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 | 3 Comments

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.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Mental Health, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Mental Health, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | Leave a comment

Peter’s Story – Conditioning Causes Shame & Self-Hatred

by Peter (a pseudonym), a survivor of conversion therapy 

Why do people seek out Conversion Therapy and prayer/deliverance ministries?

For me, I did because I thought it could ‘correct’ my sexuality. It is only with hindsight that I now know it was the most destructive thing I could have done to myself.

I was brought up within an evangelical church in South London. My entire childhood was all about going to church on Sundays and learning all about the Bible and its stories. I realised that I was different from other boys at the age of five. I had no word for it but I knew that something was not the same. No one ever mentioned homosexuality to me, but they did promote chastity until marriage and the importance of the ‘nuclear family’ – husband as the head of the house, the wife as the submissive helper and nurturer and then the children.  I was conditioned to believe that this was entirely normal. And that is what the church was very good at, conditioning. It was all in the subliminal messaging that all of us Sunday school children received and then watching our parents and other adults in the church trying to live this out. I had nothing to measure it all against.

We were always told that we were to be ‘in the world but not of the world’. I took this to mean that the world was an evil place but all church people were’ intrinsically good’. I guess I took this to an extreme as I was growing up especially when I started to realise that I was gay.

When HIV and AIDS was first spoken about in the early 1980’s I was 12 and knew I was gay. The churches response was that ‘these people’ were pure evil and they deserved what was coming to them. It was also obvious that this was the attitude presented by the media and by society as a whole. For me it was a perfect storm. My awakening sexuality became completely tarnished by attitudes of the church, the place where I felt safe and where I got my spiritual identity from.

For instance, I can remember being told that gay men were no better than paedophiles and people who practiced bestiality and necrophilia. I couldn’t be gay, I simply couldn’t.

Shame crept in and stayed there for a very long time.

The outworking of all this is that I became a classic people pleaser. I had to lead prayer meetings and get as involved as much as I could in the church. I needed people, and God, to like me. I took it too far. I utterly hated myself. I was always on high alert meaning that I over compensated all the time. I was always paranoid thinking that I couldn’t ever present a ‘gay persona’ to people. I was constantly checking my mannerisms and always filtering. The result being that I was always exhausted, even when I wasn’t doing anything. I no longer do any of these things since coming out but the fatigue still remains.

I originally came out in 2004 at the age of 32. In one sense it was a relief to finally be authentic but in another sense it was the foreboding start of a dark journey to try and correct my sexuality.  It was suggested that I go and seek conversion therapy  which I did. I felt very uncomfortable with going to the sessions and quickly made up my mind that this wasn’t for me. Thank God I did because I don’t know what the outcome would have been and how it would have impacted on my already delicate mental health.  Years later after becoming an atheist and coming back to Christ in my early 40’s I had some deliverance and prayer ministry. I saw this as a last resort to finally correct something that had bugged me for my entire life. Of course, I had been conditioned into believing that my sexuality was broken from a very early age so I had no hesitation into thinking and believing that prayer ministry was right for me.

The funny thing about all of this is that I never told the prayer ministers that I was gay. I told them that I had had gay experiences in the past and that I regretted my past sexual behaviour with men. In reality I didn’t regret it at all but the need to be liked and accepted was paramount.  I was so full of shame, guilt and fear that I thought they would judge me for being gay if I had told them and that I would be thrown out of the ministry centre.  I only felt validated when people liked me and admitting that I was gay to the prayer ministers filled me with utter dread so I told them that it was all in the past even though in reality it wasn’t.

In my head I had separated my orientation from my sexual behaviour. I simply could not be honest with myself, however hard I tried. I received prayer ministry and deliverance for having had gay sex in the past and still had various ‘sexual demons’ prayed out of me even though they never prayed directly for my homosexuality in that current moment.

All the shame and self-hatred got much worse when I was going through this.

I can safely say that it didn’t work. Having conversion therapy and prayer ministry made all my problems much worse. My mental health was shot to pieces. Years of lying to myself and other people had tipped me over the edge. It has caused deep depression, PTSD, an anxiety disorder, suicidal ideation and panic attacks. I am currently seeing an excellent therapist and I’m glad I sought help for this. I am working through my issues and I am finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

Even thinking or writing about this time is still exceedingly painful. I feel deeply ashamed that I went through with it and bringing it up again has been very difficult for me. My primary hope for writing this is for people to understand some of the short and long term effects. It was all so coercive and I still feel ashamed that I agreed for it to happen to me. Of course, at the time I was in agreement because all I wanted was to be accepted by the wider church community. It was so important for me to be liked by people in the church and very difficult to know when things were going too far.

I guess what I’d like people to realise is that the shame runs very deep and it takes time to heal. It is only now that I’ve begun this healing process that I’ve been able to forgive everyone involved, and define myself in others way than as a ‘victim’.

In short, good mental health and safeguarding policies within church settings are of paramount importance. This is why a complete ban on conversion therapy with no exemptions is needed. All LGBTQ+ people’s lives are way too precious to be messed around with.

