With a conversion therapy ban on the table, the threat of jail for Christians is real

(Photo: Pexels/Magda Ehlers)

At a time in the not so distant past (about 10 years ago), the phrase "gay evangelical demands that prayer for conversion be criminalised" would make as much sense as "square circle makes triangle". But in today's world it seems about par for the course!

I'm not sure that in many years of reading 'reports' I have ever read one as chilling, or with such dangerous implications, as the just released Cooper Report from the Ozanne Foundation. That may sound hyperbolic but bear with me as we see what the report actually says.

Although I was aware of the stance Jayne Ozanne was taking and the dangers of a ban on 'conversion therapy' being used as a ban on conversion, I was still shocked to read the proposals in the Cooper Report.

Perhaps I should not have been so naïve. After all, the report's authors include Peter Tatchell, Crispin Blunt MP, Angela Eagle MP, Mermaids founder Susie Green, Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley as well as Ozanne and others from the academic, political, business and legal establishments.

Most people in the UK won't care about this, and I suspect many Christians will think that it is relatively unimportant, affecting only a minority of a minority. But that would be to misread what is going on.

What does the report argue? It is basically a demand that the government criminalise any form of what they deem to be 'conversion' practice, except those conversion practices which enable people to gender transition or 'discover' their sexuality.

1.The report portrays all forms of conversion therapy as violence and torture.

"The discriminatory nature of conversion practices is demeaning and perpetuates a continuum of violence towards the LGBT+ community, which also violates Article 3 ECHR."

There are acts that are already illegal – for example kidnapping or 'corrective rape'. But by conflating these with prayer or counselling the report really confuses and endangers. When you equate prayer with inhumane treatment and torture you are making language meaningless and diminishing real torture. When you correctly state that torture should be banned but then redefine torture so that it in effect includes anything which disagrees with you or offends you, then you have given yourself carte blanche to ban anything you don't agree with.

READ MORE: If conversion therapy is banned, it is the Bible that will be silenced

Personally, I find Ozanne's views on this subject torturous, offensive and harmful. The difference is that while she seems to be happy to send me to jail for expressing mine, I don't demand that the State should ban hers.

2.The report offers no evidence of either the prevalence of conversion therapy or what it actually is.

This is a glossy report, well produced, with a number of substantial backers. However, it says very little and reads more like a propaganda leaflet than a meaningful report. For example, we are told, "There is increasing evidence that many individuals are forcibly taken abroad to undergo extreme forms of conversion practices." And yet, despite the fact that this evidence is "increasing", we are shown none of it.

We are told that almost two-thirds of British adults believe conversion practices should be banned, but I suspect that 99% of British adults wouldn't have a clue what conversion therapy is.

3.The report permits and encourages some forms of conversion therapy.

"The free exploration of gender identity and sexual orientation must not be impeded by a ban on conversion practices. Specifically, any ban must not negatively impact transgender individuals' access to healthcare provisions and affirmative care."

The hypocrisy and double standards are breathtaking. If a young person wishes to 'explore their sexuality' they should be encouraged to do so – as long as it is in the direction that Ozanne and Tatchell want. If a child wishes to change their gender, then they must be encouraged to do so. It's fine for them to convert – but only if it's in the 'right' direction.

4. The report argues that freedom of religion should be restricted.

"These recommendations require limited restrictions on the right to manifest religion and belief and their expression, which are necessary, justified and proportionate under Articles 9 and 10 ECHR."

The report argues that freedom of religion should be curtailed in order to 'prevent harm' but then defines harm in such a broad way that it leaves no room for freedom of religion. All we are left with is the religion of the progressives and the State-defined doctrine of the new religion. The State is now determining what Christian doctrine should be.

Make no mistake about who this report is aimed at: Christians, whether Catholic, Orthodox or evangelical, who dare to teach what Christ taught. I suspect that there will be no attempt to implement this in other (stricter) religious communities. According to the report, those from religious communities are to be given 'special consideration'. Such a chilling phrase.

