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Dirty fighting and aversion therapy

24 April 2015

NOT much Church of England news in the papers this week. I tend to write on Tuesdays, of course; so there is always a risk that stories that appear on Wednesdays slip through the net, and there were, in fact, two follow-ups to last week's column.

Emily Dugan went to Christian Concern's anti-gay conference for The Independent, where she heard what the press was allowed to hear: "The afternoon sessions focus on circumnavigating a memorandum of understanding issued in January by NHS England and other leading bodies to 'protect the public from the risks of aversion therapy'.

"Refusing to accept the evidence presented by scores of respected medical bodies, retired GP Dr Peter May asks: 'Is it unethical to help someone modify sexual desires if they request it?' before mentioning 'sexual sins' including affairs, polygamy, and paedophilia."

This does seem to be a serious argument until you examine it. I can't see why anyone who genuinely wants to leave a chaste life should not have professional help with it. A doctor who told a troubled Roman Catholic priest to get over his silly scruples and just jump on the housekeeper (or the handsome Archbishop) would not be acting ethically. But such a therapist wouldn't be offering to "cure" patients of their desires, and certainly not trying to turn their attentions from the Archbishop to the housekeeper.

There are two further difficulties with the implied appeal to the sovereignty of patient choice. The first is that it goes only one way. I can't see Dr May approving of a colleague who was helping a patient who sincerely wished to be rid of his monogamous scruples and go out dogging every weekend.

The second is, of course, the amount of social pressure put on teenagers, especially, who could end up in such treatments. The problem here is analogous to forced marriages: just because your whole family wants you to do something and you say yes does not mean that you in fact consent.

also carried a lead on another story: "The Church of England is at risk of an unprecedented schism as conservat-ive Anglican leaders gather to discuss forming a 'parallel' Church in protest against women bishops and gay marriage."

Some of us have spent the past 30 years writing this story, or struggling not to write it. Where is the professional help for us?

THE best GAFCON story, actually, was hidden in Premier Christianity, the magazine of the radio station. It told of a Kenyan preacher whose father preferred traditional religion: "My death was to take place through cursing and the application of charms. Surrounded by my family, I heard my father curse me to the sun. 'As you go down, let David die so that when you rise tomorrow, he will be no more.'

"The next morning, I asked my mother whether I was dead or dreaming. Then I said, 'So now agree that my God is stronger than his god, and tell the rest of the family.'

"Furious, my father raised his sword to cut my neck and kill me, but I shouted, 'No, in Jesus' name' and his arm froze above my head. Unable to move or breathe, it was my father who was dying."

His father did not die, however, and the preacher now runs a network of 350 churches, or so he says. The Church of England must seem so very dull and lifeless, if this is the kind of story that you prefer.

FROM The New York Times a wonderful story about a tussle in a fading town in the Ozark mountains, Eureka Springs, between the local Christian tourist attraction - a Passion play - and the efforts of a rival gay-friendly faction on the town council to promote the pink dollar as the saviour of the local economy.

The fight is a dirty one. One newspaper ad read: "If you think tourists are going to be excited about even the possibility that their wives, daughters and girlfriends will be sharing a bathroom with a guy who decides he's 'transgender' just to have a little fun (or worse) at the ladies' expense, you don't know tourists and you don't know sex offenders."

But the progressives have struck back with economic arguments. The Passion play was a big thing in the 1960s, but the 4000-seat amphitheatre that was built to house it holds fewer and fewer visitors. Not all the missing are staying away for fear of gay cooties: "The passion-play management had been slow to adapt to changing trends over the years, declining to hold big Christian rock concerts when they became fashionable among young worshippers. Mayor Berry wondered how many people would want to return to the same play over and over again.

"'I mean, you kind of know the end of the story,' he said."

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