Why it is Time for British Evangelical Churches to Stand Up to Defend Pastoral Care for Unwanted Same-sex Attraction

In this article from the recent Bulletin of the Affinity Social Issues Team, Carys Moseley issues an urgent call for churches to resist attempts to ban pastoral care for those who want help to overcome same-sex attraction:

The right to provide pastoral care for people of both sexes who experience unwanted same-sex attraction is under threat in the United Kingdom. All types of Christian ministry are affected, as are secular fields such as psychotherapy and counselling. By the same token, people’s right to receive such pastoral care is also under threat. Homosexual behaviour is rooted in same-sex attraction, is clearly forbidden in Scripture and exemplifies rebellion against God as our Creator. So this is clearly a first-order gospel issue today. Yet we are confronted with a deafening silence from Christian denominations and networks in the UK. This needs to change fast, and in this article I shall explain why all this matters so much.

Why has this issue become controversial?

The issue of availability of pastoral care of different kinds for men and women with unwanted same-sex attraction has become controversial because gay-rights activists have made it so. They have done this via fifty years of campaigning for homosexuality to be normalised. Most people do not realise that at the root of this campaign for normalisation has been a concerted attack on all kinds of help offered to people with unwanted same-sex attraction, be it from counsellors, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, Christian pastors, pastoral counsellors, healing ministries or self-help groups.

How common is same-sex attraction and behaviour in the United Kingdom?

Homosexual attraction and behaviour have become much more common in recent years in the UK and across the western world, and thus this is bound to be a challenge for Christian outreach and pastoral work. Far from being a marginal issue affecting only a few people, it now affects a substantial minority of men and women.

Same-sex attraction and behaviour are much more common among younger than older adults. In 2010-2012 nearly one in five (18%) women in Britain aged 16-25 had experienced some degree of same-sex attraction, as had seven percent of men in the same age bracket (Table 10).[1] Nineteen percent of women and seven percent of men aged 16-25 said they had had same-sex sexual contact.[2] It is highly likely that same-sex attraction was very closely correlated to same-sex sexual contact. However, most of these people would never label themselves gay, lesbian or bisexual. So same-sex attraction and behaviour mostly occurs among people who label themselves heterosexual or straight; most people who have ever had same-sex relations move away from this behaviour during adulthood.

Population-level evidence from the USA shows that religious commitment is a major factor in how people choose to handle their same-sex attraction.[3] This is probably the case across the western world. However, as will become apparent, the problem is that freedom of speech on homosexuality is more restricted in countries beyond the USA, where it is protected by the First Amendment. This means that much-needed research on this subject is not being conducted in most western countries. The result is that the public is reliant on largely inadequate press treatment of the subject, which is biased by the influence of gay activists. For example, stories are routinely trotted out in the press of men who got married only later to ‘come out’ as gay. What such stories ignore is the evidence that sexual attraction can change either way well into adulthood. In other words, the myth that all these closeted gay married men were liberated by coming out is just that – a myth. It may be that their sexual attraction actually changed after marriage to a woman.[4] More disturbing still is the fact that evidence also shows that same-sex attraction is much more common among males who were victims of childhood and adolescent sexual abuse.[5] Thus we have to ask whether lack of adequate pastoral care for such problems may account for marital breakdown and coming out. We also know that sexual orientation confusion can be caused by male rape of adult males.[6] Finally, there is some recent evidence from Germany that women who are survivors of Organised Ritual Abuse are much more likely to have developed non-heterosexual sexuality, including same-sex attraction.[7] Such women are highly likely to have developed this as a reaction to being prostituted as children and used in the production of pornography.

To conclude, same-sex attraction and behaviour are major issues, more important than ever. If evangelical Christians are to faithfully reach men and women living today in the United Kingdom and the western world, they must confront this issue.

A brief outline of the history of help in the United Kingdom

There exists no standard history of the help given to people with unwanted same-sex attraction in the United Kingdom. I am currently working on researching and writing this. The current climate of censorship, intimidation, harassment and discrimination against mental health professionals and other supporters by LGBT activists means that there is a question as to whether one should write everything down. We may need to protect the integrity of organisations and individuals who do this work by not drawing attention to what they do. It is nearly impossible for people of working age who have both practical knowledge of this work in the UK, and sympathy for, it to speak up. How this climate of censorship came to be will be explored later in this article.

