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Conversion Therapy Is Harmful and Wrong—So Why Is It Still Legal in Canada? | FLARE

Two people lie in bed looking at each other deeply.

Since the ’80s and ’90s, conversion therapy has been condemned by most psychiatrists and psychologists, and the Canadian Psychological Association formally opposed its techniques in a statement released in 2015—due not only to the lack of scientific research supporting its efficacy, but more importantly because of the documented mental health consequences, including anxiety, distress, depression, difficulty sustaining relationships and sexual dysfunction.

Gajdics eventually stopped therapy in 1995, but it left him with a number of severe mental health issues. “On top of the slow process of recovering from the addiction to the debilitating medication, I had insomnia, panic attacks and a fear of the doctor stalking me, because it was a small town and I lived close to where his office was,” he says. To heal from the six-year ordeal, Gajdics began writing as a way of making sense of what he had experienced. “I had to get over the shame not only from the childhood sexual abuse, but also from the lie that it made me gay.”

Why has conversion therapy not been outlawed at the federal level?

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Vancouver becomes first Canadian city to ban anti-LGBT conversion therapy | GEORGIA STRAIGHT

Vancouver author Peter Gajdics detailed his experiences of conversion therapy in Vancouver in his memoir The Inheritance of Shame.

Vancouver has become the first Canadian city to ban the controversial, discredited, and anti-queer practice of conversion therapy.

Today (June 6), city council voted unanimously for a prohibition bylaw that will prevent businesses from offering conversion therapy, or the pseudoscientific attempt to change the sexual orientation of a person from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. (Conversion therapy is also known as reparation therapy or the ex-gay movement.)

Conversion “therapy” is not therapy.

“Local author Peter Gadjics talked about his experience of six years in conversion therapy in Vancouver in the 1990s which he detailed in his 2017 memoir, The Inheritance of Shame.” – Vancouver becomes first Canadian city to ban anti-LGBT conversion therapy

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Xtra: Vancouver could become the first city in Canada to ban anti-LGBT conversion therapy

Protester holds up sign: "self hatred is not therapy."

Photo credit: Daniel Tobias/Flickr Creative Commons

“The City of Vancouver will soon decide whether or not to ban anti-queer conversion therapy, as recommended by its LGBT advisory committee.”

And from October of 2017:

“It’s time for Canada to ban anti-gay conversion therapy
Only Ontario and Manitoba have taken legal steps to limit the practice”
Read more 


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The anti-gay nature of the Alliance Church is a matter of public record

Powerpoint slide by Jason Koleba, "What does Jesus, through the scriptures, have to say about homosexual practice?"

Lately, I’ve had some push back from some folks who doubt that the Alliance Church is anti-gay. I’ve been looking into the issue of harm and hate for so long that I’ve forgotten that some folks don’t simply know the very basic teachings of the church.

To some degree, I understand the confusion. Alliance Church leaders are becoming cagey in public about their views on gay behaviour, homosexual praxis, and same-sex marriage. This is, in some ways, good. It’s good because I think the Alliance Church leaders are seeing the social and ethical consequences of their official doctrine. But it also makes it a little trickier to explain to people what the impact of the Alliance Church is.

So here are some points taken from the Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Canada:12

