Why the Bill to ban 'gay conversion therapy' is pernicious and a threat to Christian mission
Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream, Revd Andrew Symes, develops his criticism of the Counsellors and Psychotherapists (Regulation) Bill 2013-2014 in this exclusive article for Christian Concern:
According to the Bible, God is in the “conversion” business. Christian faith is not an emotional or intellectual construction, something we create or imagine, but a response to God who reaches out to rebels, calls them to turn around and enter into a restored relationship with him. God wants all of us to repent, to be transformed, to be born again. He has acted definitively in Jesus to change us from enemies into friends; he continues to act through his Holy Spirit to change us from within so our behaviour becomes more aligned with his agenda. This is conversion: not often instantaneous, but a process of change which follows the life-transforming realization that Jesus is Lord.
Jesus said “go into the world and make disciples”. Christian mission is acting as facilitators in this change-making interaction between God and people. God does not coerce anyone to change, but nor does he simply bless people and affirm them as they are. Christian mission includes giving people information: the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ, and then coming alongside the new disciples as they embark on a journey with Christ that will leave nothing in their lives unchanged. As a Christian pastor or counsellor or good neighbour, I am not trying to get people to think and act in conformity with a human programme, but to encourage people to follow God’s programme, and once they have made this decision, to help them on the path they have chosen. Sometimes God will not bring change where I want it, in order to remind us of his sustaining grace; at other times he converts an attitude or ends the craving of an addiction miraculously to remind us of his authority and compassion.
For centuries in this country it has been accepted that the promotion of the Christian faith so that people are converted to Christ is a good thing. It results in positive change, whereby people generally become more considerate and productive members of society. It has also been generally agreed that stable, loving, heterosexual marriage is a foundational cornerstone for a stable society, and that this necessarily involves encouraging people to overcome natural tendencies to promiscuity, adultery and homosexual practice. Only recently, in the last few years, have these axioms been challenged. Christian conversion has been attacked as “brainwashing”, or as disruptive to community cohesion especially in multi-faith contexts. And Christian teaching about the sinfulness of sex outside of covenant heterosexual marriage has now been accused of harming the integrity and self-esteem of gay people.
So this month there is a Bill before Parliament to ban “gay conversion therapy”.
The wording of the Bill focuses entirely on the practice of therapy to help people change or reduce same sex orientation. In many media briefings such therapy has been willfully misrepresented as coercing people to change against their will, using invasive and outdated techniques. It states more than once that such therapy causes “harm”, although this conclusion involves the manipulation or ignoring of scientific evidence. The Bill says nothing about the many people with unwanted feelings of same sex attraction who on their own initiative (in fact often with God’s prompting), want to change.
This Bill is a threat to Christian counsellors who work in this area, and to people with same sex attraction who want to access counselling that is trained and accredited. Currently anyone with same sex attraction has freedom of choice to do one of three things: to embrace “gay” identity and enter into a homosexual relationship or relationships; to live with the feelings but resist the temptation to act on them and live a life of celibacy, or to seek to reduce the feelings and develop heterosexual attraction, perhaps with a view to marriage and family. The Bill seeks to deny the latter of the three choices, thus creating a major and completely unnecessary restriction on human liberty. It is also a threat to religious freedom: the right for a person not just to believe in Christ, but to seek help in following him in every area of life.
It is a threat to church autonomy: the Bill seeks to give the government control over what Christians may believe and teach about sexual ethics, because it would set into law the idea that to attempt to change sexual orientation is “harmful”. But even more seriously, it seeks to take away from God the right to bring change in a particular area of human life. It is directly contradicting God’s word. It is claiming for itself the authority to pervert the Law of God, re-writing Jesus’ words to something like this:
“you have heard its said ‘do not commit adultery’, but I say to you, if you have an orientation to adultery, you will be blessed if you go ahead and do it, and if anyone tries to help you resist the desire for adultery, let him be thrown into the sea with a millstone round his neck”.
God loves us so much that even though we have turned our backs on him he seeks us out, saves us and begins his programme of change in us. That is his mission. A government that seeks to restrict and control this process can only be one that is confident that there is no God. An openly atheist government can only become totalitarian, because it believes it is the highest authority and accountable to no-one.
The question is then: what about the church? Firstly, a definition of what the church is. A religious institution whose leaders are happy to go along with whatever an atheist government decrees in order to keep its place at the high table can no longer be equated with the People of God by any biblical definition. The church consists of people for whom the glory of Christ to whom the apostles and prophets testify, is paramount, even to the point of suffering. Secondly, what should this true church do? If this Bill goes through, it will be necessary for Christians to ignore the law and to continue as they are, proclaiming the standards of God and the Gospel of Jesus, facilitating the process of change in individuals as the Holy Spirit leads, and providing a place for people called to and trained for this ministry to continue their work.
Read details of the 'Setting Love in Order' conference here