Church leaders: ‘conversion therapy’ ban could criminalise us

8 December 2021

Over 1,000 Christian Ministers and Pastoral Workers have signed an open letter to Government Equalities Minister, Liz Truss, urging the government to drop its current proposal to ban ‘conversion therapy’.

The signatories come from a wide range of UK churches and include Church of England General Synod members, Free/Independent Church leaders, Pentecostals, Presbyterians and more, suggesting widespread concern about the government’s plans.

Criminalising Christian teaching

The letter lays out how dangerous the government’s proposals really are, explaining that a ban could leave the door open to criminalising basic Christian teaching. It states:

“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.”

Helping people live outside of sin is loving

The letter goes further, arguing that the freedom to allow people to live outside of sinful sexual relationships should be encouraged:

“To urge and assist people to live in this way, far from being harmful, is a kind and merciful act, and of benefit to all. What is plainly and terribly harmful is when anyone, especially the young, believes that their identity is found purely in their feelings and that happiness is to be found in misusing and harming their healthy bodies. Yet the proposals would apparently criminalise us for seeking to care for people and seeking to dissuade them from this kind of harm.”

‘We would continue to do our duty to God’

The church leaders go on to say that while they hope these things will not become a criminal offence, they are prepared to remain faithful to the gospel on these matters, even if it means breaking the law:

“We therefore very much hope (and pray) that these proposals will be dropped in their current form. We have no desire to become criminals, and place a high value on submitting to and supporting our government. Yet we think it important you are aware that if it were to come about that the loving, compassionate exercise of orthodox Christian ministry, including the teaching of the Christian understanding of sex and marriage, is effectively made a criminal offence, we would with deep sadness continue to do our duty to God in this matter.”

Some of the signatories have also stated that they would be prepared to go to prison, if necessary, to defend the gospel, including Rev. Graham Nicholls, Director of Affinity, who spoke to Premier Christian News:

“I think on this issue, we would take a stand. As a matter of principle, if you would want to be faithful to God in this, then whatever the consequences were, even if they were prison, you’d have to be prepared to do that. I think we’ve all got to be prepared to stand up for what we believe in.”

Theological background

The letter is based on a theological background an analysis of the consultation in its current format, giving the reasons behind the letter. The background concludes:

“The legislation as proposed would risk making it a criminal offence to teach or pastorally support people in following the teachings of orthodox Christianity on sexual ethics, which requires that we accept that our sex is God-given and not changeable, and that we live either in the faithful marriage of one man and one woman or else in sexual abstinence. … The government needs therefore to recognise that the legislation as proposed would quite possibly have the effect of making orthodox Christianity a proscribed religion. We are grateful again that the proposals state that this is not the intention. If this is genuinely meant, however, a very different legislative approach will be required. On the other hand, if orthodox Christian ministry is to be made illegal, we would prefer it if this were explicitly stated. It goes without saying that this would not induce us to cease to preach the gospel of Christ or pastor people according to his gracious and good laws.”

Teachers and therapists warn against ban

The letter follows warnings from various groups who have all urged the government not to follow through with its current proposals to ban so-called ‘conversion therapy’. Most recently, a group of teachers and therapists warned that they could be criminalised for having normal conversions with students and clients about sexuality and gender. A group of parliamentarians have similarly stated their concern that a ban could criminalise conversations between parents, teachers or clinicians and children and lead more children into “radical medical or surgical procedures, which they later deeply regret.”

Dr Julie Maxwell, a youth worker at St Mary’s Basingstoke and member of General Synod, commented: “As a Paediatrician and a youth worker I am especially concerned about the potential impact of the proposed ban on pastoral youth work. As we know children and young people need direction from adults around them regarding all sorts of lifestyle issues. Teenagers are navigating huge changes associated with puberty and issues around sexuality and gender are important topics that need to be discussed.

“As Christians we seek to support young people who are seeking to follow Jesus Christ to understand these issues from the perspective of Biblical teaching regarding God’s creation of men and women and his design for marriage.

“To find ourselves in a situation where parents, youth workers and other adults are afraid to address these issues risks leaving children and young people confused and vulnerable. There is already a significant increase in mental health problems in children and young people and being unable to support those struggling with issues around sexuality and gender identity will negatively impact on this.”

‘Badly drafted proposals’

Rev. Dr Matthew Roberts, one of the organisers of the letter and minister of Trinity Church, York, commented: “It is deeply concerning that the government seems to be considering legislation that would criminalise normal, loving Christian ministry, while stopping us from helping young people who are being caught up in the horrible damage being done by transgender ideology.”

He continued: “‘Conversion’, as Christians understand it, is an amazing thing: realising that life is not all about focusing on ourselves, but on the God who made us. It is deeply wrong that this proposed legislation implies that being converted to Jesus Christ is akin to violence or abuse.

“Being able to raise children in their own faith is a legal right, and one which these proposals would take away. The government cannot do this without running into serious legal difficulties.

“The Queen is appointed to be the Defender of the Faith. It would be very strange indeed if Her Majesty’s Government legislated against the faith of their own sovereign.”

Dr Ian Paul, member of the Church of England’s General Synod, also commented: “The current proposals seem to be ill considered and ill conceived. As the consultation document itself states, many of the issues highlighted are already illegal. The term ‘conversion therapy’ is ill defined, and the proposals appear to be driven by an ideological agenda rather than real concern and clear thinking. There is a real risk that pastoral ministry will be criminalised, and that human rights, including the right to religious belief will be trampled on.”

Even though the consultation has now closed, you can still make your voice heard by writing to your MP. You can find more on our resource page to help you understand why the government’s proposal should be opposed in its entirety.

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