Church leaders write to Keir Starmer about fears of conversion therapy ban

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Church leaders have written to Prime Minister Keir Starmer expressing concerns about the implications of a ban on so-called conversion therapy for traditional churches and ordinary Christian practice.

They are asking to meet the Prime Minister to discuss ways to address the "lack of religious literacy in public life" that they believe is fuelling "unwarranted hostility" towards Bible-believing churches. 

"One of the major presenting issues is the way people talk about a legislative ban on so-called conversion therapy," the letter reads.

"Campaigners often imply that expressing mainstream, traditional Christian beliefs on sexuality or gender identity in pastoral conversations is, inherently, a form of 'conversion therapy'." 

Labour promised to bring forward legislation to ban conversion therapy in its party manifesto, with sources saying this could happen within the first 100 days.

The church leaders fear that a ban will criminalise ordinary Christian practice, like pastoral conversations and prayer with people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. 

Stonewall has called for a ban to include "private prayer" while the Anglican chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy campaign, Jayne Ozanne, has said that "gentle, non-coercive prayer" must also be covered. Humanists UK have said the legislation should cover repentance.

"This raises the alarming prospect of police and prosecutors having to decide whether someone has prayed 'the wrong kind of prayer'," the church leaders write. 

They go on to say that conversations between parents and children could fall foul of the new ban if a broad definition is adopted.

"This would affect gender-critical parents, not just those who are Christian," they said. 

The letter ends with a request to meet the Prime Minister to discuss their concerns in person.

"We would be grateful for the opportunity to meet with you to discuss our concerns and to explore how we can help fill the religious literacy gap and help the Government better understand Christians and their beliefs," they say. 

Signatories of the letter include Rev Dr Thomas Brand, of the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches and Greater Love Declaration, Rev Graham Nicholls, Director of Affinity Church Network, Dr Ian Paul, member of the Church of England's Archbishops' Council, Rev Dr Matthew Roberts, vicar of Trinity Church York, and Bishop Andy Lines, of the Anglican Network in Europe. 

Dr Roberts said: "Christianity is essential to the history and culture of Britain, and remains a vital voice for the wellbeing of our society.

"Yet increasingly it seems as though some in government are barely aware of the Church's existence and almost wholly ignorant of what Christians believe and why.

"We very much hope that this new government will recognise the vital contribution of Christians to Britain and will not (accidentally perhaps) legislate against them."

Rev Nicholls commented: "We want to be prayerful and supporting of the new Labour government but have grave concerns about their proposals for a so-called conversion therapy ban.

"New legislation which will not make any difference to genuine abuse, which is already illegal, but will open the door to spurious accusations to be made against those who want the freedom to live out their Christian faith, and parents and pastors who uphold the Bible's teaching on matters of sexuality and gender."