I won’t deny, I was a tad nervous about penning something about gay cures, faith and HIV, as I didn’t want people to see ‘Rev Stephen Sorby’ and instantly be turned off! It’s easy to be so when you see the title ‘Reverend’!
Religion, Faith, Spirituality – whatever you want to call it, certainly does have a lot to answer for. It also has a lot to give, but often because of radical evangelism and judgment from a minority, it doesn’t have a chance.
I was prompted to write this at the kind invitation of Tom, following the article by James ‘Can prayer cure HIV?’ – on his difficult and challenging experience around faith healing, prayer and his HIV. I was incredibly touched by James’s honesty and also most saddened that he was left feeling as he was due to such radical evangelism.
Hopefully, this article will address some kind of balance – a confidence and open mindedness to see that in the main faith communities seek to serve and support – not hinder!
I spent many years in nursing, pre-ministry, and one of the posts I was most privileged to hold, was that of Head of Family Care Services at Mildmay Hospice in London in the mid 90’s – providing respite, rehabilitation and terminal care for those living with HIV & AIDS related illnesses.
As a hospice with a Christian ethos, it was vitally important to know the balance between support and spiritual care, as well as ensuring it worked hand in hand with prescribed treatments, respecting those to whom faith/beliefs didn’t have a part in their lives.
Not once do I ever remember seeing (and I had, if would it have been stopped immediately) any case of specific ‘prayers for healing/cure’ or coercion to stop medications and trust in faith related ‘cures’.
Much has been reported of late in the media around ‘gay cures’ and ‘healing the damaged’, with Dr Christian Jessen providing some compelling viewing with ‘Undercover Doctor – Cure me I’m gay’. I wrote an article for the online magazine yorkmix (which you can read here) condemning such practices that seek to ‘purge’ the LGBT community.
As an Industrial Chaplain, I see many people in my daily work from all walks of life. Acceptance, support and companionship play a huge role in ensuring people are cared for. This doesn’t necessarily mean even talking about religion or faith. What matters is the individual and his/her concerns or issues.
Prayer may well be requested or offered depending on the person, but never forced and never in place of medical treatment/intervention. Of course, in faith it plays a huge part, a significant role, but it should never be at the cost of anyone’s physical or mental health.
Many people living with HIV do have a sense of spirituality and/or faith and many do not. That’s not for me or anyone else to make a judgement of. What is my (and others in faith roles) responsibility is to be an extended support – a listening ear, a sign-poster, an impartial and calming presence in times of anxiety, distress or acute illness. Knowing you can share in confidence can be incredibly therapeutic and gives a real sense of peace.
People who may want to explore faith should be encouraged with compassion and with honesty. It should never place individuals at risk and teaching that does so, I condemn wholeheartedly.
Much is still needed to be done regarding faith, sexuality and acceptance of individuals for who and what they are. We can only make a difference if we challenge and educate, that’s where we must definitively stick together.
You matter, we all matter – that’s the key point. Religion and faith communities need to realise the role they have is not to heal but to help, not to prescribe but to be present and not to condemn but to care.
Revd Dr Stephen Sorby (@revstephensorby on twitter) is Railway & BTP Chaplain. He is also Director of the Agape Community for LGBTI Christians & an Interfaith Adviser. He is a regular contributor to BBC York, and Faith Features writer at The YorkMix.