself to get rid of the homosexual thoughts and urges and make myself straight. The conversion therapy I sought to exercise on myself because I believed I had no other choice if I wanted to be accepted, loved and fulfil the calling to ordained ministry which I had.

The evil of conversion therapy comes in many different forms.

Prayer which is offered seeking to change someone’s sexuality is conversion therapy. It is damaging and it is abusive. The fact that I continued to try this prayer for myself because I believed I had to doesn’t make it less abusive or less damaging. It is a direct result of the teaching and the homophobia I experienced within the Church of England. I have always assumed I had not undergone conversion therapy – I was wrong – I have but it was dressed up as prayer and the abusive atmosphere I found myself in forced me to continue to hurt myself even when the perpetrators had ceased to actively hurt me themselves.

I am currently working with a counsellor and the legacy of shame and damage which this experience has left me with forms a significant part of that work. I hadn’t realised the extent to which it has impacted me because at the time I chose to do it. I wasn’t coerced into it other than the fact that I thought I had no choice if my family, my friends, my church and indeed God were going to accept me, if I wasn’t going to become an outcast. I, and many others in my position, were and are sadly still presented with a twisted version of the gospel. There are too many places where lives are still being damaged and where the name Jesus Christ is used as judgement, condemnation and for psychological harm instead of for love, acceptance, and freedom to be the people God created us to be. There are too many people who still need trigger warnings.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbour as you love yourself. We celebrate a God who exists in Trinity, and we are called to trinitarian relationships. Called to love God by being the people God created us to be, called to love others by offering them our authentic selves and called to love ourselves by accepting and nurturing who we are, including our sexuality. It is only then that we are living as Jesus commanded us to live.

Anything done to try and change someone’s sexuality, including prayer, is conversion therapy. It is abuse and needs to end now. It is without doubt another serious and significant safeguarding issue for the church and any and every time I discover it going on I will report it to the diocesan safeguarding team, and I would encourage anyone else to do the same. It has no place in the church and is contrary to the gospel of love we have in Jesus Christ.

Thank you to those of you who have shared your stories on here or in the press. Thank you to those of you who are campaigning hard to ensure that ALL forms of conversion therapy are banned. We know that all of this comes at a personal cost, and we are grateful.

If like me you are finding the conversation about conversion therapy, which includes abuse masquerading as “prayer ministry”, triggering let me share how I am coping:

  1. I’m talking about it – to God in prayer, to a counsellor and to trusted friends. OneBodyOneFaith of which I am Chair is currently working with the Ozanne Foundation to pull together a list of counsellors/therapists who can offer help and support to LGBT+ Christians. Look out for this resource or please be in touch if you can help.
  2. I’m campaigning and calling for this evil practice to be banned.
  3. I’m listening to myself and taking a break from it when I need to.
  4. I’m doing my best to love myself and in doing so to love God and love others.

The Psalmist says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” – we are also “queerfully and wonderfully made”. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Posted in Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Peter Leonard, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | 2 Comments

“Another Way is Possible….”

by the Revd Nick Bundock, Team Rector of St James & Emmanuel, Didsbury

I just want you to re-read that phrase again because it’s really important.

Another way is possible. 

I’m able to say that not as a theologian theorising about some future destination as yet unreached.  I say it as one sent out over the boundary wall, as someone who has been to the future and has come back onto these pages to tell you what it actually looks like. I have become part of a new way of being the whole people of God and I want to share that with you.  I’ve come on here to tell you that the stories of failure, hurt and exclusion on these pages don’t need to be put on a repeat loop.

I say ‘tell’ when actually I mean ‘show’.  My skill with words is insufficient to tell, so I want to show you what the future looks like through a series of images.  These are pictures that contrast sharply with the lived experience of those brave and wonderful LGBTQ+ siblings who have shared on these pages the horrific stories of malpractice and hurt.  These images are all I have to offer.  I cannot undo the wrongs that have been recounted on this blog, but I give what I can: hope.

