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Do Sexual Orientation Change Efforts cause harm? Possibly, but….

Peter Ould writes: In the upcoming Church of England General Synod in York, a motion around “conversion therapy” will be debated. The motion is proposed by Jayne Ozanne, the revisionist activist, and is accompanied by a Royal College of Psychiatrists paper in her name (though it is necessary to point out the fact that Ozanne has no professional qualifications or experience in either psychiatry or statistical research) which repeats often made claims about the harm that Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) cause. Wheeled out in defence of this claim is the 2002 paper by Shidlo and Shroder (S&S), “Changing Sexual Orientation : A Consumer’s Report” which is often cited as evidence that SOCE are harmful. But does this paper actually show that, and if it does, what else does it show?


Survey Method

Before we look at the raw data, it’s worth reflecting on the method that S&S used to compile their research. A sample was gathered of individuals who had been through some form of SOCE through various methods. For example, the advert to the right was used in gay community magazines and newspapers to gather suitable candidates. This means that the 202 people surveyed were not a balanced sample but rather were skewed towards trying to find people who could speak to the hypothesis that SOCE caused harm. We call this kind of sample a “biased sample” but it’s important not to see “bias” as a negative word. Bias simply refers to the fact that the sample is not random but rather is leaning to a particular type of person or experience.

In qualitative research, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If for example I want to explore issues around particular people experience an allergic reaction to a particular food, you try and find those people. It’s no good asking someone who doesn’t get an allergic reaction questions around their allergic reaction. That said, such a biased sample for talking about allergic reactions to a foodstuff can tell me nothing about the likelihood of someone in the wider population having that allergic reaction. In a similar way, the S&S sample cannot tell us anything about the wider group of all people who undertake SOCE of some form or another – all it can do is tell us about the 202 people surveyed and what their experiences were.

As to the measures of help and harm, these were all self-reported. Simply put, the researchers asked each individual in the sample whether they felt they had been helped or harmed by the particular intervention, and then explored that answer with them. On average people were self-reporting 12 years after the event and there was no attempt made to check whether the self-report of help or harm could be assessed by an independent analyst. Compare this to Jones and Yarhouse 2011 (J&Y 2011) which tried to do independent assessments of all individuals involved in SOCE before, during and after their engagement in the therapy.

Shidlo and Shroder were well aware of the limitations of their approach and they write (p254):

First, because we emphasized breadth of inquiry and yet were constrained to keep the interview within a reasonable time limit (approximately 90 min), we used single items for each domain of functioning; this methodological decision came at the expense of sensitivity, reliability, and content and construct validity. Second, participants who felt harmed and unhappy about their therapy experience may have answered affirmatively to a deterioration in a particular area and attributed it to the conversion therapy because of a negative halo-effect or narrative smoothing (Rhodes et al., 1994) rather than having provided an accurate recollection of actual change in that particular area. Thus, instead of using the checklist as a quantitative measure of negative effects, we used these items as qualitative interview-prompts to help respondents explore areas of deterioration. Our results, therefore, focus on the meanings of harm attributed by clients, and the accuracy of these attributions remains to be determined by future process-and-outcome research

In my engagement with revisionists on this piece of research, this important limitation in the understanding of “harm” is rarely acknowledged and certainly the important distinction between self-reported harm and independently assessed harm is almost never acknowledged.


Data

Attached to this piece is a spreadsheet which contains the original paper and some summary data compiled from the bottom of the left-hand column on page 257. It is important to understand what the data in the spreadsheet is and isn’t. S&S surveyed 202 people but they report 304 different treatments in that sample. This means that some people may have had more than one treatment and they may have had a mix of clinical and non-clinical treatments and a mix of self-perceived success and failure in those treatments. Each row in the “Master Database” sheet is one single treatments and an individual in the sample may be represented by more than one row. We have no way of knowing which rows represent the same person.

“Clinical” is described by S&S on page 250 as various forms of recognised psychotherapeutic engagement. “Non-Clinical” is defined as peer groups, attending Homosexuals Anonymous, an ex-gay residential programme or any other form of non-classic psychotherapeutic approaches. This would include, for example, a Living Waters ministry group.

Shidlo Shroder 2002


Results

Based on the limited data on the bottom of page 257, I was able to analyse how different approaches (199 Clinical vs 1-5 Non-Clinical) led to different outcomes (Help and Harm, Self-perceived Success and Failure). The summary is below and the table shows the mean for each sub-group, together with the confidence interval of the mean.

SP Success SP Failure Helpful Harmful
All 0.15 (0.11 – 0.19) 0.85 (0.81 – 0.89) 0.61 (0.55 – 0.66) 0.85 (0.81 – 0.89)
Clinical 0.16 (0.10 – 0.21) 0.84 (0.79 – 0.90) 0.56 (0.49 – 0.63) 0.83 (0.78 – 0.87)
Non Clinical 0.14 (0.07 – 0.21) 0.86 (0.79 – 0.93) 0.70 (0.61 – 0.78) 0.88 (0.81 – 0.94)
SP Success   1 (1) 0.30 (0.17 – 0.44)
SP Failure   0.54 (0.48 – 0.60) 0.95 (0.92 – 0.97)
SP Failure and Clinical 0.48 (0.41 – 0.55) 0.93 (0.90 – 0.97)
SP Failure and Non-Clinical 0.64 (0.54 – 0.75) 0.97 (0.93 – 1.00)

What does this tell us? First, when we look at the measures of self-perceived success and failure both sub-groups and the overall population show clear separation between the two outcomes. The sample were on average almost six times more likely to report failure rather than success, and that pattern doesn’t vary whether the therapeutic approaches were clinical or non-clinical. This 15% “success” rate is similar to that found in the J&Y 2011 longitudinal study and is higher than that of Dehlin et at (2015).