As far as the UK is concerned, the norm for treatment within the mental health professions for homosexuality was for a client to talk with a psychotherapist. The evidence suggests this was happening from 1920 onwards at the Tavistock Clinic in London as psychoanalytic psychotherapy grew in importance.[8] With Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany and Austria, many such therapists, including Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna Freud, fled to London and New York.[9] They brought with them insights from work with clients having unwanted same-sex attraction.

The foundation of the National Health Service, under Clement Attlee’s Labour government in 1948, put healthcare policy in the hands of the government, something many doctors opposed. The effect of this was that psychiatric treatment for sexual perversions (homosexuality was then considered a perversion by psychiatrists) became more government-controlled.

The Home Secretary in Winston Churchill’s government of 1951-1955, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, set up the Wolfenden Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, due to suspicions that homosexual men, particularly civil servants, were being blackmailed by Soviet agents. Maxwell-Fyfe appointed Sir John Wolfenden, Vice-Chancellor of Reading University, to head the committee. The committee published a report in due course which recommended extending the availability of treatment to diminish homosexual attraction and behaviour.[10] Extensive evidence hearings were held with over 200 witnesses appearing. Among them were numerous mental health professionals who had experience of working with clients with unwanted same-sex attraction. A frequent question asked of them by committee members was whether anybody’s attraction could change from homosexual to heterosexual – and thus change their behaviour. Several professionals, mainly psychotherapists working in private practice with clients who came of their own accord, but also some psychiatrists, said that this was possible and did indeed happen.[11]

Psychotherapists in particular were careful to distinguish between such clients and men referred by the courts and the police due to having committed homosexual offences (all homosexual behaviour between males was illegal at this time, and had been since the early modern period). Those caught by the police would have included both those involved in consensual homosexual behaviour and also those guilty of rape and sexual assault.

The Wolfenden Report made some recommendations for treatment of homosexual offenders which it did not make for clients who visited therapists voluntarily. This was due to the influence of prison psychiatrists who gave evidence. Apart from this some psychiatrists started to develop a ‘behaviourist’ approach that focussed on modifying sexual behaviour. Some used ‘aversion’ techniques such as electro-convulsive treatment, which was originally used for alcoholism. The most prominent proponent of this treatment for homosexuality and sexual abnormalities was John Bancroft.[12] Although the behaviourist approach has been heavily criticised by gay activists including professional historians, their criticisms interestingly revolve around a very narrow set of concerns, mainly the discomfort and pain involved in some types of treatment such as electroconvulsive therapy, and inducement of vomiting when seeing gay pornography.[13]

Some psychiatrists did develop other behavioural techniques aimed at avoiding these concerns. Morally, some aspects of behavioural treatment could be considered questionable. First, it sought to help people to change in order to ‘fit in’ with society. This hardly represents a durable foundation for anything, as social mores can and do change. Second, the focus was on a person’s behaviour, but did not really delve deeply into the motivations and reasons for it. Given that homosexual male behaviour was a criminal offence until 1967 the question of the motivation of individuals given this treatment was discussed. Were they motivated by a genuine desire to be free of homosexuality, or because they did not want to be arrested and recorded as sex offenders? Gay activist historians have argued for the latter, but there are no surveys of psychiatric patients from this period to enable us to be sure.

Psychotherapists on the other hand, who were not psychiatrists (so not medical professionals), had always offered a more inner-directed approach, which was and is to get to know the person’s inner world of thought and emotion, and to enable the client to understand how this had contributed to his or her unwanted same-sex attraction. This therapeutic approach has affinities with Christian pastoral care, and indeed has contributed many insights for the development of Christian ‘ex-gay’ ministries.

Christian work in this area started in the USA in the 1970s, in evangelical fellowships and ministries of healing and prayer. Their influence spread to the UK, several people there having been trained by Americans. Various organisations also started in the UK. These groups distinguishing between help for those who wish to be or are married, and those who will always remain single. The focus among evangelicals in the UK at the moment seems to be towards the latter group. But whilst in a fallen world it is to be expected that many people helped by these ministries will never be in a position to get married, it is surely wrong to suggest that nobody can ever change from same-sex to heterosexual attraction. It is not an accident that the suppression of the truth that change is possible comes at a time when there is great uncertainty about marriage in the churches, where people are marrying an ever-later age both in the church and society as a whole, and there is much extolling of the virtues of singleness as if it were a better state than marriage.

