Paul Huxley, Communications Manager at Christian Concern, argues that Christians cannot avoid hostility from the world while remaining faithful on issues of sexuality and gender. But what can Christians do to be prepared?
If you hold to a biblically faithful position on sexuality and gender, you have enemies.
I don’t know anyone who wants to have enemies. And Christians are called to love their enemies. But, try as we might, we can no longer ignore the reality of people who hate what we stand for and seek to do us harm.
We’re unlikely to be physically attacked, or thrown in a police cell – although that has happened to some UK street preachers – but we can be sure that there are people who would like to see no place for us in 21st century British society.
ITV news ‘exposés’
This week ITV has run undercover ‘exposés’ of various groups who offer what could be described as ‘conversion therapy’. The term is normally used to refer to any help or therapy given to people who want to lessen their experience of same-sex attraction.
ITV sent an reporter to at least three groups: a church, a Christian charity and the launch of IFTCC (at which Christian Concern chief executive Andrea Williams, spoke).
In my view, they have used the research to cover these groups in the most negative light possible. You can see how this works in my initial reactions to one of the articles on Twitter.
Paul Brand, the journalist behind the coverage, has summed up his reports in a Twitter thread that – for those with eyes to see – quite clearly shows his misconceptions about Christian beliefs and his partiality on the topic.
The media is rarely interested in covering this topic even-handedly. Films that tell stories about people ‘coming to terms’ with their alternative sexuality are heavily promoted and lauded. Editors fall over themselves to give airtime to people who allege harm or who want to change the church’s view on sexuality – while the many stories of those who move away from same-sex attraction (e.g. Voices of the Silenced and Changed Movement) or who resist acting on it (e.g. Living Out) are routinely ignored.
If you believe that prayer and accountability groups are appropriate to help people live in line with Christian sexual ethics, they will imply that you pressurise and brainwash people.
If you believe that therapies can help address psychological and social problems in people’s lives and, in so doing, lessen same-sex attraction, they will claim (without evidence) that you are being ‘unethical’ and ‘potentially harmful’.
If you believe in any kind of evil spiritual being that can tempt or otherwise affect people to disobey God, they will make you out to be ignorant.
Whether you think the source of same-sex attraction is sin, the flesh, the world or the devil, newspapers and TV programmes are ready to misrepresent you with selectivity and spin.
And when they do, the Charity Commission will be quick to investigate you.
The government wants to ban ‘conversion therapy’
In response to this week’s ITV coverage, the Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mourdant said that the kind of work done by all three groups should be “stamped out”.
Earlier this year, the government said that it wants to ban conversion therapy, which Prime Minister Theresa May labelled as ‘abhorrent‘. But because the phrase is so nebulous – and never used by any of the people who are accused of practising it – it expands to include just about any practice that offends the taste of social liberals.
The government has been vague in defining what is included under the ‘conversion therapy’ umbrella. Although the government’s action plan says –
“We are not trying to prevent LGBT people from seeking legitimate medical support or spiritual support from their faith leader in the exploration of their sexual orientation or gender identity”
– ‘legitimate medical support’ and ‘spiritual support’ will probably be taken to mean guidance to help people accept their alternative sexuality.
Notice the implication that conversion therapy also refers to efforts to help or encourage people to live as a member of their true gender/sex. So, helping someone to live as a member of the sex they were born as – and are, in reality – would be construed as harmful and potentially banned. Would this extend to teens and children? Would citing Bible passages which call for God’s people not to engage in homosexuality or cross-dressing fall foul of the rules? It seems unbelievable, but in the current climate there would certainly be pressure to do so.
If ‘conversion therapy’ means anything at all, it should surely refer to a process that treats people with cross-sex hormones, damages fertility and cuts up their bodies to portray them as something other than what they really are. In other words, gender reassignment.
Yet in today’s dystopic nightmare, such barbarism is promoted in glossy magazines, praised by celebrities and funded by taxpayers.
Not just the outspoken
Arguably the most vocal, public and brave voice arguing for the freedom to access help to move away from unwanted same-sex attraction has been Mike Davidson of Core Issues Trust. And, through his work with IFTCC, he was included in this week’s ITV news reporting.
But it should be increasingly obvious that whether you are a church, a charity or a counsellor, if you are offering any kind of resistance to ‘the new normal’ view on sexuality, there are people who want to undermine you, and expose you and your organisation.
They will probably not play fair. If they are journalists, they may put in whatever they think will earn the most advertising revenue. If they are politicians, they may say whatever they think will earn them the most votes. And if they are campaigners, they may say whatever they think will increase the pressure for the change they want to see.
Anything you say that doesn’t fit into their narrative will likely be excluded or undermined.
As Andrew Walker observes, being winsome will not be enough. Being nuanced may buy you time, but the days of Christian sexual ethics being tolerated or ignored are numbered.
And if you are a parent, a teacher or a doctor who, in some way, stands in the way of all this, expect pressure and marginalisation, if not worse.
The battle isn’t over
Christian sexual ethics – and those who believe in them – are under attack. But the battle isn’t over. And Christians – particularly pastors – should be prepared to bring the light and love of God’s truth to society on this hugely significant topic of cultural interest.
But what can we practically do to prepare ourselves? Five points come to mind:
- Do your research. Learn about the current sexual revolution. Be familiar with the stories and testimonies of people who’ve experienced change or resisted attraction (e.g. Matthew Grech, Voices of the Silenced, Rosaria Butterfield, Living Out, Jackie Hill Perry, Changed Movement, Tranzformed). Don’t fall for the idea that change efforts are harmful. Read ten good reasons not to restrict therapy.
- Stick together. Refuse to believe the worst of other Christians. Be slow to distance yourself from others who seek to be faithful under pressure. Remember that not all journalists, scientists and politicians have pure motives.
- Feast on the Psalms. It’s impossible to spend time in the Psalms without quickly becoming aware that Christians have enemies. The very first verse introduces scoffers and mockers. Psalm 2 talks of the rage and plotting of those who hate God’s anointed. Psalm 3 speaks of God’s protection against foes. Even comforting favourites like Psalm 23 mention enemies. Reading, praying and singing the Psalms will help us be more aware of these realities and how to deal with them in a biblical way.
- Seek Christian wisdom. Jesus called us to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Being as wise and prepared as possible when dealing with the topic of sexuality won’t guarantee an easy life. But learning from Jesus may help you deal with tricky questions when people try to trap you. Think, beforehand, what you will say when someone asks for your view on same-sex marriage, transgenderism or ‘conversion therapy’. Talk it through with trusted Christian friends and family.
- Be brave. Without courage, even the most dedicated of Jesus’ disciples denied him. But if God’s Spirit lives in you, you are called to be Christ’s ambassador. Seeking a comfortable life by dodging difficult issues is not a valid option. Put on the spiritual armour of God and be ready to fight[i].
These words, often said after baptisms in the Church of England, brilliantly sum up what it is to follow Christ:
“Do not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified. Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil, and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life.”
I pray that Christians everywhere, particularly on this issue, would live up to that calling.
[i] Even as I write this, I am aware of the possibility, even likelihood, that someone will read this and try to construe it as a call to violence. It most certainly is not – and the fact that I need to explain this is further proof of the challenge for Christians to be bold and clear.