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"Sexual Orientation Change Efforts" opposed by new movement

Call for change includes prayer, Bible study and sermons

A campaign by LGBTIQ+ survivors of therapies which sought to change their sexual orientation includes Christian ministries in their target list.

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The Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) Survivor Statement is a wide-ranging protest against a spectrum of therapies and other change efforts, such as psychiatric treatments but also including religious advocacy of celibacy and prayer ministries.

With the recent decline in therapeutic interventions, religious SOCE activity is a major target of the campaign. A petition has been launched as part of the campaign, “calling for Australia’s elected representatives to curtail the ongoing and life threatening operations of this movement.” The statement recommends, among other things:

• An inquiry into the extent and prevalence of the ex-gay/ex-trans/conversion therapy movement in the experience of LGBTIQ+ Australians.

• Protection of young Australians from SOCE and the ex-gay/ex-trans/conversion therapy movement’s practices and ideology, including in schools.

• Regulation of counselling in Australia.

• Tighter regulation to prevent the broadcast and advertising of content related to conversion therapy.

Examples of SOCE in the statement includes Christian practices which may occur in some conservative churches:

• “Pastoral advice and recommendations of websites, gender-segregated retreats and conferences, books and other resources.”

• “Informal prayer ministry (i.e. between peers or during prayer time after church services.)”

• “Sermons or bible studies that talk about and reinforce ‘traditional gender roles’.”

• “Subtle and overt sermons that encourage or promote orientation change.”

• “A disowning from faith communities until such a time as the LGBTIQ+ person expresses a change in orientation or demonstrates a rejection of their orientation or identity.”

The statement notes that expressions of SOCE, such as the ones listed above, are “intertwined into the fabric of faith communities and conservative theology”. This makes clear that churches are a focus for the changes sought.

“Obviously we are all broken and fall short …” – Natalie Cooper

“What we want to say to society is ‘understand the messaging, not just the practices of orientation change effort, does damage to LGBT people,” Natalie Cooper of Equal Voices – one of the groups supporting the statement – tells Eternity. The messaging objected to “is that they are broken or in need of healing.”

“Obviously we are all broken and fall short but what is said about LGBT people is that the way they are made as relational beings is inherently broken.”

Speaking of teaching of conservative churches, Cooper says: “We’d like to see these practices end. If you see that the messaging you are giving people is causing people such great harm, we have to stop and say ‘how are our understandings of Scripture impacting on the lives of real people such that the outcomes are so bad?’”

Cooper told Eternity that her group contains people who have attempted suicide after attempting for years to change their sexuality, having attended churches teaching the traditional view of LGBTIQ+ people. She made it clear that while therapists and counsellors should be the subject of legislation, she did not see that extending to church teaching or prayer.

“If The Age had asked Christian leaders and Churches from across the country, I suspect that they would find partial agreement with the folk at SOCE Survivors, and also significant disagreement,” Melbourne Christian blogger Murray Campbell commented.

“To begin with, testimonies of gay conversion therapies are disturbing. Far from being ‘normal,’ these practices belong to fringe religious groups, finding little or no support amongst mainstream Christian Churches and theology. As a Christian, I do not support or agree with gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality. I feel for those who have undergone these traumatic experiences, wishing that they had not, and praying that they will find true and lasting recovery and peace.

“The conversation is important because the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously.” – Murray Campbell

“The conversation is important because the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity. This, however, does not mean that every sexual preference and activity is morally good and beneficial, and neither does it mean that people who choose celibacy are somehow less complete or fulfilled as human beings.”

Campbell and other conservative evangelical and Catholic Christians reject “conversion therapies” which attempted to use psychiatry to change orientation. Some of these were carried out by Christian groups in the past.

But other more mainstream and current Christian activities may be caught in the proposed bans. For example, preaching a sermon on Genesis chapters 1 to 3 and teaching that God’s pattern for marriage is for man-woman relationships, or teaching a traditional view of Romans chapter 1:18-32, “could fall foul of the authorities” (as Campbell puts it).

However, Katecia Taylor – an Equal Voices board member from Melbourne – points to other Christian commentary, in her list of changes which she would like to see happen. “Once people begin to question, speculate and theorise why people are gay/bi/trans/queer, a line is being crossed,” says Taylor.

“You may believe that God through Scripture calls queer sex and romantic love sinful. However, adding to that various speculations about why people are LGBTIQ+ (such as that they are sexually broken due to factors such as: abuse, parenting or spiritual issues – even demons!) are not based on any biblical narrative.”

She warns against basing Christian commentary on “pseudo-psychological research” rejected by peak psychological bodies.

“We need the freedom … to explore with the living God. That is the right that needs to be safeguarded.” – David Bennett

David Bennett is a gay celibate Christian who is currently studying at Oxford. He’s also the author of A War of Loves (to be published next month) that describes his journey from agnostic gay activist to a follower of Jesus, and Bennett wants to be sure people like him are not shut down by SOCE activists.

He calls himself a “Side B” Christian – a same-sex-attracted person who has modified their view of their sexuality according to the (traditional view of the) Bible. “Side A” people affirm same-sex relationships and doesn’t’ accept the traditional reading of the Bible. These are common descriptions in the debate among same-sex-attracted people who discuss Christianity.

“What worries me about such a movement is that someone like me who has chosen to be celibate, precisely because I think my same-sex desires cannot be expressed in a marriage, will be treated as a danger when Side B people like me already face incredible pressures from all sides,” explains Bennett.

“The voluntary choice of a consenting adult to explore different approaches to the genesis of one’s sexuality needs to be safeguarded as freedom of conscience and religion. However, having a practice forced on you by a church cultural programme is problematic.

“We need the freedom in Side B/orthodox churches to explore with the living God. That is the right that needs to be safeguarded in this conversation.”

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