Of more interest is the self-reporting of whether the therapies were helpful and/or harmful. Participants were able to report both observations and interestingly, although 85% said they had been harmed by the therapies, 61% also said that they had been helped. That value falls to 56% when we look just at clinical interventions and the confidence interval dips below 50%. This means that we cannot say with certainty that clinical SOCE therapies are on average helpful. However, when we look at the non-clinical interventions we see a much higher “help” rate and the other interesting observation is that the full confidence ranges of helpful and harmful are very close indeed (0.78 to 0.81). Just a few more either way and we would have said that we could not be sure that non-clinical therapies caused more harm than they helped.

Even amongst those who self-reported failure, the mean of the self-report of helpful was 0.54 and almost statistically significant as to be more likely than not to help. Once we drill down into those who self-reported failure after a non-clinical therapy, the mean of helpful moves into a statistically significant level above 0.5, indicating a degree of confidence (despite the small sub-sample) that even a self-perceived failure in a religious therapy is more likely than not to be helpful to the client.

The difference in “helpful” outcomes between clinical and non-clinical therapies (particularly where a failure is self-reported) is the most striking feature of the whole dataset. Shidlo and Shroder were at pains to point out that results like this demanded more research. They wrote (top of rhs of page 257):

Future research needs to provide detailed accounting of the active components of conversion therapies and to clarify their relationship to help and harm. This effort requires a rigorous operationalization of conversion therapies and measurement of in-session therapist behavior and patient response.

This is exactly the same call for further research that I made in a recent article for Christian Today. To date, only one longitudinal study has been conducted to attempt to answer the questions raised by Shidlo and Shroder (Jones and Yarhouse 2011) and that reported a statistically significant absence of harm for participants in SOCE.


Observations

The use of Shidlo and Shroder 2002 in the debate around the efficacy and consequences of SOCE raises issues around how we report research in the area.

First, we need to fully report all the data honestly and openly. Most revisionist reporting of this study completely ignores the high level of self-reporting of “help” from SOCE, especially for more religiously focussed therapeutic approaches. Where quantitative data exists, we need to utilise all of it and build hypotheses around the entirety of the evidence, not just the parts that fit our dogma. This goes the same for those of a more conservative persuasion – there is often a tendency to cherry pick the results that support your particular position at the expense of those that don’t.

Second, we need to understand up front the limitations of any particular piece of research. For Shidlo and Shroder 2002 the most obvious limitation is the sample bias and past recall issue. We cannot use these results to extrapolate to a wider SOCE population because (a) we do not know if the S&S population is properly representative of the kind of people who go through SOCE (it appears that the sample is biased towards those who self-perceived being harmed by SOCE) and (b) the gap between the SOCE and the self-reporting (on average 12 years) is sufficient enough to raise issues of false recall. Limitations do not invalidate research, they simply qualify it.

Dehlin et al (2015) explored a larger sample of LDS (Mormon) men and women who had been through some form of SOCE and reported low “success” rates and some level of self-reported “harm”. Again, this study, though with a much larger sample, suffers from the same basic issue as Shidlo and Shroder in that the harm was never clinically assessed, was not compared to mental health states before therapy, attempts no quantitative analysis to detect a causal chain for “harm” and also does not attempt to identify any other external mental health influencers (there is some evidence to show that the LDS population as a whole has higher mental issues such as depression than the overall population, chiefly because of the nature of LDS Church demands on people’s public and private lives – Jensen et al (1993), Idler et al (1998), Exline et al (2000) etc).

Dehlin et al (2015) also uses a convenience sample like Shidlo and Shroder (2002) that is biased and the authors identify this as the key limitation of their work on page 10, and indeed go as far as to say:

Our reliance on convenience sampling limits our ability to generalize our findings to the entire population of same-sex attracted current and former LDS church members.

Despite this, it is commonly cited to influence the debate in non-LDS religious environments even though the authors have clearly stated its limitations.

Third, the opinion of professional bodies is important, but again we need to reflect the wide body of opinion that they represent. The RCP has changed its position on SOCE over the past few years, sometimes in response to criticism that it has not fairly represented the full breadth of the research, and the American Psychological Association, arguably the leading professional body of therapists in the world, is very cautious when it refers to the efficacy of SOCE. They say “There are no studies of adequate scientific rigor to conclude whether or not recent SOCE do or do not work to change a person’s sexual orientation” and on the subject of harm they report that, “sound data on the safety of SOCE [is] extremely limited”. The idea that there is a clear scientific consensus on the effectiveness or harm of SOCE is clearly not true.

Gilman et al (2001) has, in a highly regarded study, explored the causes of general higher mental health issues in the LGB community and concluded,

the precise causal mechanism at this point remains unknown.  Therefore, studies are needed that directly test mediational hypotheses to evaluate, for example, the relative salience of social stigmatization and of psychosocial and lifestyle factors as potential contributors.

It is only by examining mediational hypotheses in a longitudinal manner that we can look at *changes* in mental health in those who undertake SOCE and separate out more generic mental health issues around religious belief and sexuality and the specific effect of engaging in SOCE.

Fourth, the suggestions for further research are as important a part of an academic paper as the results. Statistical observations like the way the confidence intervals for help and harm on the non-clinical therapies are very close do not “prove” things, they merely point towards what the ultimate truth is. Research leads to more research leads to more research. There has been precious little unbiased study on the effects of SOCE and the research that does exist all pushes us towards needing more inquiry.

