'If it's us now, it will be the pastors next' - Mike Davidson on why gay conversion therapy should not be banned
Mike Davidson is the founder of the Core Issues Trust, a Christian ministry supporting men and women who want help with unwanted same-sex attraction.
As the Government considers imposing a ban on so-called 'gay conversion therapy', Mike speaks to Christian Today about what the therapy is and isn't, and why he fears a ban will only lead to the "silencing" of church pulpits.
CT: The name given for this kind of therapy is 'conversion therapy' or 'gay cure therapy'. Are these names accurate?
Mike: No, I don't know anybody who uses them except gay activists and confused politicians. 'Gay conversion therapy' is a pejorative term and definitely a political ploy, not something that any of us working in this field would ever use. It conveys all the wrong things and is defined by things like electroshock therapy, frontal lobotomies, forced castrations and "corrective" rape - none of which have been practised by any ministry that we would know. The term was coined by Dr Douglas Haldeman, an American Psychological Association activist. It's not a neutral or scientific term.
CT: Do you feel like therapy which seeks to help people with unwanted same-sex attraction is being deliberately discredited?
Mike: Yes, and I think this is premised on the idea that we're 'born gay' and it is therefore natural and unchangeable. Any attempt to help people who want to work through these issues is then dismissed as 'gay cure', and one of the arguments that is often presented is: 'there's no disease, therefore there's no need for a cure.'
But people get counselling for bereavement, they get counselling when relationships have broken up because of divorce. It's not that they're sick; they're just looking for support and need to find answers and change the impact upon them..
What we offer follows the acronym 'SAFE-T' - Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy. We explore sexual fluidity and we do it in a therapeutic or counselling context. This is not some 'exotic' type of therapy. It is standard counselling practice that is used to focus on the issues people bring to us. It's not about forcing anyone and it's not about a predetermined goal. It's an exploration of sexual fluidity. One of the outcomes may be that feelings and behaviours diminish or change. People seek ways of managing the things that they are unhappy with.
CT: The Government is reportedly planning to introduce a "total ban" on gay cure therapy. Where would such a ban leave an organisation like yours if it were to be implemented?
Mike: Well, I think people have to prove that we are doing gay cure or conversion therapy. This is not something we are doing. The opposition tells us inaccurately what we do and then tells us not to do it.
But my question is: why are we not regulating? Why are we banning? Surely all of us have to be against poor therapy or bad counselling. If something is not happening according to ethical practice, we should all be on the same page about that.
There will always be ideological differences but if we're scientific, then we should bring our respective ideologies (because we all have them) to the feet of scientific method. Simply to say that the mental health organisations rule the roost and they've decided on this already doesn't necessarily reflect the pure science. It reflects the decisions and ideological positions of the mental health bodies. We live in a world of competing ideologies; responsible practice means we should bring differing view points to scientific fact.
What we need to be doing is looking at what the data is saying and where we have different points of view, we need to work these out. What I'm arguing against is the viewpoint discrimination that we're currently experiencing. At the moment, one point of view recruits researchers, pays for research, reviews the research, publishes the research and critiques it. That doesn't leave much room for critical dialogue!
CT: Where would a ban leave the people who have unwanted same-sex attraction? Presumably, it's going to be very difficult for them to find any kind of professional help? And perhaps professionals or even pastors might be too afraid to offer help?
Mike: If I look at the German legislation, or the Maltese legislation, or the proposed legislation in the Irish Republic, we're talking about incarceration and many thousands of euros in fines. So yes, it is designed to induce fear and to criminalise this kind of therapy.
Are we really saying that a man who is married and finds himself attracted to the same sex but wants to save his marriage and protect his children is going to be forbidden from receiving help? And what about those who tell us that their feelings for the same sex arose after being sexually abused and they want help with that? Are we honestly saying that they cannot receive that help? Because if we are, that is inhumane. A ban will ride roughshod over a minority identity.
CT: Do you think LGBT campaigners feel threatened by conversion therapy?
Mike: I think some do because of this intractable view that we are 'born gay'. Our society generally has taken that idea onboard uncritically. But research cited last year by the BBC (Gana et al 2019) indicated that there is very little genetic contribution to same-sex attraction and it's more environmental. This is in line with the 2014 statement from the Royal College of Psychiatrists on sexual orientation, which says that the operative factor is postnatal experience. In other words, they too believe that some people change through their lives, which is essentially acknowledging sexual fluidity.
But I think the LGBT community has invested too much in this idea that we're born gay so when anybody comes along and challenges that, and speaks about wanting to move away from unwanted same-sex attraction, then that is threatening. But it doesn't need to be, because this community has the full rights to marry, to adopt, to change genders in any direction they want to.
