Conversion therapy and religion: Killing them softly with ignorance

The complete ban of conversion therapy could criminalize the church leaders and activities, what are the conflicts between religion and sexuality?

The Evangelical Church England wrote to Boris Johnson earlier this year, stating that the universal ban on conversion therapy may threaten religious freedom and illegalize church teaching.

Equality Minister Liz Truss once again call on the government to completely ban conversion therapy as they promised in 2018.

However, the definition of conversion therapy and the scope of the ban of conversion therapy have caused great controversy.

Dr Carol A Shepherd, based in Eastleigh, is a scholar, writer, public speaker, conference spokesperson. She has published many academic essays and novels on LGBT community and religion. A book she recently published is named Blood on its hands: The church and LGBT Youth.

Carol married to a straight man 23 years ago, but she never felt she was in a healthy relationship with her heterosexual husband until she got to engaged with a woman. She decided to marry this woman next year and she feel liberated.

Carol firmly believes that the marriage between her and a straight man is unreasonable, even though they are deeply in love with each other.

She felt that the relationship between her and a straight is unhealthy, as a result of this, it even caused her mental health problem. She was very unhappy every day as a lesbian.

However, the appearance of Cairo’s wife changed her life, Cairo became relieved. She felt that she and her wife were complementary, Cairo’s wife likes gardening, Cairo doesn’t like it. She enjoys the feeling that she and his wife do their respective jobs every day, and love each other. She lived a very fulfilling life, and the two of them also supported each other. She felt that this was her personal rebirth because she no longer needs to feel that her soul is slashed into two, according to Carol.

When Cairo came out as a lesbian and Christian, she had just discovered that hundreds of people had the same shocking experience as her, some of whom had worse experiences, and she felt that this situation could not continue. 64

“We cannot make people think about ending their lives because they cannot change themselves.  I am particularly passionate about young people. When I go to church, I am either not talking about LGBT, or they hear these messages that must be changed,” says Carol.

Carol believes that the conflict between religion and sexual orientation is caused by many reasons.  One of the most important reasons is about control.  The current system benefits men.  The man is regarded as the head of the family, the man plays a role, and the woman plays a secondary role, which benefits men.  This is threatened by same-sex relationships because it breaks the patriarchal order.  Putting men first is in the interest of church leaders.

Another one is ignorance. The ignorance of church against LGBT and faith people’s mental problem is “killing them softly”. It is no exaggeration to say that the hands of church leaders are stained with blood. Young people are not getting the care and diligence they deserve. As disadvantaged youths, no matter what the religious views of the current priest or youth leader are, they do not get their due care and effort, according to Carol.

Carol’s newly published book Credit: Carol Shepherd

The distortion of bible and God’s meanings

None of us actually knows the Jesus attitudes towards sexuality, according to Carol, what the Pharisees did was putting the cart before the horse. In other word, that you can only love, you can only eat, you can only drink, you can only serve, because it’s written in the bible is what they understand. However, Jesus is based on love considerations, the Bible is to accept people and serve, not command.

For Carol, this Pharisees-style thinking is similar to church leaders who reject the LGBT community, this is not just rejecting the LGBT community, but rejecting anyone who does not meet their prescription for a well-behaved God-fearing Christian.

“I think yeah you can apply the biblical teaching but you do it totally within context, you say this was a society in which you know they’ve been largely influenced by philosophy. There was a body spirit dualism going on your, about from the neck up which you were pure from below your neck you were impure,” says Carol.

“So, you know, that’s the inheritance that early church had, they were operating in a society that thought the body was dirty, the body was sinful. They were operating at a time where they didn’t have the same knowledge that we have today, there was no concept of sexual orientation,” says Carol.

The Bible have undergone countless rewritings and redactions. It may contain translational errors, the purpose of its creation is to adapt to the social state at the time, a society where male are leaders and females are seriously neglected. What’s more, the social knowledge at that time was far less advanced and rigorous, according to Carol, the goal of the Bible is to spread the gospel of Christ instead of being worshipped.

“I think that you have to understand the bible is written in the cultural context of its time when it was entirely culturally unacceptable for women to be around in public taking leadership roles, and therefore for the gospel message to be accepted, they have to a certain extent played by the rules of the society or they wouldn’t have the ability to spread the words. There is a clear indication in the scripture for me that Jesus certainly takes women as seriously as men, if not more so,” says Carol.73

“The first people at the tomb are women, he has close female friends, he heals women with recurring menstrual problems, and was severely unclean to touch a woman who was ritually unclean. The idea that the original man Adam was both male and female, and they took extracted the female genes, if you like to make a woman suggests that originally male and female were equal, and there is various characters in acts of apostles in particular, prescilla is one of them, women who are essentially leading house groups for new Chirstians,” says Carol.74

Carol Sheperd Credit: Carol Sheperd

Conversion therapy and pray the gay away

As of today, conversion therapy is still legal in UK.

Right-wing evangelical movements usually run conversion camps, according to Carol, people who have suffered from it may be alienated from family and society, succumbing to the so-called healing prayer.

“These days, at least they don’t, they’re never going to call it conversion therapy now, they will call it healing prayer or wholeness prayer, prayer for wholeness, spiritual wholeness. And these are the big word, big watch words, and they’re kind of red flag words, anyone talking about spiritual healing and spiritual wholeness, always, it can be in fundamentalist circles a euphemism for curing ,you are praying you out, praying the gay away and all that stuff,” says Carol.

