Living Out say no to ‘gay cure’ therapies: Core Issues Trust responds
By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
Living Out was launched in 2013 as a voice for a viewpoint not often heard at that time in the debate among Christians about homosexuality. It is led by a group of evangelical men, open about their own same-sex attraction, and committed to the authority of Scripture and conviction that the Bible teaches clearly the place for sex only in heterosexual marriage. The Living Out website features articles on how to live as a Christian with homosexual feelings, and equally importantly, how the church can help to change attitudes instinctively hostile to or fearful of gay people, and provide excellent pastoral care in a context of friendship and clear teaching on traditional sexual ethics. All five Living Out spokesmen have written extensively on this subject and are in demand as speakers all over the country.
A number of churches have entrusted responsibility for teaching on the subject of sexuality to Living Out and another closely linked organization, True Freedom Trust . Now a debate has opened up about the possibility of changing the ‘orientation’ of sexual desire and whether this should be a valid goal for some same sex attracted people. Living Out were recently on the receiving end of a high profile attack by MP Mike Freer, who accused them of promoting ‘gay cure’ therapies, and were therefore unworthy of charitable status. In response, Living Out have issued a statement (here) distancing themselves from any support for such therapies.
Sean Doherty, author of the statement, says that the language of ‘cure’ makes homosexuality sound like an illness, which could be “very damaging to vulnerable people” Even attempting to “change someone’s sexual orientation assumes that being gay is somehow more problematic than being straight”. Wanting to reduce same sex desire in order to make possible marriage to someone of the opposite sex is not a valid goal, says the statement, because “We do not believe that marriage is a preferable outcome to singleness, and indeed in 1 Corinthians 7:32-38, St Paul teaches that singleness is in some ways ‘better’ than marriage.” Praying or counselling for the removal or lessening of sexual temptation is not appropriate, they say, because “It sets people up for failure and guilt”, and a same sex orientation is not necessarily sinful, but “part of who they are”.
The statement goes on to express scepticism about the possibility of changing sexual orientation through therapy, saying that it is not supported by scientific evidence., and concludes: “We therefore believe that counselling or psychotherapy will be helpful when it aims at helping people towards self-acceptance and good psychological and emotional health in general, and not on changing someone’s sexual orientation.”
Living Out’s statement will cause many Christians to raise eyebrows. Talk of “gay cures” is very emotive and reminds us of the awful treatments forced on some homosexuals before the 1960’s. In fact Living Out’s statement says that they do not know of any organisations offering such ‘cures’. But this is not the same as a service available to individuals of all faiths and none today who might want to seek professional help to move away from desires and habits which they themselves regard as harmful or confusing.
Mike Davidson, Director of Core Issues Trust, comments:
“consider the plight of the married man who for whatever reason becomes involved in homosexual practices and desperately seeks help – perhaps not even as a Christian – feeling that his same sex attraction is pulling him away from his family. Is Living Out arguing that he should be actively denied access to professional change-oriented therapy help and that this is unnecessary? I think this is a clear infringement of the rights of an autonomous individual and freedoms of a professional to assist him”.
In a statement published on the Core Issues Trust website (here), Dr Davidson says that his organisation “does not support the position…promoting a category of ‘gay self-acceptance’ rather than hope of change”. He also points out that while Living Out’s focus is on helping people to manage an apparently fixed same sex desire with the help of Christian faith in a church context, “homosexual feelings and temptations are not uniquely spiritual in origin, although acting upon them or embracing them as an orientation does have spiritual consequences”. For this reason, according to Davidson, the option of professional therapeutic support to explore the possibility of change should be “accessible to any individual on a voluntary basis, regardless of creed”. This viewpoint seems to align more with that of True Freedom Trust, who say on their website that although they themselves do not practice any form of ‘reparative therapy’:
“people should have the right to choose and explore ways in which they can be helped and our understanding is that no reliably robust scientific studies are available to prove claims one way or another”.
Other experts have also commented on Living Out’s position. Professional US-based therapist Dr Christopher Rosik responded: “Living Out want to protect Christians with SSA from needless shaming and other harms. I think we can all agree on this as a valuable goal. But is it not a different kind of harm to discourage believers with unwanted SSA from exploring their potential for fluidity?”
Dermot O’Callaghan, who has co-written several booklets on the possibility of sexual orientation fluidity and change, and has sought to expose the misuse of science by professional organisations resulting from aggressive LGBT lobbying, says
“if we agree that fluidity can apply, why should this field [same sex attraction] be the only one in the range of psychological conditions that is excluded from legitimate therapeutic endeavour – unless the reason is political?”
There is much agreement among evangelical Christians on the Bible’s clear teaching on sex, marriage and singleness, the need for pastoral care and rejection of ‘homophobia’. But Living Out’s recent statement, and the initial responses to it, show that there are different views on how to witness to Christian truth in an increasingly hostile environment, and on how God might bring transformation in people’s lives today.