Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Philippa Stroud ... Prejudiced or Caring?

I've been interested in Philippa Stroud's electioneering campaign since it commenced - due to the fact she is the wife of David - the UK apostolic leader of Newfrontiers who also leads Christchurch London. A church and a man I deeply respect - although I can't say I've ever seen or heard Philippa herself.

However Philippa's campaign hit a degree of controversy when the Observer reported an account of when the Stroud's set up the "Kings Arms Project" in Bedford when they led a church there prior to their days in Birmingham (this is some 15-20 years ago I believe). The Observer interviewed a girl dealing with transsexual feelings who worked with Philippa and her staff - who allegedly told her;

"She wanted me to know all my thinking was wrong, I was wrong and the so-called demons inside me were wrong. The session ended with her and others praying over me, calling out the demons. She really believed things like homosexuality, transsexualism and addiction could be fixed just by prayer, all in the name of Jesus."

The national press has intriguingly not picked up on this much (considering their love of bashing Christians) - however the Twitter community has. The Metro newspaper (a free daily paper) reported;

"Twitter users have begun a campaign on the popular micro-blogging site to raise awareness of The Observer's allegation that Stroud founded a church that would 'cure' homosexuals by 'exorcising' demons through prayer".

Other parties - such as the Liberal Democrats - have of course gleefully seized on this apparant gaffe by the Conservative candidate. The writer of this blog reported that Philippa Stroud has apparantly gone to ground. Mrs Stroud released a statement reporting that she does not believe "homosexuality is an illness" - however the Liberal Democrat blogger noted;

"Philippa Stroud’s http://twitter.com/philippastroud was deleted earlier today. By deleting it rather than making it private (or continuing to use it and publicly arguing her corner), the opportunity was presented for someone else to create a new account with that name and start sending out negative messages. So can you guess what happened? Also gone is Philippa Stroud’s Facebook supporters group".

Also interesting to note from my perspective is that Christian bloggers haven't (as yet) commented on this - this includes Adrian Warnock who has just finished a 3-part series on why he is voting Conservative and is friends with Mrs Stroud (and writes quite persuasively may I add). So I was thinking and reading some of the furious comments on some of the blogs and thinking that I had a few thoughts.

What qualifies me to say anything?

Well one the one hand - the anti-Stroud bloggers do not know Philippa Stroud and certainly do not know Newfrontiers or Christchurch London. I've spent many happy years in Newfrontiers churches and going to Newfrontiers conferences and can write a bit more on the issues as I understand it (although again - let me say I do not know Philippa Stroud and am not speaking on her behalf). However from the other point of view - I HAVE experienced a wide range of reactions in the church to admitting that I do have homosexual/bisexual/trisexual/whatever-sexual personal feelings. These have ranged from shock and horror - and most notably of course being "disfellowshipped" from the SGM church in Bristol - to actually going through Christian counselling and indeed an exorcism process myself. I would say I am a semi-cynical Christian (with regards to church) but still believing and hoping.

So in light of that - I have got a few reflections that occur to me.

What's the big deal?

1. Homosexual people don't like being told they need to be "cured".

I think that's the issue. Now we should add are homosexuals any different to any non-Christians when confronted with the gospel? In my experience of evangelising and spreading the gospel - initially most non-Christians backs are up when they realise that they fall short of the glory of God. The wonder of the gospel of course comes when they realise that all they have to do has already been "done" by Jesus Christ. So am I saying that we as Christians should stop telling homosexuals they need to be "cured"? Yes. "Cure" is a bad word. Homosexuals - like heterosexuals, bisexuals, transexuals and all other sexuals - need Jesus Christ. End of!

2. Talk of "demons" tends to freak most Christians - never mind non-Christians.

Demons were quite big in the 1970's and 80's in my Christian background - thanks to teachers such as Don Basham and Derek Prince. I don't think demons are quite as trendy now - maybe it was a backlash against the possible excesses of Prince and Basham's teaching. There was a tendency (I think) to see a demon in "everything". Now I fear that Christianity has swung the other way and dislikes any talk of demons - falling into the error that C S Lewis correctly identified in his "Screwtape Letters" - ignoring the demonic realm.

So the inevitable question must be - do I believe that homosexual people have a "specific" demon?

