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CPAS opposes conversion therapy, says chair, after social-media furore

12 January 2024

THE Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) is opposed to conversion therapy, it says, in response to criticism of a statement on the charity’s website which refers to same-sex relations.

The Bishop of Horsham, the Rt Revd Ruth Bushyager, who chairs the CPAS’s trustees, said on Tuesday that the statement, which originated from the Evangelical Alliance, had been posted in November, but it was removed on Monday “following concerns raised about, for example, whether some wording within the document could be interpreted as supportive of conversion therapy.

“To be absolutely clear, CPAS is opposed to conversion therapy, and seeks to uphold the highest standards of safeguarding and pastoral best practice.”

On Saturday morning, the Revd Dr Charlie Bell, a psychiatrist and self-supporting minister in the diocese of Southwark (Interview, 19 August 2022, News, 19 September 2023), drew attention to the statement in a post on X (formerly Twitter), highlighting a passage about “organisations who responsibly seek to help Christians who experience same-sex attraction as in conflict with their commitment to live in accordance with biblical teaching”.

“This help will involve counsel and pastoral support to live a chaste life and, as part of this process, some may seek and experience changes in the strength or direction of their same-sex attractions,” the statement said.

Dr Bell’s post prompted wide discussion about the part played by the CPAS as one of the Church of England’s largest patrons, with rights of presentation to almost 700 parishes.

Bishop Bushyager said on Tuesday that the statement had been posted as part of the trustees response to the General Synod’s approval of the Prayers of Love and Faith (News, 15 November).

“Churches within our patronage represent a broad family, holding a spectrum of convictions, and our intention was to provide clarity about the trustees’ position, namely that they hold to the doctrine of the Church of England on marriage and sexual ethics,” she said.

She said that the Evangelical Alliance “has been working on producing a revised version of the document for many months, and the CPAS trustees wrote to them last year on this matter”.

In response to the question whether the CPAS, in its function as patron, would recommend a candidate who supported the introduction of same-sex blessings, or was in a same-sex civil partnership, Bishop Bushyager said: “We mainly present Evangelical priests to the bishop — but not exclusively so, and those priests hold a breadth of convictions surrounding the Prayers of Love and Faith and wider debates in the Church. CPAS does not collate data on the marital status of patronage clergy.” 

Besides being a patron, the CPAS runs holiday camps for children. Until Tuesday, a copy of the Affirmations on Sexuality was also on a website for the camps, until it, too, was removed.

On 2 January, diocesan directors of ministry and principals of theological colleges received a letter from the C of E’s Director for Ministry, Canon Nicholas McKee, which informed them that CPAS had been commissioned to undertake “research into incumbent development programmes which enable clergy to nurture flourishing work with children and young people”.

Asked whether there was any potential conflict of interest in the CPAS’s being tasked with recommending potential training partners when it offered such programmes itself, Bishop Bushyager said that the information gathered in the research project would be “owned by the National Church Institions, and the decision about which providers are commissioned for future work rests with them”.

The CPAS training programmes for church leaders include the Arrow Leadership Programme for 25-40 year olds, which is run by the Revd Jo McKee, wife of Canon McKee.

A statement issued on Thursday from the trustees of CPAS said: “We believe that every church and residential holiday we support should be a place of welcome and a community of love for anyone who attends, no matter their belief, gender, sexual orientation or background. . .

“We have training in place to ensure that Venture and Falcon holidays are safe, welcoming and accessible to a diversity of children and young people of any belief, race, ability, gender, sexual orientation, and financial circumstance. We provide training for church leaders which is designed to serve people from different theological positions. We work with bishops, archdeacons, elected parish representatives and a wide range of patrons to appoint a diversity of mission-minded clergy to grow local churches.

“We believe that the Christian faith is good news for everyone, and we will continue to reflect that conviction in all our ministries.”

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