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Conversion therapy and religious faith

The Prisma recently featured an interview with Jayne Ozanne, a leading progressive Christian in the United Kingdom.


Steve Latham


Herself a lesbian, she is seeking to enable legislation in Parliament, outlawing conversion therapy (CT).

CT refers to supposedly psychological attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation, from LGBTQ to heterosexual.

This actually embraces a spectrum of approaches, mostly operationalising behaviourist theories. Among the most malign is Aversion Therapy. This involves applying electric shocks, when a subject is shown photos of the same sex, in order to discourage sexual attraction. Besides being highly abusive, the method is also very ineffective.

At the more benign end of the scale are versions of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). While these avoid the more abusive extremes, their success rate is at best questionable.

Their aim, however, is not to totally eradicate same-sex attraction, but to control unwanted thoughts and behaviour, through mental techniques.

In addition to these techniques, the Parliamentary Bill aims to prohibit religious practices aimed at changing someone’s sexual orientation.

These range from simple prayer to elaborate exorcisms: based on a worldview, which accepts the reality of evil spirits.

Such deliverance rituals may involve beatings, physical restraints, and pouring oil or pepper into people’s eyes.

Many religious groups eschew these activities; although it is impossible to prevent individuals praying as they see fit, even against leadership advice.

However, such groups often teach a conservative sexual morality, which restricts sex to a married relationship between a man and a woman, as a reflection of God’s will for human flourishing. While this falls short of LGBTQ preferences, it is a far cry from actual CT. Nevertheless, there is fear in these circles, that the new Law may affect them as well.

This is because in some publicity, the campaign against CT defines it broadly, to include any action which seeks to “suppress” someone’s sexual identity.

If this interpretation prevails, it will restrict pastoral measures to help gay believers live faithfully in their religion of choice: whether as celibates, or married to someone from the opposite sex.

It is unlikely, even if the legislation takes this shape, that believers will change their beliefs.

Instead, it will merely chase them underground, as they perceive themselves to be a persecuted religion.

It would be in the interests of the LGBTQ lobbyists to avoid this outcome.

Otherwise, it would be ironic, that a movement of (gay) liberation turned out to limit the (religious) freedom of others.

Similar tensions arise this week, over the visit of Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, to Jesus House, a Nigerian church, visiting their vaccination project against Covid. Complaints erupted from the gay community, because Jesus House condemns gay sex, and Starmer was forced to apologise for his visit.

But will he also foreswear all visits to Mosques as well? For, although there is common cause, against racism and Islamophobia, these are mostly conservative on sexual matters as well.

In a plural society, is it possible find issues where we can be co-belligerents, if not allies on everything?

(Photos: Pixabay)

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