Thinking Anglicans

Dr Glynn Harrison's views on homosexuality

Updated with additional links

The Guardian has published an article by Robert Booth headlined Archbishop panel member believes gay people can ‘change’ sexual desire.

A leading member of the Church of England who believes some gay people can be counselled to suppress or possibly change their sexual orientation is helping to select the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Glynn Harrison, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Bristol University, is on the powerful Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), which will chose a successor to Rowan Williams to be approved by the prime minister and the Queen.

Harrison’s role on the 16-strong panel has triggered alarm among liberal Anglicans who fear it could deepen existing divisions over homosexuality in a church already riven by the issues of holding gay civil ceremonies in churches and the ordination of gay bishops…

A lengthy statement (quoted in the news story) issued by the press office at Church House, Westminster, on behalf of Dr Glynn Harrison can be read in full here (PDF).

Professor Glynn Harrison does not believe in concepts of ‘gay cure’ or ‘gay conversion’ and has never been involved in offering any formal counselling or ‘therapy’ in this area himself. Such descriptions, because they depend on inappropriate notions of ‘sickness’, convey simplistic and stigmatising views. In addition, as he has made clear, all bullying and prejudice toward people, whatever their sexual interests and attractions, is a violation of the inclusive call of the Christian Gospel and the way of Jesus Christ.

Professor Harrison, who supports the current teaching of the Church of England in Issues in Human Sexuality, began investigating the area of faith and human sexuality when asked by the Anglican Communion Office in 2007 to contribute to a forthcoming book (‘The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality’). This was being prepared for the 2008 Lambeth Conference as part of the ‘Listening Process’. Since then he has written other articles on faith and human sexuality. A recent example, written with Dr Andrew Goddard, was published in the Church Times on December 9th 2011 and accompanies this statement…

The Church Times article mentioned is now behind a paywall again, but for subscribers the link is here: Now for the ‘B’ picture.

The book mentioned in the statement was reviewed in 2008 by Dr Michael King and this review can still be read here: Is the Church Listening?

…Trailing at the end is the “witness of science” on the biological basis of sexuality. As scientists, we might welcome such an approach but before the Church changed its mind on slavery or women priests did it debate the biological basis for race and gender? I suspect not. It appears here because of homosexuality’s persisting image as a deviation from nature’s heterosexual plan. But never mind. Just what have these chapters to tell us? The first by David de Pomerai and Glynn Harrison is a reasonable enough summary of what neuroscience and genetics can tell us about homosexuality and is fair to the literature. The second by Glynn Harrison is of much lower quality. Here we have an academic psychiatrist bending over backwards to suggest, on the basis of the weakest sort of evidence, that sexual orientation can be changed. I suspect if he were reviewing evidence of similar quality for the efficacy of a new medication he would dismiss it out of hand. And so unsurprisingly, he finds what he sets out to find – namely that given enough willingness there are treatments out there to make homosexual people into heterosexuals, or at the very least stop them wanting sex…

Dr King has today commented on the most recent statement about Dr Harrison linked above as follows:

  • Treatments (of whatever form, including counselling) should never be offered on the basis of “anecdotal” evidence of change, particularly in controversial areas of ethical practice such as this one. I am sure Prof Harrison would object to the use of anecdotal evidence as a basis for other psychiatric treatments.
  • If he wants to use anecdotal evidence then there is also plenty such evidence for harm – our research showed that many people and their families have been harmed by such treatment. (there are also several videos to this effect on YouTube if he feels such evidence is valuable!)
  • He takes no consideration of the fact that views such as his are deeply alienating/stigmatising to LGB people of all or no faiths, as they explicitly frame a same-sex orientation as undesirable and less God-given than heterosexuality. They help to reinforce the prejudice and discrimination that LGB people suffer.
  • Would he support those bisexual people who want to move in a more same-sex affirmative position and offer counselling for them to do so?
  • It would seem that reported sexual orientation can change. However, one has to be very cautious in accepting this evidence – as we all know, people feel able to talk about their sexuality more and less frankly at different periods of their lives and to different audiences. They may deny ‘unacceptable’ parts of themselves at one time and later be franker about them. We only have self report to go on when we measure sexual orientation. Therefore it is naive scientifically to see this as representing some sort of concrete change in a given reality.
  • Framing this counselling as a way to celibacy is also a smoke screen for the real thing – to make homosexual people heterosexual. For example, catholic priests don’t need psychotherapy to be celibate. They believe celibacy is a ‘call’ that people find in faith. So why do LGB people who want to be celibate on faith grounds need this counselling? To my knowledge, there is no known scientific evidence that any form of counselling or psychotherapy is effective in helping people to be celibate (straight or gay).

