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Our pastoral talk on conversion therapy ban is none of Whitehall’s business

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LAST week more than 2,000 church leaders, including many from the Church of England, signed an open letter to Equalities Secretary Liz Truss declaring that they are prepared to be criminalised if the Government goes ahead with a conversion therapy ban.  

The Equalities Office responded by saying: ‘We recognise that for people of faith, the support of their religious leaders and communities can be vital.  

‘The ban will not stop religious leaders from offering their support on issues around sexual orientation and transgender identity. It will only cover those who seek to change a person to be something they are not, rather than offering impartial support. The freedom to express the teachings of any religion will not be affected by the ban.’  

My response to this, as chief executive of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre, is that Henry Ford said that a customer could have a car in any colour so long as it was black. This Government equalities spokesperson took a similar approach while trying to reassure church leaders about a conversion therapy ban.   

Yes, it is nice to see it acknowledged that for people of faith ‘the support of their religious leaders and communities can be vital’. But when it is qualified by a statement like ‘the ban will only cover those who seek to change a person to be something they are not’, we are left with no meaningful reassurances at all.   

Who gets to define the real identity of the person seeking counselling or support? Does the five-year-old male who claims to be a girl immediately become one? Is a 13-year-old female’s self-identification as ‘puzzlegender’ (someone who feels their gender needs to be pieced together like a puzzle) a sacred statement that may not be challenged within pastoral support or therapy?   

‘Gender identity’ by definition is divorced from the observable reality of sex. There is no way to test whether someone ‘is’ trans, because gender identity belongs solely to the realm of ideas. A ban that enshrines gender identity as who someone objectively is, rather than how they wish to be treated, is all ideology.   

Being ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ also has no objective test, apart from in describing a person’s behaviour at a moment in time. ‘Born gay’ too is ideology divorced from reality. There is no genetic test to prove a person’s sexuality.   

Since sexual attraction is well known to be fluid over time, how can we possibly judge whether a pastor was helping a straight person discover their straightness or ‘seeking to change a person to be something they are not’?  

If a man lives a celibate life in line with his faith for 20 years after some support, but in mid-life embraces a gay identity, was that pastor committing conversion therapy? Will the pastor then be declared innocent if the man later goes back to a chaste lifestyle?   

If a Christian man with a wife and children starts to experience desires for sexual activities that cannot be fulfilled within his marriage, is he allowed to self-identify as ‘straight’ and receive affirmative pastoral support to help him remain faithful to his vows and keep the family together?  

Would someone who identifies as ex-gay or a gender detransitioner be able to bring a claim of conversion therapy against NHS counsellors or services that said they should embrace a gay or trans identity?   

The only objective test relating to sexuality and gender is to look at someone’s body and determine that they are in fact male or female. So the only kind of practices that can be demonstrated as ‘seeking to change a person to be something they are not’ are cross-sex hormones and reassignment surgery.   

This conversion therapy ban won’t touch those objectively harmful practices that lead, amongst other things, to a permanent loss of fertility.  

It will only ever be used to target people who believe in traditional, Christian sexual ethics, or who fail to believe in gender ideology.  

That is because all the people who have pressured the Government into this mess of a proposal are vociferously opposed to those views and see it as an opportunity to criminalise their opponents.   

The application of these laws will inevitably be: ‘You can have any therapy you like as long as you embrace a gay or trans identity.’  

But Christians – and nearly all of us – believe in right and wrong. Telling pastors they can give support as long as it reinforces Government-approved ideology strikes at the heart of the moral character of the Church.   

The Church has a strong vision of what it means to flourish in the image of God by following Jesus Christ’s teaching. The Government simply has no business policing pastoral conversations. 

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Andrea Williams
Andrea Williams is the Chief Executive of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre,

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