by Jayne Ozanne, Editor Director of ViaMedia.News, Member of General Synod and Chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition
Last week the campaign to ban conversion therapy was given a significant boost by a letter to the Secretary of State from hundreds of Christian leaders stating clearly that they believed their “Christian duty” was to continue to conduct harmful conversion practices.
It was just the proof needed to show a sceptical public that the modern-day threat of conversion practices is real and that, even more worryingly, there is absolutely no recognition or remorse for the harm that they have caused countless LGBT+ people.
If ever the government needed evidence of why they must urgently introduce legislation to protect LGBT+ people, they now have it in spades. It seems that no amount of reasoned argument, academic or medical opinion, research evidence or the harrowing testimonies of survivors has caused them to stop and reflect on the damage that they’ve done and continue to do.
Concerns had already been raised by politicians following two evidence sessions, one in Edinburgh and the other in Westminster, both involving senior figures from the Evangelical Alliance. Indeed, one Scottish Labour politician, Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP commented on Twitter after hearing evidence at the Scottish Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee: “I honestly could hardly believe my ears this morning. I am more convinced than ever* that we need to end all conversion practises, and fast. (*My views that it should end were already very strongly held).”
Interestingly, in their letter to the Secretary of State, the Christian Leaders, the vast majority of whom are evangelical, made three claims which need public and firm rebuttal:
Firstly, they boldly claim that they “act in love” and “never with any coercion or control”. Have they learnt nothing from the sexual abuse scandals that have riddled their evangelical churches? Have they not seen the level of coercion and control that exists in their communities?! It is something that the rest of the world can and does see, that is now well evidenced in various research reports, but it is fascinating and telling that they seem to be so determined not to acknowledge it.
Secondly, they use the term “orthodox” as if it were a brand label that they alone can claim. Not only is this arrogant, as it fails to recognise the millions of faithful Christians around the world who disagree with them, but it is also wrong. True Christian orthodoxy is that which proclaims a gospel of God’s unconditional love for all. Period. No exceptions, no caveats, no exclusive clubs. It is never about what we do or who we are, but everything about what Christ has done and who He is!
Thirdly, it is ludicrous to suggest that a Christian’s ability “to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ and calling people to find life in him” will be impacted by this legislation. The only practices that are to be banned are those that seek to change, ‘cure’ or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. To claim otherwise is to bear false witness and to prey on people’s fears.
Perhaps I should not be surprised by their imperviousness to the truth about the harm they cause, nor their defiance in saying they will continue “to do their duty to God” at the risk of being criminalised. Jesus encountered exactly the same spirit amongst the religious leaders of His day. Indeed, He had a lot to say to them about this type of person – most notably in Matthew 23:
“They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
before then going on to say:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
Harsh words yes; but I genuinely believe they are true. This is indeed, in my mind, a Gospel issue. This self-dramatising and intransigent attitude cripples and hampers the sharing of the Gospel – both amongst LGBT+ people, who have so often been rejected and hurt by the Church, as well as amongst a nation who want nothing to do with a religion that they see as hypocritical and unloving in the extreme.
You see just because you say a prayer in a quiet and religious voice does not mean it is loving. Nor does rebranding a harmful practice as “prayer” make it any the less harmful.
It is precisely because these Christian leaders think that what they do is both loving and acceptable that we need this legislation in the first place. A truly loving approach would be to listen with an open heart to the cries of those who they have harmed, and to ask for their forgiveness.
Hardheartedness is one of the many traits that made Jesus very angry, and it is what he claimed made them unable to see the truth about the various pastoral situations that he himself was constantly speaking in to.
Now the opposite of hardheartedness is, I believe, humility. It is a spirit that requires an openness both to what the Holy Spirit is saying and to admitting that we might have got things wrong. It is this humility that has led the Church to recognise and repent of the sins of racism, or of poor stewardship of the earth, or of our treatment of women and now, I believe, of its false teachings about those of us who reflect the diversity of God’s creation in our sexuality and gender identity.
So, as we draw towards the end of the year and move into a time of celebration for the Gift of the Christ child who dwelt in flesh amongst us, I prayer that the eyes of these evangelical leaders’ hearts might be opened and that the Holy Spirit will call them to repent for the damage that they do and the danger that they pose to LGBT+ people, who are created and loved by that very same God, of that very same flesh.