Updates

The Royal College of Psychiatrists, of which Dr Harrison is a Fellow, has these statements on its website:

and this:

Anyone who is interested in Dr Harrison’s own research may find this useful: Publications for Professor Glynn Harrison.

69
Leave a Reply

avatar
3000
69 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
27 Comment authors
David ShepherdFather Ron SmithRosemary HannahMarkBrunsonLaurence Roberts Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
Simon Butler
Guest
Simon Butler

The statement from Church House is utterly disingenous. I was at a meeting of the Evangelical Group in General Synod in February and Professor Harrison was distributing copies of the booklet referred to at the meeting, as was Canon Chris Sugden, a well-known proponent of the gay-to-straight-through-Jesus line. I also witnessed him publicising it to other people during the General Synod. Professor Harrison needs to make it clear:

a.on what evidence he believes that is possible for gay people to change their seuxal orientation through prayer and counselling; and

b. why he thinks it is desirable for them so to do.

Peter Ould
Guest

“Treatments (of whatever form, including counselling) should never be offered on the basis of “anecdotal” evidence of change, particularly in controversial areas of ethical practice such as this one. I am sure Prof Harrison would object to the use of anecdotal evidence as a basis for other psychiatric treatments.”

In which case, why doesn’t Prof Michael King demand that therapists stop offering gay-affirming therapies? Can anybody name me on rigorous academic study of such therapies?

Fr John Fleming
Guest
Fr John Fleming

The fact of the matter is that we still do not know why some people are attracted to others of the same sex. I would accordingly be surprised if there was a “cure”. As human beings we may be beset by various inclinations. But we also have the freedom to choose in which behaviours we will engage. The call of the Gospel is for everyone to live chaste and holy lives with sexual intimacy being morally acceptable only within the context of marriage.

Kelvin Holdsworth
Guest

Ah yes, I remember reviewing that book at the time and commenting on the chapters that Glynn Harrison had a hand in.
http://www.thurible.net/20080711/book-review/

Not, I think the most glorious interpretation of the phrase “The Listening Process”.

jnwall
Guest
jnwall

When you find the fox in the henhouse, the question is not, what is the fox doing in the henhouse.

We know what the fox is doing in the henhouse — being the fox he is.

The question is, who let the fox into the henhouse.

The power to appoint members of a selection or review committee is the surest and easiest way to shape or determine the outcome of the process.

Has the Church of England learned nothing in the past 15 years?

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

jnwall:
Central CNC members are *elected* by their fellow General Synod members.

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

Some years ago I met with Phil Groves following the announcement that Glynn Harrison was to be rapporteur for the book central to the Listening Process report. We were very concerned that Harrison was selected and Groves explained that there was no chance of the report being listened to in a large part of the Communion unless they appointed someone like Harrison. Despite the fact that Groves assured us Harrison had no contact or support for “reparative therapy” and the like – we were able to supply evidence to the contrary – there was no reply. Our organisation realised at… Read more »

Iain McLean
Guest
Iain McLean

From the Church House (interestingly long) press release: “Professor Harrison, who supports the current teaching of the Church of England in Issues in Human Sexuality, began investigating the area of faith and human sexuality when asked by the Anglican Communion Office in 2007 to contribute to a forthcoming book (‘The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality’).” So, as a fellow-academic, I’d like to get this straight. He started investigating the area in 2007, on a request from the Anglican Communion Office. Thus it was a new area for him. He published two chapters in this new (to him) area in 2008. Question… Read more »

Counterlight
Guest

What the American Pyschological Association says about changing sexual orientation: “What about therapy intended to change sexual orientation from gay to straight? “All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay,… Read more »

Grandmère Mimi
Guest

I assume Professor Harrison is on the committee to provide “balance”, as in the “fair and balanced news” provided by the Fox Cable Channel in the US.

“Question for the ACO: is it responsible to commission a psychiatrist with a different research specialism to write on a fraught subject where bad advice can lead to serious harm?”

Good question.

