Could preaching the Gospel or advocating for the Bible’s view on sexuality result in a jail sentence one day in Western countries where Christianity has flourished? This possibility once seemed far-fetched, but as more countries consider so-called “conversion therapy” bans, the likelihood increases that holding to certain Christian beliefs and faithfully ministering to struggling people will be deemed illegal and could even result in criminal prosecution.
This is a timely concern for church leaders in the U.K., where a conversion therapy ban is being considered and will likely become law. But faced with the possibility of criminalization, a group of some 2,500 pastors and church leaders would rather face jail than compromise the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In a letter presented to the Government Equalities Office, these U.K. church leaders stated: “We are grateful to the government for having made clear in the consultation that it does not intend this legislation to impact the normal practice of religion. Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned that the legislative approach outlined would do exactly this. We see in these proposals a clear possibility that our duty as ministers, of proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and calling people to find life in him, which includes living by his laws, will be criminalised. We also believe it could be used against Christian parents who could equally be criminalised for loving advice and teaching given to their own children.
“The category of ‘Conversion Therapy’ is one which is so broad as to be essentially meaningless. It has the effect of implying an equivalence between calling people to conversion to Christ, which is our duty as Christian ministers, and evil and disreputable past practices which are already illegal and which Christians are the first to condemn. Legislating against such a bizarrely broad category is clearly not viable and strongly risks criminalising us as we fulfil our compassionate duties as Christian ministers and pastors. This would be a clear breach of our legal right to manifest our religion.”
Conversion therapy often refers to out-of-date and illegal psychiatric practices that use force, violence and in some reported cases, even rape, in an attempt to change someone’s sexual preference or gender identity. Even though such practices are now universally condemned, that hasn’t stopped LGBTQ activists, a sympathetic media and politicians from ascribing this false narrative to Christian groups in order to push bans across the world. Sold to the public as a way of protecting LGBTQ people from harm or bigotry, these laws essentially force governments to prioritize sexual identity over long-held religious freedoms.
The concern in the U.K. is that the ban could hinder the ability of pastors, teachers, parents and counselors to provide spiritual guidance to young people regarding unwanted same-sex attractions and gender confusion.
Matthew Roberts, minister of Trinity Church York, said some pastoral duties that could possibly be considered illegal under the conversion therapy ban would include teaching on the Christian definition of “marriage, singleness, abstinence and parenthood” or counseling parents who seek to prevent their teenage daughter from taking dangerous male hormones.
“The key is in the name: ‘Conversion Therapy,’” Roberts tweeted. “It’s a phrase only used by those calling for a ban. It implies, whether deliberately or not, that Christianity, in seeking to convert people to Christ, is essentially doing the same thing as violent assault and rape.”
Though the government told church leaders that they have no intention of criminalizing Christian teaching, those leaders believe they face an uphill battle to maintain that freedom.
A YouGov poll, reported by The Times of London, shows how the “majority of Church of England worshippers now support same-sex marriage for the first time.”
Between 2013 and 2022, the support for same-sex marriage by Anglicans jumped from 38% to 55%. This is despite the Church of England refusing to marry same-sex couples or provide them with a blessing, which is a service that can be performed in the church after a civil marriage ceremony.
This erosion of faith has been happening for decades inside the English church, and in churches all over the West.
In his book “The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation, 1800-2000,” Scottish historian Callum G. Brown explains: “For a thousand years, Christianity penetrated deeply into the lives of the people, enduring the Reformation, Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution by adapting to each new social and cultural context that arose.” But in the mid-1960s, the sexual revolution and the rise of counterculture sent “organized Christianity on a downward spiral to the margins of social significance.”
Even with promises from government officials that the legislation will not impact Christian ministries, nothing is certain. LGBTQ activist groups are adamant that the legislation can only move forward if the “informed consent” provision is removed, which protects ministers by allowing people over 18 struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions or gender confusion to voluntarily seek help in the church.
Reverend Ian Paul, a member of the Church of England’s General Synod, told Premier Christian News that while the government has no intention of outlawing “mainstream Christian religious practice,” members of Parliament were “adamant that the government is going to introduce legislation outlawing conversion therapy.”
Above: U.K. pastors outside the prime minister’s office at 10 Downing Street.
Photo: Courtesy of Christian Concern