Fifth, there is a large body of work (Diamond, Dickson et al, Mock et al for starters) that explores sexual orientation mutability outside of a therapeutic framework. There is arguably a better corpus of work to support the notion that for a significant proportion of the population sexual orientation can naturally change over time, than there is to support the idea that SOCE are very likely to cause harm. The discussion and research around SOCE needs to take into account this natural fluidity and see if there are any common factors between those who report change without attempting change and those who anecdotally report SOCE have worked.

Sixth, the discussion in the General Synod should be primarily driven by theology. Until we have a coherent theology of gender, sex and marriage that is owned by the General Synod, it is improper to pass individual motions that prejudge that. In order for Synod to come to a conclusion on the harm of SOCE, first it must have clearly in mind what it is it is condemning and be aware of the wide body of anecdote on both sides of the issue. Most of the academic research does not engage with some of the deeper spiritual issues that are explored by non-clinical therapeutic interventions and where the intersection between sexual orientation, sexual identity and spiritual growth is explored (as Shidlo and Shroder 2002 does on p257) it is often cursory. We should be more open to listen to the spiritual narratives of both those who claim to have been harmed by SOCE and also those who claim to have experienced personal spiritual growth from it.

Conclusion

Members of General Synod should be cautious in passing motions based on cursory and disputed evidence that they have probably not read themselves. The overwhelming majority of “proof” that is offered to support the idea that SOCE harm people is both anecdotal in nature and lacks any independent assessment of the alleged harm. Often, as in Shidlo and Shroder 2002, the raw data reveals more than the headlines and indicates complexity and nuance which needs to be taken into account. Finally, leading secular therapeutic organisations recognise that the level of research that is required to make a definitive declaration of the outcomes of SOCE has yet to be undertaken.

The Ozanne General Synod motion is ultimately a political weapon designed to pre-judge a theological and pastoral journey that the House of Bishops has set out upon. As has been shown above, one of the key planks of “evidence” that it relies on actually tells a far subtler story than the black and white “SOCE causes harm” picture that is portrayed in Ozanne’s RCP paper.

As Christians we should look to weight evidence carefully. It may very well be that once further balanced research is undertaken it becomes clear that SOCE do normatively lead to distinct forms of harm that can be qualified. We are not however at that point and there is enough anecdotal evidence on both sides of the argument, including personal narratives from General Synod members themselves, and also quantitative evidence within the limited research to suggest that the issue is not as clear cut as some might make it out to be.

Revd Peter Ould is a Church of England priest based in Canterbury. He works in the field of statistical research and application and writes and broadcasts on issues around the Church, sex and statistics.


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38 Responses to Do Sexual Orientation Change Efforts cause harm? Possibly, but….

  1. Phill Sacre July 1, 2017 at 10:12 am #

    Thank you Ian and Peter for publishing this. One thing which I also wonder about – are the same kind of analyses made of other types of counselling? My wife has had psychodynamic counselling before and I don’t think she found it at all helpful – in fact I think it was pretty tough. Maybe you could even say it caused harm…

    When you start thinking about counselling as a whole, it seems strange only real discussion of harm is on SOCE – and at that point you find yourself thinking, is this evidence driven or ideologically driven? I suspect the latter.

  2. Philip Almond July 1, 2017 at 11:43 am #

    I make no comment on SOCE.
    But on a related issue:
    If (as I believe – I know it is fiercely disputed) same-sex attraction is a sinful tendency and a result of the Fall, it may, like any other sinful tendency, like the tendency not to obey the command to be content with food and clothing (and give the money saved to those in need), remain in Christians until death and involve Christians in a lifelong battle to resist succumbing to whatever sinful tendency they have. Of course salvation is a process, punctuated by events and declarations (like regeneration and justification), to conform Christians to the image of Christ. That process and those events and declarations include a combination of God’s secret work in our souls and the use of appropriate means. Ultimately the timing of the completion of the process is in God’s hands.

    I point out yet again that a discussion of (and quite probably disagreement on) the Doctrine of Original Sin is a necessary prerequisite to the sexuality disagreement.

    Phil Almond

    • Christopher Shell July 1, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

      Exactly! There are lots of things that are not good for us that are hard to drop. That is elementary.

      They are considerably harder in a hostile society. That is also elementary.

  3. Rhona Knight July 1, 2017 at 11:57 am #

    I used to teach medics medical ethics and my husband still teaches them statistics. Good ethics begins with good facts. I trust that this is also true for General Synod?

    Might it be prudent to ensure that members of General Synod have at least a basic understanding of evidence and statistics – the benefits and limitations – so that they can bring this understanding to all relevant debates?

    While in medical ethics the angle or world view people bring to decision making will vary, at General Synod we can hope that – even with the diversity of church person ship in the Church of England – that they are all seeking to love God and neighbour?

    • Christopher Shell July 1, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

      Hear, hear.

      The debate stands and falls by statistics, and a statistically informed presentation must always easily trump one that is based on ‘surely’, ‘in this day and age’, ‘of the people I know’, ‘a new progressive vision’, and a priori arguments which are totally unnecessary when we already have so much data.

    • Patrick Moore July 6, 2017 at 3:05 pm #

      “Good ethics starts with good facts”

      Really?

      I dont think I need to know the murder rates in London or Bogota to know in my knower that killing someone who annoys me on the way home tonight is bad ethics.

      What “good facts” would have helped me to arrive at that conclusion?

      The effectiveness of a clinical treatment might be quantifiable, but a subjective judgement about the ethical merits of that treatment cannot be understood through statistics about whether the treatment is effective or not.

      There is a zero rate of re-offending amongst prisoners who are executed for murder. Does this mean that the death penalty is ethical?