  1. “The term “violation of scriptural moral standards” as used by The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada shall include, but not be limited to, sexual activity outside of a monogamous heterosexual marriage, sexual harassment or assault, homosexuality, misappropriation of funds, dishonesty or fraud in business and legal transactions, and guilt in a criminal offense.” (Page 38)
  2. “The Old Testament reveals God’s original design to make human beings in his image, male and female (Genesis 2:10-24). In the New Testament, Jesus confirms the heterosexual creation of human beings: “God made them male and female” (Matthew 19:4). Throughout Scripture heterosexual families are the norm of society. Through this family unit the human race finds its survival and men, women and children find their home. The New Testament reinforces the teaching of heterosexual love and sexual relations within marriage alone (Ephesians 5:22-23; Hebrews 13:4; I Corinthians 7:1-5).” (page 41)
  3. “Alongside this clear biblical teaching on God’s design for heterosexual marriage are found specific instructions in Old and New Testaments that prohibit homosexual conduct as out of harmony with the purpose for which God created human beings (e.g. Romans 1:18-27; I Timothy 1:9-11). Homosexual conduct, like all forms of sexual behavior that violate God’s original design, is sin.” (page 41)
  4. “In addition to the affirmation of heterosexual sexual expression within marriage alone and the prohibition of homosexual behavior, the Scriptures strongly affirm the liberating power of the Christian gospel from all former sinful patterns of life, including homosexual behavior: “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolators nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9b-12).” (page 41)
  5. “The highest standards of life and conduct are required of those who serve in official and ministerial capacities in the Church of Jesus Christ and also of those who are received as members of local churches. Homosexual conduct is incompatible with the orthodox interpretation of Scripture as set forth in the Statement of Faith of The Christian and Missionary Alliance and cannot be condoned.” (page 41)
  6. “Persons who engage in, or endorse, homosexual conduct and/or relationships shall not be accepted as candidates for ministry, issued licenses, ordained or consecrated as ministers, or appointed to serve in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Neither shall they serve in local church ministries, nor shall they be issued membership in an Alliance church. Likewise, in conformity with The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada’s Statement on Human Sexuality, and its Statement on Marriage-DivorceRemarriage, which states that “[I]n no case ought any person to enter into any so-called ‘marriage’ with a person of the same sex,” no licensed worker or staff member in any Christian and Missionary Alliance ministry or local church shall, under any circumstances, sanction, bless, conduct, or officially participate in a marriage ceremony, civil or religious, nor are Alliance local church facilities or other properties belonging to any aspect of the life and work of The Christian and Missionary Alliance to be used in any way that would result in a marriage or civil union of persons of the same sex.” (page 41)
  7. “Individuals in active violation of scriptural moral standards shall not be licensed. The term “violation of scriptural moral standards” as used by The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada shall include, but not be limited to, guilt in a criminal offense, misappropriation of funds, dishonesty or fraud in business or legal transactions, sexual activity outside of a monogamous heterosexual marriage and sexual-harassment or assault. The implications for eligibility for licensing of previous violations of scriptural moral standards shall be assessed on a case by case basis through the approval process. The innocent party in a divorce or a person married to the innocent party in a divorce may be considered for licensing and appointment to district or national offices. The decision shall be informed by, and be in accordance with, our statement on “Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage.”” (page 42)
  8. “Therefore, the church today must do everything in its power to encourage and maintain the institution of marriage and on God-given grounds. Some today would set standards for conduct in this area other than by the authority of the Word of God. Even among those who seek to hold to biblical authority there are divergent opinions, particularly with respect to the right of divorced persons to remarry. It seems imperative, therefore, that The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada set forth what we understand to be the scriptural teaching on these subjects.” (page 64)
  9. “2.2 God intended marriage to be a monogamous, life-long union as clearly implied in Genesis 2:24. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.” Jesus recalled this original order of creation to overthrow the lax interpretation and practice of the Mosaic law (Mark 10:6ff). Although polygamy was sometimes practiced in Old Testament times, the Bible makes clear that God intended marriage to exist between one man and one woman for as long as both of them remain alive. In Romans 7:2 the Apostle Paul wrote: “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth: but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.” (See also I Cor. 7:39)” (page 64)
  10. 2.5 In no case ought any person to enter into any so-called “marriage” with a person of the same sex. Homosexual unions are specifically forbidden in Scripture (see Lev. 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27, 32; I Cor. 6:9).” (page 65)
  11. 2. God-honouring Expression of Sexuality: All human activity, including the expression of sexuality, should have as its end the honouring of God. Those pursuing godliness are to live lives of purity in thought, word and deed, including purity with reference to sexuality. God is honoured by the mutually intimate physical expression of sexuality when this expression occurs between a man and a woman within a monogamous marriage.” (page 69)
  12. 4. God-dishonouring Expression of Sexuality: God is dishonoured by anything which displaces him from his rightful place of priority in one’s life. Therefore, He is dishonoured, for example, by sexual obsession, the intimate physical expression of sexuality outside of marriage, sexual activity between persons of the same sex, between an adult and a child, between close relatives, or between a person and an animal.” (page 69)
  13. 5. Forgiveness and Sexuality: While some temporal effects of sexual sins may remain, sexual sins, like any other sins, can be forgiven by God through Jesus Christ, upon confession and repentance.” (page 69)
  14. “Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and his Church, and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel for sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.” (page 70)

