Mike Davidson in the Sunday Telegraph

A great interview with Mike Davidson of Core Issues Trust in today’s Sunday Telegraph.

“I don’t want to be outrageous,” says Dr Mike Davidson softly – but it is hard to believe him. The 57-year-old Christian counsellor and campaigner has upset a lot of people lately, with his claims that homosexuals can become straight if they get enough help, therapy and prayer. The doctor has been called deluded and his work condemned as “inflammatory, homophobic and harmful”.

The Mayor of London has just banned advertisements that Davidson and his allies planned to put on the sides of buses, declaring: “Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud. Get over it!” They were meant to mirror a campaign by the gay rights group Stonewall, but Boris Johnson pulled the ads after taking offence at the suggestion he saw within them.

“It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone can recover from,” said Johnson, who feared “a backlash so intense it would not have been in the interests of Christian people in this city”.

I’m expecting a firebrand. What I get is a gently spoken, slightly stooping man with a South African accent, who lives in a neat detached house in the countryside south of Belfast. His wife, Lynore, brings coffee and chocolate biscuits. They have been married for 32 years, during which time he claims to have been turned away from homosexuality by a combination of counselling, prayer and psychotherapy. He also claims to be able to help others do the same.

Such therapy has been going on quietly in Britain for years, particularly among Evangelicals, but has only recently come to public attention through the efforts of those who oppose it. So is he really suggesting – as they say he is – that homosexuality can and should be cured?

Davidson wants me to understand the pressure he was under when he succumbed to his old feelings. “We were struggling as a family. We’ve had a fulfilled marriage in every sense of the word, but we had packed everything up and moved to a new country in two months – it was horrendous. About that time my son was having real problems at school. Later he was confirmed as a high-functioning autism kind of person. A year and a half ago, he took his own life… I’m sorry…”

We pause, as he recovers composure. “Matthew was 26. He died on the first of October. The reason I’m telling you all this is that when you have brought your son into the world, you’ve seen his eyes open and you’ve seen his eyes close… I suppose that’s why I am really not concerned about sticking my head above the parapet.”

I feel for him. There is such pain and sorrow in his voice and on his face. But I also have to challenge him. Surely it isn’t homosexuality per se that he has had to deal with, as much as a series of painful, damaging experiences to do with secrecy and shame? How can he make the leap from there to urging people to turn away from faithful same-sex love, something he has never experienced?

“If folk want to live in a monogamous homosexual relationship, they need to be given the freedom, the space, the respect and the value to do that.” That is a very surprising answer. How can he possibly square it with calling homosexuality an aberration, a problem and a sin, and urging people to let him help them turn their back on it? Before I get the chance to ask, he goes on. “It may well be true that I could live such a life, but my choice, Cole, is in another direction.”

How has he really changed, beyond finding the strength to deny his desires? “The gay community will say I am a repressed gay, that there is no real change here, it is just about behaviour modification. My experience has been that the more the behaviour has been modified, the more I don’t connect with that part of me that once was much more prevalent. If I have another crisis in my life, what would rear itself? Honestly, I don’t know.”

I struggle to match his gentleness in the room with the offence he willingly causes by what he says and does. Later, at home, I look again at the website for his partner organisation Anglican Mainstream, and come across an article claiming to bust the “Top 10 Myths” about gay people. It asserts that homosexuals experience “considerably higher levels of mental illness and substance abuse than heterosexuals” and that they are less likely to be faithful and more likely to experience domestic violence. And it states, as an alleged matter of fact, that homosexuals are more likely to molest children.

These words are promoted by his allies. I read them and remember the last thing Davidson said to me, as I reached to turn off the tape recorder. “Try not to paint me as naive…”

Go and read the whole piece and let us know what you think. From my personal experience of Mike he is a really good bloke with a great heart for working with men and women who have unwanted same-sex attraction. We can debate the issues but we are not going to permit personal attacks on this thread.

