Concerned about Christians?

Not everyone was pleased with my decision to challenge Exeter over why it’s hosting an anti-gay conference this spring. The Rector, Frances Cairncross, called the campaign an “attack,” whilst a particularly nasty cartoon in the Cherwell accused me personally of having an “unreasonable outburst.”

The defence of Exeter’s actions seems to take the form of the rather tired “free speech” argument; essentially that we have to let these groups come to Exeter, regardless of what we think of them, because stopping them is a form of censorship that would infringe their right to freedom of expression.

My main problem is that this ignores a fundamental reality about free speech: some speech is harmful, really harmful, and we’ve always had limits on free speech which reflect this fact. Harmful speech is a gradient of course, ranging from statements which are illegal to make in public through to comments that are deemed merely offensive. I firmly believe that the speech in which these organisations engage is profoundly harmful to gay and lesbian people because it perpetuates the lies and negative stereotypes that so many of us are so used to encountering. Exeter needs to wake up to this, and take the conference organisers seriously.

Because when those organisations compare gay people to paedophiles and say we’re statistically more likely to abuse our children, they do real harm to gay people like me. When they say that we can’t have proper marriages or proper families, that all our relationships are ‘unnatural’ and ‘immoral,’ and that gay sex is ‘harmful’ and ‘causes serious physical and mental health problems,’ they do immense harm, because these words have effects in the real world. They affect a close friend’s mother, who warned him ‘just don’t get AIDS’ after he bravely came out to her. They affect another friend’s parent, a minister, who said that his coming out had always been his ‘worst fear’ and that he ‘just couldn’t have a family’ anymore. And for every gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered child who’s been bullied in a playground somewhere because they’re just not ‘normal,’ they’re ‘evil’ and they’re ‘immoral,’ these words have a profound effect on their self-esteem and sense of worth. The idea that these groups can say these things in Church pulpits, in public, or in a lecture theatre at Exeter, and have no damaging effects on LGBT people is just plain wrong.

And that’s before we’ve even dealt with the gay ‘cure’ myth that these organisations advocate. When discussing this with a Christian girl at my college this week, she said that she knew several gay Christians in Oxford who might like to try this ‘therapy.’ So when these groups say that this ‘corrective therapy’ works, and can be a great thing for those ‘struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction,’ they give a heartbreaking and false hope to some closeted, vulnerable, and lonely people in our very own Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union. It is a false hope, because bodies like the BMA and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have long condemned the practice as ‘discredited’ with ‘no evidence’ of its success; and it is heartbreaking, because those same bodies have said that the practice is actually ‘deeply damaging’ and ‘harmful.’

The main point of free speech is for the truth to win out; we defend and encourage our ‘marketplace of ideas’ because through speech and counter-speech false ideas like those of the conference organisers are shown up as the lies and pseudoscience that they are. But here’s another problem – how exactly is Exeter challenging these harmful views by hosting a weeklong conference which will espouse them? Where is the debate or the confrontation? Let us please not pretend that Exeter’s acceptance of this conference booking is anything more noble than them profiting financially from hate-groups. It is certainly not any attempt to challenge these groups on their deeply harmful views.

I do hope I don’t seem unreasonable for pointing this out. I also hope that a certain Cherwell cartoonist will think more carefully about the effect of his own speech in future, when it seems to dismiss and mock a genuine concern for the rights of gay people. I hope that the Rector of Exeter will also realise that the only ‘attack’ here is the relentless campaign of vilification that Christian Concern directs against the LGBT community on a daily basis. If she sees that, then for God’s sake why doesn’t she cancel this conference?

Owen Alun John



  1. David

    16th February 2012 at 14:40

    I think this article is based on lies and loose argumet and you are the one inciting hatred in doing this but against Christians. It is irresponsible and malicious.

