More than 2,000 church leaders across the UK have signed an open letter to the Secretary of State, warning that a legal ban on gay and transgender conversion therapy would not deter them from their Christian duty.
Ministers, pastoral workers, and clergy wrote to Liz Truss, the Equalities Minister, saying they are prepared to be “criminalised” should the government pass new legislation outlawing “conversion therapy” practices.
The letter, which presently has 2,227 signatures, warns the category of “Conversion Therapy” is so broad that it is essentially meaningless and could include things such as prayer, calling people to conversion to Christ or a parent’s loving advice to their own children.
The letter says:
“It should not be a criminal offence for us to instruct our children that God made them male and female, in his image, and has reserved sex for the marriage of one man and woman. Yet this seems to be the likely outcome of the proposed legislation.
“We therefore very much hope (and pray) that these proposals will be dropped in their current form. We have no desire to become criminals, and place a high value on submitting to and supporting our government. Yet we think it important you are aware that if it were to come about that the loving, compassionate exercise of orthodox Christian ministry, including the teaching of the Christian understanding of sex and marriage, is effectively made a criminal offence, we would with deed sadness continue our duty to God in this matter.”
Dr. Ian Paul, a member of the General Synod of the Church of England described the current legislation as ill considered and ill conceived.
“As the consultation document itself states, many of the issues highlighted are already illegal. The term ‘conversion therapy’ is ill defined, and the proposals appear to be driven by an ideological agenda rather than real concern and clear thinking,” Dr. Paul said.
“There is a real risk that pastoral ministry will be criminalised, and that human rights, including the right to religious belief will be trampled on.”
Rev. Dr. Matthew Roberts, Minister of Trinity Church York said it is “deeply concerning that the government seems to be considering legislation that would criminalise normal, loving, Christian ministry, while stopping us from helping young people who are being caught up in the horrible damage being done by transgender ideology.
“Nothing we do could be considered ‘therapy,” Rev. Dr. Roberts said. “But the proposals are drafted so badly, and with such apparent ignorance of basic Christian teaching, that entirely standard Christian teaching would be criminalised in the name of something that has nothing to do with us.”
Rev. Dr. Roberts said parents being able to raise children in their own faith is a legal right, and one which these proposals would remove.
“The Queen is appointed to be the Defender of the Faith,” he said. “It would be very strange indeed if Her Majesty’s Government legislated against the faith of their own sovereign.”
Dr Julie Maxwell, Youth Worker at St Mary’s Basingstoke, Church of England said, as a Paediatrician and youth worker, she is especially concerned about the potential impact of the proposed ban on pastoral youth work.
“As we know, children and young people need direction from adults around them regarding all sorts of lifestyle issues,” Dr Maxwell said. “Teenagers are navigating huge changes associated with puberty and issued around sexuality and gender are important topics that need to be discussed.
“As Christians, we seek to support young people who are seeking to follow Jesus Christ to understand these issues from the perspective of Biblical teaching regarding God’s creation of men and woman and his design for marriage.
“To find ourselves in a situation where parents, youth workers and other adults are afraid to address these issues risks leaving children and young people confused and vulnerable.”
Dr. Maxwell warned there is already a significant increase in mental health problems in children and young people and being unable to support those struggling with issues around sexuality and gender identity will negatively impact on this.
Rev. Graham Nicholls, Director of Affinity, said he’s prepared to go to prison if necessary to defend his Christian beliefs.
“We particularly wanted to write from the perspective of practitioners, people who are pastors, youth workers, and counsellors,” he said. “We don’t know how this law about conversion therapy could impact their work and their ordinary, everyday work of chatting with people, encouraging people, praying with people that could be severely impacted.
“Those who are campaigning for the law, their stated aim is that prayers or any kind of encouragement to do with what we would say the Bible is teaching in terms of sexual ethics, should be prohibited. We don’t know how the law will work out, but I think if those demands were met, then really any conversation with your family or if your children asks a question about their sexuality or their gender and you give them some advice, potentially, that could fall foul of the law.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern said: “The application of these laws will inevitably be: ‘You can have any therapy you like, as long as you embrace a gay or trans identity.’ But Christians – and nearly all of us – believe in right and wrong. Telling pastors they can give support as long as it reinforces government-approved ideology strikes at the heart of the moral character of the Church.
“The Church is not the BBC, duty-bound to impartiality but a body with its own vision for human flourishing by following Jesus Christ’s teaching. The government simply has no business policing pastoral conversations,” Williams said.
“This is a huge moment for this issue in the UK and it is encouraging to see church leaders, parents, teachers, and therapists raising their voices.”