Once again, groups that attempt to “cure” people of same-sex attraction have made the headlines. The Core Issues Trust (whose only “core issue” is an obsession with opposing same-sex relationships) and Anglican Mainstream (who are not at all mainstream) have co-sponsored bus adverts for London, promoting the idea of being “ex-gay”.
The Mayor of London has now banned the adverts. In the ensuing controversy, the two groups will get at least as much publicity as the adverts themselves would have generated. But they won’t have to pay for them.
“Conversion therapy” for gay and bisexual people used to be a very marginal idea in Britain. When I (to my shame) supported a homophobic position, in the mid-late 1990s, most socially conservative Christians either refused to accept that homosexual orientation existed, or (in the case of the slightly more humane ones) insisted that gay people should be “celibate”.
But in the last few years, we have seen a sharp increase in support for “ex-gay” and “therapy” ideas deriving from the US. To understand the reasons for this, we need to look at the social and religious context.
Christianity – or at least certain traditional forms of it – have in recent decades moved from centre-stage in an increasingly multifaith society. This has been a welcome relief for Christians who want to move on from Christianity’s collusion with wealth and power. But it has been frightening for some more socially conservative Christians.
This is not surprising. What is worrying is that many of them have latched on to sexuality as the issue to fight over. They claim to be protecting “Christian values”, “biblical values” or “family values”. But they are usually defending their own privileges.
Extreme groups such as Anglican Mainstream and Christian Concern have become obsessed with sexuality. Their narrow focus and extreme rhetoric have alienated more moderate conservatives. There are people who still have a problem with same-sex relationships but who are open to dialogue with those who disagree and who think that Christians should also be concerned with issues such as poverty, peace and climate change. While I want to challenge these people’s views, I would not confuse them with people who sponsor anti-gay bus adverts.
Unfortunately, whenever a story of this sort breaks, much of the media cover it in terms of “Christians v. gays”, as if the two groups were mutually exclusive. The Core Issues Trust and Anglican Mainstream cannot claim to represent Christians generally – or even evangelical Christians generally. No Christian group can do that.
But these sort of stories perpetuate the impression that all, or nearly all, Christians are homophobic. Last year, when I went on a pilgrimage of repentance for my former homophobia, I received emails from people who had genuinely never heard of a non-homophobic Christian before (let alone a gay or bisexual one).
The media cannot take all the blame for this. Homophobia is on the march, and pro-equality Christians must be prepared to speak up as loudly as Anglican Mainstream and the Core Issues Trust.
Let us never confuse the radical inclusivity of Christ with the legalism of the homophobes or the shallow surface equality offered by secular liberalism. Let us have love for our opponents. Let us be open to learning and developing our views. Let us not be afraid to take a stand for love and justice. Otherwise, the only news that the world will hear from Christians is a message from people who want to “cure” them of falling in love with the wrong person.