08 July 2017
The Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, Bishop of Lincoln, welcomes the vote against Conversion Therapy recorded at the July 2017 Group of Sessions at General Synod in York.
As has been reported this evening, ‘The Church of England’s General Synod has backed a motion calling for a ban on the practice of Conversion Therapy aimed at altering sexual orientation.
Members of the Church’s national assembly, which is holding its annual July sessions in York, voted to endorse a Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy signed by The Royal College of Psychiatrists and others condemning the practice. The joint statement describes Conversion Therapy as unethical, potentially harmful and having “no place in the modern world”.’
A large number of people, including the bishop, put in to speak during the debate, and here follows the speech that the bishop would have made, had he been called to speak:
St Augustine once invited us to ‘untie by love the knot that we have tied about ourselves through fear’. I hope that we can begin to do that tonight.
I speak as a straight ally of LGBTI people and it is not without irony that we meet near the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality – a parliamentary process in which the then Archbishop of Canterbury played such a leading role.
Some people tell us – but by no means all evangelicals – that homosexual orientation and more particularly practice is a ‘salvation’ issue as opposed to a second-level matter. Despite all that we share in our understanding of God: our creation and redemption, the means of grace and the hope of glory.
Despite all that common ground – this is a deal breaker. And we are pointed to two verses in I Corinthians 6 – verses 9 and 10: 9Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.1
The use of these verses in this way concerns me for two reasons: First, it is too big a burden to place on two verses? I suppose I would ask whether this scaffolding can bear the strain of the building constructed upon it – particularly when we place it alongside the teaching and practice of Jesus and St Paul about inclusion and vocation which is much more extensive.
And secondly does this emphasis match up with my experience of God’s life in the world? God reveals his truth in a variety of ways – including in the work of the human sciences and in the experience of many godly and committed Christian LGBTI people. These insights are, of course, measured against the definitive revelation of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – but nevertheless they are part of the Holy Spirit’s work to lead us into all truth.
Most scientists and most LGBTI people think that our orientation cannot be changed. I agree. We have all been made in the image of God and because orientation cannot be changed, most would view physical expression of our identity as entirely natural and attempts to limit that as unhelpful, wrong, or even abusive. Some LGBTI people will accept and understand a Christian calling to chastity – but will see it as precisely that – a calling – and therefore something that shouldn’t be imposed.
Synod, I would contend that we all need conversion therapy in many areas of our lives, but not, I suggest, in our sexual orientation. God has made us who we are, and God has given us human love as a school for divine love. So let us untie with love that knot that we have put about ourselves through fear.
Detail on the vote
The full motion agreed was: That this Synod: (a) endorse the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK of November 2015, signed by The Royal College of Psychiatrists and others, that the practice of gay Conversion Therapy has no place in the modern world, is unethical, potentially harmful and not supported by evidence; and 3 (b) call upon the Church to be sensitive to, and to listen to, contemporary expressions of gender identity; (c) and call on the government to ban the practice of Conversion Therapy.
The vote recorded was as follows:
In favour: 298
Number of recorded abstentions: 26
Further information on the (7 – 10) July 2017 Group of Sessions at General Synod may be found here.