Thursday, October 06, 2005

Too English to be ex-gay?

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.


postliberal said...

”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.”

There are a lot of us around who had high hopes that Rowan would step into the role of Archbishop on our behalf, and fully represent our views through his words and actions. It's been a personal disappointment that he didn't, and a terribly sad thing to watch him pulled apart by various factions. Because I think his aims have been far more noble and inspired than any of us might give him credit.

He hasn’t been won over or influenced by ‘the Evangelical cause’, and has never really been a great liberal totem. His great desire through this controversy has been for the good of the Church, for the communion of all who’re part of it. Unfortunately with so many strong feelings around he seems to find his prayers and desires on this thwarted by fiery rhetoric and apocalyptic passions. He remains one of the sanest voices in the Anglican Church.

Jimbo said...

I'd be really interested to know if anyone else has had similar (or different) experiences.

Having been in Anglican churches of the more 'evangelical' descriptor, I can assure you that there are still those who support the 'ex-gay' route.

A number of those churchgoers who hold their bible in high esteem have great difficulty in resolving their attitude towards gay people. Their hearts may want to show some form of compassion towards gay people they know (mixed with an excessive dollop of pity), but their heads tell them (from their biblical interpretations) that something is badly wrong with such people.

The easiest route out for some seems to be an approach of not questioning their understandings or interpretations too deeply. After all, if 'homosexual' folk can be sent off to some ministry or therapist to be straightened out and 'healed', then there is no need to really face up to the prospect of dealing with Christians in the church who are happy with their homosexual lot.

Having spent many years in an 'ex-gay' mindset, and involved with a number of UK groups involved in this field, I'm aware that the views of prominent North American ex-gay proponents (e.g. Comiskey, Payne, Dallas, Bergner, Davies, Worthen) are still alive and kicking in some quarters and still fed by the misguided psychology of people like Elisabeth Moberley.

The irony is that many of the clergy uncomfortable with gay Christians still think that ministries such as True Freedom Trust are about 'healing' folk from their homosexuality - whereas such UK ministries themselves are a good deal more realistic about the low rate of 'straightening up', instead encouraging a sort of asexual celibate limbo.

That's not to deny that individual counsellors within such ministries are still sometimes pushing the ex-gay psychology. Nevertheless, I note that the US Exodus site no longer links to any of the UK ministries, presumably because none of the UK groups sufficiently support the extremes of ex-gay 'healing' that are still currency in parts of the US.

Having come out recently, I'm aware that on the gay issue, the average Anglican church congregation has folk of every viewpoint and none. I, for one, am finding it more comfortable to continue my spiritual journey outside the church whilst it continues to squabble over this issue.

Contemplative Activist said...

Thanks for commenting Jimbo.

I think you're right that individual counsellors probably have more confidence in the ex-gay "psychology" (I am so loathe to call it psychology...) than the larger groups like TFT.

Anyway, best wishes for your journey :)

Paul said...

I've had similar experience concerning not just attitudes towards gays in Evangelical churches, but towards sex in general. I remember as a teenager our Pastor instructing us that it was 'impossible for a man and woman to sleep in the same bed without them having sex'. Likewise I was recently discussing with a friend my own liberal views on gays, who said that she didn't accept people were born gay; they somehow chose to be that way. (A bit like all those people who decide early-on to be left-handed.) And I've come across this teaching many times. Personally I'm quite happy to accept current understanding which says (and put me right if I'm not!) that its more to do with genetics and hormones pre-birth.

Contemplative Activist said...

Yeah, you're right Paul - my understanding of the latest research is that there is an emormous genetic and biological component to sexual orientation - be that through genes, pre-natal or post-natal hormones etc.

Whatever the causes, what we do know is that orientation seems to be determined very early on in child development and doesn't seem to change. (Although there is some evidence that female sexuality is a bit more fluid than male - so more females tend to be bisexual or may occasionally find themselves attacted to women if they're predominantly heterosexual or men if they're predominantly homosexual).

Anyway, whatever the cause - who cares. There are far more important aspects in a relationship than what gender the partners are. Is it loving? Is it generous? Is it consensual?

Christine said...

Well, I'm definitely late in commenting here, but thanks for writing this. It's good to read your thoughts on this, and also the comments here.