A brief outline of gay rights campaigns against help

Over the last fifty years gay rights activists have consistently targeted all attempts to diminish same-sex attraction by attacking behavioural techniques in psychiatry, wheeling out scare stories of painful treatment and failure. However, they ignore the fact that electro-convulsive therapy is still widely used in the NHS with the consent of mental patients. This hypocrisy needs to be exposed as it informs government policy – witness the disputes between gay activists and lesbians over what constitutes ‘conversion therapy’. No sooner had the Government Equalities Office attempted to recruit participants to interview about their experience of attempts at changing sexual orientation, via a gay activist historian at Coventry University, than a large number of lesbians complained that gender reassignment for young people, most of whom are girls, constitutes ‘conversion therapy’ – in their eyes an attempt to turn young lesbians into female-to-male transgender ‘men’.[14]

Soon after the Sexual Offences Act 1967 had decriminalised homosexual behaviour between consenting adult males over the age of 21, gay activists started opposing treatment for homosexuality. The Gay Liberation Front’s Counter Psychiatry Group was prominent in the campaign.[15] Representing the GLF a young Peter Tatchell disrupted a meeting of Christians listening to psychiatrist Isaac Marks and behavioural psychologist Hans Eysenck discuss behavioural treatment in psychiatry.[16] Tatchell argued that homosexuals suffered harm from such treatment, that follow-up was not being conducted, and that people’s mental health was worse as a result.

Gay activists reacted to the ex-gay movement using the internet to attract international support and clients in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Their main target was the US-based National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality, now the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice.[17] Activists have pushed to get ex-gay content removed from social media on the grounds that it is harmful and discriminatory.

In 2009 gay activist psychiatrist Michael King, who is a member of the Church of England, published a paper with colleagues which attempted to gauge how widespread help within the mental health sector for unwanted same-sex attraction was and had been historically in the UK.[18] Although the research was based on a random representative sample of members of the four main mental health bodies, it did not argue coherently or convincingly why, beyond citing some research from the US, that such help should be banned.

For example, none of the professionals surveyed were asked whether they thought clients had benefited from seeing them – a crucial question given that gay activists claim that therapy is harmful. Did those interviewed realise their responses would be used in a paper advocating for a total ban on such therapy? Most of the professionals who had actually seen clients with unwanted same-sex attraction wanted such therapy to be available to them. Given that counselling and psychotherapy are client-centred it is reasonable to suppose that the clients themselves expressed this view.

In 2010 Anglican Mainstream organised a conference in London featuring high-profile American psychotherapists Joseph Nicolosi and Jeffrey Satinover. This drew an international audience of adults with unwanted same-sex attraction. It was infiltrated by gay rights activist and journalist Patrick Strudwick, who went undercover pretending to be a client for Lesley Pilkington, a Christian counsellor, and Paul Miller, a psychiatrist. He then wrote up stories for the press on these encounters, claiming that he had been harmed psychologically by therapy.[19] It is impossible to verify such a claim. From a Christian standpoint, someone who does not believe homosexual behaviour to be sinful is bound not to understand the motivation of those believers whose conscience and belief about the nature of homosexual attraction and behaviour makes them wish to change.

As a result of this deceit, Lesley Pilkington was struck off the professional register of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.[20] Strudwick then lobbied for a ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy’ via the mental health professional bodies and the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, claiming that it is predominantly a religious issue.[21] In fact the 2009 paper by Bartlett, Smith and King cited above found that only 7% of clients were motivated by religious considerations.

The Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy

The fruit of this controversy was the first edition of the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the United Kingdom. The precise history of how this came about and how each of the signatory organisations came to sign it, has yet to be written. I have covered the many problems posed by this document extensively elsewhere, so here is a summary.[22]

In 2010 the UK Council for Psychotherapy published a document on ‘conversion therapies’ and claimed that the causes of heterosexuality and homosexuality are unknown.[23] This was unscientific as it claimed that heterosexuality is not biologically rooted. The Memorandum grew out of this document, demonstrating that the biological basis for heterosexuality is being erased within mental health professional bodies in the UK.

