We have been this way before, reflections on Jayne Ozanne’s Private Member’s Motion

 The motion from Jayne Ozanne.

The timetable for the July General Synod has now been published and it has been revealed that Synod will be debating a Private Member’s Motion on ‘Conversion therapy’ moved by Jayne Ozanne that runs as follows:

‘That this Synod:

(a) endorse the statement of 16 January 2017 signed by The UK Council for Psychotherapy, The Royal College of General Practitioners and others that the practice of conversion therapy has no place in the modern world, is unethical, harmful and not supported by evidence; and

(b) call upon the Archbishops’ Council to become a co-signatory to the statement on behalf of the Church of England.’

The debate about deliverance ministry in the 1970s.

In order to gain a proper perspective on this motion it is helpful to recall that the Church of England was faced with a decision over a similar issue back in the 1970s.

In his book I Believe in Satan’s Downfall Michael Green recalls:

‘…when, in the early 1970s, the Bishop of Exeter in England chaired a serious Report on Exorcism, and when public attention was caught by a disastrous death after failure to administer exorcism properly, a large number of theologians were invited to sign an open letter deploring the credulity of those who thought that demons still existed or were foolish enough to believe in a personal devil.’[1]

To unpack the story more fully, the presenting issue was concern about the dangers of inappropriate forms of what we would now call the ministry of deliverance.

This raised the issue of whether the Church of England should engage in this form of ministry at all and behind this issue were two further questions: (a) should the Church of England continue to believe in the existence of the Devil and the demonic? and (b) did the Christian faith need to be re-expressed to appeal to a culture that felt that belief in the supernatural was an outmoded world view incompatible with the discoveries of modern science?[2]

In the event the Church of England declined to engage in wholesale re-construction of its theology into a non-supernatural form, continued to affirm the existence of the Devil and the demonic on the basis of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience[3] and continued to authorise and engage in the ministry of deliverance. However, it also met the proper concerns about the inappropriate exercise of this ministry by developing a set of guidelines for good practice which were issued by Archbishop Donald Coggan in 1975 and which are still in place today.

These guidelines state:

‘1. It should be undertaken by experienced persons authorized by the Diocesan Bishop;

2. It should be done in the context of prayer and sacrament;

3. It should be done in collaboration with the resources of medicine;

4. It should be followed up by continuing pastoral care;

5. It should be done with the minimum of publicity.’ [4]

There are three lessons which we can learn from this story.

First, the Church of England should decline to jettison its traditional theology, either in whole or in part, in order to fit in with contemporary culture unless there are compelling arguments from Scripture, tradition, reason and experience that show this would be the right thing to do.

Secondly, the Church of England should continue to exercise forms of ministry that are warranted by its theology.

Thirdly, where there are concerns about the inappropriate exercise of particular forms of ministry these should be addressed by the issuing of guidelines for good practice.

Applying these lessons to the Ozanne motion.

If we turn from what happened in the 1970s to the current Ozanne motion what we find is that the issues underlying the motion are the same as those that underlay the suggestion that the Church of England should abandon the ministry of deliverance. There is a concern about bad practice, but underlying that presenting issue is the deeper one of whether the Church of England needs to change its teaching to fit in with contemporary culture.

In the statement to which the motion refers, the term ‘conversion therapy’ is used to describe ‘therapy that assumes certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others, and seeks to change or suppress them on that basis.’ As we have seen, the statement also declares that such therapy ‘has no place in the modern world, is unethical, harmful and not supported by evidence.’[5]

This being the case, the Church of England could only consistently go down the route suggested by the Ozanne motion and sign up to the statement if it moved from its current teaching to an acceptance that (a) sexual attraction between people of the same sex is just as in accordance with God’s will as sexual attraction between a man and a woman and (b) that the identity adopted as a result of gender transition is as true a reflection of who someone truly is as their biological sex.  Any other position would imply that the Church of England still believed that ‘certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others.’

Furthermore, in order to maintain its consistency the Church of England would also have to go on to prohibit any form of teaching or practice that was not in accordance with this new position.  If it did not, it would be permitting activity that it accepted was ‘unethical,’ ‘harmful’ and had ‘no place in the modern world.’

If the Church of England were to go down this route it would be in line with the prevailing view in our culture (particularly amongst younger people) that restricting sexual intercourse to heterosexual marriage and insisting that someone’s identity is that of their biological sex is outmoded and, is, indeed, positively immoral because it is both ‘homophobic’ and ‘transphobic.’