“So what you’ll find is, they won’t say conversion therapy at all, but they will offer to pray for you, for wholeness for sexual wholeness, for spiritual wholeness. I mean I’ve not had some of the horrors of conversion therapy but I know people who have had people shouting at them, showing them videos before, horrible rage that I discuss in my book. ”

“What I’ve had is a lot of prayer, people praying for demons of homosexuality to leave my body and stuff like that. It is not a program of conversion therapy as such but just going to conferences like new wine, and stuff like that. And I would confess my sin because to me at that time, about early 90s. That was seemed to be a sin and I desperately wanted to fit in my very groovy vineyard church. There was always that new wine something about spiritual or sexual wholeness, and it was basically the kind of workshop, where all the people struggling with sexuality would go to, and people would pray for you to be rid of these feelings, and sometimes they would call it demons, sometimes not ends on the conference.”

“And because you’re expecting the church to be loving and supportive so it feels worse when it isn’t. So, this is a large problem that they don’t invite the actual people they’re talking about to the table, so they don’t have any kind of understanding of the depths of pain, and the depths of cognitive dissonance so many LGBT Christians have been through, if you don’t talk to people who are actually suffering, you have no idea how little control they have over that suffering. Nobody! And that’s why I did that funny bit in my book. Nobody wakes up one morning and says oh, you know what I think I’ll be LGBT. Why would you do that. So again, it’s a bit political as well, it’s keeping the doors shut, so they can maintain their power and their comfort zones,” says Carol.

God loves everyone equally

Alex Clare-Young, a transgender Minister of the United Reformed Church.

Throughout his whole life, he felt some discomfort with his gender. But it was not until he turned 18-year-old that he realized he was able to transition after he met with the first transgender person that ever came to his life.

In his primary school, a single-sex school with all girls, until he was around 12, he felt like he was an alien and so different to everyone else.

And then in his secondary school, he moved to a mixed school, as soon as he saw other boys, he realized he is one of them. But it was a decade ago and there has not any transgender feasibility, he did not tell anyone about what he thought and kept it as a secret.

When he came to the university, he first saw the transgender people, and he thought he could do it himself and he believed he could totally feel himself for the first time in his life by doing that.

At first, his parent reacted badly because he hadn’t been able to talk about his issue at all, they were quite shocked by the fact and having their own difficulties dealing with it. Finally, until his parents see how happier and healthier he became, his parents came around it and get along well with him.

“Some of my friends react badly and stopped being my friends anymore, and those are mostly from religious background.”

Before he was trans, he experienced difficulties with church that he was going to. At the time their perception was that he was gay and they felt very strongly that he was wrong and kind of attempted to change that eventually throughout the church which is so hard to him.

Alex received a lot of hate mails because he speaks quite openly about being transgender and Christian. After last year he took part in a video for the Church of England about discussion on sexuality and gender. Evangelical alliance chose to make a video about his video where they basically say that he was a woman and lesbian and should be able to be a minister.

It was talking therapy and prayer by a Christian Youth leader when Alex was 15 years old. Basically, according to Alex, he was on a Youth mission to Kenya with them during which Alex said he was attracted to female when he was female at the time.

From that day onwards, for the whole month of the trip, he had received private sessions with the Youth leader. And several times a day everyday where she talked to Alex that he was wrong and disgusting. She would make Alex be sick while talking to Alex like that and also pray for Alex that he will become straight.

Alex experienced two people who was trying to do exorcism. Every night after when they were all in bed, they came in his room, put their heads on his head and pray for him.

“It confuses me even if they think it is a sin, why is it a sin worse than any other sin. Like it is ridiculous that they think being gay is something that needs to be changed but you can shop lift or lie. I don’t think being gay is sinful at all. Even it is theologically they came to that conclusion that being gay is sinful, that still doesn’t give them the right to treat people like they do.”

For a long time, Alex experience really severe anxiety, disorder. When he got home from Africa, the doctors think he got malaria because he was so ill, he was sick every day, he was fainting. He was panic and they thought he was physically ill. But it turned out that he had extreme anxiety because of how he was being treated, which affected his last few years. He even ended up homeless for a while, because he couldn’t cope with living at home. He had really low confidence until five years ago he recovers from that.

Churches are supposed to be loving and supportive

What should LGBT people of faith do

“ I feel quite strongly that you should not try to become part of a church that is not affirming, I don’t agree with that view that you stay in the Church of England and try and change it. I personally think that there are a large number of affirming churches out there. There’s the Open Table network around the country which is LGBT Christian meetings, there are things like two to three network in London. I am at URC church which is by in large affirming, there are plenty churches and organizations which welcome LGBT people and our allies, go to those places make the numbers bigger in those places, less than the numbers of people going to the Church of England the Catholic Church, the free Evangelical Church, take away their power and their influence,” says Carol.

“I think the biggest thing that will change their views, is if that people vote with their feet. But personally, I do not want to put myself through that, every time I go to church, of feeling that I’m a second-class citizen. You know I have high self-esteem, I’m proud of who I am.  I don’t see why I should have to have a mental torture or spiritual torture, when I go to church.”

“You know I wouldn’t work if I was black, I wouldn’t work for a racist organization. So, as an LGBT person of faith. I don’t want to be a member of an organization which is systemically, homophobic, that’s not to say, a lot of congregants are not homophobic at all but the higher up the hierarchy you go, the more homophobic it gets, and personally I have too much pride and too much self-esteem. To be a member of an organization that treats people like that.”