 

Posted in Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Mental Health, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | 3 Comments

Kate’s Story

by Kate, a transgender woman from the north of England, who bravely shares her horrific experience of being prayed for in three different evangelical churches.

 

This is spiritual abuse, and shows clearly why a ban on conversion therapy must include religious practices, including prayer.

Posted in Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Spiritual Abuse, Transgender | 1 Comment

Yve’s Story – “I Felt Set Up To Fail”

by Yve, who has experienced both the very worst and the very best of the Church of England.

I first knew something was different about me when I was six, and first started wearing my mum’s clothes. From that moment onward, what could have been a potentially idyllic seaside childhood became characterised by bullying, acute discomfort with my birth gender identity, and a love that seemed strictly conditional.

Craving acceptance and security, I entered what quickly became a dysfunctional marriage. As always, I was too scared to talk about my feelings, feared the negative responses which occurred when I did, and never felt truly loved. I underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2012, but even afterwards, the loneliness and rejection remained.

This was all to change – or so I thought – in 2016.

Having been engaging with a notoriously conservative cathedral parish for 8 years and being largely ignored by the congregation, I was surprised when I was suddenly encouraged to get more involved in its activities. Feeling hopeful and included, I took up several volunteer and secretarial roles, joined a worship team, and accepted an employment offer as floor manager. It felt like God had placed me here to learn and grow as if finally in preparation for ordination, to which I’d felt called since 1994. For the first time in my life, I began to believe it was possible that my gender could be valued and accepted by a church.

I was soon to be disillusioned. Indeed, it wasn’t until later that I found that I’d be given this faux acceptance because of an edict that the cathedral community needed to be ‘more representative of the whole city.’

In reality, nothing changed. In my new roles, I felt continually measured against a heteronormative standard (e.g. my shirts and shoes weren’t considered ‘masculine enough’), and I was often the target of verbal abuse. When this had become a typical pattern of behaviour towards me I reported it, but nobody took my complaints seriously.

It became clear that despite all the training delivered to everyone and their desire to be ‘representative’, the dean and chapter didn’t take their safeguarding responsibilities seriously, or have any real interest in a truly inclusive community.

By late 2018, things came to a head. A new dean arrived who seemed uneasy about my continued involvement. Suddenly, once supportive colleagues became reluctant to swap shifts with me so I could fulfil voluntary roles. Then, a new and unprompted ruling that Chapter clergy shouldn’t interact socially with or give pastoral care to employees, effectively brought all voluntary roles to an abrupt and sudden end. I felt as if I was being slowly pushed out. Then, one day, I arrived at a meeting to discover someone else had been appointed secretary in my place, without any warning or prior consultation. I resigned from all my other roles with immediate effect.  I felt set up to fail and distraught.

In early 2019, the cathedral had an S.C.I.E. inspection. I’ve seen less panic in a school pre-Ofsted inspection! Staff and volunteers were told what to say if spoken to by an inspector, and members of congregations carefully selected for interview by inspectors who ensured they wouldn’t say anything controversial. A banner installed by the entrance affirmed the dean’s commitment to providing ‘a safe environment for everyone.’ Knowing what I did, I found this laughable. So did the inspectors, but for a different reason: they perceived its message as unnecessary and ordered its removal. I felt deliberately blocked in my attempts to speak with an inspector. I was saddened, but not surprised, when the outcome for the cathedral turned out to be largely favourable. By now, I was numbed and deadened to the fact that people like me often had their voices silenced.

I suffered a complete physical, nervous and emotional breakdown. Although technically furloughed, I couldn’t face returning to an environment which showed such disregard for people’s safety, health and well being. Even the diocesan safeguarding officer wouldn’t help me. I’ve been made to feel that I can’t trust anyone there. I felt I received more love and support from a secular community trust than I did from my supposed spiritual home.

If this is the worst of the Church of England, during lockdown I unexpectedly encountered the very best. I’ve received an unconditional welcome through online worship, quizzes and study groups offered by certain truly inclusive churches in Liverpool and London. I still feel frozen out of life and pay for ongoing therapy but I thank God for what I’ve found among them. “A broken and contrite heart O God you will not despise” (Ps.51:17).

 

Posted in Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse, Transgender | 3 Comments

Steven’s Story – “I felt I had no option but to make a formal complaint to the Garda”

by Steven Smyrl, a married gay former elder in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

I was ordained an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) in 2007. The PCI is the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland, and also has a significant presence in the Republic. Until about 25 years ago the PCI was, in the Irish context, regarded as a middle-of-the-road, mainstream Christian denomination, and even moderately liberal among the island’s Reformed Churches. It had begun ordaining women as early as 1976. But in the intervening years more and more of its newer, younger ministers have been openly espousing hardline conservative views, notably in relation to women’s ordination and LGBTQ+ issues.