  2. Alex

    16th February 2012 at 15:27

    Owen, I hope this and related articles will help to highlight the fact that no peer reviewed trial has supported the efficacy of anti-gay ‘treatment’ in decades, and that many medical psychiatric associations have condemned them as unethical and damaging.

  3. Richard

    16th February 2012 at 15:35

    The most prominent psychiatric textbook used in both the United States and the United Kingdom (Essential Psychopathology and its Treatment, Third Edition (2009)) states that:

    “Recent empirical evidence demonstrates that homosexual orientation can indeed by therapeutically changed in motivated clients, and that reorientation therapies do not produce harm when attempted.”

  4. Ru

    16th February 2012 at 16:16

    Seeing as Owen used to be a massive bible basher, he himself is living, breathing empirical proof that no amount of Jesus can overwhelm the need to bugger.

  5. Daisy

    16th February 2012 at 16:27

    Richard – Essential Psychopathology is NOT the most widely used Psychiatric text.

    DSM-IV, the “bible” if you like for diagnosis in psychiatry, de-classified homosexuality as a pathological condition in 1974.

    The authors of the book you mentioned write against the opinion of the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association. They cite clearly biased research by conservative, anti-gay authors such as pastoral counselor Joseph Nicolosi.

  6. Emma

    16th February 2012 at 16:27

    @Richard – are you suggesting that you agree with, and advocate, this ‘treatment’?

  7. Ru

    16th February 2012 at 16:44

    Richard=Rick Santorum.

    If not, then you’ve certainly got Santorum snowballing out of your mouth.

    Enough of this nonsense chicas. Owen is clearly right to be offended. The good fight needs to be fought whenever it can be.

    Work on your lip syncing David.

  8. Anonymous

    16th February 2012 at 16:45

    I think the problem with the argument about ‘curing’ people of homosexuality is that it lends credence to the idea that homosexuality is a condition which can be suffered, rather than a lifestyle which is chosen.
    The accusation that homosexual relationships are immoral is only valid if one shares a particular set of morals, and is therefore entirely subjective; however I think it is important to note that homosexuality is fundamentally ‘unnatural’. This is not to say that it does not, or should not, exist in human communities or elsewhere in nature, rather that it exists purely as a social phenomenon. The idea that there might be people who are inherently predisposed to form homosexual relationships, rather than seeking to reproduce their genetic code in successive generations, surely leads to the conclusion that ‘natural’ homosexuality would be left behind by evolution.
    My deeply held view is that people should be treated equally and without discrimination, regardless of inherent natural differences such as skin colour, or of choices about who they want to have a relationship with.

  9. Nicole

    16th February 2012 at 16:48

    Thank you, Owen. This issue has nothing to do with Christians and everything to do with hate speech. I appreciate that you’ve spoken up.

  10. Mark

    16th February 2012 at 17:45


    You should also state who wrote the corresponding chapter in this “most prominent psychiatric textbook” Essential Psychopathology and its Treatment: George Alan Rekers

    Who is he? … a Southern Baptist minister and advisor to the “National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality”… this might have been a good book, but only until everybody of the authors except for Mark Kilgus, who co-authored some papers with Rekers, died.

    Oh and by the way, Rekers is a Baptist minister who likes to take rentboys (from to carry his luggage…. (

  11. Anonymous

    16th February 2012 at 18:05


    Are you saying that having a nude body rub from another man is what defines a man as gay? Or even, by extension, that having sex with another man is what defines a man as gay?
    Surely it’s about more than that…

