What I Missed

While I was “away”, I missed the following.

  1. Colin Coward was forced to edit a blog post after I pointed out his claim that St Martin in the Fields conducted same-sex blessings and that Nick Holtam, now Bishop of Salisbury, knew and approved. The edited passage now reads:

    They happen in many churches in the Diocese of London including St Martin in the Fields which conducts services of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Partnership (not the public blessing of lesbian and gay relationships which I had mistakenly written earlier) with the formal consent of the PCC. The Bishop of London has been informed of this practice. Fees are charged, sent to the diocese saying they are for the blessing of a civil partnership, and are banked by the diocese. [The St Martin’s service is not an authorised service of the Church of England nor, strictly, a Blessing and in keeping with the pastoral guidance of Issues in Human Sexuality which encourages the Church to support faithful same-sex relationships between lay homosexual Christians].

    Sources inform me that the edit took place after Colin Coward was contacted by his Diocesan who was not very happy about it. Do the math.

    Just goes to show some people are interested in what I write…

  2. Warren Throckmorton wrote two interesting blog pieces about how some conservatives are selective with the research on sexuality that they will use.

    Many of the questioners read evangelical publications and consume evangelical media. However, they don’t know anything about the brain research of Ivanka Savic in Sweden (2005, 2006, 2008) or Adam Safron and colleagues at Northwestern University (since 2005). Their knowledge of research stops at Dean Hamer or Simon Levay (both published studies in the 1990s).  They know there is no gay gene but they don’t know about the significant brain, perceptual and cognitive differences reported within the past six years by various researchers around the world.

    Many evangelicals believe homosexuality is due to abuse. Some will say with confidence that gays are more likely to be abused than straights but they are unaware of the actual magnitudes of difference. However, they are unaware of the 2009 study by Wilson and Widom which found no relationship between abuse and having a gay partner for men or women (men were more likely to have had at least one gay experience in their adult lives but not a recent partner). They are unaware of the 2010 work of Wells and colleagues in New Zealand that found 81.6% of gays reported no sexual abuse in their lives. Abuse is also higher among gender non-conforming children, whether gay or straight. Given that gays are more likely to be gender non-conforming in their histories, it seems likely that greater reports of abuse among gays relate in part to gender non-conformity, and have little, if anything, to do with cause of attractions for the majority of people who are same-sex attracted.

    Of course, the Savic papers suffer from the simple fact that we know that repeated activity alters brain structure (and Throckmorton points that out here), so for any of this to be definitive we would need to do some analytics at birth and then do longitudinal work on life outcomes, but certainly this is better than the rubbish LeVay put out in the 90s where he made guesses about his sample’s sexual orientation which surprisingly seemed to fit his hypothesis.

  3. There was a superb letter in last week’s Church Times from Andrew Goddard and Glyn Harrison on issues around sexual identity and fluidity.

    These data are consistent with the increasing use in everyday discourse of concepts such as “liquid”, “fluid”, or “post-label” sexualities. They sup­port the views of commentators such as Matthew Parris, who wrote several years ago: “Sexuality is a supple as well as subtle thing, and can some­times be influenced, even promoted; I think that in some people some drives can be dis­couraged and others encouraged; I think some people can choose” (The Times, 5 August 2006).

    Of course, this applies only to “some people”. Among those who self-identify as “LGB”, many have only ever experienced sexual attrac­tion to those of the same sex. But, until now, in much church discus­sion, the B in “LGBT” has been forgotten, or — as in Issues (5.8) — briefly referred to as a small confused group, who through counselling may be helped to “discover the truth of their personality”.

    Anglicans have always taken reason and scientific evidence seriously. We urgently need to do so here if any revision of Issues is not to be out of date before it is published. Evidence continues to be confused and confusing in many areas, not least as a result of the way attractions and behaviours are measured in different studies; so caution is needed.

