By Jim Naughton
Mouneer Anis, presiding bishop of Jerusalem the Middle East, has just given the most extraordinary interview here at the Lambeth Conference. If you want to know why homosexuality is a difficult issue within the Anglican Communion, and why the media culture here is so debased, this interview and the ruckus around it are helpful.
Anis is a primate of the Anglican Communion and a member of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting. In both of those roles, he exerts significant influence over the Communion's deliberations on issues regarding sexual ethics. This, as you will see, is cause for despiar.
The press conference, like several before it was organized by Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream, one of the architects of GAFCON who, for reasons I can’t fathom, has been given a press credential for the conference.
Unsurprisingly, under Sugden’s watchful eye, Anis began by praising GAFCON, even though one of his own bishops, Suheil Dawani, had begged the organizers not to bring the conference into his diocese for fear of the damage an appearance by Archbishop Peter Akinola might due to the delicate state of interfaith relationships in Jerusalem.
Akinola has made seemingly threatening statements about Muslims during interfaith riots in Nigeria, and has never answered questions about a massacre of almost 700 Muslims in Yelwa, Nigeria in 2004. The massacre was carried out by men wearing tags bearing the words Christian Association of Nigeria. Akinola was president of CAN at the time.
Unprompted by questions, Anis began to speak about gays and lesbians. “Everywhere we go there are these gay and lesbian activists who chase everyone and have their newsletters everywhere.” They are in the self-select groups, Anis said. (Actually no one is allowed in the self-select sessions, other than bishops, spouses and presenters.) They are in the market place.
“The North Americans brought all of these activists to the conference and they are blaming us (for focusing attention on the issue of homosexuality.)”
Asked how many gay activists he had seen, Anis said: “You cannot count them. In the marketplace. They are everyplace we go to eat.”
For the record, there are probably about twenty-five gay activists from North America here. There are a number from England who come and go (after all, unlike Mouneer Anis, they live here) and six or eight from Africa. Some of the gay activists aren't gay themselves, nor are all of the writers for the Lambeth Witness, the newsletter Anis mentions. Indeed, writers for the Lambeth Witness have included several bishops and the president of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies. But I digress.
“We are not homophobic at all,” Anis told a small knot of reporters.
Anis, who is a medical doctor, believes gay people can change their sexual orientation under reparative therapy. The American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American Psychological Association, American School Health Association, National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of Social Workers, disagree.
To support this contention, Anis cites a 2003 study by Dr. Robert L. Spitzer. However, there are numerous problems with Spitzer’s study, and Spitzer himself says it has been misinterpreted by the religious right.
For an encyclopedic debunking of the Sptizer study, visit the Web site Religious Tolerance. A few of the problems which should have given Dr. Anis qualms—assuming he has actually read this study—are:
Of the 200 subjects in Spitzer’s research, 86 had been referred to him by conservative Christian groups specializing in converting homosexuals. The National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuals, which had a vested interest in the outcome, referred an additional 46 subjects. The study was based on 45-minute telephone interviews.
From Religious Tolerance:
In later interviews, Dr. Spitzer said:
"Our sample was self-selected from people who already claimed they had made some change. We don't know how common that kind of change is. . . . I'm not saying that this can be easily done, or that most homosexuals who want to change can make this kind of change. I suspect it's quite unusual."
"I suspect the vast majority of gay people would be unable to alter by much a firmly established homosexual orientation."
"...the kinds of changes my subjects reported are highly unlikely to be available to the vast majority [of gays and lesbians]... "[only] a small minority -- perhaps 3% -- might have a "malleable" sexual orientation." He expressed a concern that his study results were being "twisted by the Christian right."
He told The Washington Post in 2005 that supporters of reparative therapy have misrepresented the results of his study. He said:
"It bothers me to be their knight in shining armor because on every social issue I totally disagree with the Christian right...What they don't mention is that change is pretty rare."
He calls as "totally absurd" the beliefs that everyone is born straight and that homosexuality is a choice.
The web site Ex-gay Watch also picks the study apart.
Perhaps the most revealing moment of the press conference occurred when a conservative activist asked Anis whether “good intentions or an “intervention” was the best way to cure a sick patient. Anis’ answer seemed somewhat disjointed at first. It wasn’t clear whether he was talking about homosexuals or the Anglican Communion.
Only later did the question make sense. In the media centre, Anis’ coaches had helpfully provided copies of his “reflections.” He hadn’t delivered them word for word, but from memory, so the words he actually spoke were not always—not usually—the words on the page. But reading through the text, I realized that he had skipped parts—parts that the people who had prepped him for the event (and written his text?) were familiar with and wanted said. Hence the question about good intentions and interventions reminded Anis of a section of his prepared text that began: "Healing requires sometimes the taking of unpleasant medicine or surgical intervention."
Then he was off once again--talking, thank God, about the Anglican Communion.