Yesterday was a busy day for Christian Concern.
Lesley Pilkington the Christian psychotherapist who was struck off by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) after she was tricked into providing ‘gay cure’ counselling for a fake client who was secretly an undercover journalist, received the outcome of her appeal. Christian Concern have been backing her publicly and their sister organisation the Christian Legal Centre have been supporting her during the BACP proceedings.
Also Christian Concern were hosting the One Man one Woman marriage conference in partnership with the World Congress of Families looking at government proposals for the future of marriage. The conference had some high-profile speakers including Phillip Blond, the director of the Res Publica think tank who has been closely associated with David Cameron.
The conference was to be held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London but at the last minute the booking was cancelled by the Centre with the explanation that it was “inappropriate”.
This was the second time this month that the conference had been forced to change venue. Originally it was to be hosted at the Law Society headquarters until earlier this month the Law Society withdrew the booking for this reason:
“The nature of your event has recently been drawn to our attention, and it is contrary to our diversity policy, espousing as it does an ethos which is opposed to same-sex marriage.”
Christian Concern were rightly unimpressed with these cancellations and on the whole the press has been in agreement with them. The conference’s stance in support of existing marriage legislation is perfectly legitimate and it’s deeply worrying that two well respected venues do not feel that free speech in agreement with current laws should be exercised on their premises.
Somehow Christian Concern manage to constantly surround themselves with controversy. Because they regularly speak out on contentious issues such as abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia and religious freedom from what many would see as an orthodox Biblical understanding, they frequently clash with those with strongly differing views.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of what they do is their legal support of Christian individuals in this country who have been ‘persecuted’ for their beliefs. Lesley Pilkington is an example of this. The underhand tactics used by her supposed client to discredit her because she offers reparative therapy for gay people who want to change their orientation were pretty despicable and the initial treatment received by Mrs Pilkington from the BACP was heavy handed. This was born out in the results of yesterday’s appeal ruling which reversed most of the original decision and reduced the sanctions against her.
Patrick Strudwick, the ‘client’ does not come out of this well. The BACP said that he lulled Mrs Pilkington into a false sense of security and through his persistent questioning he manipulated the content of the sessions to a considerable extent in order to meet his own agenda.
If you read Christian Concern’s report of the appeal outcome it’s hard to understand why Mrs Pilkington has still lost her senior accredited status. It makes clear that the BACP has not made any judgement on the reparative therapy she practices and she can continue to do this. If you read the actual BACP ruling you will find that the sanctions arise from sloppy practice in the way Mrs Pilkington carried out her sessions. You may disagree with these points but there is nothing mentioned in their ruling against her faith. You wouldn’t think so from Christian Concern’s report though. Peter Ould on his blog has written a piece that makes a similar point.
I don’t want to dismiss what Lesley Pilkington has gone through. She has had a torrid time and received a great deal more castigation than she deserved for her apparent failings. The problem I have is how Christian Concern have spun the story to maximise the Christian ‘persecution’ element. If you look at other cases they have backed and read their take on them you could quite easily be led to believe that Christians are having a tough time in our society at the moment. Sometimes in the past I’ve read a story on their website and thought how awfully someone has been treated because they have been living out their faith openly only to find later on that I’ve not been given the whole story and things aren’t quite as bad as they have been made out to be or there are other mitigating circumstances.
I have several friends who won’t go near Christian Concern because they don’t trust them and I’ve learnt to be careful about accepting what they report at face value. This is a great shame, because they do some excellent work and do support some individuals with legal help who do have a genuine case.
All this makes it hard to tell when they are fighting genuine intolerance. The One Man One Woman conference is an example of this. I suspect they would be able to highlight this injustice more effectively if they had a better track record.
The Clearing the Ground report published by Christians in Parliament earlier this year made several criticisms of organisations such as Christian Concern:
‘Often the actions of some campaign groups can discredit the Church in the UK and result in perceptions that Christians are seeking unfair exemptions. By bringing highly emotive cases to the fore, they also can add to the feeling among Christians that are more marginalised than they
‘Christians should act and speak with integrity at all times, and when representing the Church to the world or communicating secular issues to the Church, they should speak with professionalism, accuracy and grace. The assumption of a martyr position can appear laudable, but is often a lazy mode of public engagement.’
I really don’t want to be unnecessarily critical of Christian Concern and the work that they do. They are making a public stand that few others are willing to do. My problem is not with their desire to see God’s values upheld in this country, but rather the way they sometimes go about this. Paul writes that:
“Show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” (Titus 2:7-8)
Integrity is often what sets Christians apart from the rest of the world. Please Christian Concern bear this in mind in the way you present your work, think carefully and look to win back those who have lost respect for what you do.