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Church leaders write to Equalities Minister to back conversion-therapy ban

25 February 2022

A placard calling for a conversion-therapy ban is held during the Reclaim Pride march in London last year

A placard calling for a conversion-therapy ban is held during the Reclaim Pride march in London last year

A LETTER in support of a ban on conversion therapy, drafted in response to another letter expressing concern about the proposed ban, has been signed by more than 2000 Christian leaders, including hundreds of C of E clergy.

Co-ordinated by 13 Christian charities and organisations, including Greenbelt and Inclusive Church, the new letter expresses “pastoral concern to challenge the harm that has been caused to many by the insensitive and ill-informed nature” of the Ministers Consultation Response — a letter sent to the Equalities Minister, Liz Truss, in December, and signed by more than 2500 “Christian ministers and pastoral workers” (News, 18 February).

This letter, published in December, argued that the definition of conversion therapy was “so broad as to be essentially meaningless”, and warned that banning it “strongly risks criminalising us as we fulfil our compassionate duties as Christian ministers and pastors”.

The new letter, “Christian leaders support the ban”, also addressed to Ms Truss, says: “The pain that many have experienced in seeing their priest or minister, or indeed one local to them, assent to these views ought not to be underestimated.

“We reject the concept of one Christian view on human sexuality and gender identity, as well as one Christian view on conversion therapy. Our affirmation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer identities is rooted in a breadth and depth of Christian theology; as is, therefore, our heartfelt and informed desire to see an end to conversion therapy in the United Kingdom, and around the world.”

It goes on to argue that conversion therapy is “clearly defined”, before quoting from the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK, which was updated in December, and has been signed by 26 mental-health professional bodies, including the Association of Christian Counsellors and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The 2017 General Synod motion calling on the Government to ban conversion therapy also endorsed this memorandum (News, 14 July 2017), which defines conversion therapy as “an umbrella term for a therapeutic approach, or any model or individual viewpoint that demonstrates an assumption that any sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently preferable to any other, and which attempts to bring about a change of sexual orientation or gender identity or seeks to suppress an individual’s expression of sexual orientation or gender identity on that basis”.

Last year, Ms Truss announced that a ban would be carried out after a public consultation, to ensure that nobody was subjected to “coercive and abhorrent conversion therapy”. The language was echoed by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who said that the Synod had voted to “reject coercive conversion therapies”.

The latest letter argues that “conversion therapy is coercive, and that therefore informed consent is not possible. It is important to distinguish between genuine choice, and that which is coerced by virtue or culture, the interpretation of religious teachings, and context.

“We believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer peoples are made fully and beautifully in the image of God, and that their sexualities and gender identities can neither be cured nor changed — for this is how God has made them to be.

“It is this belief that motivates us to encourage and remind all those who have suffered at the hands of the Christian Church, and all those who continue to suffer today: that you are loved and valued, and that these undersigned clergy, ministers, and Christian leaders, do not wish to see you harmed. We will continue to pursue a Church and a world that truly represents the love of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

As of Tuesday, 2000 people had signed the letter, including the Bishops of Buckingham, Monmouth, and Dorchester, and the Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid.

A spokesperson for the Government’s Equality Hub said: “Anyone using physical or sexual violence as a form of conversion therapy is already breaking the law.

“Our proposals strengthen existing provisions and introduce an offence which together protect under 18s and vulnerable adults from all forms of conversion therapy. They would also protect any adults unwillingly subjected to this abhorrent practice.”

In a written response to a General Synod question this month, Mark Sheard, who chairs the Mission and Public Affairs Council, confirmed that a response reflecting the 2017 vote had been sent to the government consultation: “The proposals from the Ministry of Justice trod a careful path between the scope of existing laws, the necessity of preserving fundamental human rights, and the need for a ban to be effective in achieving its aims. We considered that the proposals got this balance about right.

“In the case of conversion therapy aimed at adults, the proposed approach to coercion as defining unacceptable practices that should be banned appeared workable without infringing human rights. Our response acknowledged the difficulties involved in defining Conversion Therapy, emphasised the need for any definition to be proportionate and effective, and broadly supported the proposals as the best way to make these practices a thing of the past.”

In another written answer, Bishop Mullally, wrote: “We hope a legal ban will provide a clear definition of ‘conversion therapy’ but examining our own practices must go deeper than the law.” She confirmed that the Faith and Order Commission was “beginning a study of when prayer can become coercive to fill a gap in the Government’s work on banning conversion therapy, which did not specifically explore the concept of coercion in relation to prayer. We also hope that this work will reassure those who are worried that banning conversion therapy implies a blanket ban on prayer.”

Last week, the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Revd Gavin Collins, issued a statement, criticising the Ministers Consultation Response, which, he said, “puts out a message that people aren’t safe in our churches, and it cuts across the settled view of the Church of England that coercive conversion therapy is unacceptable and should be banned”.

On Sunday, he told BBC Radio Oxford said that a Bill banning conversion therapy sought to protect “the very safety of thousands and thousands, who are potentially vulnerable, of real spiritual abuse and physical and emotional harm. . . I am clear which side Jesus calls me to be on.”

He described having been a parish priest of “traditional views. . . We used to say that we were welcoming of all regardless of sexuality, but the reality was that we weren’t. We put so many restrictions on, and I saw at first hand the harm and the hurt and rejection that I caused, to be frank, all while claiming that I was acting in love and grace.”

Letter: False argument against conversion-therapy ban

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