Conversion therapy in Singapore has evolved from conversion to a more sanitised version of ‘desire management’

A concerned young Singaporean on twitter discovered a seemingly harmless programme by a church targetted at the LGBTQ community in Singapore. But upon further inspection, the bright, happy advertising was for a version of conversion therapy.

The Choices programme which Vishan came across is run by the Church of Our Saviour in Queenstown. Though it may seem on the surface to well-meaning and based on ideas of support and love, Vishan was unconvinced. The sentiment was shared by many others as well, as the tweet made its way onto reddit where many users were quick to condemn the church for the programme.

You might recall, the Church of Our Saviour is the same one that was involved in the AWARE takeover scandal in 2009. Former dean of law at NUS Dr Thio Su Mien orchestrated the takeover of the AWARE management committee at an annual general meeting which was heavily attended by church members who had only recently joined the organisation. Their rationale was that they were concerned over AWARE’s attempts to redefine marriage and family. After a little tussle involving an emergency meeting and a vote of no-confidence, the new committee was ousted and a new one installed.

Back to the Choices programme, it’s a programme that target’s LGBTQ youths in Singapore, drawing them in with trendy branding strategies and the promise of an open and accepting church environment. And while it may look like it and even sound like it, this programme is really just modern day conversion therapy – except that instead of attempting to make people ‘straight’, the programme aims to ‘help’ LGBTQ youth to ‘supress’ their ‘unnatural desires’.

The opposite of homosexuality is holiness

An article Rice Media touched on a similar programme in a different church in Singapore, the Truelove.is programme by 3:16 Church. The author describes how the branding for the programme is ‘beautiful’ and ‘super trendy’, and featured the rainbow pride flag. The core message of the programme is, ‘Don’t just come out, come home’.

Now, while on the surface it may seem as if the church is affirming and welcoming of the LGBTQ community, the author described it as an example of ‘textbook excellent branding’.

The programme clearly targets well-read, well-meaning Christian millennials by showcasing a softer stance from the church while emphasising that the church is coming from a place of love and it is a safe space for LGBTQ youths that is free from judgement. The use of common symbols like the pride flag help to enforce these ideas.

To understand the initiative better, the author attended a Truelove.is conference and what she subsequently describes sounds like a more polished version of conversion therapy.

The author describes how there is a group of young people and their mentors who take to the stage to share their journey. The author describes one of the speeches as ‘well-intentioned’ as it demonstrates using statistics that churches aren’t doing their best for this specific community.

Those that take to the stage deliver ‘thoughful and authentic testimonies, free from any moral high ground’, described the author – something that would even fit nicely at Pink Dot.

Even so, the speeches and testimonials are “littered with traditional Christian arguments about family”. One mentor said, “When God created man and woman to have children, they say sex is within marriage. They look after the children. The marriage will thrive, the nation will thrive. Along the way, we’ve been turned away.” He also likens the rescue of the Thai boys from the caves as a sign that God wants LGBTQ christians to ‘come out, come home’.

Another testimonial, this one by a woman who experiences ‘same sex attraction’ (SSA) as they refer to it. She is now married but still experiences this from time to time. She says, “even when you think you’ve overcome [SSA], like drugs or alcohol, you might come back to it”.

Beyond just comparing same sex attraction to addiction, one of the speakers notes that he doesn’t believe having same sex attraction automatically means you are LGBT. The behaviour may not always translate to identity, says. The same person also notes that the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality but holiness. So to ‘come home’, he would have to marry a woman or remain celibate his whole life.

The author writes, “Essentially, when Truelove.is tells LGBT Christians to “come home”, they are not saying that it’s okay to be gay or to have sexual relationships with others of the same gender. They are saying that it’s not a sin to have gay desires, nor should anyone be ostracised for having them. However, it would be sinful to act on them in the eyes of the Lord.”

The author then mentions the Choices programme by Church of our Savior which shares a similar approach. One man who had attended the entire 1.5 year Choices programme confirmed to the author the similarities of the two programmes: the usage of SSA terminology, making the distinction between having SSA and being gay, the belief in reparative therapy, and choosing “holiness” (i.e. celibacy) over homosexuality.

Conversion therapy is apparently not for gays and lesbians

On reddit, one user actually called up the church to ask about the programme. The woman from the church said that most of the people she sees are young men in their late teens and early twenties but they do not referred to themselves as ‘gay’. Instead, they say they are struggling with ‘same sex attraction’. The woman adds that ‘gays’ and ‘lesbians’ don’t go for conversion therapy.

The woman also notes that the goal of the programme is not to ‘turn them straight’ as most don’t. So it’s more about ‘managing’ their desire sand feelings.

So the woman in the church agrees that someone who is attracted to members of the same sex cannot be ‘converted’ to becoming ‘straight’. These programmes have now evolved from ‘conversion’ to ‘management’ training on the theory that if you can’t stop someone from being gay, you can at least try to stop them from acting on it.