Motion 24: Melbourne Synod, 20 October 2018
a) acknowledges that all people are made in the image of God, regardless of sexuality or gender identity
b) acknowledges the position of the Australian Psychological Society that “strongly opposes any approach to psychological practice or research that treats lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people as disordered, and any approach that attempts to change an individual's sexual orientation”
c) calls upon Church members to be sensitive to, and to listen to, diverse expressions of sexuality and gender identity, to accept, validate, support, and encourage those in our churches who are seeking to live in accordance with biblical teaching and to live out their identity in union with Christ and his calling, and to not recommend “Conversion Therapy" to anyone; and
d) calls on the state government—through the Healthcare Complaints Commissioner (HCC) Inquiry into Conversion Therapy/Practices in Victoria—to ban the practice of “Conversion Therapy”
Mr President, members of synod, I rise in support of the motion standing in my name. Craig D’Alton, St Mary’s North Melbourne and Archdeacon of Melbourne.
I was a very lucky sixteen year old. At that age I began regularly attending a church where I felt spiritually fed, and fully welcomed, even though I was a slightly awkward, rather intense young man. I was even luckier when, at the age of seventeen, I found myself staring in a mirror and admitting that I was gay. I was lucky, because the church group that had become my primary friendship network outside of school included a number of gay men. There was, from the very first, no conflict whatever between me discerning my sexual orientation, and me discerning my Christian vocation. Indeed, as I have said more than once, if I were not gay, then I doubt I would ever have become an Anglican priest.
I was very lucky. Some other young men and women in the church have been less so.
Last Friday I was privileged to attend the launch of this report – Preventing harm, promoting justice. Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia.You may have seen references to it in the press.
The launch was held in a city centre church – not an Anglican one by the way – and was a private, invitation only event. The reason for this was the fragility of the state of many of those who attended, including several of those whose stories had informed the research backing the report. Several of the incredibly brave people who attended this launch reminded me of nothing so much as those whom I have met over the years who are survivors of sexual abuse or sexual assault. As the report documents, survivors of LGBT conversion therapy suffer major psychological and spiritual trauma. These traumas are very often severe. All the subjects in the report suffered suicidal ideation as they struggled to resolve conflicts between their faith and their LGBT identities. All of them. It is not going too far to say that these so-called “therapies” can kill people.
This report was launched in a church. It needs to be stated clearly, that neither it nor its authors are anti-Christian, but seek to assist the church to reform harmful practices that are still current.
So what is the “gay conversion therapy”, more accurately “LGBT conversion therapy”, of which this motion speaks? To quote the report:
“Conversion therapy is an umbrella term used to describe attempts to ‘convert’ people from diverse sexual and gender identities to an exclusively heterosexual and cisgender identity.” The therapies thus described range from isolated cases of medical malpractice, through to programme approaches such as the “ex-gay movement”, through to much more common pastoral counselling and prayer-driven therapies designed to “heal” what has been labelled a “disordered” or “broken” state of being.
Such therapies, especially of the last sort, are far from dead in Australia, even though there is overwhelming evidence that sexual reorientation “therapies” never work, and always harm.
In 2012 the ex-gay movement was rocked when one of the leading groups, Exodus International in the USA, admitted that sexual reorientation through religious conversion therapy is not possible, and briefly shifted their focus instead to encouraging homosexual people to “manage their desires.” A year later, Exodus issued an apology to the gay community for “years of undue suffering and judgement,” and closed down entirely.
Notwithstanding the subsequent decline in the ex-gay movement internationally, several of those whose stories are narrated in this report have experienced conversion therapy in Australia in very recent years. The movement is less visible than it once was, but there are still those who, formally or informally, are committed to “praying the gay away.” There is clear evidence that this is still happening in some Anglican churches.
The extent to which such therapies are now discredited is underlined by the fact that all Australian health authorities, including the Australian Psychological Society, and the Christian Counsellors Association of Australia now “strongly oppose any form of mental health practice that treats homosexuality as a disorder, or seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation.” As a group of nine former leaders of the ex-gay movement said in a public apology in 2014, “We now stand united in our conviction that conversion therapy is not ‘therapy’ but is instead ineffectual and harmful.”
In this light, the motion before this synod does four things. It grounds the motion in an inclusive theology of creation. It acknowledges the medical science on the matter. It calls for improved, safe and appropriate pastoral care for LGBT people within the church, and it encourages the state government to legislate in the manner recommended in this report.
I commend this motion to synod.
See the report here: