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Article No. 149

Not a perversion, not an illness

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I always look forward to receiving my weekly copy of the Church Times, which in my opinion is one of the best if not the best weekly religious newspaper today. Far better than the Church of England Newspaper which, although nearer to my churchmanship, seems to me to be so terribly biased. I gave up reading that newspaper a year ago and have never regretted depending on the Church Times alone.

When I opened this week’s Church Times I was surprised and delighted to read of the report by a special group (called The Special Interest Group) of the Royal College of Psychiatrists for the Church of England‘s Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality. Their article referred me to the Church Times website for the full report, which I have read with great interest.

In short, the Special Interest Group that has prepared this report comes out totally in favour of the acceptance of gay lesbian and bisexual people. Their aim is to inform the debate within the Church of England (hereafter the Church) through the listening process - to which I referred in my column number 146 headed ’The call to postpone Lambeth 2008’ in September 2007.

They start out with the plain statement that the Church has a wonderful opportunity to lead rather than be dragged along kicking and screaming. What so many of us have been saying for so long. Not only is there a huge opportunity out there for the Church to lead the way and be seen to be open and modern, but also such an approach would do something to heal the hurt of thousands of alienated gay people.

The Report apparently has the support of the full College from the President down, and says that there is no support for treating gays, lesbians or bisexual people differently. That in itself is a powerful testimony from professional people and should give the lie permanently to the scurrilous accusations by some church people.

Above all else it also leads us immediately to see that the Church now has the opportunity to shift the level of discussion about homosexuality across the world. Some Christians, from abroad especially, hold a view of homosexuality that is debasing. It has been reported that one cleric said that homosexuality happens only between dogs. Here is a report from professional medical people who cannot be ignored. Surely this Report will have a powerful effect on any involved in the discussion who are truly open to the truth?

One of the points that comes across powerfully - a point that has been raised in these columns previously - is that it is the discrimination against gay people that causes some of the problems they have to battle with in the first place. When there is social stigma attached to their sexuality is it any wonder that some (though not all) have problems with self-acceptance, alcohol and drugs? Such mental health problems - caused by the homophobia against gays - has been used as evidence against homosexuality. In truth such problems are a consequence of a wrong attitude to these members of society and would be greatly diminished - perhaps to a level commensurate with heterosexuals - if gay people were to become fully acceptable to all. The refusal of some churches to countenance homosexuality as normal is one huge factor in the problem.

Likewise the durability of same sex relationships may well be accounted for in part by the lack of acceptance and support from others in society. Once homosexuality is seen as normal by society (including by most churches) it is to be expected that the figures for separations will match or improve on those of heterosexuals.

The Report also covers what has come to be called the ‘ex-gay’ movement. They say that there is absolutely no evidence that orientation can be changed. They think the cause of homosexuality biological in nature - determined by an interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation therefore is not a choice. They see the ex gay movement as deeply flawed - and productive of considerable harm. There is no evidence that a change from homosexual to heterosexual can be effected by these movements. One study claimed that change was possible for a small minority (13%) of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, but most of these could be regarded as bisexual at the outset of therapy.

I recommend that you read the report which is not long and is to be found on the Church Times website.

What does it all add up to?

It means that the Royal College of Psychiatrists has fired a significant salvo in aid of gay lesbian and bisexual people - saying that they should be regarded as normal in all respects. They express dismay that the Church does not lead the way in accepting them into their ranks, although Professor King (an executive committee member) said that of course it was for the Church to decide on theological matters. However, he added that as the Church had already changed its mind on the position of women in society and slavery, he wondered what the problem was as regards homosexuals.

It is a powerful aid to the listening process now under way. Will it change anyone’s thinking? If someone is genuinely open minded about the subject I think it would be a powerful influence. But how many are there in that open minded position? I think most conservative evangelicals are quite impervious to such evidence. With the rest it may well have some pull.

The report however is a result of expert opinion - not theological but medical. What weight has this? At the end of the day will it be accepted as relevant to the practice of the churches? Or will theology be dominant and this report laid aside as interesting reading but having little effect in the deliberations of the churches?

Whether the churches hold together or divide up in some way, the ‘problem’ is not going to go away. What the West is trying to deal with today will arise in other parts of the world tomorrow. Gay and lesbian and bisexual people are a fact of life in every nation and clime. You can pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t dispose of the problem! It is going to crop up again and again everywhere until a solution is found - and the only solution compatible with a free society is that such people are accepted as totally equal.

It may take years or decades before the old attitudes towards gay people are ironed out of the system. A huge change has already happened in Britain, and in Europe and America. It is as natural as seeing the equality of women.

What we need is a church that embraces this truth and which begins to work out the implications of it in both its own life and the life of the community of which it is a part.

The work of Jeremy in Courage has been pivotal in the development of the attitude of the churches over the last two decades. Until the late nineties Courage was an organisation that tried to ‘reform’ homosexuals. It was constituted on the basis that the Christian faith and the practice of homosexuality were incompatible, and it tried to help men and women who were struggling in this area to live good Christian lives. Then in the late nineties the reality of the situation forced itself into consciousness. Men and women were not being ‘cured’. Indeed, they were not changing. They remained with the same orientation and, often, they continued to indulge in homosexual behaviour - or at least to be tempted to act out their homosexuality. A rethink was required. It was a dramatic change and called for great Christian courage. It meant saying, in effect, that they had been wrong all along. That not only could orientation not be changed, but that when one looked at the deeper meaning of the bible it was clear that God accepted homosexuality just as he accepted heterosexuality.

It was a dramatic change. It called for a whole lot of new thinking. It needed much prayer. As a result Jeremy was thrown out of the Evangelical Alliance which could not accept the idea that God blessed homosexuality. He is still excluded.

In the last ten years more and more churches have turned to Courage to listen to their witness. More and more Christians have beaten a path to Jeremy’s door to ask for help as they try to reconcile how they are inside with what they have been taught is the bible message.

The small stream in the nineties has become a strong river ten years later. And eventually we know that it will be a sea that spreads far and wide, because it is as real and true as the fact that no person should be made a slave, and as the reality of the equality of women. It is coming because it is true. It is how reality is. It is just a question of time.

Tony Cross

November 2007

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