Bishop of Manchester threatens orthodox Anglicans

Jun 11, 2021 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

“If I was to stand up on a soapbox and start spewing hate speech, the fact that I might begin by saying ‘Dear God’, and end by saying ‘Amen’ wouldn’t protect me…” But what the Bishop of Manchester goes on to say in this interview in the Guardian, and the context of his comments, lay him open to the charge of doing what he condemns – using a position of influence to promote a divisive ideology, relying on emotion and appeals to groupthink rather than reason, giving it a veneer of religious respectability.

He continues in the comment just quoted, that “hate speech” should receive “the full force of the law”. What is this “hate speech”? Perhaps he is referring to words which incite violence, or which are gratuitously insulting? Maybe it’s radical jihadists he hopes will face prosecution, or nutters who threaten to kill female MP’s on social media? No – he is referring to any Christian who says, or prays something to which an LGBT person takes offense.

Bishop David Walker sets out his view supporting a hard line interpretation of the proposed ban on ‘conversion therapy’ in an article on the Jayne Ozanne blog   . 

He argues for a ‘victim-centred’ approach, whereby if anyone claims to have experienced ‘harm’ through prayer, counselling or other “attempts to change sexuality”, they automatically are deemed to have suffered abuse, and that abuser must be punished.  To buttress this ideological position which obviously could lead to unjust persecution of some orthodox Christian pastoral ministry, the bishop quotes the Magnificat and refers to the Gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Is this not remarkably similar to the behaviour he so condemns – that of using a position of power as a ‘soapbox’ to promote views that call for punishment of those he doesn’t agree with (aka ‘hate speech’?), and using religious language in so doing?

Bishop David begins his article with what might be described as a humility deficit. After successfully (in his estimation) chairing the 2017 General Synod debate on ‘conversion therapy’ [has anyone asked whether it was appropriate to give this task to someone so obviously biased?], the bishop “could hardly move for members wanting to thank me for having managed the debate with pace, clarity and good humour.” Now at last, he implies, Parliament has caught up: “I took the opportunity to remind Parliament of the Synod vote and was delighted when the government minister responding to the debate, Baroness Susan Williams, endorsed my comments.”

He moves on to complain that the proposed government consultation process is “foot-dragging”. Nor should time be wasted, in his view, establishing clearly in law the difference between bullying and abuse on the grounds of sexual orientation, which is already proscribed, and prayer and/or counselling carried out in response to request for help by those choosing to follow a path in accordance with their beliefs. While in the Guardian interview he does appear to draw such a distinction, in his Via Media piece he says let’s just “get on with it” in terms of a blanket ban; let’s leave it up to judges to decide whether certain types of prayer have broken the law; we can always tweak the law later.

The Bishop uses an analogy to compare Christians involved in such pastoral care, with privileged male abusers of young teenage girls in the 19th century. Those arguing for a nuanced approach to government legislation are, he says, like those arguing against the raising of the age of consent to 16 years.

It is almost unbelievable that a bishop in the Church of England can make these statements. He must surely realise that although he says in his Guardian interview that he couldn’t “guarantee that nothing inappropriate ever happens in the diocese of Manchester”, there are many clergy and lay ministers in his Diocese who believe and teach that marriage between a man and a woman is the only context authorised by God for sexual expression. These folk would in a pastoral situation not simply affirm LGBT identity and behaviour; they might refer same sex attracted church members to organisations providing support and encouragement for celibacy, they might pray and/or offer counselling in response to expressed hope for change in behaviour or desires. It’s one thing for the Bishop to disagree with the sexual ethics of the Christian church down the ages. He is going much further than that – he is campaigning for the criminalisation of many of his own faithful clergy who hold to the traditional view.

Again, the hypocrisy is breathtaking. He quotes Scripture to remind us that God is on the side of the poor and oppressed, and believes that he is taking a stand on behalf of powerless victims against a shadowy majority of abusers with power. But he is the one with power; the elites who share his view are about to use their power to get what they want. Meanwhile this so-called powerful conspiracy of abusive conversion therapists against whom the bishop is so bravely and prophetically taking a stand and seeking to punish and eliminate, in fact consist of a few Christians seeking to follow Christ in helping others, with no influence at all.

He claims there is a “massive pile of evidence” to show the prevalence of Christian ‘conversion therapy’ and its “harm”, in the form of “harrowing stories”. While it would be a mistake to minimise the psychological damage which can happen in any situation of coercive control, bullying and manipulation, or to call into question the authenticity of the testimonies on the Via Media site, it would be disastrous to base potentially unjust new laws on such testimonies, without weighing up other evidence.

We regularly hear through all forms of media how people have found happiness after embracing an LGBT identity. Have the legislators heard testimonies from those who have had a different experience, who have moved away from same sex attraction, relationships or identity which did not bring contentment, and have found a new wholeness as a result? Is it not possible that in the current cultural climate, it is these people, who number perhaps in the thousands, those who are no longer LGBT following freely chosen prayer and/or therapy, who are the silenced, the oppressed, the not valued, and the tiny number of those who help them and are punished for doing so, who are the true victims?

The bishop, rather than upholding the wonderful biblical doctrines of sex and marriage which remains the Church of England’s official teaching, is campaigning for the agenda of Stonewall (increasingly discredited), and the Ozanne Foundation. In conjunction with politicians, lawyers, media and other powerful forces living in their own echo chambers, he is threatening ordinary Christians, while using biblical language to claim that he is advocating for the oppressed.

One could take the view that this is just one bad apple in an otherwise sound institution. On the other hand, is his prominent position in the church and in the national discourse in fact symptomatic of its trajectory, and it is faithful and concerned members of that institution, rather than the bishop, who should ‘consider their position’?

See also: Thinking about harm, by Martin Davie: “We simply cannot say that the evidence shows that conversion therapy in relation to sexual orientation is necessarily harmful.”



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