CHURCH House, Westminster, has issued a defence this week of Professor Glynn Harrison, a lay member of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), after it was alleged that he believed that sexual orientation could be changed.
Professor Harrison is Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Bristol, and one of the three members of the House of Laity of the General Synod sitting on the CNC, which will nominate the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He is the co-author of a booklet published by the Christian Medical Fellowship, Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction: Issues of pastoral counselling and support (News, 13 January).
A report published in The Guardian on Tuesday said that Professor Harrison “believes some gay people can be counselled to suppress or possibly change their sexual orientation”.
The Church House statement said: “Professor Glynn Harrison does not believe in concepts of ‘gay cure’ or ‘gay conversion’ and has never been involved in offering any formal counselling or ‘therapy’ in this area himself. Such descriptions, because they depend on inappropriate notions of ‘sickness’, convey simplistic and stigmatising views.”
The statement said that Professor Harrison “supports the current teaching of the Church of England in Issues in Human Sexuality”, and has written articles that challenge “the simplistic binary model . . . of human sexual orientation” (Comment, 9 December).
For those who experience “bisexual or same-sex attractions that conflict with their deeply-held religious convictions regarding sexual ethics”, Professor Harrison “fully supports” those who “choose a form of counselling support called ‘gay affirmative therapy’”. But he also “notes that others want to manage and integrate their sexual interests within the framework of a religious identity grounded in the traditional teaching of their faith”, and “supports the provision of sensitive and ethical counselling and pastoral support for such people, too”.
On Tuesday, the Thinking Anglicans website published some comments from Professor Michael King, director of the Mental Health Sciences Unit at University College London, responding to the statement. Professor King said: “It would seem that reported sexual orientation can change. However, one has to be very cautious in accepting this evidence — as we all know, people feel able to talk about their sexuality more and less frankly at different periods of their lives and to different audiences.”
Giles Fraser: Can orientation really be changed?
Question of the week: Do Professor Harrison’s views on sexuality matter when choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury?