THE General Synod is being urged to condemn conversion therapy as “unethical and harmful” by a member who says that undergoing it led her into depression and a breakdown.
In a private member’s motion, Jayne Ozanne, an Evangelical from the diocese of Oxford, is asking the Synod to endorse a statement, signed this year by professional bodies, that conversion therapy “has no place in the modern world. It is unethical and harmful and not supported by evidence.”
The therapy, it says, assumes that “certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others, and seeks to change or suppress them on that basis”.
Signatories include the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the Royal College of General Practitioners. Ms Ozanne is calling on the Archbishop’ Council to join them “on behalf of the Church of England”.
On Friday, she said that this therapy had left her feeling “ashamed” and “embarrassed” and, ultimately, “very, very depressed, as the prayers continued not to be answered. I thought there was something deeply wrong. Why would God not answer these prayers? It led to two breakdowns, and my body cracking under the strain.”
She was speaking out, she said, because “I don’t want any other young LGBTI Christian to have go to through the trauma that I went through.”
In an accompanying note, she writes: “Conversion therapy is condemned by professionals as being harmful to LGBT people as it is based on a misguided belief that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is wrong. This leads to increased mental health problems for LGBT community due to stigmatisation. Given that many practitioners are non-medically trained religious leaders, it is imperative that the Church of England is unequivocal in its condemnation of such harmful practices.”
She lists talking therapies, prayer, and deliverance ministry as among the methods used.
A note from the Synod’s Secretary General, William Nye, published on Friday, says that “Christians are to be found on both sides of the argument that conversion therapy is intrinsically flawed,” but concludes: “Unless new and convincing evidence emerges that indicates conversion therapy is both safe and effective and, hence, can be practised ethically, it would be imprudent to support it.”
It notes that some professional bodies are not signatories to the 2017 statement, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP); and that it includes reference to “gender identities” as well as sexual orientation. The RCP has said that there is “no sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed”, and warned that “so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish”.
Ms Ozanne delivered a paper, “Spiritual Abuse: The next great scandal for the Church”, at a meeting of the College’s spirituality and psychiatry group in April. She warned that “the significant long-term harm that these church practices cause cannot be underestimated. . . Until the specific issue of Spiritual Abuse against LGBTI Christians is recognised and addressed . . . then the high rate of suicide, self-harm and depression amongst LGBTI Christians will continue to go unabated. It is imperative that professional organisations external to the religious institutions call for better safeguarding measures against spiritual abuse.”
Other Synod members include Dr Sean Doherty, a tutor at St Mellitus theological college, and trustee of Living Out, which seeks “to help Christian brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction stay faithful to Biblical teaching on sexual ethics and flourish at the same time”. Dr Doherty writes on the Living Out website that the charity does not support conversion therapy.
“We believe that attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation sends a number of potentially damaging messages,” he writes. “It sets people up for guilt and failure, and can be a distraction from more worthwhile goals. . . 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.”
But Living Out’s co-founder, Ed Shaw, who is also a General Synod member, said this week: “We believe that everyone, gay or straight, has the right to make their own informed choice whether to receive counselling or psychotherapy on any issue they might choose — including their sexuality. Passing this motion could limit that precious freedom.”