My personal experience (as I mentioned above) is that I have been through an exorcism process. It was undertaken by a very sincere couple of Christians who fervently believed that if they could cast out the demon of "homosexuality" (and demon of lust - they were sure he was in there too) then I would be "cured" and truly "straight". I am prepared to be open minded - maybe it was my lack of faith. But although I had some sort of spiritual experience - I was left with the same feelings and struggles. So I'm not sure (although I wouldn't swear) that there is a specific demon of homosexuality.

What I DO believe is that I have met and have friends who really struggle with suicidal feelings, feelings of depression, self-harm and so on. Some are gay guys, some are gay women, some are straight women. I have no doubt that straight men struggle with depression too - they just don't seem to admit it. But my point is that when I see Christian people tempted to suicide or self harm (such as I have and do struggle with) - I think we are entitled to suspect demonic involvement.

So what of Philippa Stroud?

Knowing what I do of Philippa Stroud, Christchurch London and Newfrontiers in general - I can state categorically that they are NOT, NOT, NOT a militant group of people who impose exorcism on any homosexual people who cross their doors. I don't know actually of a group of churches where gay people do feel more welcome than Newfrontiers - a place where the grace of God is taught strongly and passionately.

Now - that being said if you do join Newfrontiers and share that you are gay then you will realise that it is expected you distinguish between gay feelings and gay sexual activity. Sex is seen as being limited to only between one husband and one wife. That's what they believe and are more than entitled to their feelings.

However I must reiterate that I spent the last couple of days reading around Philippa Stroud and the ministries of Christchurch London and I have yet to encounter a more caring bunch of people. As I say - I have encountered other churches and their methodology of dealing with someone who confesses they are struggling with same sex attraction is less than ideal - bordering on panic and harshness.

I haven't heard of anyone being "disfellowshipped" from Newfrontiers for simply confessing they struggled with same sex attraction.

My conclusion?

I am hoping that Conservative Central Office have prepared Philippa Stroud that this media/Twitter frenzy is inevitable for any candidate who holds any views of any kind. I do not believe she is prejudiced or "anti-gay" in any stretch of the imagination. Rather I think the "King's Arms Project" is an inspired kind and caring project to reach people that the Church traditionally ignores.

If I voted Conservative (which I don't) and lived in Mrs Stroud's constituency (which I don't) then I would have no hesitation in voting for her. I would feel far more safe knowing someone like Mrs Stroud is representing me in Parliament - than other candidates - such as Rev Ian Paisley. A man who I am more than sure about his prejudices.

I hope and pray that Philippa Stroud gets into Parliament - to have a Spirit-filled and compassionate MP with integrity in the House of Commons would be outstanding.

15 comments:

Tavdy said...

"the anti-Stroud bloggers do not know Philippa Stroud and certainly do not know Newfrontiers or Christchurch London."

I'm one of the bloggers you mention - the piece is on Pam's House Blend if you want to see it (it's far more high-profile than my own blog).

I was a resident of the KA Project for nine months, went to the KA Church for five years, and have close relatives at Woodside Church, the same church as Philippa's in-laws. I think that qualifies me as someone who knows New Frontiers reasonably well and, through knowing so many people close to her, I know quite a lot about that kind of person Philippa is, and I agree with you that she's a caring person - I also think that, on the subject of gay & trans people, she is dangerously deluded. If it were not for those views I'd agree with you that Mrs. Stroud would make a fantastic Tory MP.

"I don't know actually of a group of churches where gay people do feel more welcome than Newfrontiers"

From experience, both the British Quakers and the Metropolitan Community Church are infinitely more welcoming to gay & trans people - because we don't have to hide who we are.

By reputation I can include the Episcopalian Church USA, the Church of Sweden and the Anglican Church of Canada. None of these churches condemns gay people. All of them either perform gay marriages where legal and, where it is not, several are actively campaigning for legalisation.

"I haven't heard of anyone being "disfellowshipped" from Newfrontiers for simply confessing they struggled with same sex attraction."

AJ Patterson and Kacey Jones, who were both interviewed for the BBC piece that the Tories blocked through threats of legal action, both were forced out of the KA Church. I wasn't, but only because I jumped before I was pushed.