22 Comments on “Mike Davidson in the Sunday Telegraph

  1. Just a thought, couldn’t it be possible that for some people homosexuality is based in past negative experience and for some it is not?  Why shouldn’t the first group receive therapy if they feel that’s for them?  And why’s it always a question of shame?  Surely a better motivation is the positive belief that there might be something special and meaningful in the love of someone of the opposite sex that just isn’t the same as a same sex relationship (no matter how loving).  Self-hate doesn’t seem to me to be a great motivation for positive change, and only leads to self-harm.  There’s also the question of timing.  In my experience of psychological issues, things don’t just come to the surface because you’re in therapy or you want to be better that day.  It can be years before you realise ‘oh, that’s why I feel that way’.

    Second thought.  Why is the journalist so surprised when Mike Davidson says that those who wish to live in monogamous homosexual relationships should have their rights and dignity protected.  What’s so in consistent about that?

    There doesn’t seem to be much attempt to understand the conservative Christian viewpoint.  Or is it just being put across badly?

  2. Not a lot of sympathy for him in the comments below the article (perhaps because of his choice to associate himself with Anglican Mainstream?) Here is a sample of the kind of comment that shows what Davidson and his associates are doing seems to turn people off Christianity more than it helps the unhappy same-sex attracted man, so perhaps Boris was right that Christians needed protecting from a backlash (which is what he actually said).

    “Sexuality is, if you will forgive the expression, a broad church so anyone claiming to have undergone a ‘Road to Judy Garland’ conversion has to be regarded with more than a hint of cynicism. But the fact that the man has  joined a snake-oil peddling evangelical branch of the Anglican church merely reinforces my view that he is not to be trusted. Not only do the evangelical churches tend to be a magnet for those who bear the opinions of the last person to sit on them, but they have a poor track-record when it comes to financial irregularities, sexual misconduct and  tend to attract manipulative sociopaths to positions of power within them.  This man can no more cure ‘gayness’ than the frauds who ‘cure’ any other ailment in church (not one properly documented, medically proven case has ever been recorded of a terminal illness that has been ‘cured’ – James Randi’s $1M is still available to anyone who has one).   I am neither Christian, nor (despite the moustache) gay, but I object to the activities of these zealots who seek to impose their increasingly outdated dogma on what is becoming quite an enlightened secular society……….”

  3. Hello all,

    bought the paper copy of today’s ‘Sunday Telegraph’ (wouldn’t normally!) because I sceptically wondered if the online text is a condensed or shortened version. But i may have wasted my £2 as it seems the full article has been posted on the web. 

    Have to say that after reading this, I have much more… not sure what word to use – sympathy might sound patronising, which I don’t intend – but something like that, for Mike Davidson. I didn’t think he came across well in the BBC ‘Sunday’ programme on the 15th, trying to defend the bus adverts (though I didn’t think Colin Coward or Lynda Rose did either). But here we see some of the struggles and pain that have made him and shaped him, and I warmed to him somewhat. He seems commendably honest in Cole Moreton’s article, and I don’t think he’s painted Dr Davidson as naive, though he has brought some of the ugly things Anglican Mainstream propound into the light and implied that Dr Davidson could be judged by his association with them. 

    If I could pick up on a thing or two you said, nowconcerned…: to your first question, perhaps it could be possible, but how would one ever know for sure? There’s no such person as ‘who I would be if I hadn’t had this past negative experience’, after all, and how could one root through one’s own (or another’s) psyche and pinpoint that *this* definitely caused *that*…? Apologies if I’ve misread you and this isn’t the kind of thing you mean… 

    You ask “why’s it always a question of shame?” and go on to say that “Self-hate doesn’t seem to me to be a great motivation for positive change”, on which I’m sure you’re right. But discovering same-sex desire has been a place of shame for many of us, and still is for others – I suppose because same-sex desire has been so anathematised in culture (in the widest sense) and religion, and, following Girard (“we desire according to the desire of another”) we have ‘received ourselves’ through those hating eyes and so internalised that hatred and shame. 

