Giles Fraser expresses concerns about some ministry to gay people
Professor Glynn Harrison is very careful with his words.
He does not believe in the concept of a “gay cure” or “gay conversion”, he says. Rather, he thinks that “there is evidence that some people with unwanted same-sex attraction can achieve significant change.”
The True Freedom Trust, on whose council of reference Professor Harrison sits, was founded in 1977 by Martin Hallett. The website explains: “Martin was involved in a homosexual lifestyle for over nine years before Jesus dramatically changed his life in 1972.”
The fact that Professor Harrison is one of those chosen by the General Synod to help to choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury is what has brought his approach under the spotlight.
His views may be similar to those of a significant minority in the Church of England, but they do not seem to be those of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, of which he is a Fellow.
As the Royal College puts it in a position statement: “The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes strongly in evidence-based treatment. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.”
So Professor Harrison thinks that there is evidence that sexual orientation can change, and the Royal College does not. How, then, does Professor Harrison reconcile his views with those of the stated position of his organisation?
This is important because, as the position statement continues: “Good Psychiatric Practice (3rd Edition) clearly states: ‘A psychiatrist must provide care that does not discriminate and is sensitive to issues of gender, ethnicity, colour, culture, lifestyle, beliefs, sexual orientation, age and disability’ (page 12, point 13). The Royal College of Psychiatrists expects all its members to follow Good Psychiatric Practice.”
Of course, there is always hope that it is Professor Harrison who will himself be able to change. John Smid was the former director of the ex-gay charity Love In Action, and led the call for homosexuals to be converted.
But, in 2008, he resigned from his position, going on to state that he had “never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual”.
In 2011, he apologised for the harm his ministry had caused, and confessed that he had “further wounded teens that were already in a very delicate place in life”.
My concern about Professor Harrison has less to do with his part in choosing the next Archbishop — although the C of E would commit moral seppuku if Dr Williams’s successor shared any of these views.
The worry is that, as a psychiatrist, he has the potential to do lasting damage to people who are in a vulnerable position.
I hope I am wrong about all of this; but there seems to be a case to answer.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser was Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, and Director of the St Paul's Institute, until his resignation in October 2011 over the Occupy protest and the removal of the protesters from the steps of the cathedral.
He has been appointed as Priest-in-Charge of St Mary’s, Newington, in the diocese of Southwark.
This column was first published in, and appears courtesy of, The Church Times