    It is, nevertheless, now clear that we must give much greater weight to the fact that “bisexual”, “liquid”, and “post-label” are increasingly signifi­cant sexual identities. The concept of a spectrum of sexuality — something known for decades, but often ignored — reflects the complex reality of sexual attraction and behaviour, and calls into question simplistic an­alogies between sexual orientation and race.

    The Church must welcome and support people pastorally, whatever their current sexual interests or experience. But we need to be careful before moving to reorder the Church’s historic teaching on sex and marriage to reflect the alleged “assured” results of modern science.

    In their review, the bishops must reflect carefully on the uncertainties of much research in this area. In a fast-changing world, the Church risks losing a great deal if the ex­pectations of discipleship are recon­figured to keep pace with diverse socially contingent sexual interests and evolving constructed sexual identities which we are only begin­ning to understand.

    The complexities revealed by this research need to be understood better. Then we can explore how biblical teaching and the wisdom of tradition can guide our teaching and pastoral practice. Such a combina­tion of scripture, tradition, and reason will not only be genuinely Anglican, but may enable the House of Bishops to offer a truly prophetic and counter-cultural witness.

    “Post-label” – great term. Where did they get that from? :-)

    I suspect we’ll be hearing more from Harrison and Goddard very soon.

  4. A conference sponsored by Core Issues (run by Mike Davidson – great guy) and Anglican Mainstream has caused a teensy stir as it has a provocative title – “The Lepers Among Us : Homosexuality and the Life of the Church”. Of course, one can take the term “leper” a number of ways and indeed I could see a revisionist group using such a title in order to push a compassion and inclusion line.

    The programme actually looks rather interesting and if I was able to find the time for the day in London I would go along. Watch this space.

  5. This is going to be awesome.

47 Comments on “What I Missed

  1. Peter said: 
    Of course, the Savic papers suffer from the simple fact that we know that repeated activity alters brain structure.

    Peter – First, thanks for the link. Second, your statement above is misleading in that it implies that we know for sure that repeated activity can alter those particular brain structures. We really don’t know how sexual activity would alter amygdala connections and function along with create symmetry in gay males. Is it possible? In absent of evidence that it isn’t possible, I can’t say for sure. According to Savic and other brain researchers I have interviewed, changes related to sexual behavior seems much less likely than some kind of pre- or very early post-natal hormone factors (e.g., balance of testosterone and estrogen, suppressing effect of aromatase, etc.).  

    I think the reason evangelicals have blacked out studies like this one (and Wittelson’s) is because the most plausible mechanisms for the differences between gays and straights is not related to sexual behavior or upbringing.

    PS – Glad you’re back; praying for you.

      • Peter – I don’t understand the point. Parts of the amygdala are involved in the emotional reactions that facilitate memory. Strong emotion may facilitate retention of salient events and contribute to brain changes elsewhere in the temporal lobe. However, I cannot see how gay sex for men and straight sex for women would lead to amygdala activation that is alike. I can buy the idea that the amygdala is involved in aspects of sexual arousal but you would have to argue that there is something different in the experience of sex with men for both gay men and straight women when compared with sex with women for straight men and lesbians. If sex altered the amygdala due to experience, it seems to me it would do it in the same way for anyone having sex whether gay or straight or with a man or a woman. However, that is not what they brain scans depict.

    • Don’t get me wrong – I’m quite happy with the notion that there may be other explanatory factors. I simply think we need to be aware that the same evidence can often support competing hypotheses.

      • Still don’t follow you. We are talking about differences in brain structure. You haven’t offered any way that the same evidence can support a competing hypothesis. I am certainly open to evidence, and I recognize that we need more than we have, but I don’t know what other hypothesis you are referring to.

  2.  Was the Dicocesan unhappy because the Rev. Coward said something untrue or because he was telling tales out of school? Surely there’s quite a significant difference? 

