A major Christian advocacy group in the U.K. has launched a prayer campaign in response to looming government legislation aimed at banning what is derisively referred to as “conversion therapy.” If such as ban goes into effect, it might also prohibit clergy from praying for people struggling with same-sex attraction and gender confusion.
The Christian Institute’s “Let Us Pray” campaign was launched on Oct. 15 and comes as the British government continues to say that it intends to ban so-called conversion therapy, but has yet to define what types of therapy or counseling fall under this label. Some churches fear the ban will include outlawing prayer.
“‘Conversion therapy’ is a wide umbrella term chosen by LGBT campaigners. It covers grotesque illegal assaults such as 'corrective rape' and abusive quack medical practices like electric shock 'therapy.' But the campaigners want to go much further,” the Christian Institute's prayer initiative website states.
The larger goal of the proposed government legislation, the group says, is for churches and ministries to stop advocating the historic sexual ethics of the Christian faith. Preaching, pastoral care, and even parenting might get entangled in this new policy. “It shouldn’t be illegal for Christians to teach their faith, or for people to pray for their friends,” the website declares.
“No-one denies that some people who identify as LGBT have been mistreated in the past and are sometimes mistreated today. As Christians, we condemn abuse of every kind. And we welcome LGBT people into our churches, just like we welcome everyone else,” an Oct. 15 post reads.
Should the government criminalize the expression of biblical sexual ethics, it would violate the obligations outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights, the group notes. The ongoing lack of clarity as to what is being considered under the proposed ban comes on the heels of whether prayer would be included in the legislation.
In June, David Walker, the Anglican Bishop of Manchester, told the Guardian that those who breach the ban on conversion therapy ought to face prosecution, but stressed that he did not mean those engaging in “gentle, non-coercive prayer,” but the kind “where there is a level of power imbalance and a level of force.”
At the root of the divide between theologically orthodox Christians and LGBT activists arguing for such a ban is an anthropological issue about what fundamentally defines a human being. While traditional churches have historically held that one’s sexual inclinations and actions are not the sum total or defining features of a person’s identity and that a long-standing scriptural standard must be followed regarding sexuality, LGBT activist groups often assert that any effort to challenge particular behaviors, especially if someone is dealing with unwanted sexual attractions or gender confusion, is tantamount to an assault on “who you are.”
Responding to Bishop Walker’s exception for “gentle” prayer in June, Anglican LGBT activist Jayne Ozanne told the Guardian that all prayer “that seeks to change or suppress someone's innate sexuality or gender identity is deeply damaging and causes immeasurable harm, as it comes from a place — no matter how well meaning — that says who you are is unacceptable and wrong."
In late March, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a letter to the Evangelical Alliance that he did not want to see pastors face criminal penalties.
“As the Government made clear in 2018, when we first made our commitment to end conversion therapy, we will continue to allow adults to receive appropriate pastoral support (including prayer), in churches and other religious settings, in the exploration of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Johnson said. He added: "Like you, I do not want to see clergy and church members criminalized for normal non-coercive activity."
The Christian Institute's director Colin Hart said in a statement that the goals of those pushing for the ban are sweeping.
"Private prayer, evangelism, parenting, pastoral advice, preaching and teaching, church membership, baptism, confirmation and communion would all be put at risk by an overly broad ban,” Hart said, adding that these are among the ordinary things churches do and must not be criminalized.
"We want to protect Gospel freedom. Politicians must not allow activists to exploit concerns about genuine abuse to further their own agendas against Christians," he said.