It has been really interesting to spend time with Peterson and hear what some of we good English folk have to say about the ex-gay movement. Here's the question - is it relevant here? Ok, so we don't have our very own homonomo half-way house, we don't have an ex-gay media presence - indeed, surely we quite Brits are too busy slurping tea over cucumber sandwiches (no crusts) and munching digestive biscuits to be bothered about converting homosexuals?
Not so, I promise.
I grew up in an evangelical church and in my late teens and very early 20s I was very involved in the charismatic movement - and trust me, misguided ideas about homosexuality are as prominent here as they are on the other side of the Atlantic.
The church I went to was affiliated with Ichthus and I once went on a whole week long Ichthus camping experience (yes, it was as hellish as it sounds...don't ask me about the "prophetic music making" sessions...*shudders*). At that conference, books by people such as Leanne Payne and Mario Bergner came highly recommended at the bookstall. That's where Ichthus leaders get their information about sexuality.
People in my church gave me said Leanne Payne book early on in my psychology degree. It was disturbing - anyone with half an inkling about psychological theory would know instantly how utterly crack-potted it is. But, I fear most church leaders don't have even a basic grounding in psychology or even decent counselling theories that would enable them to critically evaluate such books in the light of what modern science and psychology can tell us about same-sex attraction.
Another recent phenonemon in the evangelical movement in this part of the world is the growth of Christian Counselling. It was once recommended to me, in one of the largest charismatic churches in the UK, certainly the largest in the city where I live, that I should go on such a course so as to ensure that I had a solid Christian grounding in my work. I declined the offer in favour of attending training accredited by mainstream counselling regulatory bodies and the British Psychological Society (our equivalent of the American Psychological Association.) Some Christian leaders weren't impressed by my choice, but even as a committed charismatic Christian, I recognised the pitfalls of a counselling service operating within local churches and overseen by people with a specific religious agenda. I so regret resisting the temptation to say, 'I hear what you're saying about having a solid Christian foundation, but I'd rather have an evidence base.' Me-ow. ;)
Out of curiosity, I searched for 'homosexuality' on the Association of Christian Counsellors and found an advertisement for an Exodus conference.
My lovely and very kind house group leaders were convinced that gay people, if offered support could be celibate and have a very special relationship with the Holy Spirit. My pastor when I attended an AOG/Ichthus affiliated church and who is one of the most personable and compassionate people, publically preached that we knew homosexuality to be unnatural because we know penises don't belong up anuses. In another Ichthus church I went to, a senior leader denounced the appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading as a sign of the terrible unrighteousness in the church and my youth leader in a Northern Irish lifelink church used to call things 'gay' when he didn't like them. 'Oh, what a gay piece of music,' and that sort of thing.
And yes, I even know people who have attempted to cast out those evil and depraved demons of homosexuality. How nice.
Was I involved in unusual crack-pot churches? No, I was not. I was just aware of what was going on because some of my closest friends were gay Christians - some of them still are, but many have left churches and are pursing their own spirituality, some still hurt from the rejection caused by well-meaning but very very misguided Christians.
I'm telling you now - all this is going on behind the scenes in a church near you - yes, even the ones with cucumber sandwiches, and most likely in the ones with a lively and active group of young people.
I'd be really interested to know if anyone else has had similar (or different) experiences. There are, obviously, some gay affirming churches in the UK and many of the more traditional Anglican and Methodist churches are very open. Indeed, I know a URC trained lay-reacher who says she thinks its a crying shame that Rowan Williams has let himself be influenced by those terrible evangelicals. And although, I appreciate that the situation may be more complex than that - I also sympathise with the sentiment.
But hey, next time I get asked why I have an interest in the ex-gay movement and if its really only a crazy American thing...I'll just refer them to this blog post.