READ MORE: 'If it's us now, it will be the pastors next' - Mike Davidson on why gay conversion therapy should not be banned

It is of particular importance to note that the report expressly includes prayer as something that should be criminalised – unless it is 'affirming' prayer. In other words, if someone came to me and said that they wanted prayer because they no longer wished to live a gay lifestyle and I prayed with them as they requested, I would be committing a crime.

In case you think that Ozanne and Tatchell just represent a fringe extremist group then remember that David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester, said in June of this year that faith leaders should face prosecution if they fail to comply with a ban.

5.The report states that adults cannot consent to conversion therapy.

"It is the Forum's view that it is not possible to consent to conversion practices in a free and informed manner, and that it should be no defence that victims appeared to have consented."

There are those of us who naively believed that the sacred cow of contemporary culture, the absolute absolute, was the idea of individual consent. We were told that what individuals did in the privacy of their own home was their business and no one else's - provided it involved consenting adults. If that was true, the new illiberal illiberalism has now killed it off. Apparently, a child can consent to transgender change including bodily mutilation, an adult can consent to being killed; but no one can consent to wanting to change their sexual orientation or identity. It is the absolute shibboleth. The sacred cow of contemporary society is sexuality.

6. The report does away with individual privacy and human rights.

"Conversion practices also interfere with an individual's right to respect for a private life under Article 8 as they violate their ability to live their life without arbitrary disruption or interference."

This is an Orwellian 'love is hate' type of statement. The authors are arguing that if an individual seeks in their own private life to obtain help for unwanted sexual feelings or gender confusion, they should not have the liberty to do so. The report is in effect claiming ownership of the private lives of every citizen – to ensure that we all fit within their narrow agenda.

And they are prepared to use force to ensure that happens – including spying on families and individual homes:

 "Due to a significant amount of abuse being perpetrated in private residences, rather than in public or religious buildings, the Forum believes that an effective method of reporting will be essential in uncovering abuse."

And they speak of "intelligence gathering":

"The Forum recommends that intelligence gathering and tracking systems be developed to identify repeat offenders who continue to promote and undertake conversion practices in order to bring them to the attention of the relevant authorities."

In summary, we now have a group of people – including some who profess to be Christians - who argue that abortion must not be criminalised. Killing the elderly or sick must not be criminalised. But praying for someone who asks for prayer is to be criminalised.

If you want to know where this is going ask Murray Campbell, a Baptist minister in Victoria, Australia. The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act was adopted by the Victorian Parliament in February this year, and it comes into effect February 2022. It is no exaggeration to say that faithful Christians there are now expecting to go to jail just for preaching the teaching of Jesus Christ.

The implications of this report go way beyond conversion therapy (in its broadest definition) for same-sex attraction or gender identity. If the principle is conceded that any form of prayer or religious practice which seeks to change people is 'harmful' to someone's identity, then all forms of conversion could be banned. The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers are not permitted to be converted or prayed for – lest we harm their 'identity'.

But that is precisely what Christ comes to do. He does not affirm us as we are; he comes to radically change our identity. Jesus washes, sanctifies and justifies us in his name and by his Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). I rejoice at that Gospel and weep at those who once professed to follow it now seeking to ban the preaching of the evangel which acts as the agent of ultimate change – the new birth!

The irony in all of this is that the Cooper Report is headed by the statement that "Jonathan Cooper passionately believed in the equality of all. This fuelled his lifelong-commitment to fight for the rights of others and so ensure that they might benefit from the full protection of the law."

And we are told that the Ozanne Foundation "believes in a world where all are accepted and equally valued". Except those who follow the teachings of Jesus, and those who wish to change. It appears that some are more equal than others.

Several years ago, I wrote that I could foresee the time when I would go to jail for simply preaching and practising Christianity. That time is almost here. What can be done? Individual Christians should write to their local MPs and ask them not to support such intolerant and authoritarian proposals.

Churches should just simply state that we will not go along with any government dictate that tells us who we can, and cannot pray for. I for one will not accept or obey any law which says who I can, and cannot pray for. If all Christians took that position it would become an unenforceable law. Or do we just let the new Inquisition of our 'sexular' society take over?

David Robertson works as an evangelist with churches in Sydney, Australia, where he runs the ASK Project. He blogs at The Wee Flea.