    4. Context is all, surely? Am listening to hip-hop as we speak, a good example of how a particular word (the N one) means different things depending on who says it and in which context. There is some inadvertent comedy in those “biblical” h-phobes Anglican Downstream appearing to imply that non-judgmental inclusion of lepers (or “lepers”) is a bad thing….. ;-) 

    • As regards your first point, *cough*, ‘cos someone claimed that something was more then it actually was *cough*.

      As regards your second, well yes, but then that’s as good a reason not to the boot in as it is to do so.

  3. Yes I have seen the flyer for this so called ‘conference’. What ever else it is designed to do the title disgusts. I have said elsewhere that this is exactly what the Nazis did. They associated the Jews with ‘lepers’ as part of the initial stages in their dehumanisation. Having accomplished that they could then start treating them as sub human. That way leads the gas chambers. I am also appalled that a member of the Chichester Diocesan Synod is a member of the so-called ‘Council of Reference’ of this organisation which seems to otherwise (and with the exception too of Canon Sugden, another of the usual suspects) to consist of evangelicals from Northern Ireland, not a part of the country noted for its practice of Christian charity.

    May I also add that as a gay man I find the search for the ’cause’ and the obsession which some Christians have with the ’cause’ deeply offensive. It seems to me that the search for and the discussion of is an attempt to evade the responsibility of dealing with us where we are and not where you would like us to be. The discussion, and indeed fascination, with causes, as in the Chirch Times article, on bi-sexuality, is designed to justify the practices which organisations such as ‘Core Issues’ and the ex gay movement generally advocate; practices which are shown to be ineffective and often deeply damaging. And, I might add, which some ex-gay practitioners now recognise as such.

    • Absolute rubbish Richard.

      You can use “leper” in two different ways (and by the way you would have to document the specific use by the Nazis of “leper” to label Jews before I accepted the point) which do different things. The first is to simply observe that someone *is* a leper. We know this is very true in the Evangelical church as regards homosexuals – despite the nice words of some leaders there is a level of “keep this issue and these people at a distance” in many people’s response. The second usage is that these people *should* be lepers / shunned. This is what you are intimating above and I see absolutely no evidence of this whatsoever in the flyer. If you think otherwise then perhaps you could show us where?

      • Thank you for your reasoned critique of my contribution. If it’s rubbish why do you bother to respond to it? Words mean things Peter.Why did they use the word ‘lepers’? And I have no desire to be patronised by a bunch of northern Irish prebyterians who think that being kind to gays will somehow draw them in and make them ripe for conversion.

        • Well Richard, why don’t you read the book and see what the usage of leper is before jumping to assumptions. It really doesn’t do your case any good to assume that you’re going to be patronised without knowing a single thing about the individual in question.

  4.  some excellent points Richard.  I’d suggest that those who worry more about homophobes being “persecuted” than they do gay people google “The Pink Triangle and the Yellow Star”, but alas Godwin’s “Law” appears to be what many evangelicals have knowledge instead of actual intellectual fallacies (presumably because knowledge of the real kind – such 
    http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ – would soon collapse their nonsense).

      Also troubling is the fact that many on this blog – if they were being honest – would have to admit that they don’t “hate” gays per se but they do regard homosexuality as a mental illness (!).   Such dehumanising attitudes – regarding gays as essentially moral plague carriers – can hardly not lead to dehumanising legislation and ultimately persecution.. 

    • An interesting discussion on ‘All in the mind’ the other day on Radio 4 about the hypothalmus (is that the spelling) in the brain of London Taxi Drivers being bigger than that of those who don’t pass or never have had  the ‘knowledge@a2c587e8e9532460fe9d0c03b339c0cc:disqus 
      So what are the implications of such a discovery? Suppose that some such variation was shown in the brains of gay men (note again that women are never included).  The implications for contributors to this blog, the supporters of ‘Core Issues’ and the ex-gay proponents is that we could all be identified definitively and ‘treated’ to make us normal. Perhaps that could be done in the womb? Perhaps those showing such variations could be aborted? And then ‘God’s plan’ would be perfected by the intervention of the ‘God fearing’. Hallelujah

      • The problem is, we don’t know whether the hypothalmus has a variant size *because* of the study required to get “the knowledge” (i.e. the learning alters the hypothalmus) or that those with naturally larger hypothalmuses find it easier to get “the knowledge”. Without knowing this we can’t make any of the lurid speculations (and they are lurid – I bet you know absolutely nothing about Core Issues and what it’s members *actually* think on the subject) that you are making.

