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Conversion therapy bans strike at the Gospel

Unsplash/Priscilla Du Preez
Unsplash/Priscilla Du Preez

Earlier articles last year discussed the attempt to expand the meaning of “conversion therapy” to include any expressed opposition to homosexuality or transgenderism. This is occurring in several countries in the West. Since then, laws have been enacted in a few jurisdictions, and are being considered in others that prohibit effort by anyone to turn people away from homosexuality or transgenderism, including as part of any religious activity.

Attacks of the sexual revolution on religious freedom are now familiar. They take the form of requiring complicity in homosexuality or transgenderism in business and the professions, denial of the right of religious organizations to maintain religious standards, denial of the right of religious charities to provide service according to religious standards (and common sense, such as restricting shelters for homeless and abused women to biological women), and denial of freedom of speech (as is done by campus speech codes). A recent court decision against a Catholic high school in Charlotte, N.C. is typical of this kind of infringement on religious freedom.

But the ominous — and for faithful Christians utterly unacceptable — aspect of the attempt to ban “conversion therapy” is the expansion of its meaning to cover any expressed opposition to homosexuality or transgenderism. While highlighting this is the focus of this article, it should nevertheless be added that voluntary therapy to overcome homosexuality or transgenderism — alternatively called “reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE) — indeed should not be illegal, even for (or maybe especially for) minors. To prohibit it violates the freedom of speech of both therapist and client, and also violates religious freedom if the objective of therapy is obedience to religious precepts against homosexuality or transgenderism.

The Christian Institute in Great Britain, which defends Christians against legal attacks on their religious freedom, and monitors emerging threats to religious freedom, has highlighted the government’s consideration of a law banning conversion therapy, which could potentially prohibit religious opposition to homosexuality or transgenderism.

What CI emphasizes is that the proposed legislation in Great Britain “would criminalize the ordinary work of churches.” Only a small part of what Evangelical or other traditional Christian churches do actually addresses homosexuality or transgenderism, but where it does, holding inclinations and actions Scripture clearly says are sinful to be sinful, and urging repentance would be illegal conversion therapy under certain legislative proposals, and subject to severe penalties.

Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute observes that while the government’s current proposal does not say precisely what “conversion therapy” covers, the LGBT activists who chose the term “conversion therapy” are clear that it must include “prayer, preaching and pastoral counseling.” Indeed, all religious activities involving turning people from LGBT inclinations and behavior, including exorcism, and perhaps parental instruction, would be illegal. It amounts to a loss of state neutrality, with the state mandating theology supportive of homosexuality and transgenderism.

This writer would add that the term “conversion” in “conversion therapy” may have been carefully chosen. Just as it is being expanded from meaning professional counseling to overcome homosexuality to religious teaching against homosexuality, so it can be expanded from sex to religion. That is to say, exhorting to religious conversion from one religion to another, or from no religion to a particular religion, or even from any religion to no religion, could become illegal conversion therapy. Any claim that salvation can only be found in Christ, and all other approaches to God are vain, could be criminalized as “conversion therapy.”

In an interview with John Stevens, National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches in Great Britain, Calvert observed that “what’s at stake is basic teaching about Christian conversion.” Faith and repentance are involved in conversion and exhorting to either if it involves turning from homosexuality (as it must if it is truly Christian conversion) would be illegal. Yet the duty of Christians is to proclaim the Gospel of faith in Jesus Christ and repentance to everyone.

Stevens said that over many years he has counseled Christians who are same-sex attracted, “and profess faith in Christ and want to live obediently to the Lord Jesus and believe in the Biblical teaching” that sexual intercourse is only for opposite-sex marriage. He has counseled people that “by faith in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit” they can live obediently to Christ. Much if not all of this counseling would be illegal under the proposed legislation.

He noted a book that he wrote several years ago that dealt with temptation, including that of same-sex attraction, along with many other temptations. The book itself, or sharing the book, could be illegal under the anti-conversion therapy legislation. Teaching, counseling, and referral to religious literature could all be illegal if it involves exhorting to repentance from homosexuality or transgenderism.

Stevens also noted that the “conversion therapy” ban would affect parenting, since in today’s social environment in which sexual fluidity is encouraged, teenagers will have questions about their sexuality. But they cannot be helped by encouraging identification with one’s natural sex, or reassuring an adolescent that they can identify with their natural sex regardless of feelings to the contrary, since that will be illegal conversion therapy.

A law which does prohibit religious counseling against homosexuality has been enacted in the state of Victoria, Australia. Asked about what to do in this situation, Stevens said that we must obey God rather than men, and counsel persons to faithfulness to their natural sex. We should pray for Christians in Victoria to be faithful and support them if they are imprisoned. (The penalty is quite high, 10 years in prison, and the equivalent of a £100,000 fine).

Stevens wisely observed that if the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone were made criminal, Biblical churches would have to continue to proclaim it, regardless of the penalty. The proposed ban on conversion therapy “goes to the very heart of our ability to speak and apply the Gospel to the lives of individuals who are struggling with sin,” he said. Contrary to claims that so-called conversion therapy is coercion, Stevens said that no church of which he is aware is engaging same-sex attracted people against their will. He said that the problem for Biblical churches in areas where a conversion therapy ban, such as that being proposed in Britain, is in effect is that same-sex attracted persons who voluntarily engaged with a church may later decide that counseling against homosexuality is abusive, and cause legal action to be brought.