The Memorandum prohibits all counselling and psychotherapy which aims at diminishing same-sex attraction in people of both sexes and all ages. This includes the majority of people with same-sex attraction who also experience heterosexual attraction. Many of these people are married. In addition, we need to realise that the lack of a lower age limit in the Memorandum means that same-sex attraction, indeed sexual attraction altogether, is being normalised among minors below the age of consent and pre-pubescent children. Lastly, the Memorandum does not single out the age of the objects of sexual attraction. This means that it can be used to prohibit therapy and counselling for people with paedophiliac tendencies towards the same sex, regardless of whether or not they have ever been arrested for related crimes.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists signed up to the original Memorandum of Understanding, but didn’t sign up to a newer version which also prohibits treatment for transgender identities. It also corrected a position statement claiming homosexuality was innate. This was after Dermot O’Callaghan and Peter May from Core Issues Trust published a strong criticism of the submissions of the Royal College’s work on homosexuality.[24]

It is profoundly concerning that the Association of Christian Counsellors signed up to the Memorandum. I know of at least one theological college involved in counselling training for Christians that has also signed up to it. That is one too many. It is high time the churches investigated what is going on here. Christian organisations should be required to refrain from signing up to the Memorandum given its inherent moral flaws.

Will the UK government ban all pastoral care completely?

The present Conservative government announced in July 2018 that it would bring in a total legal ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy’.[25] However, it is noticeable that it quietly backtracked on this after I wrote several articles highlighting the matter.[26]  Currently we are aware that there are public bodies that want to push for a ban using ‘soft law’, i.e. guidelines, protocols, policies. The current Memorandum of Understanding does potentially apply to churches because some have counselling on their premises. The proposed complete ban on conversion therapy would likewise apply to churches and probably extend to unlicensed pastoral counselors and also all pastoral care by Christian clergy, lay workers, fellowships, healing ministries and self-help groups. The aim is the complete normalisation of homosexuality across the life-cycle. It is impossible to overstate how fundamental an attack on gospel living and religious freedom this really is. It could drive the true church in the UK underground.

A final challenge

The silence of the Christian denominations and networks in the UK on this subject is completely unacceptable, as this is a first-order gospel issue. We have to ask whether the leadership of churches has collectively decided that this issue is too threatening, as it undoubtedly raises the risk of social ostracism and career suicide for those who defend pastoral care, unless they have a suitable platform for speaking out. Where in the Bible do Jesus Christ and the apostles tell people to play safe and avoid telling the truth about God’s plan for creation? Nowhere of course, but that is the impression that this silence is giving not only to the rest of society but to most Christians. Too many have swallowed the lie that ‘being gay’ is ‘nice’, a valid alternative identity, something a little big magical and far too sensitive to be touched. This is the effect of ‘born that way’ theory as well as decades of clever propaganda targeting the churches as well as infiltration by gay activists.

The reality is that the integrity of many people’s marriages will be threatened by the loss of pastoral care. In addition, many people are being prevented from marrying, as their heterosexual potential is not being developed through appropriate pastoral care. Indeed, people working in this area are already mostly underground. The result is that adequate training and accountability is not being provided, which in itself endangers the field and leaves it wide open to superficial quick-fix approaches that may do more harm than good. Christians must repent of neglecting this field, of not reading the signs of the times and of being more concerned with pleasing men (gay activists) than pleasing God and serving fellow believers and their neighbours. Many people who are distressed by their same-sex attraction are longing for release, something that only Christians can give in the name of Jesus Christ.