Interestingly, the only direction someone is not allowed to move in is towards being heterosexual and ex-gay or ex-trans. That is somehow forbidden. But that's why we do the work we do, because we think this is profoundly unfair, inconsistent and frankly illogical.
CT: The Government has previously said that in considering a ban, it is "not trying to prevent LGBT people from seeking spiritual support from their faith leader or others in the exploration of their sexual orientation". If a ban were to come into place in the UK, where would that leave pastors or faith leaders in terms of talking about this issue from the pulpit or in private conversations with individuals who turn to them for counselling?
Mike: To be frank, if it's us now, it will be the pastors next. If the counsellors and the therapists are forbidden from doing this work, I doubt very much whether the churches will escape. I think, if we remain silent about this proposed ban, very few will be willing or able to teach in terms of orthodox sexuality and ethics as we understand it in the Bible. That's the way things are going and, sadly, many don't recognise that this is the first step in a movement of stealth that is slowly but surely locking down on the Judaeo-Christian foundations of our society.
Actually more than 50% of the people who come to us don't share our faith, or they come from backgrounds of no faith at all. So what about those people who just don't want to continue in the same direction - where will they go? Why are we dictating to them what they can or can't do? It all boils down to the fact that adults need to have the freedom to go in the direction that is comfortable to them and not to be forced to be gay. If someone contemplates leaving an LGBT identity I'm afraid it's a bit like a cult; you can't leave it. If you do, you'll be persecuted for doing so! Once gay, always gay. We can call this the "must stay gay" culture. I don't think this is a healthy approach.
CT: Church leaders seem to be either reticent on the issue or actively supporting a ban, like the Church of England. Speaking out on this issue seems to fall to groups like yourself or Christian Concern. Why do you think that is?
Mike: I think many pastors do not want to put their head above the parapet, and they have very little nuanced understanding of the issue. They assume its a very niche issue - but they don't realise it's the first step in silencing their pulpits.
The Church of England may be making itself very popular but it's also opening its altar up to Islam and installing helter skelters in cathedrals that are supposed to be sacred spaces. So it's going in a new direction and I would say that this is not the Church of England that we have known and loved. I would even argue that it no longer represents the Christian faith community in this country .
Our position is unpopular because we do speak into the issue but that's because being silent about this forfeits the right to ever stand up, and if we don't speak now, I fear we never will or will forfeit the right to do so. I'd rather be on the side of speaking up now and warning people about this danger.
I think there are far more people worried about this issue than just ourselves or Christian Concern, but it's just that it's extremely difficult to put your head above the parapet without being shot down, and that's the difficulty. We're not operating in a free society, sadly.
CT: You're also being silenced to some extent on social media because Instagram and Facebook have decided to ban content by your group that supposedly promotes conversion therapy. What do you make of that?
Mike: I think it's not appropriate that these social media providers have a kind of arbitrary control over our material. My administrator role was unilaterally removed in response to complaints from members of the LGBT community. We've been there for many years! I would expect if we had any compliance issues, that proper customer service would say 'you have so many weeks to comply and if you don't comply, we will do x, y and z'.
We've had this treatment now from Mailchimp, from PayPal and from Facebook. And in each case it's been instant and unilateral in response to complaints. It's like when Voices of the Silenced was banned. There was no problem until a certain group complained. It doesn't auger well.
I also think this censorship flags up the totalitarian nature of the LGBT left-wing movement. This is really another dimension of the current 'cancel culture' movement and it's going in the same direction as the 'woke' mob. So I think people ought to be very concerned about this. It may seem at the moment like conversion therapy is only relevant to a few people in the country. In fact, it has great significance because once it's banned, the left will only go further and there will be no stopping them. We are effectively seeing the blossoming of cultural Marxism. It's a Marxist revolution right in front of our eyes but this is not being discerned by the Church, which tries to blend, appease and comply - to its detriment. The same happened with divorce and abortion.
CT: You've also been targeted by the National Secular Society, which wants your charitable status to be removed.
Mike: It's interesting that the NSS had nothing to say during the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the country. Now all of a sudden they seem to have jumped on the bandwagon and are calling for our charitable status to be removed. Are they joking? Do they think only secular humanists can have a place at the table in Britain? I think every one of us should be concerned about this.
CT: But none of this has stopped your work. You recently launched a new project, X-Outloud, telling the stories of ex-gay people. Have you had a positive response?
Mike: We really have had a positive response and what is gratifying to see is the numbers of young people in the UK, all over Europe and in North America who want to stand up. They're actually tired of being forced to go in a direction they don't want to go in, or to be told that they are inauthentic or insincere or deluded. They have a positive story to tell and I think it's remarkable when someone wants to share their testimony in this area. They are brave! We're thankful to all of the young people who are doing that; it's really very encouraging.