        • and I bet you know nothing about being gay and living as a gay man in a straight world. And lets not get into the ‘post-gay’ discussion, that’s not relevant in any way.

      •  Please don’t lecture me on stigma against those with mental illness – I have even more of a dog in *this* fight than I do the anti-LGBT one.

          I’m sure you know that mental health advocates advise against using terms like “Schizophrenic” (as opposed to “person with Schizophrenia”) as they are are reductive slurs on actual complex human beings. I would argue – and I think that many (most?) self-respecting gay people would agree – that regarding them as fundamentally flawed, necessarily mentally ill and/or “objectively disordered” is indeed figuring them as lepers or plague carriers. 

         “moral” – I’m guessing (hoping) that you wouldn’t regard being (say) clinically depressed as a sinful state, however if homosexuality WAS reclassified as a mental disorder you would still regard homosexuality as sinful meaning that it is not ‘just’ a disorder but also (like all sins) immoral.  Gays, as you well know, had to put up with years of being told that they are both sick AND morally wrong. 

        And ‘carriers’ was quite deliberately chosen – you can’t “encourage” people to be schizophrenic, whereas those seeking to reclassify homosexuality very much do posit it as a disordered addiction-style behaviour increased by societal acceptance of it. 

        • Without even reading the book or going to the conference, you already know what this man has to say and what your response should be?

          Come on Ryan, you can do better than that.

          •  Peter, I find it curious that you asked for an explanation on my use of a phrase and then ignored all my points. We were talking about the phrase “moral plague carrier” which I maintain is an accurate summary, for the reasons explained above, of a certain common conservative view of homosexuality (i.e. a disorder AND a sin AND something that others can be encouraged to try)
             For the record, I am not saying that the use of leper per se is proof that the speaker at the conference is necessarily espousing such reductionist views. 

  5. I do wonder about people sometimes.  The Lepers Among Us happens to be the title of a book.  Written by the speaker at said conference. 

    If Changing Attitude had put on a conference with the same title, would this conversation even be taking place?

    Before people go into Outrage overdrive, they might care to note that ‘The Lepers Among Us sends a call to the Evangelical Church to stop treating believers who struggle with homosexual sin as lepers.’

    •   Ah yes Jill, but you’re the person who thinks (c.f. the “Taxpayer’s Money” guff) that not only are most people straight but that straight people are and should be heterosexist and anti-gay! Alas, we should not, in a free society, vote on the civil rights of others, and I’m sure that you’re perfectly aware that there are precedents for (e.g.) racist discrimination being overturned in law (both here and in the USA) despite the fact that lots of “normal” people were quite openly (and, not incidentally, “religiously” or “biblically”) racist. 

       As for Outrage, even the “Christian” Institute has cited Peter Tatchell as a free speech purist. Compare and contrast with your ideological team…..

       And the sentence you quote hardly precludes advocating that those who DONT understand their sexuality in evangelical terms (i.e. the vast majority of gay people, who would hardly self-describe as “struggling with homosexual sin”) getting a bit of the ostracise-the-lepers treatment. 

  6. Lets go back to Core Issues and ‘The Leper among us’ . First of all then, lets look at the supporters of this group – aside from the Norther Ireland contingent they are also supporters or organisers of Anglican Mainstream, The Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern amongst others. They include Chichester Diocese own fundamentalist, Andrea Williams, who is quoted as believing that the earth is just 4000 years old. And on the web site, guess who else is there, why it’s the owner of this Blog, Peter Ould, and in video as well. Amazing.

