Christians, humanists and others have criticised attempts by a number of Christian groups to promote 'therapy' aimed at 'healing' people of an attraction to members of their own sex.
Critics of 'conversion therapy' have spoken out after a weekend of high-level promotion by its supporters, who often prefer to call it 'gender-affirming therapy'.
Several bishops have declared their support for the 'therapy', but it has been criticised by LGBT Christian groups and the British Humanist Association.
A number of senior Church of England clerics signed a letter in favour of the 'therapy' that was printed in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday (28 January).
The signatories included the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and former bishops Michael Nazir-Ali and Michael Scott-Joynt. Serving Church of England clergy to sign the letter included Wallace Benn, Suffragen Bishop of Lewes. Many of the signatories were authors and campaigners based in the USA.
The letter followed a conference on 'gender-affirming therapy' on Friday (27 January). It was organised by the Core Issues Trust. The trust says that “heterosexual preference is the goal of gender-affirming therapy”.
The bishops' letter suggests that "psychological care for those who are distressed by unwanted homosexual attractions has been shown to yield a range of beneficial client outcomes, especially in motivated clients”.
They insist that “such therapy does not produce harm despite the Royal College of Psychiatrists and others maintaining the contrary."
All the signatories are known to be opponents of sexual relationships between members of the same sex. Christians are divided over the issue, and 'conversion therapy' has been strongly criticised by groups including Accepting Evangelicals and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.
The Christian thinktank Ekklesia expressed concern about the conference and the position of the bishops who had signed the letter.
"The balance of evidence is strongly against the idea that 'conversion therapy' can be effective," said Symon Hill, Ekklesia's associate director, "Most therapies aim for ends such as emotional well-being and healthy relationships. In contrast, 'conversion therapy' aims to 'cure' a sexual attraction that may be entirely healthy and loving.”
Naomi Phillips of the British Humanist Association said, “The suggestion that homosexuality is a problem in need of a ‘cure’ is deeply insulting to lesbian, gay and bisexual people, profoundly objectionable, and wrong”.
The signatories to the Telegraph letter back the re-admission of Lesley Pilkington to the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). Pilkington was dismissed from the organisation after a gay man secretly recorded her attempt to give him conversion therapy. She said that same-sex attraction is "a mental illness".
BACP described the 'therapy' in question as “absurd”, but the question will be re-examined this week at an appeal hearing. Yesterday (29 January), the socially conservative lobby group Christian Concern claimed that Lesley Pilkington is a victim of anti-Christian discrimination.
Symon Hill explained, “Christians hold varying views on the ethics of same-sex relationships. They sincerely interpret the Bible in different ways. In a changing society, some socially conservative Christians have latched onto sexuality as an issue to fight over. It is worrying to see senior clerics encourage this trend by supporting a harmful form of 'therapy' that, at its worst, can break up loving relationships.”