Lawmakers in Britain and Australia have moved to ban “conversion therapy,” supporting laws that may criminalize everyday practices common to Christian churches around the world. While LGBT activists — and most Christians — have rightly condemned the historic abuses of “conversion therapy” in the past, modern sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) involve patient-directed talk therapy, not “shock therapy,” and the laws in Britain and Australia may criminalize preaching, counseling, and even prayer.
Some activists and lawmakers in Britain have vocally demanded nothing less. One activist called for legal attempts to “deal with” the “pernicious power of prayer.” A member of Parliament in the Labour Party condemned protections for pastoral support as a “loophole” that would allow “conversion therapy” to continue. The LGBT group Stonewall also condemned any such “loophole.”
How do “conversion therapy” bans restrict everyday church practices? These laws forbid any attempts to “change” a person’s sexual orientation. If a Christian experiences unwanted same-sex attraction, and a pastor preaches the Bible passages forbidding homosexual activity, that may be considered “conversion therapy.” If a pastor counsels that Christian to abstain from sex until he or she enters a Christian marriage between one man and one woman, that may be considered “conversion therapy.”
If the pastor prays for this troubled same-sex attracted Christian, asking God to preserve him or her from sin, that may be considered “conversion therapy.”
Peter Lynas, the UK director of the Evangelical Alliance (EA), wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, warning that the conversion therapy ban Johnson supports in Parliament may criminalize everyday church practices.
“Proposals to end conversion therapy not only put at risk the individual freedom of people who are attracted to those of the same sex, but they also place religious freedom in jeopardy,” Lynas warned. “This is not a concern restricted to specific practices, organisations or ministries that provide services to people experiencing same sex attraction – although it will affect them. This will threaten the everyday practices of churches, church leaders, and Christians across the UK.”
“An expansive definition of conversion therapy, and a ban along such lines, would place church leaders at risk of prosecution when they preach on biblical texts relating to marriage and sexuality. It would place ministry leaders at risk of arrest for encouraging young people to maintain chastity until marriage. And it would criminalise a member of a church who prays with another member when they ask for prayer to resist temptation as they are attracted to someone of the same sex but do not wish to act on it,” Lynas warned.
Johnson assured Lynas and EA that his government does not intend to trample on religious freedom.
“I absolutely want to end the scourge of gay conversion therapy which has no place in our society,” he wrote in a letter responding to Lynas. “I do, however, want to reassure you that I take freedom of speech and freedom of religion very seriously. As the Government made clear in 2018, when we first made our commitment to end conversion therapy, we all continue to allow adults to receive appropriate pastoral support (including prayer), in churches and other religious settings, in the exploration of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“Like you, I do not want to see clergy and church members criminalised for normal non-coercive activity,” Johnson added.
Yet not all British lawmakers share Johnson’s concerns.
Labour MP Angela Eagle wrote of Johnson’s letter, “This proposed ‘loophole’ is so large, there would effectively be no ban on conversion therapy.”
LGBT activist group Stonewall also denounced Johnson’s move. “Conversion therapies are a form of abuse that lead to long-term physical and/or mental harm for victims,” the group declared.
“We know that half of the conversion therapy practices that take place in the UK are faith-based. So any ban that has loopholes for any type of practice – including religious practices – will leave vulnerable LGBTQIA+ people at risk of further harm,” Stonewall argued. “It’s vital the UK government puts forward a full legal ban that protects LGBTQIA+ people from all forms of conversion therapy in every setting.”
Matthew Hyndman, co-founder of the group Ban Conversion Therapy, took to the Independent to argue for a ban. He claimed that two percent of LGBT people experience conversion therapy and that five percent of them have been offered it. He described his own experience of getting expelled from his church and losing his missionary job due to his open homosexual identity and his refusal to undergo “conversion therapy.”
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“For many, refusing conversion therapy means losing your family, faith, community, career, friends – your entire life,” he argued.
“Those who resist legislation against conversion therapy often resist the idea of a prayer or a pastoral conversation being subject to the scrutiny of law. However, if these things take place in an overwhelmingly homophobic or transphobic context the pernicious power of prayer must be dealt with,” Hyndman wrote.
