Pastoral advice and prayer that upholds the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics have been criminalised in the Australian state of Victoria under a draconian new ‘conversion therapy’ law.
Following a twelve hour debate on 4 February, its state legislature passed the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act.
UK activists are lobbying the Westminster Government to introduce a similar law in Britain.
The new legislation outlaws any practice that seeks to change or suppress a person’s “sexual orientation or gender identity” – including prayer. Offenders face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of AUS$10,000 (approximately £5,600).
During the twelve-month implementation period, the state Attorney General said religious educators, teachers and ministers would be ‘re-educated’ by the government to prevent them breaking the law.
Jaclyn Symes said “Education, materials and advice” will be used to ensure that everyone is “doing the right thing” when the law takes effect.
When the law was first proposed, Victoria’s then Attorney General said religious leaders counselling someone with same-sex attraction would be restricted to informing them “that they consider such feelings to be contrary to the teachings of their faith”, and cannot urge them to change.
‘Criminalises the truth’
In January over thirty Church and religious leaders wrote to the Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews to express their “strong and unequivocal opposition” to the Bill.
The Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby Martyn Iles said the Act “basically criminalises the truth” and called it “the biggest attack on religious freedom in Australia’s history”.
He added, it takes those ideas that “Christians hold dear”, truths about “marriage, about gender, about sex, about family”, and says that “the expression of them, the living out of them can become criminal acts”.
the biggest attack on religious freedom in Australia’s history
One concerned pastor in the State capital Melbourne wrote: “If someone asks for prayer, that they might live a sexual life in accord with Biblical principles, and I then pray in accord with this request, I will be breaking the law and I can face criminal charges.”
Pastor Murray Campbell explained: “To be very clear, I am not talking about aversion practices and non-consensual activity that stems from pseudo-science and bad theology.
“Church leaders including myself have repeatedly spoken against such things and believe they have no place in our churches.
“I am talking about prayer and conversation. What happens when people of faith are prohibited by law from praying and speaking in line with our Christian beliefs, even when people come to us for help and ask?”
However, Pastor Campbell also echoed concerns raised by LGB groups and medical professionals “that the Bill will send vulnerable children down [a] dangerous path, as has been demonstrated in the UK’s recent High Court Case, Bell vs Tavistock”.
He said: “The Government ignored legitimate and reasonable concerns articulated by some of Australia’s pre-eminent legal minds and medical experts.”
The Government ignored legitimate and reasonable concerns articulated by some of Australia’s pre-eminent legal minds and medical experts.
Conduct deemed to be supportive of someone undergoing “gender transition” is not prohibited under the legislation.
Prayer and rape
Pro-LGBT activists have been putting pressure on the UK Government to introduce a similar broad ban.
Last week, Tory MP Alicia Kearns listed prayer alongside grotesque acts such as ‘corrective rape’ as she called on the Government to ban so-called conversion therapy.
C of E Synod member Jayne Ozanne, who sits on the Government’s LGBT Advisory Panel, claims church prayer ministry is conversion therapy, which she wants to be made a criminal offence.
Steve Chalke says pastoral care of those with same-sex attraction, informal prayer and sermons that do not affirm LGBT identities all require Government intervention.