Conversion therapy ban should not lead to 'chill factor', says Church of England

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The Church of England has published a new document reflecting on the government's plans to ban so-called conversion therapy.

The document was commissioned as part of the Church of England's Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process of dialogue and discernment around the issues of marriage, relationships, sexuality and identity.

The paper, published this week at the request of the House of Bishops, highlights the lack of an agreed definition on what constitutes harmful conversion therapy, and suggests that this must be clearly distinguished from conversion practices.

"The fluidity of the definition, however, is problematic and has raised concerns about where boundaries are, particularly in relation to criminalisation," it says.

It states that "some care needs to be taken" in defining the concept of "suppression" of sexuality or identity and "what it can (and cannot) be applied to, and how self-regulation and choices of certain ways of life can be positive rather than harmful".

The document warns against creating a "chill factor" where "legitimate therapeutic practitioners are deterred from operating due to a fear that they might mistakenly be perceived as breaching the ban".

"While churches do not offer therapy per se, the same concerns apply to pastoral care, which is subject to similar dynamics," it reads.

Elsewhere the paper calls for a distinction to be made between harm and taking offence.

"This matters particularly in the context of an increasingly pluralistic society with multiple religious groups whose dissenting views could risk being suppressed by being termed harmful, rather than simply offensive," it continues.

"An appropriately free society which encourages freedom of belief, will make space for beliefs that are not universally shared and might be termed offensive, so long as they are not used to cause actual harm.

"Therefore, the question here is not simply of the content of people's beliefs, or their intention, but about the dynamics of power."

The Church of England's parliamentary body, the General Synod, formally voted to call on the government to ban conversion therapy in July 2017.

The paper says that there is no certainty that prayer will not be banned, despite government assurances, and that the question for churches is whether their practices of prayer "remain demonstrably non-coercive".