The Crown Nominations Commission, whose job it is to recommend a successor to Dr Rowan Williams for the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury, includes a leading member of the Anglican Church who believes that gay people can be counselled to suppress and/or change their sexuality, the Guardian reports today.
The member in question is Glynn Harrison, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Bristol University. Recently, Prof Harrison has written articles where he has described gay relationships as “fall[ing] short of God’s purpose in creation.” His argument is that therapy and pastoral ministry may serve as remedies for those members of the clergy drawn to a same-sex relationship, yet feel it to be unchristian. He adds that “there is evidence that some people with unwanted same sex attractions can achieve significant change.”
Indeed, just last year, he co-authored an article, published by the influential Christian Medical Fellowship, which was titled “Unwanted same-sex attraction: Issues of pastoral and counselling support.” The article says: “People with unwanted SSA [same sex attraction] who seek to live in conformity with their beliefs should be free to receive appropriate and responsible practical care and counsel… Most may choose counselling and pastoral support to maintain, within a Christian framework, the disciplines of chastity. Others may wish to explore the possibility of achieving some degree of change in the strength or direction of unwanted sexual interests.”
We note here that the reported address for the anti-equality Coalition for Marriage (C4M) is the same as the Christian Medical Fellowship.
Naturally, his presence has alarmed liberal Anglicans who fear that it could only further divisions within the Church already undergoing painful schisms in the light of consecrating gay bishops, and of those wanting to hold civil ceremonies in church for gay couples.
The Rev Colin Coward of Changing Attitude, which campaigns for the full inclusion of LGBT members within Anglicanism, found Prof. Harrison’s inclusion in the Commission “cranky in the extreme.” Speaking to the Guardian, he said: “It seems the church is trying to give equal weight to those against homosexuality as those who are for it. In 21st-century British society this is insane. I think the next archbishop needs to be chosen by somebody who is fully confident with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the church, because the church stance on this has to change radically. The presence of somebody like Glynn Harrison on the commission really is unacceptable.”
The man at the centre of this controversy has declined to offer any direct comment to the press, but has released a statement through the Church of England. He says that he “does not believe in the concept of ‘gay cure’ or ‘gay conversion’ and has never been involved in offering any formal counselling or ‘therapy’ in this area himself”.
Yet, he would support counselling for people who want to “manage and integrate their sexual desires with a religious identity grounded in the traditional teaching of their faith.” The statement adds: “Prof Harrison also notes however that there are anecdotes in the research literature, and in popular media, about individuals who have experienced some degree of change in either the strength or direction of their sexual attractions.”
It does not, however, help that Harrison is also on the council of reference of the True Freedom Trust, which runs “courses” to help Christians “who struggle with same-sex attractions,” and advocates chastity as the best outcome for gay Christians. According to the Trust, a change of sexual orientation is not convert oneself from gay to straight, but to turn “towards God.”
Supporters of Prof Harrison, who is one of the three lay members of the commission voted in by the Church’s General Synod in 2007, say that his views merely reflect those of many mainstream Anglicans around the world. Others point to the presence of liberal voices within the Commission, such as Mary Johnston, who campaigns for women bishops.
Canon Giles Goddard of the Inclusive Church, while warning that any talk of conversion was “dangerous,” thought that Harrison would choose best person for the job, regardless of his own views on the matter.