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Conversion-therapy ban could criminalise Christians, says Evangelical Alliance

16 March 2021

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GOVERNMENT proposals to ban all forms of conversion therapy for LGBT people could “restrict individual freedom” and “criminalise Christians and common church activities”, the UK Director of the Evangelical Alliance, Peter Lynas, has suggested.

A public petition to make the practice illegal in the UK, which gained more than 250,000 signatures, was debated in the House of Commons last week. The Equalities Minister, Liz Truss, later said that the Government was committed to outlawing the “abhorrent practice”, and that “we’ll shortly be bringing forward plans to do so.”

In a letter to the Prime Minister this week, however, Mr Lynas argues that, while “electro-shock treatment and corrective rape are clearly wrong and should be ended”, the lack of a clear definition of conversion therapy from the Government was problematic. “Many lobbying for change are seeking an expansive definition that would be highly problematic and which we could not support.

“Proposals, as currently discussed, could have the consequence of restricting individual freedom and impinging on essential religious liberty — potentially criminalising Christians and common church activities. We would encourage the government to exercise caution.”

He continued: “For evangelical Christians, the teaching of the Bible is clear that sexual activity is restricted to monogamous marriage between one man and one woman. For Christians who hold to this biblical teaching, it is essential that those who experience same sex attraction are free to pursue and receive support to help them live in accordance with their beliefs.

“Proposals to end conversion therapy must not prevent people from seeking and receiving support to live chaste lives. Language that suggests a ban would cover ‘suppressing’ or ‘repressing’ sexuality would be a substantive block on supporting those that do not wish to act on their sexual attraction. Ironically, those calling for a ban are promoting polices that would discriminate against someone based on their sexuality.”

Jayne Ozanne, who, alongside religious leaders (News, 6 July 2018), has been lobbying the Government to ban all conversion therapy, responded on Tuesday: “This letter is clear proof that there are those who wish to continue the practice of conversion therapy wish to do so with impunity, deaf to the cries of the multitude of people they have harmed.

“The Government has a clear choice — to side with the perpetrators of conversion therapy or to protect vulnerable victims who, research shows, are likely to suffer significant trauma and mental-health problems, with many being driven to contemplate taking their own lives.

“Freedom of religious belief is only a freedom up until the point that it does no harm. There are many evangelicals who take a different view to that set out by the Evangelical Alliance regarding the need to embrace and celebrate LGBTQIA people, rather than condemn them to a life of misery and pain. It is time for the government to act, and to stop this degrading practice once and for all.”

The Founder the Oasis Charitable Trust, the Revd Steve Chalke, said that he, like many other evangelicals, were not represented by the Evangelical Alliance, and called for a full ban. “Anything less will not do the job,” he said on Wednesday.

“Because of the EA’s huge emphasis on the ‘freedom of the individual’ I find it hard to understand why it is not keen to back a wide definition of Conversion Therapy, one that exposes all forms coercion. Having served as a Christian leader for 40 years, my experience is that oppressive practices are most dangerous when they are dressed up as ‘pastoral support’. I am sure that we all recognise this danger from many episodes of Evangelical history.

“Therefore, I whole heartedly agree with the EA that we need a crystal-clear definition of Conversion Therapy, but surely this should be one that ensures every church is held to account for its safeguarding policies in this area, as in any other. What have we to fear?

“In my experience — leading a church with many LGBT+ members who are survivors of attempts to alter their sexuality or gender orientation — it has rarely, if ever been electro-shock treatment or corrective rape that they have endured. Rather it has been abusive religious teaching, prayer for healing and so called ‘pastoral care’ based around the misguided and damaging belief that the sexual or gender orientation of LGBT+ people is an ‘illness’ which needs to be ‘cured’ or ‘corrected’.”

In 2017, the General Synod called on the Government to ban conversion therapy (News, 14 July 2017).

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