‘Setting Love in Order’ Conference

by  Andrew Symes

The first “Setting Love in Order” conference took place yesterday at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster. It was organized by Christian Concern in association with Core Issues Trust. The background to the conference includes various incidents where the freedom to talk about the possibility of moving away from homosexuality has been suppressed. For example, a high profile campaign of adverts on buses sponsored by Stonewall carries the slogan: “some people are gay – get over it”. A counter slogan saying “not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud!” was considered to be offensive and banned. A Christian counsellor who began to help to a man claiming to be a Christian wanting to move away from homosexuality had her professional accreditation removed after the man revealed himself to be a gay activist and wrote of his experience in a Guardian article. The Association of Christian Counsellors, after pressure from professional bodies, has announced that its members will not take part in any counselling process or therapy which might consider reduction or change in same sex attraction as an outcome. And a private members’ Bill is due soon before Parliament proposing the outlawing of such therapy (it was due to be debated on 24th January and has now been delayed).

Initially the conference was planned as a briefing for Christians who are broadly in favour of retaining a place for the traditional bible-based understandings of relationships, sexuality and marriage in church and society. There is concern that the proposed Bill, in an effort to restrict a certain type of Christian ministry, actually restricts the rights of gay people to choose not to be gay if they so wish. Mike Davidson of Core Issues was contacted by Geraint Davies MP, Labour MP for Swansea, the sponsor of the Bill, before Christmas asking for an opportunity to speak at the conference, and this was granted.

The conference was chaired by Chris Sugden who welcomed the MP and invited him to speak, after which Mike Davidson responded and there were questions from the floor before a summing up from both. A full report of Davies’ speech can be found here.

Mr Davies’s first argument involved accountability for use of public money – at a time when more and more funding is spent on counselling, practitioners should be properly regulated – an uncontroversial point. He then said that the belief that homosexual orientation could be changed or “cured” owed more to religious dogma than science, and mentioned some studies which show that counselling aimed at achieving this outcome causes harm. Being gay is – like race – something to be celebrated, not changed, so while counselling in general should be non-directive, gay people should be helped towards affirmation of their gay identity, “to be comfortable in their own skin”. If gay people resist this and want to change, it is because ‘internalised homophobia”, so they should receive therapy exploring the reasons for the guilt and shame, not the same sex attraction. Married men with ssa should consider leaving their wives and pursuing gay relationships to be ‘true to themselves’ and for the good of their families. The name of Nelson Mandela was evoked at the end of the speech, with the phrase “let there be love instead of hate”.

Mike Davidson responded graciously but firmly. He refuted the caricature of therapists who “convert” people from gay to straight which was at the heart of Mr Davies’s speech, and explained that his ministry and those like him are focused on the aims of the patient, not delivering a pre-ordained outcome. He referred to the misuse of science which has been evident in the ideologically driven support marshaled by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in support of the Bill, which is well documented in the Core Issues publications (and was expanded on in one of the afternoon seminars), and denied that someone with homosexual feelings should be locked into a “gay” identity. He warned of the serious violations of freedom of speech and conscience that are already occurring in the culture as background to the debate in Parliament.

During the question time Mr Davies appeared to be on the back foot when confronted with technical issues about scientific evidence on homosexuality, and more general points about religious freedom. A question I would have liked to have asked him is this: if the main reason for depression and other mental health issues among gay people comes from attitudes of disapproval in society and particularly in religious faith (as he asserted), why are the levels of depression increasing while society is becoming more tolerant?

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