A US-style Christian-based seminar to “help” people who are living with “unwanted same-sex attraction” and their families is set to take place in Pretoria later this week.
Hosted by AndrÃ© Bekker from New Living Way Ministry, the three day seminar promises to present participants with “causes” of same-sex attraction and to show them the “way out of brain bondage” and “spiritual bondage”.
Bekker, who says he’s studied theology but is not an ordained pastor, told Mambaonline that the seminar is the first one of its kind that he’s hosting.
“It’s for people who want to understand same-sex attraction from a Christian perspective,” he said.
Bekker insisted that he doesn’t claim that the seminar will ‘cure’ gay people but that “they will understand that we don’t believe that people are born that way”.
He adds: “They can, according to a Christian perspective, live according to their values.”
Bekker admitted that he isn’t a psychologist or psychiatrist but said that he has had “some psychology training and did training with international institutions that deal with same-sex attraction”.
Describing himself as a “theological counsellor,” he explained that among his qualifications to host the seminar is his claim that he has overcome his own same-sex attraction.
“I was 39 years in the gay world. I have experience of both sides of it. I went through therapy with it and I am not attracted to the same-sex anymore.”
The New Living Way Ministry’s services appear similar to those offered by US-based groups, including weekend retreats “to minister to the needs of people with unwanted same-sex attraction”.
The ministry’s website has links to American reparative therapy organisations, including the notorious Family Research Institute, which has been described as an anti-gay “hate group’ for its “continued demonization of LGBT people and [its] shoddy and suspect research methods”.
Fees for the New Living Way Ministry’s services range from R350 per person for the seminar to R800 for a camp.
A concerned member of the LGBT community, JJ Engelbrecht was approached by Bekker to attend a weekend camp and reacted with anger. He accused Bekker of claiming to ‘cure homosexuality’ “for monetary gain”.
Engelbrecht added that he believes that this is an infringement of his human rights and “should be declared illegal in South Africa”.
Xander Flemming, Health Manager and Counselling Psychologist at OUT Well-being in Pretoria, condemned the seminar, saying that these kinds of interventions could lead to suicide.
He said that people usually attempted to change their sexual orientation due to “shame, guilt and negative emotions linked to homophobia, prejudice, pressure to conform and constant messaging that it is ‘wrong’ to be gay or lesbian”.
Flemming explained that people often felt the need to “fit in with a hetero-normative societal model and stereotypes regarding masculinity and femininity”.
He said that the correct strategy to deal with these issues is to “provide affirmative support where homosexuality is viewed as constructive and compatible with psychological well-being”.
Despite warnings from South African and leading international psychiatric groups, Bekker denies that his ‘counselling’ could damage those struggling with their sexuality.
The South African Society of Psychiatrists says that it “opposes any psychiatric treatment such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy designed to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual”.
It further states that it supports the American Psychiatric Association’s stance that “this type of therapy can be destructive,” adding that “reparative therapy runs the risk of harming patients by causing depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behaviour”.
“I understand what major psychological institutions say about it, but even they admit that no-one knows what the cause [of homosexuality] is,” said Bekker. “We believe that it is good for us to be available for those people who have a desire to deal with their sexuality.”
Bekker told Mambaonline that while he was prepared to ‘help’ minors with unwanted same-sex attraction he “will not deal with anyone against his own will – even if it is a minor”.
There is a growing focus by LGBT groups on barring reparative therapy when it comes to minors. The US state of California recently moved to ban this kind of ‘counselling’ for anyone under the age of 18.