June Butler

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

Good psychiatrists and psychologists pumped electric shocks into my right ankle,at Rainhill Hospital, Merseyside, as a teenager. They and I found it was a painful (for me) waste of time. I was a lad who had accepted Christ and would stop at nothing to seek the Christian way STILL being pursued by Harrison, Oulds and others, who frankly ought to know better, and have nothing to lose. Shameful that professionals still push their disastrous agenda upon those who are (by definition) vulnerable. Happy ending! The Spirit led me into a more incarnational, fulfilling, integrated, (w)holy and enjoyable life with my… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

The fact that so many people are already spending so much time agonising over who the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be seems to me to be rather out of proportion. He has a lot of power, you say? Really? Recent events have proven this to be false; he can’t even force his own province to accept something that he wanted the entire Anglican Communion to adopt!

‘Heresy Corner’ has an interesting take on the matter:

http://heresycorner.blogspot.com/2012/04/guardian-is-shocked-to-discover-that.html

I completely agree with the Heresiarch’s last paragraph, by the way.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

All this nonsense about people changing their orientation, I can’t believe it still keeps coming up! People who can “change” have been bisexual all along. Bisexuality is defined as the ability to have close emotional and physical relationships with people from both sexes. Not many men are 100% bisexual, more men than women tend to identify either 100% or very strongly as gay or straight. Women tend to identify as bisexual much more often. And as this gay debate is largely framed in a male context, it’s not surprising that bisexuality is often overlooked. But really – it’s not exactly… Read more »

david wilson
Guest
david wilson

Martin

Professor King merely shows that they have a difference in professional opinion – not that he is being economical with the truth

david wilson
Guest
david wilson

But arent all studies in this area based on anecdotal evidence. People are commenting on their own feelings – how comfortable they feel with homosexual desires, whether those desires change, or stay the same, whether people benefit or not benefit or are even harmed by counselling.

I mean its not like taking your blood pressure to determine whether you have high blood pressure.

James Mackay
Guest
James Mackay

My experience over the years is that it is far easier to come out as a gay man to a group of straight people than it is to come out as a Christian to a group of LGBT people. Such is the reputation of Holy Mother Church.

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

Alrighty, if it is acceptable in this field of study to throw anecdotes around: The two male founders of Exodus International — one of the leading “pray the gay away through Jesus” movements — ended up falling in love with each other, and denouncing the basis of the very organization they helped to found. Exodus uses the 5-year cancer-survival model for measuring success (which I personally find revolting, comparing homosexuality to a terminal illness), and even using that low threshold, their success rate is relatively modest. And by “success”, they don’t mean only those gay people who became happy, fully… Read more »

Dennis
Guest
Dennis

A reply to Peter Ould: Gay-affirming therapies are based in rigorous academic study, and the literature supporting this is vast and evidence based. There are hundreds of well-designed studies and research reports and peer-reviewed articles supporting gay-affirming therapies. Conversion therapies, on the other hand, have somewhere between none and almost none. The science is overwhelmingly on one side of this issue. No, it is more than overwhelming. The science is practically settled on this one. It would be almost impossible to count all of the studies in the psychology of human sexuality that have piled up (particularly in the past… Read more »

Richard Warren
Guest
Richard Warren

Change too often comes at a slow grinding pace and it will probably be another generation or two before LGBT folk are finally accepted as equals. After all the CofE is still resisting female bishops even after TEC, ACC, and others in the Communion have decided women were qualified to hold episcopal office. Interesting that it’s still an issue when there has been a woman on the throne for 50 years.

Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
Guest
Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

Two years back “confidential” information concerning the candidacy of Jeffrey John for the bishopric of Southwark leaked from the Crown Nominations Committee to the press – notably the Telegraph – to the detriment of John’s candidacy. No serious attempt seems to have been made to identify those behind the leaks, though I seem to recall discussion of the possibility that the conservative evangelical faction was involved. Anyone know more?

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

Erika Baker on Tuesday, 10 April 2012 at 5:37pm BST,
I think you’re spot on.
I often wonder myself whether some of these gay or lesbian people who successfully “reformed” simply were bisexual to begin with.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

oops ! in my comment above I had intended to say that I understood the fundamentalist way of aversion therapy to be the Only Christian Way –

I was led to accept my sexuality AND be a Bible believing Christian.

rjb
Guest
rjb

At the risk of exposing my own ignorance, how exactly are the members of the CNC elected? And who currently sits on this body? Presumably it has some standing membership, and some members who are relevent to each new appointment? The relative opacity of the whole process (compared to how things are done in some other provinces) does tend to generate stories like the Guardian’s one.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“why doesn’t Prof Michael King demand that therapists stop offering gay-affirming therapies?”
– Peter Ould –

Perhaps because they are effective in helping intrinsically homosexual people to understand the normality of their condition, and to avoid the serious problems that are sometimes associated with denying the reality of their situation.