However, in order for the Church of England to go down this route it would have to ignore the teaching of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience which convergently tell us that:

  • God has created human beings as embodied creatures who are male or female depending on the sex of their body; [6]
  • God has ordained that sexual intercourse should take place between one man and one woman in marriage as a means by which they are united with each other in a loving and permanent ‘one flesh’ union, as the normal means for the procreation of children and as a sign of the eternal union between God and his people;[7]
  • When people live lives that reflect these two truths this leads to the flourishing of both individuals and society as a whole. [8]
  • Because Christ died and rose and has poured out the Spirit it is possible for people to live lives that reflect these truths even if they have same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.[9]

For this reason it would not be a route that the Church of England could rightly go down, any more than it could have rightly adopted a non-supernatural form of theology, or denied the existence of the Devil or the demonic.

If people are to live according to the truths that have just been described, they may find it helpful to seek support through prayer and counselling as they seek to do so.

There is evidence that there are forms of prayer ministry and counselling that are inappropriate because they imply that those with same-sex attraction of gender dysphoria are less worthy as human beings, involve coercion or psychological manipulation, or make unjustified claims that unwanted feelings will disappear immediately, permanently and completely. However, as the Latin tag puts it, abusus non tollit usum, the abuse of something does not preclude its proper use. In the context we are considering this means that the fact that there are inappropriate forms of prayer ministry and counselling for those with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria does not preclude the existence of those that are appropriate and beneficial, just as in the 1970s the Church of England rightly saw that the existence of inappropriate forms of deliverance ministry did not rule out the existence of legitimate ones.

What is required, as in the case of deliverance ministry, is guidelines for prayer ministry and counselling for those with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria that will safeguard against abuse and outline good practice.

A better motion

 In the light of the above, rather than the current motion proposed by Jayne Ozanne a better motion would run along the following lines:

‘That this Synod:

a) Notes the statement of 16 January 2017 signed by The UK Council for Psychotherapy, The Royal College of General Practitioners and others concerning the practice of conversion therapy;

b) Affirms, nevertheless, that prayer ministry and counselling may be legitimate means of helping to support those with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria who are seeking to live in accordance with the Bible and the historic teaching of the Christian Church;

c) Acknowledges that  prayer ministry and counselling can take place in ways that fail to respect the proper dignity of human beings, involve coercion and manipulation and make unwarranted promises about the removal of unwanted feelings;

d) Asks the House of Bishops to draw up guidelines for work in this area to prevent forms of prayer ministry and counselling that are inappropriate and to encourage good practice.

M B Davie 3.6.17

Addendum  24.6.17

Andrew Symes has proposed the following helpful expansion of my original amendment which runs as follows:

‘That this Synod:

a) Notes the statement of 16 January 2017 signed by The UK Council for Psychotherapy, The Royal College of General Practitioners and others concerning the practice of “conversion therapy”, but also notes the findings of the Pilling Report and others that the research and studies underpinning such statements are far from conclusive.

b) Affirms, nevertheless, that prayer ministry, and counselling and therapy may be legitimate means of helping to support those with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria who are seeking to live in accordance with the Bible and the historic teaching of the Christian Church;

c) Acknowledges that prayer ministry and counselling all forms of therapy and pastoral care can take place in ways that fail to respect the proper dignity of human beings, involve coercion and manipulation and make unwarranted promises about the removal of unwanted feelings or other forms of physical and psychological transformation;

d) Asks the House of Bishops to draw up guidelines for work in this area to prevent forms of prayer ministry and counselling that are inappropriate and to encourage good practice and help ensure that Church-based pastoral ministry follows principles of being true to the teachings of Scripture and the freedom of choice of the individual.

[1] Michael Green, I Believe in Satan’s Downfall, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981.

[2] This last point was most famously expressed in John Robinson’s Honest to God (London: SCM 1963).

[3] See Michael Green’s book for an extended argument on these lines.

[4] For a more detailed version of these guidelines see The House of Bishops’ Guidelines for Good Practice in the

Deliverance Ministry 1975 (revised 2012) text at https://www.churchofengland.org/media/1734117/guidelines%20on%20deliverance%20ministry.pdf

[5] Royal College of General Practitioners, UK organisations unite against Conversion Therapy, text at  http://www.rcgp.org.uk/news/2017/january/uk-organisations-unite-against-conversion-therapy.aspx

[6] See Martin Davie, Transgender Liturgies, London: Latimer Trust, 2017.

[7] See Dennis P Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.

[8] See Glynn Harrison, A Better Story, London: IVP, 2016.

[9] See Rosaria Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Pittsburgh: Crown and Covenant, 2ed,

2014, and Walt Heyer, A Transgender’s Faith, Walt Heyer, 2015.