      I am not trying to draw any sort of parallel between homosexuality and murder, I am simply trying to point out the logical error in what you are saying.

      So if we are looking for an ethical authority on this, then surely our first and most important source is scripture. This sets the context in which we decide whether a certain course of action has ethical merit or not.

      Then we can try to use statistics to judge the effectiveness of SOCE or any other form of counselling, and if it proves not to be effective then we can seek some other means of achieving the same ethical objective.

      That doesn’t seem very complicated to me.

  4. Simon July 1, 2017 at 12:36 pm #

    Rhona, your desire for informed evidence based discussion surrounded by love for God and one’s neighbour is utterly right. But loving God and loving your SSA neighbour will look very different to the person who thinks SSA is fixed and a blessing in creation gifted by God, to the person who believes it is rooted in original sin and part of the structure of the fall and changeable.

    • Christopher Shell July 1, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

      All the more reason why people should be informed about the details of the evidence and not just stick to absolutist polarised positions. Then they would not simply fall into those 2 stereotyped camps in the first place.

      • Simon July 1, 2017 at 2:02 pm #

        Christopher – the ABCs suggestion that only a miracle will resolve this surely suggests these polarities are not stereotyped but actual and dominant. Of course others will not align with either but who are they and where are they?

        • Christopher Shell July 1, 2017 at 10:32 pm #

          Simon, it is absolutely impossible that honest people objectively reviewing the evidence could come to polarised conclusions.

          This is the very reverse of normal distribution.

          And the very idea that ‘positions’ or stances could be so monochrome is itself a nonsense, since the big question includes so many different sub-issues. Intelligent people would therefore find it difficult to generalise. I don’t see the present participants being wary of generalising.

          It is the outcomes that are 2 in number (and therefore polarised), not the issues. Therefore the polarised situation means that people want to jump to conclusions, very probably the conclusion that suits them, whether or not it is warranted by the evidence.

          Conclusion: the following are widespread: either (a) lack of honesty, (b) lack of objectivity, (c) lack of intelligent research, or knowledge of what the facts actually are – or any combination of these. In my own work over many years I know for a fact that (c) is true. I have also repeatedly pointed out instances even among those who have thought most about it (e.g. on this blog) where (a) and (b) are true.

          What D O’Callaghan writes deserves scrutiny.

          • Christopher Shell July 1, 2017 at 10:41 pm #

            The reason why positions are (superficially) polarised is obvious to me: Christianity and the sexual revolution cannot possibly be reconciled (it is like chalk and cheese) and it is a mystery to me why anyone would want to ‘reconcile’ (yuk) something so good with something so horrible. But the worst thing is the time-wasting. ‘What fellowship *can* there be between…’ as Paul says.

            Don’t people realise that this is our only one life and we could spend it advancing the kingdom; these things are diversionary tactics which will leave people cheated and unfulfilled at the end of their lives. ‘I wasted my life in seeking compromise. That was bad enough to live a compromised life, by definition – but the worst of it was that this particular compromise could never have happened in a million years and would have produced a mutant monster even if it did happen.’

            I am not sure people get the thing about time-wasting and allocation of limited and very precious time. Had enemy/-ies planned a diversionary tactic to stop good work being done, this kind of scheme, with all the trappings of ‘equality’, would have been seen as a masterstroke. Oh, wait a minute – maybe they actually did….

    • Will Jones July 1, 2017 at 1:50 pm #

      I don’t think an inclination has to be changeable in order to be counted as inappropriate. It just has to be resistable. God doesn’t say we will cease to experience wrong desire, just that he will help us to control ourselves soberly and conduct ourselves rightly. It is however pleasing to think that wrong desire can be transformed and no longer burden us.

      • Patrick Moore July 6, 2017 at 3:31 pm #

        I have often heard testimony of people who had ingrained issues that were resolved through grace, often at the point when that person gave their life to Christ.

        I have personally known people who were alcoholics, drug addicts or had gambling problems that left them when they were born again.

        I gather Spurgeon had a very bad problem with anger that was lifted off him through prayer.

        None of this would be controversial to most believing christians.

        It only gets controversial when it comes to sexual oritentation.

        I think the controversy around this is wrapped up in the issues of identity politics.

        Most of us, at some time in our lives, have probably been cruel, gossiped, been angry or vengeful, perhaps been sexually immoral or been gluttinous or drunk. Do we then walk around labelling ourselves as “I’m a gossip” or “see me – I’m an adulterer”.

        Of course not. We freely recognise those (hopefully past) sins as sin, and move on – secure in our identities as children of God.

        But for many in the gay community, their whole identity, social group, and world outlook is defined through their sexual orientation.

        This presents a massive issue for someone in that community who has an encounter with Christ. Who does Christ say they are versus who do they, their friends and the world say they are?

        I heard Bobby Connor tell a story about how he was going onto a TV chat show and in the green room beforehand he met an actor who was also a guest on the show who introduced himself as a gay Christian.

        Bobby’s response was to tell him that he was confused about one of the two.

        Its simply not possible to self identify as gay, and be living an active gay lifestyle and be a christian, just as it is not possible to be an active and self identifying liar (substitie in any sin of your choice) to happily go on lying and be a christian.

