As a broadcaster, commentator and ‘TV vicar’, Rev Steve Chalke has been on our TV screens for over 25 years. Today, he is taking to the airwaves to give far more than advice or commentary as he launches a ground-breaking campaign to ban the dangerous practice of conversion therapy.
In an interview at 10PM tonight on ITN, Rev Steve Chalke will publicly criticise the practice which he believes is dangerous and damaging. The interview forms part of a wider call to Government to work with Oasis – the charity he leads – and other Christian agencies to ban the practice which is believed to be prevalent in churches the length and breadth of the country.
Conversion therapy (or ‘cure’ therapy or ‘reparative’ therapy) refers to any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to reduce or stop ‘same-sex attraction’ – a term often used to make homosexuality or bisexuality sound like an illness – or to suppress a person's gender identity. It is based on an assumption that being lesbian, gay, bi or trans is a mental illness that can be ‘cured’. In the UK, all major counselling and psychotherapy bodies, as well as the NHS, have concluded that conversion therapy is dangerous and have condemned it by signing a Memorandum of Understanding.
Rev Steve Chalke says, “Religious freedom and freedom of speech are two of the fundamental pillars of a democratic society and no one should attempt to ban any kind of belief system. But freedom can never be an excuse for abuse and we need to be clear that our freedom ends when it crosses the line into oppression. Oasis is a Christian organisation that has been helping LGBT people recover from spiritual abuse for many years; we believe we are well placed to help policy makers understand the nature and breadth of conversion therapy taking place and to craft sensible, workable policy that can disrupt it. We are calling on the Government to join our crusade against this dangerous and damaging practise and to partner with us and other inclusive churches and agencies to make banning it a reality.”
The new campaign to see a change in the law will consist of four main sections:
1. Search for stories and the gathering of research – Conversion therapies take many different forms and exist in different degrees of intensity. While it has been known to include electric shock therapy, it might also be as seemingly innocent as someone offering to pray for you to be released of ‘same-sex attraction.’ One of the problems in legislating against it previously has been a lack of clarity about what is actually happening and as such, what specifically needs to be banned or disrupted. The campaign is seeking people who have been through any form of conversion therapy to share privately their stories on a confidential basis with members of the Oasis team so that a picture of what is happening can be formed. If people are happy to participate in focus groups, these will also be considered as part of the research stage.
2. Assessing the scale of the practise – Once we have built a thorough picture of the specific practise currently operating, wider research techniques – such as omnibus – will be used to help understand the scale of the problem, whether there are any particular trends within different denominations or parts of the country and other essential insights.
3. Apply the lens of safeguarding – Oasis works with over 25,000 young people in the UK and are responsible for 49 Academies across the country. As such, Oasis safe guarding experts will analyse the reported practices that fall under the ‘conversion therapy’ umbrella and assess whether they would meet the safe guarding and health and safety practises that we rightly expect for our young people in schools and other public organisations and spaces.
4. Publishing a ‘white paper’ – Having distilled the different practises and projected the scale and reach of them, the Oasis policy team will draft specific and achievable policy recommendations all aimed at the disruption of conversion therapy practices.
The search for stories
In order to complete the essential research stage of the project, Steve is urging people who have experience of any kind of conversion therapy - including informal prayer - to come forward and share their experience. All personal details will be treated in strict confidence and will ideally include:
- A broad outline of the experience you went through – what was the process? How long did it last?
- How organised was the process? Was it informal prayer with leaders or was it a structured programme?
- How the process was initiated
- Where the therapy was more formal, who conducted the therapy (i.e. your usual church leader or a ‘specialist’)
- What kind of church / denomination either offered or recommended the therapy
- Roughly what age you were when the therapy took place?
- If you were under 18 when it happened, were your parents, carers or guardians aware that it was happening and the nature of the process?
- Were wider members of the church congregation aware that the conversion therapy was being offered and what it involved?
People wishing to share their stories can email them to OCN@oasisuk.org or post them confidentially to:
Open Church Network
The Oasis Centre
1a Kennington Road
London SE1 7QP
LGBT support and resources
The campaign to ban dangerous conversion therapy is the latest initiative from Oasis to further the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life the Church. For people interested in learning more about the topic, or receiving support, a number of articles, videos and resources exist on the Oasis web portal, the ‘Open Church Network’ (openchurch.network). These include:
A Matter of Integrity – The article published by Steve Chalke in 2013 marked the first occasion that an evangelical church leader made the Biblical case for the full inclusion of LGBT people in church.
The Gender Agenda – Earlier this year, Steve published a short book and produced a video setting out why the church should embrace, support and include people who are trans, transgender and gender non-binary.
Understanding the New Testament – This video by Steve demonstrates how New Testament verses that – at first glance – seem to be condemning same-sex relationships are in reality criticising the over-sexualised practises of the ancient Roman world. This understanding is partly based on ancient artwork found in the rediscovered city of Pompeii.
Oasis was founded in 1985 and exists to help people lead full lives through strengthening communities. Currently working in 11 countries, Oasis is involved in projects as diverse as helping people trapped in poverty in India to pioneering education in the UK. Through its educational trust, Oasis Community Learning, Oasis is one of the largest providers of academies in the UK, currently responsible for 49 primary and secondary schools.
www.openchurch.network is a web portal rich in content and resources for those with a personal interest in Christian life or theology; for church leaders, church members and those who are currently finding their way outside a traditional sense of church.