  12. Paul

    16th February 2012 at 18:05

    Hi Owen. I can’t help but feel that there’s a whole side missing to this debate, and a few clarifications might help.
    I am a Christian and I don’t support in its entirety the way Christian Concern expresses views or conducts itself. It’s a political pressure group and that almost always means that the group tends to polarise its views slightly. But, in the same way, I doubt you fully support the tactics of Stonewall. If anyone has looked into the Pilkington case, beyond the inaccurate summary given in the ‘Oxford Student’, we see that a Christian lady (who was trying to help someone who had asked her for advice) had actually been set up by an undercover journalist working for Stonewall. In all honesty, I have sympathy for her, and I would want to see her case defended – I’m glad the Christian Legal Centre is; that doesn’t mean we have to sign up to her views. m
    The real question is whether the views of Christian Concern take the organisation into the area of ‘harmful’ speech, which (as you rightly note) should therefore be limited. It seems to me that, given that Christianity teaches that we are to love one another unconditionally and speak words that build one another up, the organisation is either (a) not Christian or (b) there has been a misunderstanding of its position. In the OxStu article, it said that Christian Concern ‘will actively incite hatred’; if this correct, it is a crime, and there is no way that the conference should be held. However, this statement is quite simply defamatory. I, along with a number of students from Oxford, went to a Wilberforce Academy – we were taught the gospel message of compassion by bishops, University professors, barristers and doctors. At no point were we ever told that we should endorse homophobic views. Sure, they defended the importance of marriage and the stability of the nuclear family unit – but this doesn’t involve treating homosexuals in any way other than with love and respect.
    Many Christians and students at Exeter have been hurt by the way this campaign has been unleashed by the OxStu. (Calculated to cause maximum damage to the Christian population by running the story during ‘This is Jesus’.) People have been worried that other students would think that the Christian message wasn’t about inclusive understanding, or that College would be somehow endorsing the views of an organisation because that organisation partly funded a conference College held. Thankfully, it seems that many students – including New College – have understood that there’s more to the debate than this.
    Christian Concern takes a stance on a political matter which is very much open for debate at the moment, regarding gay marriage. And I understand that you don’t like their stance. But the answer isn’t to silence them – the real test of free speech is to defend it when you don’t like what you’re hearing. Their message isn’t ‘harmful’ as you suggest; it’s rooted in compassion – although I do wish this would be brought out more explicitly sometimes. Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and the Oxford conference system has buckled under the anti-Christian pressure of a misinformed OxStu (at least as regards future conferences). I think this is a damage to free speech. But it’s not the only damage done to free speech: by publishing defamatory remarks and only presenting one inaccurate side of this story, the OxStu has done real damage to the quality of debate at the University.
    I don’t always think that comparisons are helpful in these situations, but I can’t help but think that if Stonewall were banned from holding a conference in an Oxford College because it taught that Christians were misguided (as it does, and worse) there would be absolute uproar. Please, let’s get the right perspective on this debate.

  13. Mark

    16th February 2012 at 18:55


    I don’t really see when I tried to define what “being gay” is. Having sex with men is probably quite a strong indicator though 😉

    However, According to “christian” faith (the term is quite arbitrary, considering all of the old testament’s instructions considered “unchristian” today), this is what defines the “sinful” aspect of “being gay” (see Leviticus 20:13). I doubt that the minister I was referring to called a rentboy for having a cup of tea. There’s a strange (but comprehensible) link between gay-bashing and one’s own (perceived) weaknesses. I wonder whether this is discussed in Kilgus’ book).

    (Besides, Reker’s rentboy should be locked away. He’s hot enough to turn straights into gays :D)

  14. Mark

    16th February 2012 at 19:28

    @ Paul

    There’s a lot of great people of christian faith. Both nowadays and in the past. And it’s (for me) ok if a social group discusses whether or not they accept marriage between two men or women, or whether these couples may adopt children (although I guess I wouldn’t like the outcome).

    Christian pressure groups also try to promote things like ‘corrective therapy’ and please understand what this has meant in the past:

    – Electroconvulsive therapy
    – Lobotomy
    – Castration
    – Psychiatric medication

    A nice chat and lying down on a sofa was rather the exception. It’s nice they only “talk” about corrective therapy nowadays, but the only reason for this is to turn their words into deeds. And yes, this ‘may’ be ‘harmful’.

