When Everything is Gay Conversion Therapy

When everything is something, nothing is.

Hence the trouble with the statement put out by SOCEsurvivors, (Sexual Orientation Change Efforts survivors) concerning the fairly widely discredited practice of gay conversion therapy, is that its definition of what that actually is, becomes too broad to legislate against.

And legislators get nervous at that point.  Specifics are required.

Yet SOCEsurvivors’ is demanding specific and long-reaching legislative action to counter what, as we read through the document, are increasingly non-specific practices. So non-specific that it reaches into the thought life.  You’d need something crazy like, like I dunno – Thought Police – to do that.

In lumping together what many Christians view as a fringe, and slightly disturbing, pastoral care practice in a specific Western setting, with the historical, and long held convictions of the church universal, the movement risks, in its attempts at hitting everything, at hitting nothing.

The pseudo-science of gay conversion therapy has been under the spotlight in recent days, and to be honest from how it’s described (by its opponents at least), it sounds not merely unhelpful, but dangerous to those who are same sex attracted.

I read through the SOCE statement, which you can access here, and it’s clear that many gay people have suffered at the hands of a process that seems not only pseudo-scientific, but also extra-biblical.  Indeed there is little to commend it, if the painful results we read of are true, which I don’t doubt they are.

The trouble comes, of course, when the SOCE document attempts to define what gay conversion therapy actually entails. Because from my reading of the documentation, nothing short of full and total affirmation of the gay lifestyle, and full involvement at leadership level in local churches, is acceptable, and should therefore be legislated against.

Frankly I can’t see how this can happen.

The document is clear about this. Any attempt to pray for people who face unwanted same sex desires, any sermons that highlight an orthodox reading of Genesis 1-3, or affirm God’s only design for sex to be, not simply heterosexuality, but within heterosexual marriage, fall under the definition of gay conversion therapy.

Yet it lumps these practices within the document with other practices that many, if not most, Christians would find dodgy.

I agree with the statement insofar as it decries conversion therapy’s goal of changing people from same sex attracted to being attracted to members of the opposite sex.  I don’t view this process as helpful, or even true.  Many a same sex attracted Christian remains a same sex attracted Christian.

The question is, and always is; What do we do with that?  Or, more painfully; What do they do with that?

And the answer, the only answer, acceptable to the SOCE statement is for churches and other faith groups to celebrate that same sex attraction as a viable and desirable pathway for any who so choose it.

Which of course thousands of churches, and hundreds of thousands of Christians, will never do.  Can never do.  And would be willing to face the consequences should they never do.

At best SOCEsurvivors would be hoping for churches to self-censor on their preaching around the issue of sexuality.  And at worst they would be looking for churches to do a complete 180.

This statement is being presented to the Prime Minister and to the Health Minister. It is a statement likely to be taken up by the Australian Labor Party. It is already a Greens Party conviction, and  it has the state government of Victoria keen to sign up.  So we have to take what it says seriously on this matter.

And here is what it says:

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Interesting language.  Most of this stuff has flown “under the radar”?  In other words the government, via legislation, needs to finer tune its radars to pick up on the daily practices of your average orthodox church in Australia.  Is that what they are saying?

Even then the document conflates such everyday practices with gay conversion therapy, including any “individual’s private efforts or attempts to incrementally change their own orientation or identity”.   “Private prayer?”  Really?

And “Subtle or overt sermons”?  Who gets to define that? Does that a mean a sermon on Romans 1?  Or does that mean a sermon on “husbands love you wives as Christ loved the church?” Where is the line between subtle and overt?  And how is this done? Listening devices on church sermons perhaps?  A department that scrolls through the Bible readings for the day?

It’s odd that a document so specific about what type of legislative measures must be taken to stop this discredited practices that has hurt so many people, becomes equally vague as to the parameters of what gay conversion therapy is, and indeed any process to police it in the finer detail.

Particularly when the statement itself admits that the public discrediting of this pseudo-therapy, has seen much private practice of it fall by the wayside already.  Why not let it die quietly?

Because that’s not the final goal.  The final goal is not the shut down of dodgy therapies that have little psychological backing, but the redress of the gay community by the church, that they too are acceptable people just as they are, and without any need to deny their identity and practice, but indeed to celebrate it, and have it celebrated.

It does seem like a case of over-reach here, and I can’t help think that the risk to SOCEsurvivors, by widening their brief to include common orthodox teaching or practice of the church, is that they will fall short.  There’s little stomach in our general community to police religious communities to that level of investigation over matters that have been held with deep conviction for centuries.  At least I hope there is.

So despite the claim by (journalistically disinterested?) The Sydney Morning Herald this week, it’s not as if churches in Australia have signed up to this by the truckload.  Four churches have, four specific churches, and a number of ministers and theologians, all of whom have a revisionist theology of biblical statements regarding homosexuality, one that even many progressive theologians deny.

What SOCE is basically asking for is state intervention in religion.  It is asking for legislation to override conscience.  And to head off at the pass the possibly changing conscience and practice of those who, though same sex attracted, do not believe that these are practices that God would endorse.

I must say I can’t blame SOCEsurvivors for pushing it this far.  I can see why they do.  Gay conversion therapy is ropey and dangerous.  But in order for me to say it is ropey, I have to be able to define it, and my parameters for what it is could be completely different to your parameters, and they’re certainly narrower than SOCE’s parameters.

SOCE’s intent seems to be more for pastoral acceptance based around the affirmation of  practices in the church that are historically heterodox.  And I can’t see anything in the document that even hints about having a dialogue with competing viewpoints on sexuality.  It’s all about legislation.

It’s interesting too, how much it uses the term “ideologies” to blanket-cover everything under their definition of gay conversion therapy.  The strongest ideologues view their opponents positions as “ideologies”, yet always view their own positions as “the given”.

And the strongest ideologies that never view themselves as ideologies are inept at the art of cultural negotiation. It has to be all or nothing because, for the gay community, for so long, it has been.

In a sense, perhaps that’s been the church’s problem, and one that has led to this issue arising in the first place.

Our view of “the given” has often been held uncritically by us, and now that the culture has shifted in its understanding, we’re poorly placed to present our case with any real theological and philosophical conviction. We assumed we held a “given” position, but the last ten years has shown how quickly that “given” has shifted.

Hence the louder we shout things such as “We’re all sexually broken!” (a term that SOCEsurvivors claims is part of the toxic ideology), the worse we are making it, the more a part of the problem we now become.

I suspect the time for presenting our case in any meaningful way that can dialogue with the likes of SOCEsurvivors is well and truly past.

SOCEsurvivors’ document offers as much wiggle room for the church on this matter as they felt they got: None.  They’re not about to offer an olive branch to those who never offered one to them.

And it may well be that the weight of cultural, political and legal will move against us, though I am not sure the wide, and vague, brief that SOCEsurvivors’ is seeking, is in any way remotely enforceable.

At least not without an equal amount of pain on the other side. Which is distinctly possible.  It’s not pseudo-science or pseudo-psychology to say that hurting people, hurt people.  It’s clearly documented.  And if a few Christian eggs are to be broken in the making of this omelette, SOCEsurvivors seems fairly comfortable with that.