The Frontline Church of Liverpool, England, has been condemned for offering a service to cure homosexuality that it says has helped to reorient some of its members.
The Church, which describes itself as a non-denominational Christian church which is part of the Evangelical Alliance, is based in a former army barracks in Wavertree and has an average congregation of between 800 and 1,000 people. While its work with the homeless has been praised, its “Dark Ages” approach to gay people has been widely criticized by LGBT rights groups.
Of particular objection has been the Church’s “Homosexuality Fact Sheet”, a leaflet which offers guidance on how a concerned devotee might spot someone struggling with homosexuality. The fact sheet, now gone from the Frontline Church website though it can be seen in its entirety here, says the Church “does not believe that people are born homosexual but that it is the result of dealing with pain from childhood.”
The fact sheet then explains, “Homosexual relationships are characterised by emotional dependency. An all consuming, unhealthy attachment is made with the other person.” Arrogantly, the section continues: “The relationship is not based on love but on finding security in another person.”
The Frontline Church “Homosexuality Fact Sheet” then offers a series of ways one might spot “someone struggling with homosexuality.”
- Spends an inordinate amount of time with one particular person.
- Puts much less effort into other relationships.
- Has feelings of jealousy and rejection when x spends time with other friends
- Has underlying low self-esteem
- Feels different to other people
Lest you think that Frontline is actually trying to cure adolescence, the fact sheet adds (emphasis theirs):
- Women may appear and dress in a more masculine way. Men may appear somewhat effeminate. However, this is not always the case.
The fact sheet goes on to offer advice on how to help a someone “struggling” with homosexuality, warning readers that they should not try and “deliver a ‘demon’ of homosexuality out of the person” — which in most circles would not need to be said — but instead that they should talk to that person, listen to them and then if further help is wanted, direct them to L.I.F.E. counselling which, as mentioned above, they say has a considerable success rate and that, based on earlier statements, could apparently offer complete reorientation within two to three years.
The comment about demonic possession is interesting however. Frontline Church leaders have said they have a “positive, ongoing friendship” with their founders over at the American L.I.F.E. Ministry. Leader of L.I.F.E. Joanne Highley once said in an interview (click for video), “Why wouldn’t it be reasonable that if people crawl around on the floor of bars and have homosexual sex, that they would pick up demonic powers?” She has also claimed to exorcise people’s genitals and anal canals to rid them of demonic powers. While Frontline admits it adapts L.I.F.E. materials, they are quick to point out they are not officially affiliated and that L.I.F.E. has no direct influence over Frontline. There is at present no suggestion that Frontline itself has ever engaged in the above practices. Still, even a friendly association is enough to give pause.
According to reports, Frontline received Home Office funds in 2010 to run projects helping at risk youths. Its staff have also enjoyed a visit from Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg who were there to discuss Liverpool’s grassroots issues.
Following earlier revelations about Frontline’s attitude to gay people, several organizations previously linked to the Frontline were quick to distance themselves. With this fresh wave of media attention have come similar remarks.
Liverpool council, which is listed on the Church’s accounts as a ‘donor’, said it had not funded any activities for five years.
A spokesman added: “We would not fund an organisation or its activities where they contradicted our equalities and cohesion policy in the way alleged in this case.”
Council Liberal group leader Cllr Steve Radford said: “I think it would be entirely inappropriate to fund them just as it would be to fund fundamentalists of any faith”
A spokesman for Merseyside Police, which in recent years was voted Second Most Gay Friendly Force in the UK and holds neighbourhood meetings in the Church, said: “We would not regard any church as an ‘official partner’ and the religious beliefs of the churches whose buildings we use are entirely separate to and independent of the views and policies of Merseyside Police.”
A number of local charities who have in the past used the church’s facilities have also been keen to show they are do not condone the Church’s practices.
Frontline Church leaders have strongly rejected allegations of homophobia, saying in a statement that while they accept that the “Homosexuality Fact Sheet” is “simplistic” they would defend themselves by pointing out that they are not forcing anyone to change or take up the therapy service they offer to church goers.
Next Page: Read Frontline Church’s statement.
“WE are unequivocally not homophobic. Firstly, none of our services (church and projects) discriminate against anyone on any basis and we are unconditional in offering support to all service users.
“We respect everyone’s right to hold their own views and don’t ask service users to adhere to our Christian values or even ask project users what their views are. All are welcome to our Sunday services whoever they are.
“We agree that the Fact Sheet is somewhat simplistic and could lead to prejudicial stereotyping if taken wrongly, and that is the last thing we want. That is why the Fact Sheet has not been on our website for some time and we took it down because we did not feel it was a constructive reflection of such a complex issue. The Fact Sheet was written under the auspices of a staff member some years ago and he has subsequently left.
“Liverpool L.I.F.E. Ministry is an internal pastoral support group for Frontline Church members who have requested extra support around their own sexuality.
“Our views on homosexuality as a church leadership are in line with Evangelical Alliance of which Frontline is part and which represents more than 2m Christians in the UK. We adhere to standard orthodox Christian teaching within the church and our heart on this matter, as with all others, is to let our members decide what their own views are.
Letting church goers decide what their own views are on this subject sounds like the height of deference to democratic and enlightened thinking and neatly sidesteps the Church’s responsibility to represent truth. In reality the Church is using at least two assumptions and making them out to be facts when they are actually nothing more than unsupported opinions.
The Church is making a claim to fact, whether through its now defunct fact sheet or by virtue of offering reorientation therapy, that homosexuality can be cured. This is an assertion not supported by the mainstream medical community. Reorientation therapy, medical practitioners have found, is unnecessary, largely impotent, and potentially harmful.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists holds the view that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are and should be regarded as valued members of society who have exactly similar rights and responsibilities as all other citizens.
This includes equal access to healthcare, the rights and responsibilities involved in a civil partnership, the rights and responsibilities involved in procreating and bringing up children, freedom to practise a religion as a lay person or religious leader, freedom from harassment or discrimination in any sphere and a right to protection from therapies that are potentially damaging, particularly those that purport to change sexual orientation.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes strongly in evidence-based treatment. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.There is now a large body of research evidence that indicates that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is compatible with normal mental health and social adjustment.
This is just one among numerous statements on the apparent immutability of sexual orientation and a lack of supported data on sexual orientation change efforts (for other examples see recent APA and ACA statements).
Frontline’s assumption that gay people need to be cured, pointed to in its so-called fact sheet, is based on their belief that homosexuality is disordered, that it is a sin. This is another, albeit more subtle, claim to fact made without objective support. Nevertheless the Church as a religious and self-ordained moral authority advances this proposition to a congregation who have faith that what they are being told is divinely inspired and as such should be accepted. In particular, for someone within that community coping with extreme distress regarding their sexual orientation, the promise of a cure through prayer and pastoral care would be especially seductive.
But this skirts reality: such false cures are to remedy anguish that is brought about, in large part, by religious condemnation itself. It is a nefarious self-perpetuating machine.
That the Church attempts to hide behind its assertion that it is not forcing anyone into its therapy program ignores so much, not least of which is the Church’s duty to care for those it serves.
That Frontline Church leaders also feel they are doing nothing wrong in offering such therapy is not only ethically damnable, it is the very definition of hubris that they should believe they know better than medically trained professionals who have a wealth of cumulative knowledge and tried and tested skill.