Ban conversion therapy but don't outlaw prayer, says CofE

(Photo: Pexels/Sharon McCutcheon)

The Church of England has urged the Government to find ways to ban conversion therapy without penalising clergy who provide pastoral support to people struggling with their sexuality.

Speaking in Parliament this week, the Church's representative in the House of Commons, Andrew Selous, said that the Church "remains committed" to a 2017 Synod resolution backing a ban on conversion therapy.

He said, however, that the Church wants to work with the Government on the framing of legislation to ensure that pastors are still free to offer spiritual support to those who turn to them for help.

"The Church believes that it is possible to end conversion therapy without outlawing prayer and private conversations with clergy and Church members that an individual has requested," he said. 

"The Church has not requested an opt-out from the proposed law and will look carefully at the detail when the legislation is published."

He added later: "The Prime Minister remains resolutely committed to prohibiting the imposition of any harmful and unnecessary practice in this area, without criminalising clergy and Church members for non-coercive pastoral support that individuals ask for."

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave assurances in a letter to the Evangelical Alliance that people with unwanted same sex attraction will still be able to "receive appropriate pastoral support (including prayer)" from churches. 

Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, has expressed doubt over whether Johnson will keep his promise. 

She fears that if a ban comes into force, it will put the religious freedom of Christians at risk. 

"The more extreme practices normally brought to mind by the phrase 'conversion therapy' have been illegal and not practised in the UK for many years," she said.

"Nearly everything remaining in the UK that could conceivably be labelled as 'conversion therapy' is the ordinary discipleship and prayer support offered by churches and parachurch groups.

"This exposes the sad reality that calls for a 'conversion therapy' ban are really an effort to undermine faithful Christians who hold to the traditional, Biblical understanding of sexuality: that sex is only to be expressed within a one man, one woman marriage.

"Pastoral efforts to help people with same-sex desires (or gender confusion) to not act out on them are called conversion therapy and treated as equivalent to electroshock therapy or 'corrective rape'."