Irish legislator embroiled in controversy over comments about homosexuality

Iris Robinson, the “first lady” of Ireland and also a MP (member of Parliament) from Northern Ireland has stepped into controversy with comments about her oppostion to homosexuality and her beliefs that gays can change with counseling. With what should seem in hindsight to be a very poor sense of timing, she made her negative comments about homosexuality in response to a question about a hate crime in Belfast, Northern Ireland directed toward a gay man. Taking a page from the Sally Kern playbook, she expressed no regrets for her comments which were more harsh than a simple recitation of her moral opposition (see this article…).

About reorientation therapy, Mrs. Robinson said:

‘I have a lovely psychiatrist who works with me and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals – trying to turn them away from what they are engaged in…”

Subsequently, the psychiatrist involved, Paul Miller, gave an interview to a Belfast newspaper and appeared on radio to address the claims of change therapy. Paul Miller is a psychiatrist who is a senior advisor to Mrs. Robinson and works extensively with post-traumatic stress. He is also a former trainee of Richard Cohen. Cohen presented a workshop in Northern Ireland in November of 2007 with Paul Miller as the contact person.

In an email to me, Dr. Miller said Cohen’s training was “a very valuable part of their attempt to equip themselves for working in this area.” It must have been well received since three points cited by Dr. Miller are taken in the same order from Richard Cohen’s website.

Dr Miller said three key messages summed up his work.

“First, no one is born gay because gay identity is a complex interaction between genetics and environment; second, no one chooses to experience who they are sexually attracted to; and thirdly, change in sexual orientation is possible.”

Compare those points with the front page of the International Healing Foundation.

IHF

I have not received a reply to my questions about whether the bioenergetic and holding therapy approaches were demonstrated or make up a part of Dr. Miller’s work.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Robinson is being investigated for violating laws relating to hate speech. Unfortunately, some Christian conservatives will turn this event into a debate over free speech. As with Sally Kern, Mrs. Robinson may have the right to say what she did (actually in Ireland, she may not; we shall see…), but having the right doesn’t make it right. In response to questions about homosexuality, and in the context of discussion over a hate crime, why not simply express opposition to violence and hatred? Actually, in any context or at any time, I do not think it furthers any good purpose to engage in such ungracious and uncivil rhetoric.

Her pairing of comments about change therapy and the hate crime, along with her negative comments about homosexuality make it very clear to me that Christian sexual identity ministries should make their opposition to violence and harassment very clear.

Here is another Sally Kern moment; what will happen in it?

  • http://www.newdirection.ca wendy

    Mrs. Robinson’s comments are not consistent with the Christian value that all people are created in the image of God and have inherent worth and dignity. Her comments lack humility, grace and an honouring of our shared humanity.

    I think it is tragic.

  • Mary

    I agree. Her comments are ignorant of the humanity we all share. While she may a hold personal views of other people, her suggestion that they seek counseling to fit her perspective is unkind and in disregard for others.

    Is she willing to pay the same emotinal and finacial expense to recieve treatment for her unchristian behaviour as we see it?

  • Evan

    I don’t know the context that lead to her first comments, but I see nothing good coming out of this kind of messages. As long as we don’t understand the motivation behind this, which I suspect is not religious even if it’s worded in religious terms (she is a politician), we cannot hope to see people show some consideration before speaking publicly on this issue. I’m a supporter of giving people support in their struggle with SSAs, but I don’t support telling other people what to do with their lives.

    Nevertheless, I think that silencing people who are of this opinion will not change much. It’s better if people respond to this message without stifling it, because others of the same opinion will grow angry and go underground (that can lead to a feeling of oppressed views and may be a stronger motivation for hate attacks). So it’s better to let people talk and address their views with arguments. It keeps people’s critical reflexes alive and it supports social learning.

    PS. There is a small typo in the title, if it’s of any importance. ‘Controvery’ = controversy.

  • Mary

    Evan,

    I feel the same way. Let them voice their opinions. Keeping in mind – others will, too.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren

    Thanks for the typo catch, Evan

    Evan – I think her motivation was religious. She has said repeatedly that she is reciting the Word of God. While as a Christian myself, I like the idea of public figures being free to express religious themes, I would prefer them focus on redemptive qualities of our common beliefs. Smacking at people seems to compromise her considerable potential inflence for good.

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  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    I think that despite the obvious offence that Iris Robinson’s views offer and the clear fact that she was egregiously provocative in her comments, we forget the religious context in which she made the remarks. Northern Ireland is still a deeply religious society and she was speaking from her particular presbyterian protestant constituency.

    In the UK at present there is a feeling that any form of criticism of homosexual activity is immediately stamped upon, so while I would join those who were caution her not only in her choice of language and styling of her argument but also her association with the techniques of Cohen, I would also ask us to reflect that she expresses an underbelly of resentment amongst many social conservatives in the UK at how their concerns and values are being sidelined and ignored.

  • Michael Bussee

    Stephen Black of EXODUS should hold a rally for her and send her flowers or something. Anyone that doesn’t agree with her is probably a “hateful gay activist.”.

    Warren said that “Christian sexual identity ministries should make their opposition to violence and harassment very clear.” They should, but they won’t. EXODUS still hasn’t. Where is the policy statement on their homepage?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/ Warren

    @Peter Ould: While I understand the context of her comments, my reaction is that she could do so much good to turn the Christian church toward a compassionate center. Instead, it feels like she is pandering to the underbelly, rather than leading them toward a better way.

    And I think the ex-gays are short sighted to avoid criticizing the comments about “her lovely psychiatrist.” Dr. Miller, for all of his medical training, still promotes the Mankind Project, and IHF.

  • Michael Bussee

    Warren: I agree that ” ex-gays are short sighted to avoid criticizing the comments…” Once again, they don’t because they are afraid. Either that, or they agree. EXODUS? Care to comment?

    And not just on your personal blogs that will be overlooked or forgotten. I mean something official from all of the current board members of EXODUS. We (the founders of EXODUS) would have done it quickly and clearly — and that was before EXODUS had access to computers.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    He is also a former trainee of Richard Cohen. Cohen presented a workshop in Northern Ireland in November of 2007 with Paul Miller as the contact person.

    Can it be Christmas already?

  • Jayhuck

    Timothy – LOL! :)

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  • Amy

    I find it offensive that you call iris robinson the “first lady of ireland”

    the fact she has nothing to do with Ireland

    she is from Northern ireland a completely different country

    i know maybe you didnt mean it but she has nothing to do with ireland

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