Hyndman must have known his church’s teaching on homosexual activity, rooted in the Bible. While he claims to have been the victim, he is essentially demanding that his church should not be able to enforce the moral code it has adopted from the Bible. He cut himself off from the church, and now he is weaponizing his experience in order to justify attacks on “the pernicious power of prayer.”
Even Jayne Ozanne, a synod member in the Church of England, warned against the stance Johnson took in his letter.
“As a Christian, I take the freedom of religion very seriously – up until the point that it causes harm,” she wrote.
What, exactly, constitutes “causing harm”? If a person’s LGBT identity is central to his or her self-image, does any opposition to LGBT activism constitute “harm”? Preaching from the Bible, encouraging abstinence until marriage, and praying that God would give people the strength to remain chaste — are these to be considered inherently “harmful”?
A ban on “conversion therapy” that passed the parliament of Victoria State in Australia arguably implements this kind of vision.
Catholic bishops and Muslim leaders joined together to warn against the bill, which it seems the premier has yet to sign.
“Unfortunately, this bill doesn’t just ban outdated and insidious practices of coercion and harm, which we firmly reject,” the leaders warned. “The bill also criminalizes conversation between children and parents, interferes with sound professional advice, and silences ministers of religion from providing personal attention for individuals freely seeking pastoral care for complex personal situations.”
These issues are not unique to Britain and Australia, either.
Last November, an appeals court enjoined two Florida bans on sexual orientation change efforts, ruling that the bans on “conversion therapy” restricted free speech.
The therapists in the Florida case did not claim the ability to “change” anyone’s sexual orientation. “They believe, however, that through speech-based therapy, their clients who wish to do so can reduce same-sex behavior and attraction and eliminate what they term confusion over gender identity,” the judge wrote.
The therapists argue that “their clients typically have ’sincerely held religious beliefs conflicting with homosexuality, and voluntarily seek SOCE counseling in order to live in congruence with their faith and to conform their identity, concept of self, attractions, and behaviors to their sincerely held religious beliefs.’”
Boca Raton, Fla., banned “any counseling, practice or treatment performed with the goal of changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors, gender identity, or gender expression, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions toward individuals of the same gender or sex.” Both this ordinance and the Palm Beach, Fla., version contained one carveout: they allowed “counseling that provides support and assistance to a person undergoing gender transition.”
As the judge wrote, “The ordinances thus codify a particular viewpoint—sexual orientation is immutable, but gender is not— and prohibit the therapists from advancing any other perspective when counseling clients.”
“Whether therapy is prohibited depends only on the content of the words used in that therapy, and the ban on that content is because the government disagrees with it. And whether the government’s disagreement is for good reasons, great reasons, or terrible reasons has nothing at all to do with it. All that matters is that a therapist’s speech to a minor client is legal or illegal under the ordinances based solely on its content,” the judge concluded.
Bans on “conversion therapy” rely upon a false premise to attack free speech as well as religious freedom, mandating a pro-LGBT ideology using the force of law.
Arthur Goldberg, founder of the therapy referral service Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) objected to the term. “Conversion therapy is not even a term of art. It’s a misnomer. It’s a pejorative term that talks about emotional trauma and physical trauma,” he told PJ Media. JONAH did not recommend or carry out so-called “conversion therapy.” It gave people “references for therapy for underlying issues which may result in same-sex attraction,” yet a New Jersey judge shut it down on false pretenses.
As ex-gay leader Christopher Doyle explains in his book The War on Psychotherapy, “One of the strategies that far-left advocacy and gay activist organizations use to smear professional psychotherapists assisting clients distressed by sexual and gender identity conflicts is to intentionally conflate professional therapy with religious practice and/or unlicensed, unregulated counseling. They do this by labeling all efforts—therapeutic, religious, or otherwise—to help clients distressed by sexual and gender identity conflicts [as] ‘conversion therapy.’”
The tragic situation in England demonstrates that LGBT activists will not stop at banning “conversion therapy” in the talk therapy setting. Some are explicitly targeting “the pernicious power of prayer.” Christians — and free thinkers who value the ability to dispute the LGBT orthodoxy — need to be on our guard.