        The church needs to be brave enough and truly loving enough to the gay community to be straight with them on this – no pun intended. Spouting a load of half truths and non scriptural platitudes – in the pious hope of not giving offense – is not being loving (and of course it is possible to be true to scripture without being objectionable)

  5. Don Benson July 1, 2017 at 3:54 pm #

    Where human activity is concerned I think there are 3 stages where society or particular organisations (such as churches) are moved to act regarding problematic behaviour. Firstly you might wish to educate people with basic or more detailed knowledge of the facts. Secondly you might wish to give warnings of the risks and likely negative consequences of engaging in a course of action. Finally you might consider that coercion is necessary, and prohibition along with penalties are enacted; this final step will often be taken in view of a perception (real or imagined) of unacceptable harm being done to innocent people (not least children) who might either not comprehend or be unable to avoid the risk to themselves if a certain course of action is taken.

    The inclination to jump straight to coercion is the all too frequent stuff of politics and we all recognise it as an increasingly default response to whatever issue arises – perhaps never more so than in today’s society where pondering the spiritual is eclipsed by hysteria regarding the temporal.

    Jayne Ozanne’s motion to synod is a case in point. Jayne is a feisty lady (and that’s not a sin) who employs her energy more effectively than some of us might wish (that’s not a sin either). But few can fail to have noticed that Jayne is pretty keen on stage 3 – coercion – and she’s not happy with people who waste time on personal observations, searching for the facts, weighing up the evidence or elucidating the realities; in fact she can be pretty dismissive of them. Well Jayne’s hasty put-downs may be part of the rich kaleidoscope of online debate which we all enjoy but surely General Synod must be more reticent and more careful to do its homework as diligently as it is able, to do its research, its thinking, its bible study and its praying before it condemns and outlaws the efforts of some people to help others with a particular problem.

    And even if that help (conversion therapy) is not always effective, possibly harmful at times (so too are some medical interventions), it cannot be said to be forced on people. No one need attend a particular church or meet with a particular group of Christians or psychiatric counsellors; no one is physically constrained before being subjected to physical or psychological abuse; and no one is prevented from going to the police if such abuse were to occur. However, it’s certainly the case that any unwanted psychological pressure is to be condemned – Synod might think a statement along those lines is worth doing, although it shouldn’t need saying.

    But what if some people with same sex attraction really do wish to be released from it – at least to give it a shot? Could it ever be right for General Synod to say, in effect: “sorry mate, you’re stuck with your homosexuality, and there’s no way you’ll ever break free from it, and we condemn without reserve anyone who tries to help you, even if that is what you want?” Does not the right to make that decision rest with the sufferer who daily lives with the problem rather than some remote synod, many members of whom may not be fully acquainted either with those realities or the scientific evidence such as it presently is? Apparently we’re now quite happy (even encouraging) for people with gender identity problems to choose to undergo pretty radical surgery for which there is no guarantee of a problem-free future either. Is not this really all about an area of current church politics which takes its cue from cultural Marxism?

    But where do truth and true freedom lie? Who is to decide?

    I wonder what the Great Physician would say.

  6. Rusty Writer July 2, 2017 at 6:13 am #

    Wow, reading the article and comments here is truly sad. Such belligerent ignorance and self-serving deceptions. The World Psychiatric Association joined every national medical association calling for an end to the practice of reparative gay conversion therapy, with its long shameful history of abuse de to prejudiced assumptions hidden under the mask of medical science. It is clear now that a person’s sexual orientation is not an illness and thus obviously cannot be cured (and no need).
    There will still be religions bringing up the rear on this issue, as has been the case with almost every civil rights advance and with increasing psychological understanding replacing ancient prejudices and superstitions.
    EVERY MAJOR, DECADES-OLD EX-GAY MINISTRY CLOSED DOWN SINCE 2013 WHEN THE LEADERS ADMITTED NO CHRISTIANS HAD EXPERIENCED A CHANGE FROM HOMOSEXUAL TO HETEROSEXUAL.

    • Will Jones July 2, 2017 at 8:11 am #

      How can a lack of attraction to the opposite sex, and attraction to the same sex, be clearly not a problem when:
      a) Reproduction is a basic function of the organism (one of the most basic functions) and anything else which impedes it is a medical condition
      b) Any person might reasonably wish to be able to have their own family (genetically) with their own spouse

      Efforts to assert that there is nothing wrong with lacking attraction to the opposite sex and experiencing attraction to the same sex, and no person could reasonably think there is, just feel like increasingly forceful attempts to deny the obvious. What could be more obvious than that the male is designed to be attracted to the female and vice versa? This isn’t outdated prejudice; it’s just common sense.

    • Peter den Haan July 2, 2017 at 5:41 pm #

      Rusty Writer, Peter’s contention precisely is that the evidence is ambiguous. It’s therefore interesting that you have used reams of emotive words without even trying to address the substantive points being made. Your talk about “increasing psychological understanding” is therefore mere posturing. You’re engaging neither with the evidence, nor with Peter’s analysis.

      I would suggest that there is an awful lot of groupthink going on in this area. I’d also suggest that the ministries you refer to have shut down for many reasons, and that clear clinical evidence is not among those reasons – whatever the press releases might say.

      Finally, you seem to ascribe to your opponents a rather crude concept of sexual orientation change that they do not in fact hold. There’s a whiff of straw man here.

    • Mat Sheffield July 2, 2017 at 8:48 pm #

      I’ll make my point through unsubtle and sarcastic editing of Rusty’s comment.

      “Wow, reading this comment and it’s sub-comments here is truly sad, as it challenges my own belligerent ignorance and self-serving deception. The World Psychiatric Association joined every national medical association in doubting the efficacy of conversion therapy and calling for more data.Clearly ‘conversion therapy’ has a shameful history, often due to prejudiced assumptions, assumptions which are occasionally hidden under the mask of medical science.

      However, it is still open to debate how best to classify sexual orientation outside what is normative (heterosexuality), but there is a strong (if not overwhelming) consensus that the classification of “illness”, or “disease” is unhelpful. That is not say that this remains unchallenged, nor that those challenges are without cause.