This is hope borne of my own failure as a priest and church leader; the suicide of Lizzie Lowe in 2014.  I come onto these pages not as an heroic white knight but as a repentant sinner, as one snatched as though through the flames.  When I look at these images, as I sit here and type, I feel myself overwhelmed by the grace of God.  Having been at the centre of a tragedy I am now privileged to be part of a radical and loving community of believers here in Manchester.  We’ve crossed over the boundary wall and I’m only coming back here to tell you that there is plenty of room for everyone on the other side.

As you look at the photographs that follow, I invite you to dwell on them for a moment.  Notice the expressions on people’s faces.  Notice the poses, the position of each person relative to another.  These are, of course, all pre-covid and that in itself is a source of emotional content, pay attention to that too.  All of these images were taken on Easter Day 2019 by photographer Hannah Beatrice, I want you to notice one thing above everything else: the joy.

I’m not sure what first brought Adelaide and Kathryn (centre) to St James and Emmanuel but they are newly married and very much in love.  Old and young, white and black hands reaching out to other hands in joyful unity.  Nobody in this image is arguing about the meaning of Romans 1!

I have just said the words ‘The Peace of the Lord be always with you’ and the community is living out that peace as ministers of reconciliation.

This photo reminds me of Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…’ (2 Cor 15:18). This, my friends, is what reconciliation looks like when robed in flesh.  What a contrast to the mean, thin theology of exclusion that has imprisoned so many churches – ironically a kind of anti-evangelicalism.

The second photo shows me with Augustine Ihm, who is soon to be a curate here at St James and Emmanuel (subject to visa).  Again, notice the joy, notice the harmony of black and white, young and old.

The penultimate photo shows a long-standing member, Mike (left) who has joined me in moving from a conservative to an affirming position.  He has his arm around one of our many Iranian members (right).

One of the miracles of inclusion is that once you make a community safe for the LGBTQ+ community you find that other minority groups feel safe in your church.  Heck, I feel safe in my church these days.  Since we became inclusive we’ve baptised nearly two-hundred Iranians and Kurds at St James and Emmanuel and many have stories of miraculous conversion.

In my final photo, Paul is reading us a prayer he has written.  Paul lived in a sheltered community with other adults with learning difficulties.

Paul died this year and is deeply missed.  I don’t know why we now have a community of adults with learning difficulties.  All I know is that we didn’t have one before we welcomed our LGBTQ+ friends into our church.

—–

I want you to see in this small selection of photographs a picture of hope.  The Church has perpetrated a great harm upon our LGBTQ+ siblings, but another way is possible and, more importantly, it’s possible for even previously ambivalent or hostile communities to enter this new emancipation – we did.

I remember a conservative member, just before he left the church in horror at our move to inclusion, warn me that St James and Emmanuel would become like Jerusalem in Ezekiel 10.  The Spirit was grieved and would leave us and take us into exile for our sins.  What I have joyfully discovered – the paradigm shift is so profound I can still barely understand all its implications – is that we were in exile and it’s Lizzie’s death that has led us back to Jerusalem.

Over the past year we have founded the Church for Everyone movement as a place to share the Good News of inclusion and reconciliation and to share practical insights and good practice.  Not just in the area of sexuality but also race, gender, disability and age.  We’d love to include your stories so that alongside the exposure of genuine hurt, misery, manipulation and abuse we can also begin to chart our way to a better future.  My vision for the Church of England is that it be a Church for Everyone.

I don’t want a future where people have to point to one or two inclusion successes but to an entirely new way of being God’s people spread from one corner of the land to the other.   My aim is for St James and Emmanuel to simply disappear into a sea of inclusive and loving churches where love means love and inclusion is the rule rather than the exception.  Perhaps that’s something we can do together?

I’ve read Annie’s story, Peter’s story and those of Kate, Yve, Stephen, Jamie and all the others and here I address them personally.  I’m so sorry about what has happened to you and I’m also sorry that I haven’t addressed your stories directly.  I hope that my reflection and response is helpful.  I am both a penitent – I’ve been part of the problem and I acknowledge the harm and pain I’ve caused you, but also a bearer of hope – it’s your emancipation into the full life of the Church that will become its salvation and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to behold when it happens.

