Evangelicals have experienced 'hostile' backlash for opposition to gay conversion therapy ban
Evangelical ministers who signed a letter raising concerns about the government's upcoming gay conversion therapy ban say they have "experienced backlash" in a "co-ordinated and hostile" campaign by LGBT activists.
The Ministers' Consultation Response letter was sent to Equalities Minister Liz Truss and to date, has been signed by nearly 5,000 people, including many Christian ministers and pastoral workers.
They write that they are "deeply concerned" that "the normal practice of religion" will be impacted by the proposed ban.
The names of the signatories to the letter, which were originally published in full on the Ministers' Consultation Response website, have now been taken down in a bid to prevent church ministers being targeted further.
Co-author of the letter, Rev Graham Nicholls, pastor of Christ Church Haywards Heath and director of evangelical network Affinity, described "the co-ordinated and hostile responses" to the letter as "unfair".
"Some of them are even slanderous," he said.
"What we have done is simply to participate in a legitimate democratic process in response to a government consultation."
Writing to the signatories of the letter earlier this month, Rev Nicholls said, "We are well aware that because of your public support, some of you have experienced backlash in the press, social media, from your church denominational leaders such as bishops and from professional bodies.
"Others are worried that service providers or landlords might not want to do business with them. Many of us are being accused of being abusers or at the least apologists for abuse which although untrue is deeply distressing."
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Stanley Road Baptist Church in Morecambe, Lancashire, has had its website suspended by the local hosting firm, Torrix, because the owner objected to its pastor, Rev Steve Hewitt, signing the letter to Truss.
Torrix proprietor Matt Fletcher said he was "an ally to the LGBT community" and endorsed "an outright ban on conversion therapy worldwide".
Co-author of the Ministers' Consultation Response letter, Dr Matthew Roberts, minister of Trinity York, has criticised the response from some Church of England bishops.
"[W]hy people signing a letter affirming what the Church of England itself affirms should cause anguish or be a risk to anyone is a mystery," he said.
Rev Nicholls appealed to the signatories: "Please be encouraged to stand firm and not be ashamed! What we are teaching is God's way and it is always best.
"It is no surprise to us that activists who are used to facing no opposition have been unhappy to find that Christians will not simply roll over when faced with a challenge to preaching the whole gospel of Christ's saving grace to sinners.
"We know this has been personally hard for many of you but we truly believe we are fighting for gospel freedoms, which is a God-honouring and a good and loving thing."