      There will still be religions bringing up the rear on this issue, as the church often falls out-of-step with societal attitudes. But this is neither a problem, nor indeed of any relevance to the debate, as the church’s role is not to conform to the desire of progressive modernity, but to follow God’s will. This is why the church has so often been at the front of the civil rights movement.

      A GREAT MANY GAY-CONVERSION MINISTRIES HAVE CLOSED DOWN SINCE 2013, AS THE WEIGHT OF SCHOLARSHIP HAS SHOWN THEM TO BE INEFFECTIVE.

      • Rusty Writer July 2, 2017 at 9:11 pm #

        I can see there is a willful effort here to not comprehend, but don’t worry. Your grandkids will not even remember there was a fuss about all this as they grow up knowing LGBT people in their family clan, friends and colleagues. There have always been LGBT people in every part of the church. The only difference now is that they are honest about it. Prejudice against LGBT people based on bible verses will take its place in the dustbin of history with those who said the bible proved epileptics are demon-possessed, that women have no rights, that interracial marriage was a sin and that slavery was God-approved in both old and new testaments, so they defended it. Jim Crow laws, segregation and many other evils have been done in the name of the bible, but in time Christians learn and change.
        PS science is on the verge of being able to let same-sex couples create their own biological children together (Google it). That will make the old arguments even less relevant.
        PPS Homosexuality is perfectly natural, but the one thing we all must agree is not found throughout nature is marriage. That is a totally human-made event. And don’t bother saying God created marriage. In the Creation myth of Adam and Eve, God did NOT institute a marriage ceremony or contract. And Jesus only spoke on the topic in terms of divorce in Mk 10 and Mt 19, though many falsely pretend that this is Jesus speaking against same-sex marriage which is clearly not the topic of discussion.
        No matter how much any of you argue against homosexuality, it will never change the reality that some people are LGBT and will always be that way. You might as well be against green eyes. You can force people to pretend by covering up the truth, but they don’t change such a basic trait.

        • Mat Sheffield July 2, 2017 at 9:52 pm #

          I don’t even know where to begin…

          1. To start, my main point was simple and you seem to have missed even that: namely that you were making a great many generalized statements about the supposed consensus (both scientific and religious), a consensus that does not really hold up. You have claimed they speak the result you want, when actually, like most good scientists, they have sat on the fence until they can be conclusive. You’ll note that my edits do not actually reverse much of what you said, but rather seek a more accurate middle-ground…

          At best the Psychiatric consensus is skeptical about these therapies and at worst it is worried/concerned, but I don’t think any respectable formal body would stretch to say the sorts of thing you have, as if they represent a united front against the evils of SOCE. I personally am against such therapies too, but simply on the pragmatic ground they don’t seen to work. I have no desire for an ethical debate, though given that there is consensus that sexuality seems malleable and fluid, I don’t think that such therapies are, a priori, unethical, but that they can be done in unethical (i.e coercive/manipulative) ways.

          2. In both your comments you blame the church (or religion in general) for being regressive and detrimental to progress (specifically civil rights and progressive issues), listing it’s crimes as if they prove anything other than your own ignorance of history and one-sided view of it. This argument is as patronizing as it is unnecessary.

          3. On marriage too you are making another ridiculous argument. Of course marriage is not found in nature, but no one has ever claimed marriage is ‘natural’ in that sense. Monogamy even, is rare. ‘Marriage’ however exists to solemnise in the eyes of God something that IS fundamentally natural, the male-female binary, in union together, with a shared commission and purpose. The ceremonial aspects of marriage are a largely man-made construct, but the foundation on which such things are built is solidly biblical. So yes, while we don’t have a methodological construct for the ceremony, or the word marriage, Genesis nonetheless screams, through-and-through, the necessity of it. So please don’t lecture us with your sloppy exegesis and lazy conflation of unrelated topics (no one here, in any of the comments on this section have even mentioned divorce).

          4. Thank you for telling me it’s perfectly natural and that nothing I say can do anything to change your mind. Removing yourself from the debate in such a manner saves any of us having to do it for you.

          Mat

        • Mat Sheffield July 2, 2017 at 10:00 pm #

          If you want to know why I’m responding in such a caustic tone, it’s because I spent a significant amount of time in the last few days responding to comments and defending people who were going out of their way to be honest and critical about sensitive and complex issues, even when I disagreed with them.

          Your post above basically reduces this fine balance to “I’m right, you’re wrong, that’s the end of it and nothing you can say can change my mind (CAPSLOCK!)”, in essence dismissing everything anyone else here has said.

          It’s frustrating.

        • Will Jones July 2, 2017 at 10:45 pm #

          Rusty – you need arguments that don’t apply equally to other things which are obviously undesirable. Saying homosexuality is perfectly natural, in the sense that it happens, and that some people are LGBT and will always be that way could be said equally of inclinations to abuse. Some people are paedophiles (as many as 5% by some estimates) and will always be that way but that implies nothing at all about whether it is desirable or how it should be treated. Arguments to the effect of ‘it happens get over it’ are nowhere near strong enough to deflect objections to the LGBT agenda.

          • William Fisher July 3, 2017 at 9:19 pm #

            Will Jones – Yes, you’re right. Heterosexuality, for example, is perfectly natural, in the sense that it happens, and that most people are heterosexual and will always be that way (at least 95%, or even more by some estimates), but that tells us nothing at all about whether it is desirable or how it should be treated. It is not, however, undesirable (unlike paedophilia) and it does not need to be “treated”. Ditto for homosexuality.