For more information about Lizzie Lowe please visit https://stjamesandemmanuel.org/beyond-inclusion/

 

Posted in Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Mental Health, Nick Bundock, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | 1 Comment

Justin’s Story – “I was taught to hate the very ones who loved me”

by Justin, a survivor of conversion therapy who was nearly crushed under the shame but is now a minister in training

Like many others, I was once that lively, passionate, charismatic Christian. I stood out, I was bold and courageous, but like many others there was something deeply hidden and shameful about me (or so I thought). I was gay.

Being ‘born again’ at 17 in an evangelical charismatic church had seemed natural to me. I’d known I was attracted to men before this but I’d never known what to do about it, so when Jesus came along it felt like this was it – salvation, escape, life in all its fullness! I spent five years as that lively, passionate, charismatic Jesus firebrand until a monster re-appeared from the deep to the surface of my life.

I couldn’t believe it. Me, the pioneer, still had this ‘thing’? (I couldn’t even say ‘gay’ at the time).

I had secretly hoped that God would have healed me in this new ‘born again’ life but it just didn’t happen. I shared with close Christian friends and church leaders alike and I became ‘project Justin.’ The order of the day was ‘conversion therapy!’  Charismatics believed wholeheartedly in God’s power, but also Satan’s ability to corrupt too. It was clear that I had been corrupted, so deliverance, to them, was what I needed.

My journey wasn’t a summer camp or an ex-gay ministry but rather two people who specialised in deliverance, which meant they could get the “gay demons” out of me. From the age of 22 through til about 28, every three months or so I would stay for a weekend in this couple’s house for my sessions. Each session we talked, from childhood to present seeking to find the places where Satan might have infiltrated my life. If I’d had sex, we had to name the person and pray to be delivered from the demons they may have passed onto me. At first, I was excited. I genuinely thought that this would be the answer. It was only after time passed that I began to realised how torturous it was becoming.

My biggest feeling was shame.

Every session digging up shame, making me feel it, relive it, leaving with it. God wasn’t doing anything! The more I tried to engage with this ministry the greater my sexual desires grew; it wasn’t doing anything at all! In desperation I went along with everything. First I was taught that my Mum was to blame; then my dad; then, my childhood (which was, on the contrary, actually very happy). I was taught to hate the very ones who loved me and to view all the good I had as rotten and bad.

It was torture. It completely screwed me up.

After six years I gave up and left this ministry, having been told I couldn’t be delivered because I wasn’t willing to change! But the thing was that though I left it, sadly it never left me. The God I loved hated me; it felt like he hadn’t lift a finger to help. So, I left him too – if he hates me, I hate him. The family I thought loved me were to blame for all of this, so on the hate list they went! And of course I was on that list too. I despised myself. Whether you call it “Conversion therapy”, “Deliverance ministry”, “pray the gay away”, or whatever else – it ripped the life out of me and left me as a dead man walking.

I had no hope at all. Justin ‘the project’ became Justin ‘the problem,’ and a big one at that!

Church was no longer home, family was no longer home, nowhere was safe anymore! What a lie I had been sold! And sadly, this is a lie a lot of my LGBTQIA+ friends get sold too. But it so obviously causes greater harm than good – in some cases suicide can be the result! It needs to stop!

The good news is that it can, but it’s going to be a long hard struggle.

I have now returned to my faith, I’m a minister in training, God in his grace has been transforming me and ‘project Justin’ who became ‘problem Justin’ is now ‘loved and affirmed Justin!’ And I have accepted God’s call to rid this world of such practices and so I have to speak out. I have to speak out about the silence, the theological grooming and the quack psychological techniques that always lead to shame and self-rejection.

Yes, we want the government to ban conversion therapy, but I also want the church to listen to us, to hear us, to see that bespoke charismatic packages of deliverance are the torture devices of hell, the equivalent of medieval thumb screws!