    I think Cole Moreton was right to suggest it looks rather inconsistent for Mike Davidson to give such a generous-sounding reply when asked about faithful gay couples. Maybe this is an uncharitable reading, but it sounds a bit relativist for him to say that such couples should have the “freedom, the space, the respect and the value to do that” but then to say that his own choice “is in another direction”. Given what Core Issues does I’d be very surprised if he actually was that ‘situationist’ though; maybe it’s more that he believes such couples are wrong but is pragmatically aware that they disagree with him, and respectful enough not to stoop to the language Mainstream uses. 

    One question to you: exactly what is the “something special and meaningful in the love of someone of the opposite sex that just isn’t the same as a same sex relationship”? 

    Peter, I thought it very telling that on the bus ads thread, you said (I think) that Mike Davidson was the only ex- or post-gay person involved in the campaign (ironic too, as the ad purported to speak in the voice of such a person, without evidently consulting very many…). Are you willing to say whether you’d have supported this if asked in time, and if so whether you’d have tried to push for different wording or tone…?

    in friendship, Blair 

    • Hi Blair,

      To answer your question, I would have rejected any question of supporting the bus adverts and indeed would have strongly advised them not to have been bought.

      You are right that almost no-one that was claimed to be represented was consulted. One would have thought that if you were wanting to represent men and women who had ssa and wanted to be faithful to the traditional Christian teaching that you would have spoken to THE organisation in the country that has the largest membership of any Christian group dealing with this issue (which just happens to be conservative). Just saying…

      • Thanks – obviously I like being told I’m right ;) but it does seem to me important that “almost no-one that was claimed to be represented was consulted”. I think that point rather got lost in the media scrummage over this; I’d be interested to hear how Mike Davidson, and even more, Lynda Rose or anyone from AM, would respond to this point.

        in friendship, Blair 

  4. “One question to you: exactly what is the “something special and meaningful in the love of someone of the opposite sex that just isn’t the same as a same sex relationship”?”
    I’m not quite sure, it was meant to be an open question.  But trusting that God created marriage for our good motivated me to try to get over my man hating attitudes.  Not sure I ever did really get over them, just married the one guy in the world who never loses his temper, doesn’t have that annoying easily wounded male ego, loves children and animals, strokes blossom on trees because God made them and they need love (OK, so that one’s kind of weird, and annoying when you’re trying to get somewhere), has never seen a football match, and yet is still convinced that he’s macho enough to be in a gangster movie.  You only need one!

  5. ‘You ask “why’s it always a question of shame?” …. we have ‘received ourselves’ through those hating eyes and so internalised that hatred and shame.
    Sorry.  I didn’t mean to be insensitive.  I only meant that shame often seems to feature as the only motivating factor described in somebodies decision to reject same sex attraction.  I’ve found shame can be very self-defeating.  If you’re tempted to self-harm, it’s better to think of something positive to do that’s going to make you feel better rather than beating yourself up over how twisted and weird you are, which is the reason you self-harm in the first place.  (BTW, I mean self-harm as in temptations to cut yourself or starve yourself, I’m not talking about sex.)  So I assume it would be similar in other areas of life that you’re trying to walk away from.  Telling yourself not to think about pink elephants is a sure way to find yourself thinking about pink elephants.

    • I’ve found shame can be very self-defeating.”

      But (presumably) also liberating if one is ashamed of pride, jealousy, hate, greed… 

  6. “I’ve found shame can be very self-defeating.”
    ‘But (presumably) also liberating if one is ashamed of pride, jealousy, hate, greed…’ 

    Mmm, yes, I see your point.  But the kind of shame we were talking about (I think) is an internalisation of other people’s negative opinion of your behaviour which turns into self-loathing.  The kind of shame I think you’re talking about is linked to real repentance when you feel ashamed of what you’ve done or thought because of it’s consequences to God and others, regardless of whether or not other people hold you in high esteem for your actions.  Holding onto that thought, if it’s true (as the opponents of reorientation therapy claim) that most people seek out therapy because of the pressure of shame from society or their church then, to me, it’s not a bit of wonder that it doesn’t work.  The stories of bad experiences published in newspapers have that theme behind them – my church made me feel ashamed, but they were so friendly, I wanted to be accepted, I was trying my best to do what other people wanted me to do.

