by Jayne Ozanne, Member of General Synod, Director of the Ozanne Foundation and Chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition
The “debate” around the need to ban “conversion therapy” has attracted more than its fair share of fake news and scaremongering, particularly by those who want to continue to “help” LGBT+ people become something that they believe God finds more acceptable. According to Julian Mann (Christian Today, June 21st 2021) my work to ensure that these degrading and harmful practices are banned will mean that “Christian pastors could be banned from saying the Lord’s Prayer with same-sex attracted people”.
This type of reporting inevitably feeds the narrative that certain Christians are now facing their own special form of “persecution”, which not only bolsters their sense of identity as God’s “chosen remnant” but also helps them justify why they are so beleaguered and vilified. This narrative attracts many Christians who are eager to find support for the contentious views they hold, but it comes at a considerable cost – as it alienates an increasing number of Christians who wish to find more common ground.
There is one significant truth, however, that those who subscribe to these views consistently side-step. This is becoming increasingly apparent to both Christians and non-Christians alike. Indeed, the media are now also beginning to highlight it by asking repeated questions which those who are wedded to defending their right to “pray the gay away” refuse to answer. And the question? Why will you not acknowledge or address the mounting evidence of the deep psychological harm that you have caused and are still causing so many LGBT+ people, particularly young LGBT+ people?
Medical professionals are clear; international institutions such as the UN are clear; hundreds if not thousands of senior faith leaders are clear; and now the UK government itself is clear – “conversion therapy” is harmful and must be banned in order to protect LGBT+ people whose lives are being damaged and destroyed by it. Just how many more lives need to be lost before people decide to take this on board?
Of course, Jesus never caused anyone harm. Indeed, quite the opposite – he had very strong words to say to those who cause “any of these little ones to suffer” (Matt 18:6). Indeed, his whole ministry was characterised by showing unconditional love and compassion to those who were hurting and who had been judged unacceptable by the religious leaders around them.
I have recently run a series of testimonies on my blog site, Via Media, by LGBT+ Christians documenting the years of abuse they have suffered at the hands of church leaders. The Bishop of London has called them “texts of terror” before going on to ask church leaders to recognise the harm that they are causing. There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of stories just like them. LGBT+ Christians being repeatedly told that who they are is unacceptable, that they did not have enough faith to be “healed”, that more often than not their problem lay with their primary relationships – such as with their parents – and so added yet more pain and anguish to those already hurting. All had suffered rejection, most had had to leave their churches, all spoke of the mental toll it had had on them – often with quite harrowing results.
And the response from those who were responsible for their pain?
The truth is that the overwhelming response from these church leaders has been to shout even more loudly in the media about their “right” to continue causing such trauma and harm. No one has seen fit to apologise. No one has stopped and reflected on the serious safeguarding issues that have been presented. They have no plausible answer to the harm that they have caused and continue to cause, save to ignore the evidence and condemn the messengers instead.
The worrying thing is that this is sadly all too familiar – indeed, the Bible is full of such stories.
Israel constantly ignored their shortcomings and dealt with the prophets who confronted them with the evidence of their wrongdoings by ignoring them, and worse. They vilified them, they mocked them, they berated them, and they even killed them. It is a strategy as old as the hills, but one which always has the same outcome –the people who ignore the warnings end up facing the full force of God’s judgement.
So, it is time to say “enough”!
Enough of the excuses. Enough of the spiritual abuse. Enough of the hardness of heart. Real people are being hurt and it is being caused – and condoned – by those who preach a message of love, which now sounds hollow and false. Interestingly, it seems that evangelical Christians have some form in this area.
Take the so-called “smacking ban”, where the Evangelical Alliance and the Christian Institute decided to “stand up to the government” and campaign to be allowed to discipline their children. This was yet another example of Christians being oblivious to the damage – in this case physical harm – that they were causing. They believed their God-given right to uphold scripture over-ruled any evidence of the pain and trauma they were causing, despite mounting evidence from professionals to the contrary.
If there is one thing Jesus was clear about, it was the need to stand up to religious leaders who defined themselves by what they were against rather than what they were for, who spent their time putting burdens on other people’s backs that they could not carry, and who prided themselves with the fact they thought they were more righteous than anyone else.
Interestingly, it was those “in the world” who formed the crowds that thronged around Jesus because of the love and compassion that he exuded, which was magnetically attractive – and in stark contrast to the hypocritical piety of the religious leaders, who seemed to think they knew the bible better than Jesus did!
So no, neither I nor anyone else are seeking to ban the Lord’s Prayer. I am however seeking a ban on any religious practice that is focused on an individual with a predetermined outcome that tells them that they cannot be anything other than heterosexual or cis-gendered. This includes any prayer that causes someone to suppress or hide who they intrinsically are and more often than not causes them to feel deeply ashamed about who God has made them to be. In contrast, I welcome and encourage any prayer or spiritual guidance that creates a safe space for people to explore who they are and come to a point of peace about how they have been created. How they then chose to live out their life, in the knowledge of this truth, is quite another story – and one that Jesus promises to accompany us on so that we have fulness of life.
So please join me in praying that God will open the eyes of all those who have been the cause of so much trauma and pain to so many LGBT+ people over the years – that they will be humble enough to recognise the harm that they have done and courageous enough to admit it and apologise for it.
This article was originally written as a Right of Reply to an article about Jayne by Julian Mann for Christian Today