I don’t just want a ban but a real heart cry of “sorry” to come from within evangelical charismatic circles for what they have done as they have operated under the radar. We must continue to fight and stand together against this. We are loved, we are affirmed, we are accepted, and we have a future in our faith communities.

 

 

 

 

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Annie’s Story – “I Did My Best to Conform, But…”

by Annie, a victim of abuse who found succour in the charismatic church – where she was subjected to even more abuse….

My childhood and teenage years were marked by abuse and chaos, and when I discovered Christian faith in my late teens, it proved to be both a great blessing and a significant additional burden.

I welcomed the firm boundaries Christian morality offered and felt a lot of safety after a shiftless and often frightened existence. Unfortunately for me, I was sexually oriented towards women, and in the evangelical circles I moved in, ranging from the Vineyard and other charismatic churches to the white-walled conservatism of traditional Baptists, and even the extremes of the Jesus Army cult, such a thing was a marker of my broken humanity, rather than a normal variant of human sexuality.

Victims of sexual abuse develop various coping mechanisms as they go through life, often very self-destructive, and I slipped in and out of church involvement, often drinking too much and being sexually promiscuous to rid myself of the bad things within. I was very ready to listen to the people offering me peace and wholeness, via prayer and counselling. They were respectable people, often very kind and very sure of the answers, which was tremendously attractive to a young woman who had faced abandonment and abuse and had already seen the inside of a mental health unit.

At first it seemed very benign. I kept my head down and didn’t make too much of my sexual orientation, correctly deducing that it was unacceptable. I thought that perhaps I could be one of the graceful women, securely married with children, living safe lives, doing good. It was quite the compelling fantasy.

At university, the same pattern of self-destructive behaviour continued, and I connected with the Jesus Army. If I was looking for extremely strict boundaries, these people had them in abundance, especially for women. I was immersed in a ‘community’ lifestyle, wore long skirts and my whole life was consumed by the local group I was associated with. I received baptism and a virtue name, and one of the prophets told me I was called to be celibate. The heavy shepherding practices of the group involved me disclosing my innermost thoughts, and I endured hours of deliverance ministry to heal me of my same sex attraction demons. Eventually, I tried to pull away from the group, and one of the ‘prophets’ visited me and said he had a word from God that the way I would be healed of my homosexuality would be to submit to him sexually. Of course, all that happened was I froze in fear and was then admitted to a psychiatric unit after attempting suicide.

I still managed to retain my faith after this, and remained involved in evangelical churches, though not as extreme. I lost my mother during this time and was left with nothing. The church was still a safe haven to me, and I still craved the security of their acceptance. I married a man who was very kind and good and I did my best to conform. The church recommended counselling a group run by Ellel Ministries, and I attended one session in which a long questionnaire delved into almost every aspect of my existence, and I received deliverance ministry that was no different to what I had faced in the Jesus Army. There was lots of physical laying on of hands and a bucket nearby in case I vomited as demons were expelled. I attended one session, went through the motions in abject terror once I realised what was going on, and never returned.

It’s important to note that I went into all of this willingly. I was desperate to be ‘normal’ and healed and whole. I truly internalized the idea that my brokenness wasn’t just because I had been abused, it had manifested itself in my deviant sexuality, and I was consistently offered ways to be ‘free’ and so, of course, I pursued them with enthusiasm.

Personally, I believe the way to end these practices is to be very honest that they do not work, and that legislation is necessary to curb the influence of the faux-psychological ‘counselling’ and deliverance ministries that are permitted to act with impunity under a veneer of Christian respectability.  I no longer have a faith myself, but I have no desire to see the faith of others denigrated. I stand with those for whom open-ended, life-affirming prayer is a comfort and support, however I do believe there are prayers which constitute coercive practices that involve almost medieval thinking and are damaging people. Some of these people have homosexual or bisexual orientations, and many others have seen terrible things and look to a religion for hope and safety.

Quack therapies simply have no place in a society which cares for the vulnerable. They should really have no place in a church which claims the same.

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