Other legislation involving a sweeping definition of “conversion therapy” are pressing forward the West. As LifeSiteNews notes, they are the next stage of the LGBT agenda. They criminalize even private conversation which advocates abstinence from homosexuality. Religious and any other condemnation of homosexuality is commonly likened to torture. Religious condemnation, especially Biblical condemnation, of homosexuality is severe, but that does not make it wrong. Pain does not establish injustice, lack of fidelity to truth and reality does, and both homosexuality and transgenderism are finally based only on desire. As LifeSiteNews has also observed, bill C-6 in Canada, as amended, would even adversely affect LGBT identifying persons, since such a person addicted to pornography could not obtain professional help, whereas others could.

CI has also this year noted that a Queen’s Counselor, Philip Havers, maintained in a legal opinion sent to the government that the conversion therapy legislation could “criminalize parents who encourage children to follow the Bible’s teachings on gender and sexuality.” This also includes “conversations in church or at home.”

More recently, the “Let Us Pray” campaign against the broad conversion therapy ban has been initiated. CI observed in discussing this that the driving force behind the attempt to include religious teaching and activity in the ban is advanced not by LGBT groups normally spearheading such legislation, such as Stonewall (in Great Britain), but by former Evangelicals, in particular Jayne Ozanne of the Ozanne Foundation, and Stephen Chalke, noted for his criticism of Evangelical soteriology.

Ozanne in particular seems passionate that the religious doctrine that homosexuality is sinful should be illegal because it is painful to her and other homosexuals. She wants even “gentile, noncoercive prayer” against homosexuality to be illegal. CI noted that both the surveys of the Ozanne Foundation and the government on experiences people have had with conversion therapy were self-selected, to a great extent unverifiable, lacked a clear definition of conversion therapy, and are thus anecdotal, not scientific.

But Ozanne’s belief that religious doctrine should be illegal is shared by British MPs who are pushing the legislation. Among them is Angela Eagle, who served in the Labor government of Gordon Brown. She said that “being told by faith leaders or your family that you are sinful” is wrong, and also “to question your innermost feelings and thoughts,” she said, “none of that should be legal.” Likewise, MP Alicia Kearns said that people have a right to “live their lives free of identity based violence and abuse,” really equating psychological pain with legally actionable harm. It really seems to be a claim of a right not to be offended, which consistently applied, would be anarchy, and finally, tyranny.

All of this directly attacks the ultimate allegiance Christians must bear to God.  While we are to love our neighbors, sin is deeply embedded in all people. We love our sin, and God hates it with an undying hatred. We are commanded to imitate Paul, just as he imitated Christ, and declare the whole counsel of God, regardless of how offended anyone is, and counsel sinners to repent. It is God, not the state, that must be our final guide to belief and action, regardless of the penalty, as Stephens said above. But within the modern Western legal regime of religious freedom, it is the case that the sinfulness of homosexuality and transgenderism is authentic religious doctrine and must be protected against the effort to suppress it because of hurt feelings.

What the future holds only time will tell. The Church of England opposes adding prayer to a ban on “conversion therapy.” The British government has held a consultation on the new law, which LGBT activists endeavored to stop. Similarly in Australia, LGBT activists have objected to proposed legislation which would protect religious expression, the right of medical professionals to decline procedures that violate their conscience, and the right of religious organizations to hire and fire employees according to their religious standards.

All of this should be obvious aspects of religious freedom, but as everyone now knows, LGBT activists invariably want an exception for their issues. The Northern Ireland parliament recently voted down an amendment to exempt prayer from a proposed bill banning conversion therapy, while the Welsh government warned that pastors could be prosecuted under proposed legislation there. Additionally, some high profile human rights lawyers want tracking systems to monitor the activities of pastors who engage speak against homosexuality. On the other hand, the Christian Institute has warned the Northern Ireland government that there will be legal action taken if religious expression or activity becomes illegal there.

Banning “conversion therapy” and expanding its meaning to include religious activities against homosexuality is a way of getting around guarantees of freedom of religion and speech, which have not proved invulnerable to the LBGT agenda, but have been serious obstacles. Giving these classical liberal freedoms their reasonable meaning, which necessarily precludes the current LGBT agenda, which requires acceptance and celebration of homosexuality and transgenderism, should be high priorities for people who love freedom.

But for Christians, our highest priority must be obedience to God. For Christians who are homosexually inclined, the narrow gate of salvation can be hard and painful. But all Christians must be prepared for the hard and painful gate where “conversion therapy” laws are passed. Turning from sin to God and the righteousness he has revealed is at the heart of the Gospel.   

Originally published at Juicy Ecumenism

Rick Plasterer is a staff writer for IRD concerned particularly with domestic religious liberty. He attended Eastern Mennonite College (now University) receiving a B.A. degree in history and sociology, and an M.S. in library science from Drexel University.

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