A push to ban so-called conversion therapy could leave churches vulnerable to “unreasonable government interference” in church life, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has said.
In its response to the Westminster Government’s consultation, the Church said any legislation that hindered the ordinary work of churches “ought to be rejected”.
The consultation on banning ‘conversion therapy’ closed on 4 February. The responses will be shared with the devolved administrations, including Northern Ireland.
‘Unreasonable government interference’
The PCI expressed concerns with the lack of a clear definition for ‘conversion therapy’, adding that it is “an unhelpful term, precisely because it is defined differently by different people”.
The church also underlined how important faith is to some in society, and that “An outworking of this for those who are same-sex attracted and wish to live faithfully in the context of a biblical understanding of human relationships, is to abstain from sexual activity.”
It warned: “Such a person may wish to receive pastoral care and support as they seek to live in this way”, and that the lack of clarity in current proposals could lead to “unreasonable government interference in reasonable religious practices”.
“Thresholds to prove coercion must be rigorous to prevent against spurious allegations, and the creation of a chilling effect for any Christian involved in pastoral care and discipleship.”
Freedom to pray
The church continued: “We pray about the most personal aspects of our lives, from relationships to career choices. Why then should ministers and leaders be prevented from praying with members of our own churches who seek it, simply because their request to talk involves their sexuality?”
Addressing the Government’s proposals to catch charity trustees and leaders in such a ban, the PCI warned that a lack of clear definition in the law could leave “little protection for churches and ruling elders to be protected against spurious allegations”.
The PCI concluded with its concerns that a ban could lead to a “chilling effect in terms of privatising religious practise” and discrimination “against clearly held religious beliefs”.
Last month, the Equality and Human Rights Commission told the Government that its conversion therapy proposals risk “unintended consequences”.
It added that the legislation “must be carefully drafted” to “avoid criminalising mainstream religious practice such as preaching, teaching and praying about sexual ethics”.