Anonymous said...

Mad said

Excellent article. I am involved in politics and in a New Frontiers church. I am praying for Philippa.

Anonymous said...

I am slightly hesitant to comment as I don't feel I have enough knowledge on the facts of the situation (thanks lawyers!) but I wanted to add a point to "what's the big deal".

I think one of the major problems with the idea that gay people can be 'cured' is it's lack of evidence, testemonials or scientific basis, there is a lot of evidence and testemonies however that such 'therapies' often leave people more damaged and vunerable.

It's also important to know that the Ugandan gay execution law was proposed following a visit from American 'ex-gay' evangelicals (I understand that this group is unconnected to their British equivalents but believe that it demonstrates some of the potential dangers these views can cause)

Andrew said...

I'm somewhat horrified by the vilification we've seen on the blogs and twitter. It's deeply troubling that a person who has dedicated so much of her life to caring for those in need, and has given herself to representing them in politics, is treated in this way.

Sure, disagree with her - that's fine. We all have things about which we disagree. You don't have to agree with what she believes, but the personal nature of so much of this begs the question: who is asking any rational questions about this story?

Philippa seems to have a fabulous track record when it comes to the work she has been involved in, and the Centre for Social Justice seems to be very highly regarded.

We need people in politics who genuinely care for the disadvantaged in soceity, whatever their beliefs. Let's have more people like Philippa Stroud!

Anonymous said...

One only has to read her policies on social justice or her work with the poor to see she is authentic and the allegations made against her unfounded. The stories about her demonizing the gay community is simply not true. A casual read of her background with the homeless, gay, destitute, socially extracted or otherwise is, in my opinion a bold example of selfless action. I for one fully back Philippa and wish her all the best in the future and her candidacy. We need more authentic people like her!

Tom said...

"Homosexuals - like heterosexuals, bisexuals, transexuals and all other sexuals - need Jesus Christ. End of!"

And this is the core of the problem. I'm willing to believe that Philippa Stroud has done many good things for people who need some form of help and support. I also believe that if one is need of support that it should not come with an evangelical message promising redemption from sin, or release from demonic possesion. It's the 21st century, and we don't need Jesus, Yahweh, Odin or any other mythical figure to help us, regardless of sexuality.

"But my point is that when I see Christian people tempted to suicide or self harm (such as I have and do struggle with) - I think we are entitled to suspect demonic involvement."

Why? Why not suspect depression, low self-esteem, lack of confidence or some mental health issue instead? how does ascribing these awful symptoms of people in trouble to an external, mythical non-existant force of ultimate evil help to deal with the problems? (Incidentally, you seem to be saying that Christians are somehow the target of the Big Red Guy With A Beard, and other, non-christian, people are not, do you actually believe that Some Fictional Bloke With Horns ignores everyone else? Add 'feelings of persecution' to that list of issues that may explain things more rationally)

I'm sorry if this seems ranty. I sincerely hope that you do resolve any problems you have, and in any way that actually works for you. If that includes exorcism, well, good luck.

Has it ever occurred to you that the 'demonization' of non-matrimonial and non-traditional expressions of sexuality in general by many faith-based organisations and institutions might have contributed to the way many people feel uncomfortable with their own sexuality, who then might turn to the church in search of a cure?

Tom said...

Also: I find it extremely significant that Philippa Stroud has both failed to deny that she believes to the demonic model of homosexuality, and has engaged lawyers to limit the way in which it discussed in the press and national media.

Counter-attack will follow counter-attack until she clarifies her position regarding said demons. I think that the vast majority of people (voters) in this country do not believe in demons, which is why this such an issue.

Dan Bowen said...

Hey all,

Thanks for all your comments - and I really do mean that. For those of you who have only come across this blog, I actually DO welcome criticism, comments and debate because it makes me think - so I really do value and read your thoughts and appreciate them a lot.

Tavdy - I completely accept your experience of the Kings Arms Project and of the methadology used. Thanks as well for mentioning those churches which I shall certainly be interested to check out. Although as a blogger I'm always reading and interested, it makes me realise how much more is out there. I'm really sorry you jumped before you were pushed - I can certainly sympathise with that, and definately wish I'd jumped from my church in Bristol before I was pushed.

