Banning conversion therapy: a step too far or not far enough?

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The UK government has outlined some of the details of its proposed conversion therapy ban and, to say the least, they are interesting. For those who wish to engage you can have your say on their equality hub, and I hope that many church leaders will because this law has the potential to be a real trojan horse for discrimination and abuse.

In a nutshell, the government is proposing legislation:

  • targeting physical acts conducted in the name of conversion therapy
  • targeting talking conversion therapy with a new criminal offence; and
  • producing a package of holistic measures, such as conversion therapy protection orders, new support for victims, restricting promotion, removing profit streams, and strengthening the case for disqualification from holding a senior role in a charity.

To some it seems pretty draconian – although it does all depend on what you mean by conversion therapy. After all, would anyone argue against banning physical coercion? But to others it is far too weak.

From a Christian perspective there are three interesting observations.

1. The proposed legislation includes conversion to transgenderism

In a surprising development the government minister, Liz Truss, has declared that it will include seeking to 'convert' someone to transgenderism: "The proposed protections are universal: an attempt to change a person from being attracted to the same-sex to being attracted to the opposite-sex, or from not being transgender to being transgender, will be treated in the same way as the reverse scenario. They therefore protect everyone."

This is logical - but with potentially interesting consequences. I think of the teacher who advised a depressed young teenage man that he could be 'trapped in the wrong body'. Would this teacher fall foul of this law? Or what if someone tried to persuade a teenager that they might want to change their sexuality and asked something like 'why don't you experiment with your sexuality?'. Could they potentially be breaking the law?

Pink News is not happy. It writes, "The idea that children are being coerced into 'becoming' trans is a popular anti-trans talking point, a myth which suggests that affirming trans and gender non-conforming kids will cause them to be trans when they otherwise would not have been."

But that's their standard. It's so strange that in their world there are thousands of gay teenagers who are being damaged by being 'coerced' into changing their sexuality, but it's a 'myth' to suggest that young people can be led into changing their gender!

Yet the evidence is that social contagion, peer pressure and 'counselling' can cause considerable harm. There are numerous lawsuits coming down the line from adults who now want to detransition and feel that they were misled as teenagers. There is little doubt that the harm caused by the trans ideologues far outweighs anything done through any other conversion therapy.

2.The proposed laws do not ban prayer or private speech

"To be clear: talking conversion therapy could not be reasonably understood to include communication such as casual conversations, exchanges of views, private prayer or pure speech acts," the government says.

Peter Tatchell was disappointed. He tweeted: "The UK government's proposed LGBT+ conversion therapy ban has loopholes. It allows adults to consent and churches to pray in certain circumstances. We await the final details. Until then, the battle goes on. #StopDithering."

Imagine allowing churches to pray!

The formerly evangelical minister, Steve Chalke, agreed that this was dangerous.

"There's a lethal loophole in the proposed ban on Conversion Therapy. It leaves room for adults to give 'informed consent' to religious groups for help with 'unwanted same sex attraction', so can't protect LGBT+ people already brainwashed into believing their sexuality is 'a sin'!" he wrote on Twitter.

Although Chalke is not noted for his understatement, claiming that allowing individuals to pray with people is 'lethal' is, even by his standards, somewhat over the top!

Jayne Ozanne, another former evangelical who describes herself as a conversion therapy 'survivor' was just as condemnatory. She told Pink News: "The consultation document makes little mention of the harm that religious practices are known to cause, nor does it recognise that the government's own research has shown that these form the majority of such practices."

It appears as though Ozanne and Chalke will not be happy until churches which uphold biblical standards on marriage, humanity and sexuality are prosecuted for daring to teach what the Bible teaches. It is quite extraordinary that it is not the militant secularists but some professing Christians who are pushing the government to persecute those who are supposed to be their brothers and sisters!

3.Consent is no longer the absolute of progressive society

You will have noticed in the earlier Tatchell quote how he objects to the idea of adults being able to consent to conversion therapy. It used to be the mantra that what consenting adults do on their own is nobody else's business. But in the marketplace of progressive idols, autonomy is now trumped by sexual ideology. Campaigners say that no one can freely consent to psychological harm. And of course, they are the ones who will determine what psychological harm is.

The argument goes: "Saying you can consent to conversion therapy is like saying you're consenting to robbery when you hand over your money because you're terrified of being assaulted if you don't."

The whole issue of 'consent' is fascinating. To what extent, for example, can we say that people 'consent' to vaccinations when they are threatened with not being able to travel, visit many places, or even go to church?

It's interesting that progressives are now admitting that consent is a mixed term. There is a sense in which their new attitude is more realistic and biblical. Some of the Jews who heard Jesus offer to set them free were confused and upset, and instead argued that their very identity made them free. But Jesus pointed out that everyone who sins is a slave to sin (John 8:31-34).

We do not have that radical autonomy. We are not in control. But we do have the right and the ability to ask for help from our fellow humans, and from the Lord. The proposed Bill seems to at least preserve that in civil law - although no serious Christian would be prepared to hand that right over to a secular government. We ultimately answer to God, not to them.

Once governments grasp the limitations of their power, they will stop trying to make rules which control every aspect of our lives. 'Know the truth and the truth will make you free' is a word for all in today's increasingly bound society.

David Robertson works as an evangelist with churches in Sydney, Australia, where he runs the ASK Project. He blogs at The Wee Flea.