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UK News

Evangelical Alliance challenges Government over conversion therapy ban

by Premier Journalist

The Evangelical Alliance has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to express its concern over the Government's plans to eradicate conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy can refer to any attempt to change or suppress one's sexuality or desired gender identity, from the extreme to the pastoral. 

Last week, Mr Johnson said that the Government would be bringing plans forward to ban the therapy "shortly". This came after the resignation of three advisers who have quit over claims the Government is a "hostile environment" for LGBT+ people.

"I think this practice is repulsive and I think it's abhorrent and I'm sorry these advisers have gone, but be in no doubt that we will deal with this issue," Johnson said while in Northern Ireland last week.

"It is technically complex to deal with but we're determined to take further steps to stamp it out."

Equalities secretary Liz Truss has said that the Government will be taking prompt action on the issue. 

"We're very committed to LGBT equality...and will shortly be bringing forward plans to ban conversion therapy, which is an abhorrent practice," she said.

In a lengthy letter to the Prime Minister, Evangelical Alliance UK director, Peter Lynas, said he was "deeply concerned at some of the practices that have been carried out which are categorised as conversion therapy, but also by the Government’s lack of clarity on the issue".

Lynas said the EA recognised the role the church "has sadly played historically in perpetuating stigma, discrimination and harm towards people because of their sexuality" and said the group opposes "abusive practices and the use of electro-shock treatment and corrective rape are clearly wrong and should be ended."

He added: "However, such practices should already be banned or are illegal and as such should be dealt with under existing policies and laws. Where such abusive practices are not illegal, we would welcome efforts to clarify or strengthen the law."

Lynas went on to urge the Government to "exercise caution" in its approach.  

"We note that the Government has committed to end conversion therapy but has failed to offer a definition of it or set out clearly what is meant by this commitment," he explained. "That is why, until this point, the Evangelical Alliance has not engaged publicly in this debate. However, recent high-profile campaigns and debates, including in parliament, have made it clear that many lobbying for change are seeking an expansive definition that would be highly problematic and which we could not support. Proposals, as currently discussed, could have the consequence of restricting individual freedom and impinging on essential religious liberty - potentially criminalising Christians and common church activities. We would encourage the Government to exercise caution." 

Lynas added that proposals to end conversion therapy "must not prevent people from seeking and receiving support to live chaste lives".

"Language that suggests a ban would cover ‘suppressing’ or ‘repressing’ sexuality would be a substantive block on supporting those that do not wish to act on their sexual attraction," he added, noting that "if someone is attracted to people of the same sex, they should be free to pursue support to help them live in a way that they choose".

"For evangelical Christians, the teaching of the Bible is clear that sexual activity is restricted to monogamous marriage between one man and one woman. For Christians who hold to this biblical teaching, it is essential that those who experience same sex attraction are free to pursue and receive support to help them live in accordance with their beliefs." 

The letter adds that the plans to ban conversion therapy "put at risk the individual freedom of people who are attracted to those of the same sex" and would "threaten the everyday practices of churches, church leaders, and Christians across the UK".

"An expansive definition of conversion therapy, and a ban along such lines, would place church leaders at risk of prosecution when they preach on biblical texts relating to marriage and sexuality. It would place ministry leaders at risk of arrest for encouraging young people to maintain chastity until marriage." 

A pressing concern for the EA appears to be the potential for the Government to legislate on prayer.  

Speaking to Premier, Lynas added that there was a "real risk that people praying with one another, people sharing their stories and people teaching the traditional Christian sex ethic could find themselves on the wrong side of the law". 

"That would be really problematic," he added. 

Other Christian leaders have heartily vocalised their support for the Government's plans. 

"Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to repress or erase someone’s LGBT+ identity - with a devastating impact on their mental health," tweeted Steve Chalke. "One in 20 LGBT+ people in the UK are still pressured into accessing these dehumanising ‘services’." 

Christian MP Stephen Doughty called the EA's letter "deeply saddening and concerning".

"Christ implores us to love God, and love one another. Please can we just do that?" he added. 

 

Jayne Ozanne, a member of the General Synod who was one of the advisers to quit over the issue, said that the EA's letter is "clear proof that those who wish to continue the practice of conversion therapy wish to do so with impunity, deaf to the cries of the multitude of people they have harmed".

"The Government has a clear choice - to side with the perpetrators of to protect vulnerable victims," she added. "Freedom of religious belief is only a freedom up until the point that it does no harm." 

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