Anonymous (2) - completely agree - there is a lot of Christian arguments out there stating - to be actively gay is WRONG. But there's precious little (and I have looked!) offering alternatives other than miserable celibacy. I think growing up as a Christian with these feelings, I looked and longed for promises of a "cure" - but I too have yet to find testimonies where the cure has "worked".

Andrew - appreciate your point and I hope that you didn't feel my blog was villifying Philippa Stroud in anyway. I tried to say that I hold David and Philippa and Christchurch in high regard and have great admiration for her striving to change politics for good. Sorry if that came across - I think I was trying to ask "rational questions" of those villifying Mrs Stroud but also of the Christians who may be all up for exorcising those in need of help!

Anonymous (3) - agreed - I for one like her statement on her website stating her integrity and transparency with expenses.

Tom - don't worry you didn't sound "ranty" - just expressing your point which I appreciate and read and learnt from. I agree - like you I'm disappointed that Philippa Stroud didn't respond more clearly but just stated she did not believe homosexuality "was an illness" - a difference to demon posession I think. Maybe that was something imposed on her from Conservative Central Office - who knows. I also am disappointed her Twitter and Facebook pages disappeared. But again who knows why.

"Incidentally, you seem to be saying that Christians are somehow the target of the Big Red Guy With A Beard, and other, non-christian, people are not, do you actually believe that Some Fictional Bloke With Horns ignores everyone else? Add 'feelings of persecution' to that list of issues that may explain things more rationally".

I'm not quite sure what you are getting at here. My misunderstanding - Christians are the target of Santa Claus?

What I will say is that I really don't know about demons and their involvement with Christians or non. I have had some limited experience with exorcisms as I said with varying results. And I just don't know. I think I believe in demons presence but we don't tend to see much of their activity in the Western World that I know of. But there I plead ignorance.

Hence why I say that in my experience - I have seen stuff that could be seen by some as demonic involvement causing depression, suicide etc - or as you say - could quite easily simply be mental illness etc.

Tom said...

"I'm not quite sure what you are getting at here. My misunderstanding - Christians are the target of Santa Claus?"

Heh. Good one. Had I meant Santa Claus I may have said something about mysterious entry via chimneys or gasfires. :)

This may stem from my misinterpretation of what you seemed to be implying, that if christians showed signs of mental illness, that it was right to suspect that some satanic force was 'oppressing' them. I find that to externalise stuff might disempower some people, given that such forces exist only in the most metaphorical sense in my legendarily humble opinion.

Tom said...

and more to the point, you seemed to suggest that such suspicions were valid only when christians were troubled.

The important thing here is that, given what limited information we have, it seems as though PS might believe in demons, or at the very least, has at some time in the past, attempted to help people in such a way as to suggest that she believed that demons were a source of discomfort to those people. I must admit that, given the points you made earlier about homosexuality in general that although PS may not be actively hostile towards those of not-hetero identity, as soon as one thinks a demon is involved it is hard to believe that PS has a completely positive view of homosexuality. If one is trying in any way to 'treat', remove, or vanquish homosexual feelings or acts, one has to ask why. I suspect the christian bible has coloured her perspective here...

Dan Bowen said...

Hey Tom,

Thanks for the reply!

Okay - so let's break it down a bit. My understanding of Christians and mental illness is that it is not a good relationship. Christians don't seem to cope very well with depression, mental illness and so on. Disorders that you can put your finger on - i.e. shortened limbs, arthritis etc are not a problem. You will hear them called out by Christians with "healing ministries" frequently.

Stuff that goes on within the brain? Not so good.

As I said in the blog, my take on the demon frenzy of the 1970's and 80's - thanks to Derek Prince and Don Basham, is that Christianity became "aware" of demons (whatever they may be) and eagerly accepted that teaching and the "cure" = exorcism.

Now demonology isn't quite so trendy in Christian circles (despite whatever P.S may believe these days!) and yet still mental illness isn't dealt with hugely well. If at all. Christians suffering with depression, manic depression or bipolar disoders and so on don't "fit a box" (that I'm aware of).

Right or wrong - that's my impression of Christianity as I experience it. And I hope something is done about it.

Now to P.S and Newfrontiers.

" ... it is hard to believe that PS has a completely positive view of homosexuality".

