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Religion & Culture | Is homosexuality an illness that can be 'cured'? (Pt. 1)

Published:Thursday | May 19, 2016 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby

Human Rights Campaign is the largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organisation in the United States (US).

Founded in 1980, it has repeatedly condemned efforts to "cure" homosexuality.

Its literature has reproduced a 1999 resolution passed by the governing council of the American Counselling Council.

The resolution states that the use of conversion therapy, sometimes known as reparative therapy, is a "dangerous and discredited practice that falsely claims to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity or expression".

It argues: "These practices have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organisation for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBT people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy."

It also notes that minors "are especially vulnerable" and indicates that the practice can lead to serious social and psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.

Conversion therapy grew out of the evangelical movement in the US. Despite its professed success, Christianity as a whole remains divided on the subject.

Recently, more than 100 Methodist ministers professed their homosexuality in defiance of the church ban on the ordination of avowed practising homosexuals.

Christian opposition to homosexuality is based on the belief that the act is a learned behaviour; that sexual preference has its roots in socialisation, and as such, can be addressed through Christ-centred therapy (conversion therapy).

While Christians concede that same-sex attraction may be common, they hold that only when acted on is the sinful act of homosexuality committed.

Minister Janet Boynes, author of the book Called Out, attributes her bisexual past to a behavioural lifestyle that involved "drugs, turmoil, and violence".

Her ministry is in the hub of the ex-gay movement in Minnesota and the home of Pentecostal and charismatic churches such as the Living Word Christian Center, the Alliance of Renewal Churches, the North Heights Lutheran Church, the Bethlehem Baptist Church, and the Warroad Community Church that advocate conversion therapy to combat a more vocal and influential LGBT community.

Nonetheless, their "antidote to homosexuality" message - their therapeutic cure for gays through Christ - has been challenged legally by some states and repeatedly discounted by medical associations, including the American Psychiatric Association.

For greater insight into the dynamics of sexuality and faith, I turned to Bishop Joseph Tolton, pastor of the Reheboth Temple Christ Conscious Church in Upper Manhattan, New York.

Bishop Tolton has worked with civil society organisations and local faith-based entities in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Ques: There appears to be a groundswell of opposition to conversion therapy. Why now?

Tolton: In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality was not a mental disorder. Since then, America has made great strides in understanding the nature of human sexuality. This, coupled with spiritual enlightenment, in particular among Jews and mainline Protestants, has created an environment that will not tolerate psychological abuse.

Ques: Did it ever cross your mind that homosexuality is learnd behaviour?

Tolton: As a gay man who had to pretend to be something that I am not, it crossed my mind that heterosexuality can be a learnd behaviour. At the same time, there is circumstantial sexual conduct that is beyond psycho/biological instincts. This type of sexuality is driven by social environment. Human sexuality is simple but yet complex. It is fluid and very dynamic.

Ques: I have listened to some ministers who have said that homosexuality can be prayed away. Tom Brown echoes the sentiment of his clerical colleagues when he states that homosexual tendencies are caused by sexual abuse by an older person of the same gender, feeling out of place with peers of the same gender, or by the neglect of a parent of the same gender. He goes on to say that faith and God's grace have transformed gay men and women, citing 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. How do you respond to this?

Tolton: Indeed, if any person be in Christ Jesus, he or she is a new creature and old things are passed away. God is a God of transformation, new beginnings, and deliverance. This shift and this change are meant to radically evolve our "inner spirit". There is nothing in scripture that suggests my God-given traits are to be changed by the power of God.

Jesus healed many people, but none of them were required to change their gender, the hand the person wrote with, height, race, eye colour, or ethnicity.

Ques: Besides being a threat to sexual independence, what are some of the forces or reasons behind the unbelievably vicious attacks on gays worldwide?

Tolton: If I have sovereignty over my body, what else should be under my control? Gay identity globally is a threat to both autocracy and patriarchy. The forces of dictatorship and male dominance will never go out without a fight. Outside of the crucifixion of the Christ, I do not know of any historical account of power being conceded with no resistance. For the sake of humanity, I am glad that Jesus rose again with all power in his hands.

Next week, Pastor Tolton discusses homosexuality in black culture, the struggles of gay clerics, paedophilia, and steps to protect and empower the LGBT community globally.

Feedback: or follow him on Twitter @glenvilleashby.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is the author of 'Anam Car: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity', now available on Amazon and iTunes.