Nevertheless, until 2019 as a gay man I have felt nothing but acceptance and support within my local congregation and from many ministers and elders (albeit discreetly) across the Dublin & Munster Presbytery (akin to a diocese in other denominations). So when I married my same-sex partner, Roy, in November 2018 in a civil ceremony, I was delighted to receive warm words of congratulation and encouragement from fellow Presbyterians, including ministers and elders.

However, my delight was short-lived.

Just six short months later Roy and I were distraught as we found our marriage under siege, belittled and disparaged by a small group of evangelical zealots, all PCI ministers attached to the Dublin & Munster Presbytery. It was the beginning of a relentless quasi-judicial process which left me feeling demeaned and dehumanised by a Presbytery Commission, whose campaign to remove me as an elder was conducted without mercy, it would seem on the basis that the ‘ends justify the means’.

Where did all this come from?

Homophobia has been growing within the Presbyterian Church of Ireland for years, all part of the toxic mix of religion and politics emblematic of Northern Ireland. This came to a head a few years ago when those opposed to female ministers and elders as well as LGBTQ+ rights finally got their hands on the Church’s levers of power. The result was the adoption, at the 2018 General Assembly, of a motion subsequently widely decried as homophobic. This stated that due to their supposed “outward conduct and lifestyle” gay people were forthwith excluded from church membership unless they voluntarily submitted to living lives of destructive, self-imposed solitude. In addition, their children were to be denied baptism. And astonishingly, because this was in the realm of ‘religion’, this sort of blatant discrimination could be openly imposed without, it was thought, fear of legal reprisal.

In such an atmosphere it was my misfortune to be the first victim to fall foul of this resolution.

Out of the blue I received a phone call from two leaders of Presbytery, demanding that I meet them alone to discuss “concerns” about my position as elder. Though I sought further information then and in the following weeks, this was repeatedly denied – the clear intention it seemed was to ambush me in a face-to-face meeting. I had to rely on my own tenacity and GDPR Subject Access Requests to eventually discover that the issue was in fact my marriage. I was astonished to find that two ministers in Presbytery had colluded in producing a dossier of ‘evidence’ of my gay relationship (a tactic, as reported in the Belfast Telegraph, reminiscent of the East German Stasi).

Presbytery was prevailed upon to set up a formal Commission, though without ever being informed what was to be investigated. Four months later it issued a Finding dismissing me solely on the grounds that my same-sex marriage was incompatible with eldership. All of the arguments and submissions I had made in my defence were ignored or rejected: it appeared that proof of my marriage was the only relevant issue.

Yet, I had discovered (through GDPR) that my detractors had obtained my marriage certificate a week before the Presbytery meeting that had established the Commission, and they therefore could have sought my removal there and then, without any trauma or drama. But they withheld this evidence, which meant I was still subjected to a humiliating and stressful formal enquiry.  It felt like a ‘show trial’ intended as a warning to all others.

My experience of the Commission was traumatic, and had a profound effect on my physical and mental health. From the start I felt like a prey being pursued by a pack of wolves. My own concerns were ignored, and none of my responses were given any respect or attention; the Commission merely seized upon nuggets that they could use to back up the outcome they had it seemed pre-ordained. What is more, procedures were often insisted upon when they suited, and discarded when they were inconvenient. The balance of power was horrendously skewed – most telling was the demand that I should appear before the Commission of six senior church officials, alone apart from “a member of the church not qualified as a lawyer … in a supportive, non-speaking capacity”.

In all their dealings with me the Commission showed a total lack of compassion, grace and empathy. It felt as though there was a growing vindictiveness when I failed to cave in to their expectations. Even when made aware of the effect their tactics were having on my health, which was supported by medical certificates, they continued in their relentless pursuit. (Sadly, the effect on my health has been long-lasting: I was recently admitted to hospital with a suspected stroke, due to on-going stress.) It seems that the overarching imperative was always to enforce their current orthodoxy, regardless of whether individual lives were crushed in the process.

The Commission’s Finding generated considerable attention from the national print and broadcast media over several months, in which its actions were repeatedly described as oppressive, unethical and dehumanising.

This seemed to enrage Church authorities even further, prompting them to set up a second Commission (still ongoing), primarily focused on interrogating the minister and church council of my local congregation because of the constant support they had shown to both Roy and myself over many years. Answers have been demanded to 43 of the most divisive questions imaginable, seeking private and personal information without any regard to the confidential nature of pastoral care. The questions appear to have been contrived with the express intention of provoking conflict between the minister and members of the church council so that each might inadvertently incriminate themselves or each other.

The way I have been treated by the Commission has convinced me that PCI is a church deeply infected by personal and institutional homophobia, which leads it to act in a fundamentally unchristian manner. I have sought justice and accountability from church authorities, but have been rebuffed at every turn. I therefore felt I had no option but to make a formal statement of complaint to the Garda (Irish police) under hate crime legislation. At the time of writing, my complaint is under active investigation.

While this story has yet to run its course, without doubt the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will, by its appalling actions, only prove to have caused irreparable damage to its own already tarnished reputation.

 

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