Can you ‘pray away the gay'? More than that, should you try? I'd argue that the answer to both of those questions is ‘No’.
To my mind, trying to ‘cure’ homosexuality through so-called ‘conversion therapy’ or through ‘sexual redemption work’, is at best misguided, at worst downright dangerous.
And I'm not alone in this opinion. In 2010, the British Medical Association described conversion therapy as ‘discredited’ and ‘harmful’.
And now the General Medical Council has imposed conditions on the practice of Dr Paul Miller.
You'll remember Paul. He was the “lovely psychiatrist” friend of Iris Robinson who, she said, could turn gay people away “from what they are engaged in”.
Gay journalist Patrick Strudwick made a complaint to the GMC about Miller's conduct during a therapy session and last week the GMC ruled that Miller must be supervised by a consultant for the next 18 months.
Robinson's praise for Miller was the first public sign of the growing ex-gay movement — in which homosexual men and women claim to have overcome same-sex attraction through prayer, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two — in Northern Ireland.
It's huge in America and it's going strong in Australia, too, where the evangelical Christian Margaret Court, the country's most successful tennis player, has been doing an Iris, accusing gay people of indulging in “abominable sexual practices”.
Here in Northern Ireland, an organisation called Core Issues — a Christian initiative run by Mike Davidson, a married man who describes himself as “in conflict with unwanted homosexuality . . . before finally seeing the light” — has brought a series of high-profile ex-gay speakers from the US to Ireland.
Core recently got into trouble for its latest conference, entitled The Lepers Among Us. Not surprisingly, there was a furious reaction from gay campaigners, who objected to the apparent implication that homosexuals are scabby outcasts.
I can understand why gay people find organisations like Core offensive. Core's idea of healing what it calls ‘sexual brokenness’ must sound like an insult, an implicit condemnation of their sexual identity.
But I have no sympathy for those who want simply to bang the drum for political correctness and this sort of row is a magnet for such earnest, right-on types.
Sure enough, up popped Alliance councillor Andrew Muir. He said, “I find it extremely disturbing that some feel it necessary to hold such events where gay people are disgracefully described and stigmatised as lepers . . . Being gay is good and not something people should seek to change or be ashamed of.”
Muir's pompous words annoyed me. Why? Because, as much as I dislike the idea of trying to change someone's sexual orientation — and I don't believe that it is ultimately possible — I also dislike smug Leftists (and I count myself as broadly Leftist) who insist that they have sole rights to the moral high ground and keep telling other people how to think and what to do.
It's sometimes assumed that only conservatives are intolerant, while Left-leaning types are full of love and fairness, supportive of personal freedom. That's not always been my experience.
Let's be clear, The Lepers Among Us was a stupid title for the conference. It was bound to cause offence.
But as Mike Davidson of Core tried to explain, that was not the intention. He protested that it was not meant to be a call to shun LGBT people, but a challenge to the church to stop ostracising them. But his voice was drowned out by the ongoing roar of condemnation.
The ex-gay movement, in particular, is an easy target for unimaginative liberals, or for people |who simply enjoy getting outraged. It seems so black and white: being gay is good, being ex-gay is bad.
Now, I am not here to defend Mike Davidson, Core or the ex-gay scene. I believe their approach to same-sex attraction is wrong-headed, rooted in sin and shame and potentially harmful. It's right that the BMA censures any doctor trying to ‘cure’ gayness.
But, equally, no one has the right to tell others how to behave when it comes to private, individual choices. If a gay man or woman wants to try to pray away their homosexuality, that's their choice. A foolish one, in my opinion, and one that could go badly wrong, but nonetheless their own.
On gays, ex-gays, or any other issue, liberals should be careful they don't go full circle and become as intolerant as those they oppose. Whatever happened to live and let live?