And here are some points of doctrine taken directly from the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church statement on human sexuality:34

  1. “Christian understanding of human identity is grounded in the Word of God. The significance of human sexuality is particularly evident in the account of creation. Human beings, fashioned by God in His own image, are created male and female (Genesis 1:27). This complementary nature of human sexuality is affirmed again in the second chapter of Genesis. Woman is fashioned out of man (Genesis 3:18-24). Thus, from the beginning human sexual identity is reciprocal. That is, one’s own human nature is properly understood in complementary relationship to another who is alike in nature, but opposite sexually. Like the rest of God’s creation, the sexual differences between man and woman are pronounced “very good” (Genesis 1:31). We therefore affirm human sexuality to be a gift of God. By God’s grace, human sexuality both enriches and fulfills our personhood.”
  2. “In the New Testament, Jesus confirms the heterosexual creation of human beings: God made them male and female (Matthew 19:4). Throughout Scripture heterosexual families consisting of a father, mother, and their children (unless they are unable to bear children) are the norm of society. The New Testament reinforces the teaching of heterosexual love and sexual relations within marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5).”
  3. “Alongside this clear biblical teaching on God’s design for heterosexual marriage are found specific instructions that prohibit homosexual conduct, for example: Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable(Leviticus 18:22, 20:13). Homosexual conduct is declared to be detestable because it is out of harmony with the purpose for which God created human beings.”
  4. “The New Testament states: They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion (Romans 1:25-27). Worshipping the creation more than the Creator not only alienated human beings from God but also distorted their heterosexual identity as created by God. Homosexual conduct gives evidence of the universal human rejection of God’s supreme glory and, like all forms of sexual behavior that violate God’s original design, it is sin.”
  5. “The New Testament further states: Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).”
  6. “Like all other sins, the corruption of sexual sin can be fully forgiven through repentance and faith in Christ’s atoning work even though physical and psychological scars caused by sexual sin cannot always be erased in this life. We grieve with those who suffer hardships caused by sexual immorality, even if it is caused by their sinful acts. We strive to give aid in ways that do not deny personal responsibility for sexual behavior. We believe Christ set an example of loving ministry to those who suffer from the results of their own acts of sin in the example of the woman caught in adultery, “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:3-11).”
  1. You can find the CMA manual here and also the 2014 version here.
  2. Just to be super clear, I find the values expressed in these points of doctrine repugnant and regrettable.
  4. It’s worth pointing out that these points of doctrine were decided on by the board of governors of the Alliance Church in 2012 (C&MA Board of Directors, Feb. 23, 2012). So these teachings are commitments that the church has taken recently, and by the core of its spiritual and ethical leadership.
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One avenue for research; impact statements

skull and crossbones

One idea for trying to research the harm done to gay and transgender people who grow up in the Alliance Church is to research folks who have left the church.

It’s possible, for instance, to publicize a call out to folks who:

  1. grew up in the Alliance Church, and
  2. made a choice to leave because of their gender or sexual identity.

Interviewing folks who managed to escape the social and moral doctrine of the Alliance Church might shed light into the harms done. Doing these interviews might look very much like taking impact statements.

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Explaining harm to straight, cis people

People walk around in the autumn leaves.