At least, the affirmation counselling can save lives, and free people from self-accusation of what others have told them is morally wrong.

Simon Dawson
Guest

Peterpi writes “Now, not having sex at all is great for people in monastic orders, Roman Catholic priests,…….” I think the jury is out on this. Is celibacy actually a “great” choice for those vast swathes of Christian people for whom monogamous marriage does not happen to be available? Many people argue that celibacy is a holy choice for gay christians. It is so much a part of the Christian tradition that it seems heretical to question it. But for me automatically imposing compulory celibacy on complete groups of christians is itelf suspect. The official teachings of the church are… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

rjb There are six elected standing members who serve for five years. And six members from the diocese with a particular vacancy. The eight central members of the CNC are: a. the two archbishops (for archbishopric vacancies, the House of Bishops elects substitute(s) as required) b. three members of the General Synod House of Clergy elected by the House of Clergy c. three members of the House of Laity elected by the House of Laity. In cases b and c, the elections are held using the Single Transferable Vote method. This form of Proportional Representation – which is widely used… Read more »

Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
Guest
Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

“….. one senior lay evangelical protesting just a little too much.” Thanks, Simon.

Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
Guest
Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

In this instance, is the membership of the Vacancy-in-See Committee drawn from the diocese or the province of Canterbury?

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

I thought the second bullet point demonstrated some economy, but my overall take from the King piece is that this economy runs deep.

Peter Ould
Guest

Thanks to everybody who replied to my question. I note with interest that no-one was able to point me to an actual academic paper. I however a quote for you all. Make of this what you want. It’s from an academic paper looking at qualifying gay-affirming therapy. “From 7,775 citations identified in the electronic search, 92 papers were obtained as potentially appropriate for the review. A further 18 potential papers were obtained for the review, identified from the grey literature, from hand searching of journals and reference lists, and from searching the Internet using the Google search engine. Thus, 110… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

Lapin
The Vacancy-in-See committee for either archbishop’s diocese is drawn entirely from that diocese.

david wilson
Guest
david wilson

peterpi – Peter Gross

Celibacy was good enough for Jesus and I heard recently around 30% of the church in England is single – so it is a burden that the Lord does not mind placing on people – all the more time to serve Him and spend time with Him.

david wilson
Guest
david wilson

Dennis Research in this area is incredibly difficult and open to the natural bias of the individuals who are merely reporting on the self-perceived feelings as individuals, and the natural biases of researchers. For example someone who is frustrated in seeing no, or insuffient change is naturally hostile to change therapy. Yet if you compare with same with say the impact of alcohol or drug success rates – yet for AA only has a 5% success rate – so naturally in homosexuality had the same success rate they would be a lot of disgruntled homosexuals – now faced just with… Read more »

david wilson
Guest
david wilson

Following up on the 5% success rate of alcoholics anonymous – I wonder how many phyciatrist would actually attribute any change to God, rather than someone suppressing their feelings.

It is ironic that core to the Christian beliefs is the renewal of the mind – to deal with all sorts of desires. How many phyciatrist would accept that.

Laurence C.
Guest
Laurence C.

“Celibacy was good enough for Jesus and I heard recently around 30% of the church in England is single” David Wilson.

The 1950s called – they want their attitudes back.

I hate to have to break this to you, but single people are not necessarily celibate – even if they are ‘of the church’.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“I note with interest that no-one was able to point me to an actual academic paper.”

That’s more than a little disingenuous when Dennis has offered to spend some time compiling a whole library of them for you!

Of course, the obvious answer to that would have been that, as an expert in the field, you already know of all these references and that you have studied them carefully.

Maybe that’s why you didn’t take up Dennis’ offer?

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

http://www.exgaywatch.com/wp/2012/04/spitzer-retracts-2001-landmark-ex-gay-study/

Another ‘ex-gay’ so called study bites the dust !

Counterlight
Guest

“It is ironic that core to the Christian beliefs is the renewal of the mind – to deal with all sorts of desires. How many psychiatrists would accept that.”

And that raises another question that the shrinks are asking, but the preachers are not …

So, what’s wrong with it? Why shouldn’t two people of the same gender be attracted to each other?

Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
Guest
Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

The 2007 General Synod session at which Dr Harrison was elected to the Crown Nominations Commission opened a week after the Dar-es-Salaam primates’ meeting, arguably the high water mark of the influence of a certain faction within the Communion. Any possibility, given his professional interests, that a reason for his running to fill a vacancy on the Commission might have been the potential to throw a spanner in the works, should a known gay or gay-friendly candidate be proposed for advancement to the episcopacy?

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

‘The author basically concluded that there was absolutely no research available to prove that gay-affirming therapies do or don’t work (in a similar manner to the claim that no similar research is available to prove that sexual orientation change efforts do or don’t work).’ Peter Ould This is based on a basic and serious misunderstanding, alas. ‘Treatments’aimed at ‘sexual orientation change efforts’ are in fact, attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to heterosexual.* Whereas gay affirmative therapy is simply ordinary psychotherapy offered free of homophobia. That’s it. So I really do nt know what studies you are… Read more »

Bob McCloskey
Guest
Bob McCloskey

” Celibacy was good enough for Jesus and I heard recently around 30% of the church in England is single – so it is a burden that the Lord does not mind placing on people – all the more time to serve Him and spend time with Him. “ Since the gospels make no such claim about Jesus, nor do they suggest that he enjoined it upon others, what texts are being used here? St. Paul is not Jesus, nor are his views on sexuality particularly enlightening nor obligatory outside the context of his anticipation that the eschaton would arrive… Read more »

Peter Ould
Guest

Erika (and Dennis),

There is already a really good paper that does exactly this, dated just two years ago. The bibliography is extensive. Let’s not duplicate effort.

Still waiting for folks (like Laurence) to tell me who the quote is from.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts
Peter Ould
Guest

Laurence wrote “This is based on a basic and serious misunderstanding, alas.”

Can I just be clear – Laurence is saying that the author of this paper (from which I quoted) had a basic and serious misunderstanding of how to qualify basic psychotherapeutic treatment?

And I’m curious, just what are the basic canons and regulations of the mental health fields? If a client wants to explore an aspect of their behaviour / emotional response, is it a violation of these canons and regulations to do so?

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

What a super article on Fr Bernard Lynch! Thanks for the URL Laurie!

Counterlight
Guest

News flash quite relevant to this conversation:

Dr. Robert Spitzer who claimed in a 2001 essay that homosexuality could be “cured” or “changed” repudiated his own work in an article that came out today. His work was a cornerstone of “ex-gay” “therapy.” He was considered particularly credible since he was not a social conservative. Today, he says plainly that his critics were right all along.

http://www.sacbee.com/2012/04/11/4406240/dr-robert-spitzer-renounces-infamous.html

David Shepherd
Guest

Bob: ‘St. Paul is not Jesus, nor are his views on sexuality particularly enlightening nor obligatory outside the context of his anticipation that the eschaton would arrive soon, perhaps within his lifetime.’ The Nicene creed declares: ‘I believe in one holy, catholic and APOSTOLIC faith’. What exactly is an apostolic faith, if its teachings are not obligatory. Perhaps, we should only consider the Evangelists to be apostolic, or maybe just the Twelve. How self-servingly selective! However, this the same St.Paul, whose letters St.Peter accords the status of scripture by saying: ‘He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking… Read more »

Rosemary Hannah
Guest
Rosemary Hannah

Counterlight is surely right. The real question is not ‘can people change their sexual orientation?’ but ‘why the heck should they?’ Would it be wrong for a bisexual to marry the person they love of their ow sex? Surely not. We can cut this Gordian know simply by saying clearly that relationships between same sex people are of equal value to those of opposite sex ones.

I’m increasingly of the mind that it is simplest to leave those plainly stranded on an outdated clinical sandbar to wait for a tide which will never come in.

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

The study referred to above can be found here,
http://www.bacp.co.uk/research/Systematic_Reviews_and_Publications/LGBT.php where the full report can be downloaded for free.

Its conclusions are summarised here (scroll to bottom of page)
http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/rollofhonour/specialinterestgroups/gaylesbian/submissiontothecofe/psychiatryandlgbpeople.aspx#history

which is part of the submission made by the Royal College to the Listening Process, already linked above, but for convenience here it is again
http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/rollofhonour/specialinterestgroups/gaylesbian/submissiontothecofe.aspx