The United Kingdom is looking to ban what it calls “conversion therapy,” but a group of almost 3,000 pastors and church leaders is fighting back. The government act would make it a criminal offense for anyone to help someone under 18 resolve unwanted homosexuality and live according to a biblical sexual ethic.
The proposed ban would also criminalize parents, counselors and pastors who help minors struggling with sexual identity confusion to embrace their bodily sex of male or female. It specifically prohibits talk therapy for those under 18 struggling with these issues and requires informed consent for those over 18 – something already generally required before a person enters counseling.
A group of Christian pastors and church leaders has created a website, carefully laying out their concerns about the issue, which include the confusion and vagueness of some aspects of the ban; the threat to parents as they raise children; and the “very high risk of criminalising the teaching and pastoral support of people to live according to the Christian pattern of marriage.”
They’ve also sent a letter opposing the prohibition to Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and Minister for Women and Equalities Elizabeth Truss, who heads the Government Equalities Office. Her office is holding a consultation on the ban, where concerned individuals (both inside and outside the U.K.) can give comments.
Despite the consultation, her office states the ban will take place: “The government will ban conversion therapy, the consultation is not about ‘if’ but rather how we will do so.” The Equalities Office adds, “The consultation will help shape the legislation to effectively ban conversion therapy.”
The letter states:
We are grateful to the government for having made clear in the consultation that it does not intend this legislation to impact the normal practice of religion. Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned that the legislative approach outlined would do exactly this. We see in these proposals a clear possibility that our duty as ministers, of proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and calling people to find life in him, which includes living by his laws, will be criminalised. We also believe it could be used against Christian parents who could equally be criminalised for loving advice and teaching given to their own children.
The category of ‘Conversion Therapy’ is one which is so broad as to be essentially meaningless. It has the effect of implying an equivalence between calling people to conversion to Christ, which is our duty as Christian ministers, and evil and disreputable past practices which are already illegal and which Christians are the first to condemn. Legislating against such a bizarrely broad category is clearly not viable and strongly risks criminalising us as we fulfil our compassionate duties as Christian ministers and pastors. This would be a clear breach of our legal right to manifest our religion.
In an analysis of the proposal, the church leaders explain, “Conversion is a core and central part of many Christians’ experience of God, and is a theological concept of considerable importance.” Linking “conversion” with “therapy” is “both bizarre and troubling,” they state, deliberately implying that “Christians are particularly associated with the disreputable, cruel and thoroughly unchristian practices of some quack therapies in the past.”
The letter clearly explains the Christian view of marriage, sexuality and humanity’s creation as male and female, in the image and likeness of God.
Christianity has always held that God created humanity with the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman as a gracious gift to humanity and a central part of his design for human society. To violate that pattern, by sexual activity outside marriage or denial of our created sex, is sin. As such it is not only morally wrong but carries with it deep and tragic consequences for individuals, families and society. It is a central part of our calling to bring Christ’s compassion to a broken world, that we call people to live according to God’s gift and pattern of marriage and offer them pastoral support to help them do so. This has nothing to do with therapy; it has everything to do with what it means to be a Christian.
The pastors also outline the Christian duty “to call people to be converted to Christ; that is, to turn from believing that we are identified and best guided by self, to knowing that we are identified and best guided by God.” The letter adds, “Christian Conversion inevitably means giving up on lifestyles incompatible with being a Christian, of which sexual sins are just one.”
The group says it will “continue to do our duty to God,” even if Christian teaching and practice becomes illegal.
Individuals inside and outside the UK can give feedback on the proposed ban until February 4, 2022.
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