          • Will Jones July 3, 2017 at 10:26 pm #

            Hi William. Yes I agree with this argument about heterosexuality too. The proper form is determined by function – the nature of male and female, including their mutual attraction, is determined by the function of male and female in reproduction. That’s why male and female exist in nature – for sexual reproduction. It’s why they’re called sexes and why acts involving reproductive organs are called sex. The relationship of heterosexuality to the proper form of the organism isn’t related to frequency of occurrence but to function. It is part of what it means to be creatures which reproduce sexually, to be sexual creatures. This is why the argument avoids the naturalistic fallacy, because it doesn’t try to argue from how things happen to be to how they ought to be, but looks at why they are as they are, what reason lies behind it, why they must be that way.

    • James Byron July 2, 2017 at 8:52 pm #

      This isn’t reducible to statistics: as the W.P.A. said, “The provision of any intervention purporting to ‘treat’ something that is not a disorder is wholly unethical.”

      This boils down to a conflict between medicine and theology, which operate in very different frameworks: evidence-based medicine requires proof of efficacy before a treatment’s authorized; the burden’s on those proposing it.

      Now, I’m sure plenty here will argue that homosexuality is a disorder, but from a clinical perspective, that term’s only appropriate for something that’s inherently harmful, which homosexuality isn’t. Clinicians can only operate within a medical, not theological, framework.

      That being so, why not accept the medical advice on conversion therapy, and allow those who wish to change their sexual orientation to use other, non-clinical methods such as prayer?

      • David Shepherd July 2, 2017 at 10:12 pm #

        James,

        You quoted the W.P.A.’s declaration that it was wholly unethical to provide any intervention to ‘treat’ something that is not a disorder.

        Under DSM-5, grief over the death of a loved one is not considered to be a major depressive disorder until specific symptoms are exhibited. in fact, bereavement per se is not classified as a disorder. On what basis is it also wholly unethical to provide any intervention to ‘treat’, on request, someone’s unchosen sense of loss?

        The efficacy of grief counselling remains, at best, scientifically questionable and unproven. So, on an ethical basis, are you equally opposed to any form of bereavement therapy?

        • James Byron July 3, 2017 at 9:43 pm #

          If the counseling claimed to eliminate the capacity to feel grief, David (which would be the equivalent), then yes, I’d oppose it.

          • David Shepherd July 4, 2017 at 10:21 pm #

            James,

            Actually, you wrote: ‘evidence-based medicine requires proof of efficacy before a treatment’s authorised’.

            You claim is that conversion therapy claims to be able to eliminate same-sex sexual attraction. Yet, despite Jayne Ozanne asserting that conversion therapy ‘is designed to change one’s sexual orientation from non-heterosexual to heterosexual. (point 4 of GS2070A), even she admits: ‘However, as the sexual orientation of an individual is based on their sexual attraction or innate desire – which medical professionals agree cannot be changed – conversion therapy looks instead to focus on changing a person’s sexual behaviour and sense of identity.

            The appropriate comparator of therapeutic efficacy is not elimination, but alleviation of unwanted behaviour.

            So, with the jury still out on the efficacy of bereavement counselling in alleviating grief, perhaps, you’d also like to oppose this significant, but not evidence-based dimension of mental health therapy.

      • Will Jones July 2, 2017 at 10:23 pm #

        Hi James. Three points:
        1) What do you mean by inherently harmful? Infertility is a treatable medical condition but it is hard to describe it as ‘inherently harmful’, except that it is a dysfunction of the human organism. There are many conditions like this. Those who regard homosexuality as a disorder regard it as a dysfunction of the human organism, which is a perfectly sound clinical definition.
        2) Are you aware of the research linking homosexuality to a number of co-morbidities? To those who see things this way, this helps to fill out the picture of the disordered nature of SSA, and why they might want to ‘treat’ it.
        3) Aren’t we talking here about sexual orientation change efforts rather than treatment?

        • James Byron July 3, 2017 at 9:48 pm #

          Even accepting all that, Will (emphatically arguendo), no responsible clinician’s gonna recommend a treatment that doesn’t work and carries high risks. Regardless of harm, infertility is a biological mechanism that’s not functioning, and can (in some cases) be remedied. Which treatment are you suggesting to alter sexual orientation, and what’s its evidence?

          • Will Jones July 3, 2017 at 10:10 pm #

            Hi James. I’m not suggesting any treatment to alter sexual orientation – it’s beyond my competence to do so. I leave this to the experts, and if they say that any possible measures are demonstrably ineffective and harmful then regretfully I have to accept that that is the case. However isn’t the point of Peter’s post that the evidence is currently sparse and inconclusive?

          • David Shepherd July 5, 2017 at 10:50 am #

            The issue here is not changing sexual orientation, but of alleviating how one’s orientation is expressed through behaviour and sense of identity.

            The APA’s recommendation couldn’t be clearer in rejecting a priori gay affirmation therapy in favour of sexual orientation identity exploration:
            ‘Although affirmative approaches have historically been conceptualized around helping sexual minorities accept and adopt a gay or lesbian identity (e.g., Browning et al., 1991; Shannon & Woods, 1991), the recent research on sexual orientation identity diversity illustrates that sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual orientation identity are labeled and expressed in many different ways, some of which are fluid (e.g., Diamond, 2006, 2008; Firestein, 2007; Fox, 2004; Patterson, 2008; Savin-Williams, 2005;R. L. Worthington & Reynolds, 2009).

