In an interview with Premier Christianity, Jayne Ozanne has called for the government to ban prayer for same-sex attracted Christians to live celibate lives.
The question and answer come near the end of the article:
"But you have people saying: 'my deep religious conviction, as a same-sex attracted Christian, is to live...' (what they would call) "a celibate life." And you're saying prayers in that regard are to be made illegal?
"Yes, because it is damaging and lives are at stake."
We have here the totalitarian aims of those wanting a ban on 'conversion therapy' – or in Ozanne's words, 'conversion practices'. They want to ban the most basic, pressure-free sort of pastoral help for people who want to honour God with their sexuality.
As far as the world is concerned, this is not an extremist talking. This is Jayne Ozanne, leading campaigner, member of the Church of England's General Synod, who bravely left the Government's LGBT Advisory Panel because of its inaction on conversion therapy.
This is someone with the privileged access to politicians and media. Christians and particularly Church leaders had better wake up to this threat before it is too late.
What are 'conversion practices'?
'Conversion therapy' – itself an inaccurate and unhelpful phrase invented by LGBT activists – is now being broadened and redefined in the UK debate as 'conversion practices'. This term covers everything from 'corrective rape' to consensual prayer for sexual faithfulness.
To some of us, this move was obvious for some time. There were no genuinely harmful practices taking place aimed at changing people's sexuality. These practices were either not practised or were already clearly illegal - like Manchester serial rapist Reynhard Sinaga who drugged and raped men trying to "save them from their monstrous girlfriend[s]".
From the beginning, calls for conversion therapy bans used these extreme cases, and public sentiment about them, to tar all attempts at sexual faithfulness under the same brush. Talking therapies and prayer were always the target.
There is no good evidence for Ozanne's claims that talking therapies aimed at sexual orientation change efforts are harmful. There is no good evidence that prayer for a change in sexual attraction is harmful.
However, Ozanne goes to even further extremes in this interview. She claims that abstinence is 'damaging' for same-sex-attracted Christians and prayers with that goal should be banned in law.
She also considers consent irrelevant to the conversation – which is no surprise given that virtually every public testimony against 'conversion therapy' is from someone who intentionally sought help (and therefore consented to 'therapy' at the time) but has since decided to embrace an LGBTQ lifestyle. Again, genuine stories of compulsion or coercion are vanishingly rare in the UK. All Christians can fervently oppose such cases, but they are not Ozanne's target.
The aim is a 'sexual liberation' for the Church
Amongst Christians who value the Bible's teaching on sexuality, there are different views on how to understand same-sex attraction. Some believe these attractions are morally neutral, can never change or are external temptations that aren't in themselves sinful as long as they aren't acted upon. Others consider these attractions in themselves as lusts that ought to be fought against.
Ozanne's position, which is fast becoming cultural orthodoxy, considers both of these positions 'psychologically harmful' and 'damaging'. In the existing debate about conversion therapies or practices, there is no distinction between changing attractions and changing behaviours.
So it is not only ex-LGBT groups like X-Out-Loud or therapy-based approaches that are the target. It is Living Out, prayer groups and pastors who are the target.
It is impossible to believe that this is unconnected to Ozanne's attempt to change Church of England teaching on sexuality.
She claims in the interview: "No it's nothing to do with theology. Again, one of the pieces of fake news that's being put out is that I'm trying to ban preaching or ban people's beliefs."
Yet in the same interview, she said: "Christians are told by their leaders that what they are is sinful and their desires, which are innate, are ungodly – that level of internalised pressure is huge."
And when asked about religious freedom exemptions: "But I don't see this as prayer, I see this as hateful rhetoric coming from an internalised, homophobic or transphobic point of view. It is not, in my mind, biblically based. It causes harm and the whole point of law is to intervene to safeguard and protect people, especially in areas where people do not accept the harm that they do."
She clearly believes, but won't yet admit, that the historic Christian teaching about sexuality itself is hateful and harmful. She believes that the law's role is always to intervene where harm is happening, and she gives no clue as to why the government should intervene in prayer but not teaching.
Her kind of 'conversion practices' ban would completely paralyse faithful church leaders. Consider a simple prayer at the end of a sermon outlining Biblical teaching on sex and marriage like:
"Help us all to live sexually faithful lives."
If the preacher has faithfully just said that sex is reserved for marriage, and marriage can only be between one man and one woman, Ozanne would see that as "a lifelong prison sentence with no hope of love, intimacy, or natural desire" for any same-sex-attracted people, therefore an attempt to repress their sexuality and therefore a 'conversion practice' that must be banned.
This, to say the bare minimum, is a million miles from the true pattern for sexuality that God gives us. In Ozanne's theology we all have urges for sex that can neither be changed nor resisted without damaging ourselves.
What about a single woman who wants to but is unable to find a husband? Is it wrong for her to resist lust or must she turn to pornography, one-night-stands or prostitutes to avoid damaging herself?
The Bible, and Christian theology throughout the centuries, tells a different story. We all experience desires to sin. We are called to resist these urges, whatever they are:
"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." (Romans 6:12-13 ESV)
Jayne Ozanne doesn't merely believe in a different list of sins to other Christians. She believes in a totally different understanding of our desires and what Christians are called to do with them.
In the article, she pooh-poohs claims that she would ban the Lord's Prayer. But this is exactly her logic. Or does the phrase "lead us not into temptation" have an exemption clause for sexual temptation?
Just one voice?
Some might claim that Ozanne is just an extreme voice on the other side of the debate and not representative of the movement as a whole. But anyone paying serious attention to the ongoing discussions in the media and in Parliament will see a different picture. They will see that the language is shifting to 'conversion practices', not just therapy. They will see that the government has no plans for religious exemptions in a ban. And they will see that the cultural driving force across all calls for a ban is a hatred for the mere idea that a same-sex-attracted person may not want to act upon those feelings.
Some Christians are trying hard to defend Christian practices by accepting a conversion therapy ban while carving out safeguards or exemptions for Christians. These well-intentioned efforts miss the point. The only targets of a ban are people doing consensual talking therapies that are indistinguishable in principle from any kind of prayer or pastoral support. Even if some kind of religious exemption were granted it would be thrown off the books at the first opportunity.
Some also see opportunities to use a conversion therapy law against groups like Mermaids that encourage puberty blockers and breast binding for children. After all, this is an objectively damaging, physical conversion practice taking place as I write. Again, this is understandable but misses the point. Any practice done by the NHS or accredited by a professional organisation signed up to the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy will be given a free pass. They will simply claim it's neutral or affirming a person's gender or sexual identity. But a married man who wants to reduce his same-sex attraction to stay faithful to his wife (and God), identifies as heterosexual and receives hetero-affirming therapy will be denied access.
Stand on principle and truth
Christian Concern has stood solidly for over a decade for the freedom of people to access the help they want to reduce same-sex attractions or behaviours. Neither Jayne Ozanne nor the government's proposals target genuinely harmful therapies or practices. That's why we helped IFTCC hold a conference clearly demonstrating the truth about talking therapies. There is no good evidence they cause harm – in fact, there's better evidence that they improve people's mental health.
The same people will come for prayer next. "No evidence of effectiveness," they will claim. "Some survivors claim they were coerced into prayer," they will say. Prayer and normal pastoral conversations will be given the exact same disingenuous treatment that therapy is now.
Christians, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". If you do not oppose a ban now, in principle, what you have done to therapists will be done to your churches.
Andrea Williams is CEO of Christian Concern.