Absolutely. My limited understand of Newfrontiers is that if you went to said church leader and said; "I'm gay and struggling with feelings but am trying to be celibate" - they would embrace you and welcome you to a degree. If you said; "I'm gay and I don't see anything wrong in being in a loving and committed relationship" - then there may be eyebrows raised and you may not be allowed in membership. I think the issue is as simple as - do you think homosexual activity is "okay" or not - that's the breaking point.

So yes - to your comment. Positive? Maybe not. But my observers opinion of Newfrontiers is that there are gay guys and women "there" hiding among the masses. It's a popular, new church group of churches that preach a positive message (rare in the church age). Is it right? Well that's the on-going debate!

Thanks again! :)

Dan Bowen said...

Does anyone know if Philippa got in? I can't see anything on the news!

Dan Bowen said...

I don't think she did get in.

A few more follow up stories:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2010/may/07/religion-stroud-exorcism-demons

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2010/05/04/david-cameron-backs-philippa-stroud-over-gay-cure-allegations/

It's an interesting discussion seeing how "Demons" are viewed these days.

Mark Heath said...

I guess everyone knew that something like this would happen eventually when Philippa anounced she would go into politics. The timing was "convenient", to say the least, with a Lib Dem supporting paper vilifying her days before she stood for election against a Lib Dem candidate in a marginal seat, even though her purported sins against gays occured many years ago.

My local Lib Dem candidate attends an evangelical church, but unsurprisingly no scandals errupted concerning his views, and neither did they concerning any Muslim Labour candidates, who tend to hold similar views on sexual morailty.

So part of what was going on was nothing more than the newspapers playing dirty, trying to swing marginal seats. It doesn't seem any of the newspapers are above this kind of behaviour.

But the other part is that those of us in evangelical churches like newfrontiers are simply going to have to live with the fact that our views are deeply unpopular to a secular society.

From our own perspective we feel we are not homophobic, that we are loving and compassionate towards gays who are trying to follow Jesus, and offering genuine non-judgmental friendship to those gays we know who are not Christians. But it seems to me that the gay community want more than that. They want our approval and applause if they are to concede that we are not homophobic. And that is why stories like this are just going to keep coming around.

So I personally don't think there is much point in loudly protesting "we're not homophobic", but instead quietly showing God's love to those friends of ours who are gay. We may continued to be maligned in the media, but on the personal level, I hope we can demonstrate that it is possible to love and accept someone without necessarily approving everything they do.

Dan Bowen said...

Mark,

"But the other part is that those of us in evangelical churches like newfrontiers are simply going to have to live with the fact that our views are deeply unpopular to a secular society".

Agreed. But my problem is that I think on the one hand evangelical churches like Newfrontiers are sort of reconciled to having unpopular(ish) views, but don't like it when it does actually hit the press. And they/we either need to toughen up or change.

"So I personally don't think there is much point in loudly protesting "we're not homophobic", but instead quietly showing God's love to those friends of ours who are gay".

Vital statement and one I couldn't agree more with. I think this newspaper/Stroud saga would have thrown some churches into turmoil. Churches resent the allegation of homophobia, but sadly the fact is that in many churches, they actually ARE homophobic.

If evangelical or other churches like Newfrontiers really do have a heart for homosexual people in need of the gospel, and are ready and willing for them to walk in - then a couple of lessons are vital;

1. Stop treating homosexual people as aliens and freaking out when you realise a man or a woman have walked in with their partner. They're sinners in need of the same gospel you needed and need. Everytime church leaders freak and excommunicate or slap rules and regulations on homosexual people, they are simply reinforcing the allegation of homophobia.

2. Stop treating homosexual people as "special" people - the alternative excess to homophobia is to go over the top and try and act like you are "okay" with these people in your midst. Homosexual people aren't asking to be treated as special because of their sexual orientation. They see it as normal as heterosexual people see being normal.

HOWEVER - it should be remembered that the church is asking homosexual people in essence to abstain from sex if they are going to be in their midst. That's fine if it's Biblically explained. But that void of affection, love and company is going to be needed to be desperately filled with friendship, affection and biblically defined friendships and relationships.

And sadly my experience of "evangelical" churches is a very very lonely one.