If the Conservative government's conversion therapy ban criminalises pastors, they deserve to lose office

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Peter Hitchens in his Mail on Sunday column on October 8 almost persuaded me to vote Conservative at the next General Election. But the news that the government is now determined to ban conversion therapy has convinced me that it is my moral and patriotic duty to oppose the Conservative Party in the North Lancashire constituency where I live.

Hitchens, a practising Anglican, compared Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to John Major, the Conservative leader who lost badly to the Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, in the 1997 General Election. Like John Major, Rishi Sunak is "awful", Hitchens argued, but as with Blair in 1997 the alternative in present Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is infinitely worse.

Hitchens wrote: "Sir Keir, whose hard-Left political roots are in a revolutionary movement called Pabloism, comes from the same stable as the 1997 Blairites. He will try to manipulate the voters with populist slogans, but his real programme will be miles to the Left, concentrating more and more power in a Left-wing state.

"The Tories have failed to stop this rubbish because they don't believe in anything. But the Starmerites believe in more Blairism, hot and strong, for decades to come.

"There's no need to be nice to the Tories. Don't ask them to dinner or send them Christmas cards. But the time for refusing to vote for them was many years ago and you missed it. Rishi Sunak is the John Major of his time. Yes, he is awful. But he is nothing like as bad as the alternative."

But unfortunately the fact that the PM has now capitulated to LGBT activists in the Blairite Conservative Party and has agreed to introduce such a repressive neo-Marxist measure in the King's Speech in November makes Hitchens's argument void. From an orthodox Christian perspective, what is the difference between Labour and the Conservatives?

At least I know where I stand with Labour. It believes, as a matter of firm principle, that LGBT rights trump religious rights. It is clear this Conservative government believes that too now but for a while it looked as if Rishi Sunak's administration was going to stand up for religious freedom.

In its November issue, which went to press before the latest news on conversion therapy, Evangelicals Now reported: "There is increasing optimism that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will drop plans to introduce a conversion therapy ban, five years after it was proposed by former PM Theresa May. "

The paper reported that the Christian Institute recently wrote to the PM highlighting the impact of the ban already in place in Victoria, Australia. The letter argued: "Religious believers could undoubtedly experience the worst effects of this sort of law. As we have seen in Victoria, it won't take long for state bodies to feel they have the right to dictate to churches what they can and cannot teach and precisely how to pray.

"Those who refuse to ditch the teaching of the Bible could soon find themselves at the mercy of the criminal justice system."

For a while it looked like the PM was listening to these concerns and the national media had been reporting that the ban was going to be "quietly dropped". In March, ITV News reported that it had seen a "leaked document" from government officials showing the PM had decided to ditch the ban.

But he has now changed his mind, showing that the Conservatives are as committed as Labour to entrenching the sexual revolution of the 1960s into English law.

Orthodox Christian pastors are particularly vulnerable from this legislation. How should they counsel a same-sex-attracted person who wants to change their orientation and become ex-gay? What should a pastor do if a same-sex-attracted person asks him or her to pray for them because they want spiritual help in their struggle to uphold the traditional Christian sexual ethic?

Once the legislation is passed, LGBT campaigners are bound to be on the look-out for any signs of conversion therapy in religious settings, so pastors should expect accusations to be levelled against them.

That Stalinist climate of fear, which the Conservatives have agreed to create through this measure, is the reason why they deserve to lose office, even though a Labour government would be as bad, if not worse, for orthodox Christians. I console myself with the thought that there might be a chance that if the Conservatives lose badly in 2024 and disintegrate as a result, a new political party could emerge that really is committed to religious freedom under the rule of benevolent Judeo-Christian law.

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Lancashire.