UK church ministers prepared to break law over conversion therapy ban

PHOTO: Alamy/Premier Christian News

Originally published in Premier Christian News

A group of UK Christian ministers and pastoral workers say they’re willing to break the law if it means defending the right to teach traditional Christian views. 

They’ve written to the Equalities Minister, Liz Truss in response to a consultation on so-called conversion therapy – practices which seek to suppress or change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, often in a religious setting. 

The consultation finishes on Friday and the ministers fear that if the legislation becomes law it will have a detrimental effect on the teaching of traditional Christian views on marriage and sexual ethics. 

Reverend Graham Nicholls is director of Affinity, an evangelical group of churches who has signed the letter. He says he is prepared to go to prison if necessary to defend his traditional Christian beliefs. 

He’s been speaking to Premier.

“We particularly wanted to write from the perspective of practitioners, people who are pastors, youth workers, and counsellors. 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.  So we thought it was important from the point of view of practising pastors.

“Those who are campaigning for the law, their stated aim is that prayers or any kind of encouragement to do 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 child asks a question about their sexuality or their gender and you give them some advice, potentially, that could fall foul of the law. If you give them advice from a Christian perspective that questions or suggests there is a good or a bad path to follow.”

In the letter, the group says it is grateful to the government for making it clear that it doesn’t intend the legislation to impact the normal practice of religion, but it says it is deeply concerned that this is exactly what would happen. The signatories say they condemn “disreputable past practices” of conversion therapy but that the new legislation would risk criminalising the compassionate duties of ministers and pastors as they seek to counsel on issues of sexuality, marriage and gender.     

The letter calls on the proposals to be dropped in their current form but says they have “no desire to become criminals and place a high value on 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 deep sadness continue to do our duty to God in this matter”.

Rev Nicholls says: 

“Yes, I think on this issue, we would take a stand. As a matter of principle, if you would want to be faithful to God in this, then whatever the consequences were, even if they were prison, you’d have to be prepared to do that. I think we’ve all got to be prepared to stand up for what we believe in.”

The government says it is committed to banning conversion therapy and the consultation is to establish the most effective way of doing so. 

The government Equalities Office says: “Conversion therapy does not work and can cause long-lasting damage to victims. The freedom to express the teachings of any religion will not be affected by the ban. Individuals will still be able to access support and counsel from their religious leaders. The proposed package of measures will not impact everyday religious practice. An adult who wants to be supported to be celibate will be free to do so.”

You can read the full letter here.

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