            We define an affirmative approach as supportive of clients’ identity development without a priori treatment goals for how clients identify or express their sexual orientations. Thus, a multiculturally competent affirmative approach aspires to understand the diverse personal and cultural influences on clients and enables clients to determine (a) the ultimate goals for their identity process; (b) the behavioral expression of their sexual orientation; (c) their public and private social roles; (d) their gender roles, identities, and expression; (e) the sex and gender of their partner; and (f) the forms of their relationships.

            So, we should follow this evidence and reject Ozanne claim that the medical profession endorses gay affirmation therapy:
            ’11. Whilst questions around sexuality and identity can be difficult and challenging, the medical profession deems it irresponsible and damaging to try to change sexual orientation. Instead they believe that the correct course of action is to provide gay affirmative therapy.

            Something tells me that you won’t be challenging that false assertion on the Thinking Anglicans blog:

            http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/007593.html#comments

      • Christopher Shell July 3, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

        So people (can) absolutely argue that homosexuality is a disorder but absoluterly not that it is harmful? Yet the distinction is a relatively fine one. Both mean that you are living in a way (or have now become orientated in a certain way) other than that which your body would normally be designed for.

        And why cannot people argue that something which perpetually causes and/or is correlated with above-average disease and instability and early death and unsafe ‘sexual’ practices is harmful? That would make it a classic case for being classed as harmful.

        • James Byron July 3, 2017 at 9:54 pm #

          As I’m sure you know, correlation isn’t causation. Homosexuality isn’t the issue: irresponsible sex is the issue, which applies regardless of orientation. Homosexuals have, until very recently, been denied the social structures that encourage and support stable families.

          Homosexuality doesn’t fit the criteria for a mental illness (many people are perfectly happy with their sexual orientation), and there’s no effective way to change orientation. If one were discovered, I guess those with theological objections would avail themselves of it, but that’s not where we are.

          • Christopher Shell July 4, 2017 at 11:51 am #

            James, I will list the mistakes in your reply.

            (1) ‘Correlation isn’t causation’: no: wrong. Obviously, no two concepts are exactly the same as each other. But what do you think of these 4 points?

            -Casuation is generally impossible to prove even in seemingly obvious cases like lung cancer and smoking. Consequently constant correlation is what people have to point to as evidence. They point to it because they can see it is causative even though they cannot 100% prove it. Proof is a 100% thing. Therefore if you can prove something 99% that is not proof. Meanwhile (while you are trying to get from 99% to 100%) millions of people die, while people are parroting ‘correlation is not causation’. Would you have done the same with smoking and lung cancer? And let the people die?

            -The concepts of correlation and causation overlap greatly. Consequently they are not separate. They are overlapping. They are each other to a substantial degree. The amoung to which they are tyhe same exceeds the amount to which they are different.

            -So: ice cream causes rape? No: but the web they are part of is a fully *causative* web. Hot weather is the parent; ice cream and rape are two of the children. Where we see correlation, the causative element may not be one of the two elements named but (and this is the point) it is often not hard to find, as in the case of hot weather.

            (2) You speak of ‘homosexuals’ which is illegitimately prejudging the issue. We all know that once our brains and habits are (progressively) set, certain people end up homosexual. But generally speaking they are not so intrinsically (it is hard to see what it would be to be gay intrinsically – are there gay babies or something?); so that the category ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ does not exist as an ontological category. Circumstances and environment, as I have tabulated so often – but will do so again if you ask – is the thing that provides all the most staggering stats in this area, and those who have not addressed those statistical patterns must either concede or address them. (And when they do address them – while everyone is wondering why it took them so long, and why they were so reluctant to do so – though we can guess – it would have to be open-mindedly that they did so.) The fault as so often lies in the presuppositions.

            (3) There is no effective or certainly no easy way to change any habit that one has got oneself into by the age of mid-20s. However, if the habit is harmful or denies one’s real nature then people will logically want to change it. In certain societies they would not have got into it in the first place, which is much the better option. There were not smoking addicts before smoking entered a society.

            (4) These people undergoing these struggles are not a feature of most societies or periods of history. Consequently, as many theorists agree, a massive amount of this i ismply socially constructed. Solution: don’t have a sexual-revolution social set-up in the first place. It kills families, and who cares about the children? Well, good people do, and we always will.

  7. Don Benson July 2, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

    Well said, Will.

    The natural world is unarguable in what it teaches us about the purpose of sex and sexuality. To deny it is beyond silly because it amounts to challenging the created order, something designed by God, and therefore is a direct challenge to God himself. The fact that errors occur in nature and that human ingenuity is capable of messing around with natural processes does not invalidate the logic and efficacy of the original design.

    And what is at least as reckless as human meddling with genes and cells is the deliberate twisting of language in order to create a confused perception of reality. Do that and you start to unravel human ability to communicate and comprehend what is true; facts become what you say they are rather than what they truly are; you create a confused, frightened and irrational society where nothing has any real meaning. It’s a perfect recipe for mental ill-health. To do it in a church, as Jayne Ozanne is attempting, will simply destroy it because those who go along with it will lose their powers of reason and hence their ability to communicate and defend the true Gospel of Christ. We are undoubtedly in an existential battle here for the Church of England.

    • Will Jones July 2, 2017 at 4:12 pm #

      I think you’re right. Caught up in the fashionable ideas of the moment, churches don’t see how their whole long term credibility rests on standing firm on this issue. Otherwise how can anyone ever take them seriously again? Why would anyone believe in a religion that no longer believes in its own scriptures, and in the clear evidence of God’s design in creation?

  8. Perry Butler July 3, 2017 at 3:12 pm #

    Given how divided the C of E is on so many issues, the emergence of a coherent theology of gender, sex and marriage owned by the General Synod is pretty unlikely.

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