Being gay is just as healthy and normal as being straight.1 But amongst some subcultures in America, it’s commonplace to believe otherwise.

But even within mainstream culture, straight folks don’t do a very good job of really thinking about the violence, harm and ridicule that gay folks face. Similarly so for the lack of understanding by cisgender folks for what transgender folks experience.

And to really get the harm hypotheses it’s probably important for someone to try imagining the problem. Like, really imagine it. Imagine being told by your family, your community, your church and your mentor to stop being straight; to stop acting straight; that it’s a choice.

I can’t do this kind of thought experiment justice – I’m not sufficiently equipped as a writer to help readers really understand how painful, how tragic and how harmful doing this is.

But even as a trite thought experiment, like stop being straight, I suspect that most people inside the Alliance Church have never considered this. And they’ve never considered what the harm might be to put a moral prohibition on someone’s sexual identity, or gender identity.

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Assessing harm should be an empirical question

There is widespread agreement in the psychological sciences that homosexuality is normal and healthy. So the question is, how do we develop research to gauge the harms done to folks who are gay, when they’re raised in communities that place moral prohibitions on them and prevent them from behaving in ways that are consistent with their sexual being?

It should be an empirical question.

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Calling homosexuality a sinful choice is textbook bigotry

When Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote that the “Michigan anti-equality campaign is the last gasp of desperate bigotry” I felt reassured.

On my view, if a church chooses to see homosexual behaviour as a sin, that church is anti-gay.

And, on my view, being anti-gay is bigotry.

Similarly, if a church chooses to see trans people as sinning against God’s plan, that church is anti-trans.

And by the same reasoning, being anti-trans is bigotry.

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Working argument for the Harm Hypothesis

A pastor from an Alliance Church in Alberta has recently been in touch with me to declare his disagreement with my project here. I think many of his concerns are interesting. One among them is that the Harm Hypothesis is unsubstantiated here on my blog.

The current state of the Harm Hypothesis is thus: The Alliance Church harms folks who have homosexual dispositions.

For some who have survived growing up in an anti-gay church, this idea is obviously true.

While I agree that I have not yet shown enough evidence to prove the claim, I have, I think, provided context and given enough evidence to warrant further investigation. It is, in short, a reasonable idea that bears consideration.

That said, I get that for people who see the world from a very different paradigm, this can be very jarring. Presumably, church leaders from within the Alliance Church, see their doctrine as ethical. How startling, then, for some atheist (me) to come along and suggest that the doctrine is not ethical; that it is harmful to our communities.

I have made earlier attempts to provide the various premises that might be required for such an argument as the Harm Hypothesis.

In recent conversation with the pastor from Alberta, I made the following formulation of the argument.

Premise 1: the Alliance Church doctrine and practice recognizes homosexual behaviour as sinful.
Premise 2: the Alliance Church doctrine and practice discourages its members, especially its young people, to not sin.
Premise 3: empirical evidence shows that members of our society, especially children, who are discouraged from having a healthy relationship to their community and their sexuality or behaviour or orientation, especially as it relates to homosexuality and gender, are socially and psychologically harmed.
Premise 4: churches that frame their member’s homosexual behaviours as a sin, are discouraging their healthy relationship to their community, behaviour and being.
Conclusion: the Alliance Church is therefore harming its members who have homosexual behaviours or orientation.

This is not yet quite the best formulation of the argument, I think. Nonetheless it provides a helpful insight into where I’m coming from and the overall idea.

Premise 1 is not controversial. No one I’ve spoken to from within the Alliance Church denies this. Similarly so, Premise 2.

Almost all of the heavy lifting needs to be done for Premise 3 and 4. Although these seem right to me, I understand that these claims require more evidence, and a better formulation. This is why I’ve been trying to follow the scientific and cultural debate in regard to “conversion therapies” and the claim that someone ought to be discouraged from having homosexual behaviours.

Indeed, there is a growing amount of evidence that this is harmful.