Carys Moseley


[1] Table 10, National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Wave 3 (2010-2012).   http://www.natsal.ac.uk/media/3935/natsal-3-reference-tables.pdf
[2] Table 20, National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Wave 3 (2010-2012).  
[3] Christopher P. Scheitle and Julia Kay Wolf, ‘Religion and Sexual Identity Fluidity in a National Three-Wave Panel of US-Adults’, Archives of Sexual Behaviour, May 2018, 47(4), 1085-1094.
[4] Christine E. Kaestle, ‘Sexual Orientation Trajectories Based on Sexual Attractions, Partners, and Identity: A Longitudinal Investigation From Adolescence Through Young Adulthood Using a U.S. Representative Sample’, The Journal of Sex Research, 2019.
[5] Wilson, H. W., and Widom, C. S. (2010) ‘Does physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect in childhood increase the likelihood of same-sex sexual relationships and cohabitation? A prospective 30-year follow-up’. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(1), pp.63-74.
[6] Jayne Lizbeth Walker, A study of male rape survivors. PhD in Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, 2004.
[7] Johanna Schröder, Susanne Nick, Hertha Richter-Appelt and Peer Briken, ‘Psychiatric Impact of Organized and Ritual Child Sexual Abuse’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health , 2018(15
[8] John Kelnar, Oral evidence given to the Wolfenden Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution.
[9] https://psychoanalysis.org.uk/our-authors-and-theorists/sigmund-freud
[10] Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. London: Home Office, 1957.
[11] These included H. V. Dicks and John Kelnar (Tavistock Clinic), T. C. N. Gibbens and Peter Scott (Institute of Psychiatry), William H. Gillespie (Institute of Psychoanalysis), Wilfrid Bion (London clinic of Psychoanalysis), Elliot Jacques (Institute of Psychoanalysis), Noel G. Harris (Royal Medico-Psychological Society), Winifred Rushforth (Davidson Clinic), Clifford Allen, Eustace Chesser, R. Sessions Hodge (all psychotherapists in private practice).
[12] John Bancroft, Deviant Sexual Behaviour: Modification and Assessment. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.
[13] Tommy Dickinson, Curing Queers: Mental nurses and their patients, 1935-1974. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015; Patrick Higginson, Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Postwar Britain. London: Fourth Estate, 1996. 
[14] https://equalities.blog.gov.uk/2019/05/07/research-into-the-experiences-of-those-who-have-undergone-conversion-therapy-in-the-uk/
[15] Stuart Feather, Blowing the Lid: Gay Liberation, Sexual Revolution and Radical Queens. John Hunt Publishing, 2016.
[16] http://gaynewsarchive.org/tag/london-medical-group/
[17] http://www.therapeuticchoice.com 
[18] Annie Bartlett, Glenn Smith and Michael King, ‘The response of mental health professionals to clients seeking help to change or redirect same-sex sexual orientation’, BMC Psychiatry 2009: 11.
[19] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-ex-gay-files-the-bizarre-world-of-gay-to-straight-conversion-1884947.html
[20] https://www.christianconcern.com/our-concerns/sexual-orientation/appeal-panel-rules-on-lesley-pilkington-case
[21] https://humanists.international/2011/11/gay-humanists-challenge-conversion-therapy-and-condemn-gaystapo-slurs/ ; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/24/mentally-ill-people-at-mercy-of-untrained-therapists
[22] https://www.christianconcern.com/our-issues/freedom-of-speech/why-the-ex-gay-movement-provokes-rage-and-censorship ; https://www.christianconcern.com/our-issues/freedom/uk-government-going-down-a-dangerous-path-in-its-zeal-to-ban-conversion-therapy
[23] UKCP statement on the ‘reparative’ therapy of sexual minorities. February 2010 https://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/UKCP-statement-on-reparative-therapies.pdf
[24] Dermot O’Callaghan and Peter May, Beyond Critique: The Misuse of Science by UK Mental Health Professional Bodies. 2nd ed. Belfast: Core Issues Trust, 2013.
[25] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-government-action-plan-pledges-to-improve-the-lives-of-lgbt-people--2
[26] https://www.christianconcern.com/our-issues/freedom/why-european-countries-should-not-restrict-therapy ; https://www.christianconcern.com/our-issues/sexual-orientation/why-christians-must-defeat-the-global-attack-on-conversion-therapy

(This article was originally published in the Affinity Social Issues Bulletin for July 2019. The whole edition can be found here. A PDF of this article is available to download here.)

The Social Issues Team publishes The Bulletin three times each year, containing information about current issues relevant to churches and Christians.


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