    • I think opponents of reorientation therapy find it necessary to argue that “the pressure of shame from society or church” is the only reason anybody would seek out 
      reorientation therapy. There are, of course, instances where this is true. 

      • Frankly, I’d be surprised if it isn’t true in the majority of cases, although there are doubtless some in which it isn’t.

  7. Now it seems Dr Spitzer has acknowledged the fatal flaw in his 2001 study. He says he believes he owes ” the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some “highly motivated” individuals.”


    • As a matter of fact, I fear that it probably won’t. Right from its publication it has been repeatedly misrepresented by some of the ex-gay lobby. Spitzer continually had to emphasize, in response to misleading descriptions of it, that the length of time that it had taken him to find 200 subjects in a country the size of America whose claims of sexual orientation change were prima facie convincing enough to merit further investigation (and it should be noted that 40% even of those had to be discarded on closer scrutiny) had led him to conclude that change of this kind was quite rare. He also stressed that he did not conclude that all gay people should try to change or that they would be better off if they did. 

      From a comment on the Sunday Telegraph article on Mike Davidson, it appears that one member of Anglican Mainstream is already trying to minimize the significance of Spitzer’s retractation:

      “Dr Spitzer has not retracted his work, which was based on many previous studies [NO, IT WASN’T] which reached the same conclusion.”

      True, he has not retracted his work. You can’t retract work. He has retracted the conclusion that he drew from it.

      “He is now an old man and is saddened that his work may have been used by some to demonise people.  That is all.” 

      No, it isn’t all. That his work has been used by some to demonise some people is not the reason why he has retracted his conclusion. He has retracted it because he no longer considers it a valid conclusion that can be drawn from his study. He has explicitly said so.

      “That doesn’t mean that it is wrong.”

      Maybe not, but even as it stood, his study was not evidence for the thesis that change of orientation is a LIKELY outcome of conversion therapy. Indeed, Spitzer stated all along that it wasn’t. That the author himself has now repudiated even the very modest conclusion that he originally drew from it means that its value as evidence for the efficacy of conversion therapy is weakened still further.

      • I think that is right, Will. The point Spitzer seems to be making is that the fatal flaw is in the credibility of witnesses. They cannot be accused of lying – that would be too harsh considering the pain they were suffering – but they might be guilty of wishful thinking in trying to live an impossible dream. The ones I think who should bear all of our contempt are the witchdoctors and snake-oil salesmen who shamelessly use these people, with their misdirected self-loathing, as cannon-fodder in their culture wars. We know who they are.

        • Actually, that’s *not* the criticism Spitzer had. When he initially interpreted the results he said that they provided evidence that people changed their sexuality. Now he simply says that the evidence simply demonstrates that they believed that they had changed their sexuality. The “wishful thinking” stuff is just, well, wishful thinking on your behalf.

          • In May 2006, Spitzer told the Los Angeles Times that he now thought that some of the subjects in his study might have been deceiving themselves or lying to him, so he was obviously starting to have some serious doubts back then. “Deceiving themselves”? If that isn’t the same thing as wishful thinking, it’s something very like it.

            • But he has no evidence to support this conjecture. I’m not saying he’s definitely wrong, just that he has no proof.
              Of course, what would be *really* interesting would be a follow up on the original interviewed population. It’s been ten years after all.

          • Well, what do you think this means?  -Spitzer: “I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the subject’s reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying”. Are we reading the same text? 

            Will is right, self-deception is not very different from wishful thinking. In fact self-deception or downright lying sound a great deal worse – the former is out of touch with reality and the latter is a sin.

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