  15. Theological perspective

    16th February 2012 at 20:03

    A Jewish rather than Christian perspective but, given the heavy focus on the Old Testament by Christians advocating an anti-gay stance, it seems relevant nonetheless:

    I wonder if they’ll serve ham sandwiches at that conference?

  16. Anonymous

    16th February 2012 at 20:10


    The article you linked seems to be pretty clear in its opinion that two men having sex must both therefore be gay.

    I just think that having sex is a very narrow definition of being gay.

    Whilst the bible does say some silly things, the fact that it says them is extremely influential for some people. However, I feel this backs up my case (above) for homosexuality being a social phenomenon since it is defined from all sides, opposed or allowing, by cultural texts and traditions.

  17. LonelyinExeter

    16th February 2012 at 20:19

    Owen ur hot, wanna fuck?

  18. Mark

    16th February 2012 at 20:43


    It is either a social phenomena or marks the end of the “social phenomena” of the strong links between politics and christian authorities, starting out from the Constantinian shift and ending some time between 1789 and 1960s.

    The sex didn’t change from the time before. But the public ostracism faded.

  19. Dr Christopher Shell

    27th February 2012 at 12:23

    OK Owen, let’s get this straight. The way you (in line with the cliche of your culture and historical period) see this is that the main issue is whether free speech should be withheld or denied.

    Myself I can never see why free speech should be an absolute. Why should people have the right to chant racial abuse? Whom does it profit? It harms many, including themselves. Why should people be free to publish positive descriptions of harm done to children? Etc.etc..

    The types of things that come up for discussion where the boundaries of free speech is concerned are lies, unpleasantness and abuse.

    Whereas you wonder whether we should limit the free speech of people who base much of what they say on peer-reviewed scientific papers – and in many cases on strong scientific consensus. This is, ao a high degree, patronising, controlling and showing a tendency to censor of inconvenient facts. Whatever speech we censor, it is not and never can be scientific findings, let alone scientific consensus. Let alone in Oxford University!

    You can’t honestly believe that scientific papers will always find in favour of political correctness. There is no logic on whose basis we could expect any pattern like that.

    Christian Concern is fairly closely allied with Anglican Mainstream which often draws attention to statistical and scientific studies involving homosexuality.

    Whereas I notice that you have cited no scientific backing for your perspective on homosexual sexual behaviour. Would you be in favour of people taking that perspective because it is what people are ‘supposed’ to think in this particular culture in this particular year?

    That is not what Oxford teaches. Good universities teach that all presuppositions must be defended with chapter and verse. And they teach that people who simply parrot the orthodoxies of their day may be doing so for group-bonding/sociological reasons rather than intellectual reasons. (Most people have a fear of being seen as weird.) Or even for reasons of limited horizons.

    So: check out what the science says (and it says it in spades and in consensus) about homosexual (and especially male homosexual) comparative rates of: early death / low life-expectancy; STIs; promiscuity; transient relationships; concurrent relationships; lasting monogamy or the lack of it; pederasty; drug use; depression; suicide. Science also tells us that anal intercourse is different from vaginal in four central ways beyond the obvious and even more central way that one produces all of us and the latter produces none of us (a 100% vs 0% situation, which is as stark as one could imagine): (1) It runs into the difficulty of microfold cells which actively encourage harmful microbes; (2) It involves no natural lubrication; (3) It involves a sphincter – can a clear exit also be an entrance? (4) It involves cell lining just one cell thick. You may say: Wear contraception. But that actually increases pressure on dry unlubricated skin. And the fact that contraception has only recently been available in a practical sense does not say much for the naturalness of the act – what risk-free alternatives did former ages have? What alternative safe homosexual act is there? Not oral intercourse which increases throat cancer by 250% with 5 partners, often incubating for a generation before coming to light.

  20. Dr Christopher Shell

    28th February 2012 at 16:57

    Mention evidence and research and you can’t see Oxford students for dust. Oxford University is now anti-research, I see….

