Before Core Issues hit the publicity jackpot with its controversial ex-gay advertising campaign, its director, Mike Davidson, was still licking his wounds from a disastrous radio appearance.
Not long after the tense interview on BBC Radio Ulster in January 2012, Davidson, a trainee psychotherapist, had his membership of the British Psychodrama Association revoked. He’d appeared alongside Professor Andrew Samuels, Chair of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, who challenged Davidson’s use of his BPA affiliation to support Core Issues’ claims:
What’s happening here is that a person who is not qualified is doing his best to bolster and boost his credibility. … I think you’ve been exposed as an untrained psychotherapist at the present time. … All reputable psychotherapy and counselling organizations are, broadly speaking, against reparative or conversion therapy. … If this man wants to belong to what is a long-established and reputable professional organization, he has to keep the rules. Simple as that.
Early on in the exchange, Samuels hit on a very pertinent point:
What I think [Core Issues are] hoping for, amongst other things, is to be able to present themselves as persecuted martyrs on human rights grounds.
And that’s exactly what Davidson went on to do in the interview and what he, Core Issues and Anglican Mainstream will be doing a lot of now the Mayor of London has pulled their planned bus advertising campaign. They have already announced legal action. The Independent reports:
It is believed lawyers for Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues, a charity which promotes so-called “reparative therapy” for gay men and women, are now looking at two potential legal avenues. The first is to sue for a potential breach of contract and the second is to claim that the group’s human rights were breached under articles nine and ten of the Human Rights Act.
In his January radio appearance, an angry Mike Davidson said:
They can do what they like, but they will not shut me up when I tell them that I have a right, as an individual, as do thousands in this country, to seek our goals and to look for the best professional support. That’s all I have tried to do with those who are being discriminated and are being forced into a gay-affirming worldview. That has got to stop.
Later in the program, he called the ban on reparative therapy “oppressive and a denial of human rights.” But such claims are a distraction, for no one is stopping Davidson or Core Issues from trying to change. The issue is whether a professional mental health body is obliged to call conversion therapy scientific and allow its members to practise it under the organization’s authority. Samuels summarized Davidson’s complaint succinctly:
What you’re doing is manufacturing a very simplistic rights-based argument which, when boiled down, comes like this: any doctor, any psychologist, any psychotherapist, any counsellor must do what their client asks them to do.
A Red Herring: The ‘Gay Cure’ Is Not ‘Traditional Christian Teaching’
Repeatedly in the show, Davidson portrayed his own beliefs and practice, and those of Core Issues, as a simple matter of being faithful to the orthodox Christian faith. He made it clear when he joined the BPA, he told Samuels, that he was “a psychotherapist who is also a Christian.” Scoffing at his treatment by the BPA, he said:
Is anybody surprised? … This is just, what, number three, number four, number five psychotherapist who is booted out because he wants to hold to the principles in his personal life around orthodoxy.
Davidson ended the interview with a return to this straw-man argument:
The thing that is really on the table is the fact that if you hold to basic Christian principles in this specific area, you may not be a psychotherapist. … That’s the new UK that we are living in.
Orthodoxy. Basic Christian principles. The facts are that, while there may be something historically Christian about rejecting homosexuality or “same-sex behaviour,” reparative therapy — clinical treatment to change a person’s sexual orientation — is not a historic Christian practice and is the domain of a number of a handful of 20th- and 21st-century Christians — largely conservative evangelical Protestants, conservative Roman Catholics and Mormons.
In the coming weeks, as the UK’s ex-gay, anti-gay movement takes up its arms on the twin battleground of the media and the courtroom, we can expect more claims that groups such as Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues are being prevented from practising their traditional Christian faith — even that they’re being persecuted. Religious public figures who should know better will probably join them in their claims, as they did to support the disgraced counsellor Lesley Pilkington. It’s possible newspapers such as The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph will throw their weight behind the case.
Meanwhile, most gay conservative Christians will be managing their sexual feelings and behaviour, and living celibate lives, in ways that do not rely on the discredited claims of reparative and conversion therapy. Those who preach that clinical treatment makes gays straight may be making the loudest noise, but despite their attempts to portray themselves as mainstream, they are on the fringes of traditional Christianity.