Two evangelical leaders have expressed concern over a proposed ban on conversion therapy, which they say could criminalise aspects of Christian activity.
John Stevens, National Director of FIEC, and Graham Nicholls, Director of Affinity, told The Christian Institute that if the Government introduces a blanket ban then ordinary church practices, such as preaching, prayer and pastoral care, could all be criminalised.
The Government has said it is “committed” to banning conversion therapy, and is under pressure from LGBT lobbyists such as Jayne Ozanne to make sweeping changes to the law. She and others have branded prayer for those with unwanted same-sex attraction as ‘conversion therapy’, and says churches should not be permitted to declare homosexual behaviour to be ‘sinful’.
‘Unreasonable and unfair’
Nicholls explained that Christians struggle with all sorts of areas of temptation in their lives, and a conversion therapy ban would make illegal the freedom to help people who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender confusion – a move which is “both disturbing to us as Christians, but also unreasonable and unfair”.
He said: “It really has to be said that I, and the churches I represent, would not for one moment argue for any kind of right to coerce or to harm or to bully people, to persuade them to do anything against their will.
“But we’re just looking for the freedom to do what churches have always done: explain what the Bible says, apply and connect it with people’s lives, and sometimes, when asked, to pray that people would be given the help from God to do what the Bible says.”
Nicholls also questioned whether a conversion therapy ban is necessary, given the array of laws which already prohibit grievous and actual bodily harm, and other forms of abuse.
He added that measures to strengthen laws against coercive behaviour might be a positive step, but said that in his experience of dealing with over 1,000 churches within Affinity, “I have never heard of anyone being subjected to any kind of torture or some kind of coercive, manipulative procedure that was to somehow to sort of change their sexuality or their gender”.
The Affinity Director also said that, while some may be pushing for a ban out of a genuine concern for people being harmed by abusive practices, others have “a more sinister agenda, which is to close down religious freedom, religious discussion, the application of Bible teaching”, and are attempting to make sexuality and gender “a no-go area” which “cannot possibly be questioned”
John Stevens said he has been personally involved in helping people understand what the Bible teaches about marriage and sexuality and has been able to provide pastoral counselling to those who have wanted it – actions which could be criminal under a ban.
He has also written a book about Christians seeking to resist temptation, including same-sex attraction, and suggested: “maybe that book would be criminal. Maybe a pastor sharing that book with somebody else would be committing a criminal offence for helping.
“So I think it opens up a real vulnerability for Christians as they teach what the Bible says about human sexuality in church, as they pastor and care for particular individuals, as they perhaps point people to resources and materials. And I fear that the Government doesn’t really understand the full implications of what they’re proposing and the impact that it might have.”
The pastor also expressed sympathy for fellow ministers living in Victoria, Australia, where conversion therapy – including preaching and pastoral care – has recently been outlawed.
He said: “I think church leaders in Victoria are in a very difficult position. They are obviously in a situation in which their ordinary pastoral practice is regarded as being criminalised, but I think we do have to obey what the Bible teaches. We do have to help people and to teach the truth.
“And there comes a point at which the state seeks to control Christian doctrine and control Christian practice in ways that make impossible to both obey Christ and to obey the state.
“And I think there comes a point at which, just as the apostles in the Bible were able to say ‘we have to obey God rather than men, and then take the consequences of that obedience’, there comes a point at which church leaders have to obey Christ and teach the truth, apply the Gospel and help people pastorally.
“Now we must not for a moment think that that is easy to do, and it comes at great cost to individuals who are willing to stand up, but I think we should be praying for our brothers and sisters in Victoria”.