    Its obvious from this grouping that ‘Core Issues’ has an agenda, it can hardly be ‘disinterested’.

    And then look at a bit of history. Many evangelical Christians define their faith and the validity of others’ faith by their attitude to homosexualitry. The conditition is ‘tending towards a grave moral evil’ or words to that effect said the Vatican. Words with which many evangelica Christians will agree.

    So. We set up a position, based on selected bits of the Bible (must be true, the Bible says so) and add to that bits of Jung and Freud, stuff about alienation and attraction and more bits about dominating mothers and passive fathers and we do our very best to make it impossible for Gay people to feel truly at home in the Church because they are sinners, and not just any sinners but of a particularly nasty kind. They must be rooted out, exposed, denied office or responsibility, their lives are a scandal and they threaten the very survival of the species so we try to ‘unchurch’ them or offer them ‘conversion’ to turn them ‘straight’ so that will be ok then and they will be saved and they can stay.

    But then we find that it doesn’t work. People don’t like being scared to death and alienated from their churches and Christian faith. So let’s now try some kindness. Yes we really love you, we really want you to belong to our Christian family, we welcome you in and then we can sit down with you really nicely, with no pressure and explore why you are unhappy and we will do our best to counsel you and to lead you ever so gently into a position where you know that the only way forward is to want to change. And you only have to pray to God hard enough and lo and behold it will work.

    Well perhaps it’s not quite so ‘in your face’ a the previous ‘repent and be saved line, but it is equally nasty and particularly underhand.

    • One only has to read our
      bloggers respnse to my postings here to know that for some Christians, however
      they dress it up, homosexuality and homosexual activity is always and
      everywhere wrong and and that the only way to acceptance by that constituency
      (and their God, because he certainly isns’t mine) is abstension or ‘conversion’
      so we can all be loving and lovely nuclear families and everyone will be happy.

      Or to put it another way, in the title of Jeanette Winterson’s recent book ‘Why be Happy when you could be normal?’

      •  I think it’s also worth noting that this is not ‘just’ a ‘theological’ matter. Conservative Christians, apparently labouring under the delusion that we live in a theocracy, are intent on curbing the natural lives of everyday normal people (especially, but hardly limited to, LGBT ones). Nobody – least of all Peter Tatchell – objects to the right of evangelicals to coagulate among their own demented kind, whereas evangelicals are intent on inflicting their prejudice on the world and denying gays equal rights (and rites).  

        That said, at least those who tried to make all sin illegal would be operating from a point of consistency – unlike “conservatives” who agitate against the “gay lobby” but don’t exactly spend much time trying to criminalise heterosexual fornication, or heavy drinking, or lying, or etc etc ad infinitum. 

      • If you’d actually spent some time reading me you would know by now that the statement

        “homosexuality and homosexual activity is always and everywhere wrong”

        certainly isn’t my position. But better to engage with the straw-man that is easy to knock down then to grapple with what people have actually written and articulated.

        Remind me Richard – what is the point of you commenting here if all you want to do is simply criticise anything anybody conservative says?

    • Core Issues believe that change in sexual orientation is possible, but don’t see anything on their website that insists that ALL gay people SHOULD change. Why is it such a problem for you if SOME people share their stories and then invite others to explore whether they might want to experience the same kind of journey?

      Here’s what they say:

      CORE is a non-profit Christian initiative seeking to support men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression. It respects the rights of individuals who identify as ‘gay’ who do not seek change.

      What is it about that statement that you don’t like?

      •  A bit like evangelicals saying that ALLOWING *some* gay weddings will inevitably lead to COMPULSORY gay weddings in churches, no? :-)

        • In the same way that some “gay activists”, who when Civil Partnerships were introduced said, “Gosh, we don’t want gay marriage at all – why would we want that?”, are now just 5 years later pushing for gay marriage?

          Anybody can play at this game.

          Now answer the point. What is it about that statement you don’t like (though I grant you I asked that of Richard first)?