  21. Steve

    10th March 2012 at 03:10

    @Dr Christopher Shell

    Oh my, “So: check out what the science says”… Dear Dr, you forgot your references. Made your text a pile of gibberish.

    Although a bit off-road from your claims, how about these ones? 😉

    A. Camperio-Ciani, F. Corna and C. Capiluppi,
    Evidence for maternally inherited factors favouring male homosexuality and promoting female fecundity,
    Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 7 November 2004 vol. 271 no. 1554 2217-2221

    (linked from T. Casci, “Gay genes boost fertility”, Nature Reviews Genetics 5, 884)

    B. Bagemihl,
    Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity,
    St. Martin’s Press, 1999; ISBN 0312192398

    (reviewed by W. Byne in the Journal of the American Medical Association )

    Concerning your remarks on anal and oral intercourse:
    Please also tell this to the women you know, at least to American ones:
    (data from the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services)

    Oh, and if you like to cite consensus data on early death/low life-expectancy… in Iran, life-expectancy of homosexuals is close to 0 if they come out. Seems to be a very unhealthy state of mind… If you may feel like adding some references on this point, please don’t use the garbage by P. Cameron, which are only “peer reviewed” by sites like

    Except on the prevalence of STIs, you will not find much useful references from highly-ranked journals to support your claims, as most of these issues, e.g. high suicide rates and depression, could equally well be linked to a fear of mad christians (or other things).

  22. Steve

    10th March 2012 at 03:23

    @Dr Christopher Shell

    and since you seem to be concerned about a destabilizing influence on heterosexual marriages:

    M. V. Lee Badgett
    Will providing marriage rights to same-sex couples undermine heterosexual marriage?
    Sexuality Research And Social Policy, Volume 1, Number 3, 1-10

  23. Dr Christopher Shell

    1st May 2012 at 11:49

    Dear Steve
    Thanks for useful additions (Badgett, Camperio-Ciani) to my bibliography. Check out David Blankenhorn, ‘The Future of Marriage’ where it is shown that the countries with weak marriage and those that support gay marriage are one and the same group/set (which is not surprising given the liberal/secular worldview at the root of all this). Norway was about the first to adopt gay marriage and now has 80% illegitimacy.

    There are many threads on this topic. I have given multiple references on them if you check them out – but name me a subtopic and I will give you the references known to me.

    Doesn’t it occur to you that the Cameron findings point in exactly the same direction as the other findings? On life-expectancy Cameron points in exactly the same direction as International Journal of Epidemiology 1997. On promiscuity he points in the same direction as upwards of 10 studies. Best thing is: ignore Cameron and address the other studies.

    On oral and anal intercourse:
    Gay men have no alternative to these; women have not just an alternative but actually a more mainstream and natural one. You wrote as though there was no difference between gay men and women in this matter. That is where your stance falls down.

    On early death – you did not address the point that unhealthy things (smoking, overeating etc.) are normally the cause of early death. So if an average homosexual lifestyle causes an earlier death than an average smoking lifestyle, then…?

    Animal homosexuality: the key bone of contention for Christians is not anything called ‘homosexuality’ (an orientation) but sodomy, a specific behaviour. Sodomy (unlike the entirely positive practice of same-gender bonding) is particularly rare in the animal kingdom. (Not non-existent: it is found among giraffes among others.) Even if it were common, we do not take our cue from less intelligent creatures!!!

    Maternally-inherited factors: the genetic/hormonal/environmental/experiential question is one that can be seen only holistically, holding all factors in mind simultaneously. There is an enormous amount of environment data, focussing on urban/rural, college/non-college, abuse when young, identical twins, differences between different cultures and nations. To cite just one paper (coincidentally from your preferred viewpoint) on this large topic counts as cherry-picking.

    Hope to continue this interesting discussion, and I am glad you have introduced me to a few new papers.

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