An Australian pastor has warned UK Christians what to expect if the Government’s proposed conversion therapy ban resembles the one coming into force later this month in the state of Victoria.
Speaking to The Christian Institute, Murray Campbell, Lead Pastor at Mentone Baptist Church in Melbourne, said that under the ban, prayers and conversations on issues of gender and sexuality will be prohibited if they are perceived as an attempt to change or suppress someone’s sexuality or gender identity, even if they are consensual.
He added that, while sermons and preaching will not initially be included, the previous Attorney General threatened that they could be included in a wider ban at a later date.
Breaking the law
Explaining the impact on gospel freedom, Pastor Campbell said: “Someone might approach me and say ‘Murray, can you pray for me, I’m struggling at the moment with my sexual godliness’, and if I do so, I will be breaking the law.
“If someone comes to me for advice and says, for example, ‘I’m same-sex attracted, I love Jesus, I want to follow Jesus, I want to be godly with my life, can you walk alongside me and help me and disciple me’, and if I do so, I will be breaking the law.
“And even in a Bible-study setting, so you’re opening the Bible with say eight other people and maybe you’re working through Romans chapter one, and someone puts up their hand and says ‘actually, I now identify as gay’. If we were to continue with the Bible study on Romans chapter one, we will be breaking the law because an individual has highlighted the fact that they identify as gay.”
Murray also explained that these scenarios could result in either civil complaints or criminal charges, with prison sentences ranging between five and ten years.
you will be re-educated as to what you need to think about sexual orientation and gender identity
Accusations of wrongdoing can be made by either the alleged victim, or by a third party, “and so you may well just have the police rocking up at your home door one day and saying ‘a complaint’s been made against you – you need to come down and explain yourself’.”
The pastor said that for most ‘Christian offences’, the offender will have to appear before a civil tribunal, where they will have to show documentation, including email history and sermons, and they will then be sent to “a class where you will be re-educated as to what you need to think about sexual orientation and gender identity”.
He added: “At the very least, a civil complaint, a civil tribunal. That in itself can be a very long process and a very difficult and expensive process. Worst case scenario, it’s ten years imprisonment.”
Murray attended an “information session” for Christian leaders in the state, where officials from the Victorian Government explained the law and what they can and cannot do.
They said one ‘grey area’ is a situation involving an individual or a group praying for someone who is not present but is known to be struggling with their sexuality. The officials said this could be a breach of the law, whether the person being prayed for is aware of the prayer or not.
He added that during the session it was made very clear that no person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is sinful “or needs to change in any way and churches are to affirm a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity”.
Parents at risk
The law is not limited to church leaders, and Murray said one of the most dangerous areas is for parents: “It’s becoming more common for children to be questioning their gender identity and saying ‘I don’t know if I’m a boy any more, maybe I’m a girl, maybe I’m something else’.
“If parents say to their children ‘Slow down, let’s wait a couple of years and see how we go’, or if they try to dissuade their child of this questioning, they too are falling foul of the law and could be pulled up on charges.
the laws are trying to target religious organisations
“The ramifications are broad and encompassing, but obviously there are going to be significant challenges for churches, because I think largely the laws are trying to target religious organisations.”
‘Who does this?’
The Melbourne pastor said that the other church leaders he knows are in favour of “appalling” conversion therapy practices being stopped, but said such instances are almost unheard of.
“It was only I think about four or five years ago that I first heard of these gay conversion practices. I had a journalist call me and say ‘Hey Murray, what do you think about it?’ And I’m thinking ‘What?! This is awful. We don’t do this. I don’t know anyone who does this’.
“So on the one hand, we’re very supportive of the Government saying some things are dangerous and we don’t want to see them happening, but on the other hand, there are basic, integral Christian practices that are now, according to the state, against the law – such as speaking to someone, counselling someone, praying with somebody.”
He continued: “Pastors at the moment, I think, there’s a bit of anger and disappointment. I think there’s a lot of fear as well, ‘what do we do?’ The sense on the ground is people are scrambling to try and figure out ‘how are we going to address these laws?’
“I suspect over the next few months, pastors are going to be speaking to their churches, sitting down with them and saying ‘this is what the law is, this is what we believe as Christians’, and I can imagine pastors are going to encourage their congregations: ‘be faithful to Jesus, be faithful to the Gospel’. The Gospel is good news, you know? And how can we betray the one who died for us?”
we love people and we love God
He also doesn’t want church leaders to shy away from talking about these issues, and instead said Christians can “wisely and gently and kindly give a reason for the hope that we do have”.
‘Stand firm and preach the Gospel’
For Christians fearful of falling foul of a ban, Murray concluded by highlighting Paul’s message to Timothy to not give up, to continue preaching the Gospel and be prepared in season and out of season.
“My encouragement is: be prepared, stand firm on the Gospel, and do so with all the grace and the love and the gentleness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus. And sometimes when we do that we just have to leave the end results with God, and sometimes there is a cost attached to that. Jesus tells us there is a cost in following him, and I think for many of us certainly in Australia that there’s been very little cost, but perhaps that’s slowly changing.
“So don’t give up on the Gospel, and don’t give up on loving people.
“The reason we share the Gospel and we talk about Jesus and about, you know, God’s design for life and the world is because we love people and we love God. It’s not because we hate them and despise them. So let our conversations ooze with that love and that kindness and grace towards others.”