          •  As such, is it not disingenuous to appear to not to see the problem that some would have with “voluntary” ex (or post, or whatever) gay therapy? For one thing, there’s the issue of LGBT youth who don’t have the same rights as adults. 

            • I can’t see the problem at all with someone choosing to go on a Living Waters course or something similar. I’ve never met a single person who hasn’t got something out of doing this kind of thing.

              All CORE does is offer a service to those who want it. If you don’t want it, fine, but then to say it shouldn’t happen is like me saying I don’t want to permit any hotels to cater for specific clientèle. That’s a ridiculous position to hold (though some do sadly) and I think the idea that people shouldn’t be able to choose to attend Core Issues (or any other such group) if they so choose is illiberal and fascist. It’s no different from banning spiritual direction because you don’t like the Jesus thing.

              •  I’m pretty much libertarian, so certainly would not call for the banning of such courses. Although, is there not an issue analogous to the “practising medicine without a license” one?  Someone could object to them on the same way they object to (say) spiritualist or “healing” conferences – regarding them as demonstrable nonsense that can lead to harm – which isn’t really the same thing as a fascistic curbing of free speech. 

                 Also, I know you might regard some of the language on this thread as unhelpful, but I don’t think that Richard was inaccurate in citing (misunderstood) Freud as being a feature generally of ex (post, whatever) gay ideology.  I’m sure that a swift google would provide plentiful evidence of Focus on the Family, Exodus, NARTH etc etc still (to varying extents) giving credence to the alienated bond with father+strong mother “aetiology” of homosexuality. Does Living Waters really have nothing in common with such thinking? 

    • By the way Richard, when was the last time you attended a full Living Waters course? It’s just that you seem to know so much about how all these different conservative Christian approaches work, it’s surely because you’ve actually been on a course and experienced it for yourself? I mean, it can’t be that you’re criticising something that you’re actually ignorant of?

  7. Oh by the way Peter, since you shared your dilema with the nation on Channel 4 about fancying men who reflected the sort of man you would like to be (curious use of the word ‘canibalism’) I would suggest that you are/were suffering from a lack of self confidence rather than a theological/religious lack.Perhaps some assertiveness counseling might have been in order, rather than a conversion experience. Would have saved the rest of us a lot of time and trouble. Who knows, you might have felt both normal and happy!

  8. Now that’s really interesting. My comment on Peter’s video, published on the Core Issues web site and broadcast to the nation on Channel 4 doesn’t appear here. Yet my other comments, no matter how much Peter thinks that they are rubbish, do.

      • Thank you Peter. If you lay yourself open by broadcasting your dilemas on the television, you should expect to get a response. I certainly don’t intend to insult you but there is nothing wrong with a robust response, especially since you are yourself quite robust enough in telling us what you think about issues of sexuality and sexual orientation.

        I haven’t mentioned a ‘living waters’ or any other such course. However having met and having heard Jeremy Marks speak and having read through the working documents of Exodus, I am well aware of the techniques and the ‘cult’ like pressures which such movements use.

        I thought that this was very interesting:-

        Exodus International…facing social and financial oblivion

        • You see Richard, I think you’re talking from a position of ignorance. It would be a very interesting experience for you to go on Living Waters (or some other similar course) with an open mind to see what it was really like. I never experienced any cult like processes on the courses I attended or taught on.

          I can’t comment on Exodus International beyond observing like many others that the finances certainly seem to be tight and there is an issue for how Exodus as a body moves forward.

  9. I would suggest that Exodus moves forward by disbanding and that the energies of its promoters are put towards doing something about the rather more pressing issues facing the world than what a few men do together in bed.

  10. Yes we really love you, we really want you to belong to our Christian
    family, we welcome you in and then we can sit down with you really
    nicely, with no pressure and explore why you are unhappy and we will do
    our best to counsel you and to lead you ever so gently into a position
    where you know that the only way forward is to want to change.
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