Archbishop’s panel member believes gay people can ‘change’ sexual desire.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012 –

Dr Glynn Harrison’s views on homosexuality

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).

Posted by Simon Sarmiento @ ‘Thinking Anglicans’


Here we go again! One of the members appointed to the panel which will select the next Archbishop of Canterbury, is adamant that one’s sexual orientation can be changed by some sort of manipulation – either by medicine or psychiatry –  implying that homosexuals can change their same-sex inclination by simple application of the will to be ‘normal’.  Dr. Glynn Harrison seems out of kilter with the British Association of Psychiatrists, whose extensive research into this matter claims that this is not the case. One wonders whether Dr. Harrison would agree that a naturally heterosexual person’s sexual orientation could be permanently changed by manipulative therapy?

There are plenty of professional psychiatrists both Christian and non-Christian who have come to the conclusion that there is sufficient evidence that sexual-orientation is  innate, and should not be tampered with by manipulation. The fact that there is seen to be a spiritual dimension to the exercise of human sexuality should not blind the Church to the fact that an individual’s sexual orientation is part of their natural self-identity and part of their humanity – and therefore intrinsic to their creation by God. Any attempt to tamper with their natural same-sex-orientation  could be psychologically harmful.

Criticising Dr. Harrison’s opinions about the ability of homosexuals being ‘converted to heterosexuality, Dr. Michael King has this to say: 

“Professor Glynn Harrison 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”.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand


About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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One Response to Archbishop’s panel member believes gay people can ‘change’ sexual desire.

  1. Bro. David says:

    “Would he support those bisexual people who want to move in a more same-sex affirmative position and offer counseling for them to do so?”

    One of the first thoughts that also came to my mind.

    Bro David
    Practicing Industrial Psychologist

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