Have Your Say on the Conversion Therapy Ban
Should a teenager who is a Christian and is also same-sex attracted be able to receive prayer and support to help them live in line with biblical teaching? Should pastors be able to offer the same kind of support to adults who want it without the fear that they might later face criminal charges for those activities? Should those working with trans-identified teens be allowed to help them explore whether there are ways they could become more comfortable in their bodies and thereby avoid life-impacting, experimental interventions? If you answer ‘yes’ to any one of those questions, you should be responding to the Government’s consultation on the upcoming conversion therapy ban.
The recently released consultation is the latest step in an ongoing process as the Government seek to fulfil their commitment to end the practice of conversion therapy. The consultation outlines the Government’s proposals for legislative measures to be brought before the Commons next year. Throughout the process, the Government have stated that their intention is to ban coercive and abusive practices while safeguarding access to spiritual and other forms of support. This intention is reiterated in the proposals, but unfortunately it is far from clear that the legislation being proposed would achieve these aims.
The Proposals and Problems
The Government are proposing to create a new criminal offence for ‘talking conversion therapies’. Such activities would be illegal if practised on under-18s and only legal for over-18s if the individual concerned has freely consented after being fully informed of any potential risks. Ambiguities and weaknesses in these proposals mean they could introduce further discrimination for LGBTQ+ people and Christians could face criminal charges for activities that are a normal part of church and Christian life. Consider a few scenarios.
A 15-year-old Christian comes out to their church youth leader as gay. They believe in the historic Christian sexual ethic taught in the Bible and request prayer and support to live that out. The youth leader helps the young person to explore the Bible’s teaching and walks alongside them as they wrestle with what Christian faithfulness looks like for them. This includes sharing with them ideas of things to read and praying that God would help them not to act on their same-sex desires.
Under the Government’s current proposals, this could well be illegal. This 15-year-old would be denied the opportunity to receive the sort of spiritual support they want. They would experience discrimination because of their sexuality and be left alone and isolated while wrestling with their faith and their sexuality. (This could have been me. I’ve told more of my story and how this law would have affected me as a teenager here).
A pastor preaches a sermon on God’s plan for human sexuality. Afterwards, someone who has been attending the church for a few months shares with the pastor that they are gay and that the sermon has challenged and helped them. The pair talk a little further and the pastor offers to pray for the individual. The individual says they would appreciate that, and the pastor prays that the individual would know how much God loves them and prays that God would strengthen them to steward their sexuality in line with biblical teaching. A year later, the individual has moved to a different church and comes to change their beliefs about sexuality. They accuse the pastor of coercing them into agreeing to the prayer and say that the words of the pastor’s prayer have played on their mind ever since, causing them to question who they are, and causing great distress. They report the pastor for an act of talking conversion therapy.
It is plausible that the pastor in this scenario could be charged with a criminal offence under the new law. Once there were one or two cases like this in the media, pastors would become less and less willing to offer spiritual support to same-sex attracted people. LGBTQ+ people would end up being discriminated against and the freedom of pastors and Christians to offer spiritual support would be hampered.
A young teenage girl comes out as trans. They want to start puberty blockers, with the intention of moving onto testosterone and having top surgery as soon as they can. The girl’s parents know that there could be various factors underlying her trans-identification. She went through a traumatic experience a few years before and has already been diagnosed with a couple of mental health problems. They want to help her to explore what might be at the root of her discomfort around her sex and gender in the hope she can find some peace without taking steps that might leave her with many negative side effects, including infertility.
When the parents’ intentions become known, the girl is put under a conversion therapy protection order which instigates safeguards designed to ensure that no one seeks to change her from being trans. If her parents infringe the terms of the protection order, they could face a fine or even imprisonment. Under the criminal and civil measures being proposed, this sort of scenario could happen.
The Government’s stated aim of ending coercive and abusive practices while safeguarding access to spiritual and other forms of support is a good one, but it’s far from clear that their current proposals will do the job.
What you can do
The consultation is our opportunity to raise questions and concerns with the proposals. By responding, we can help the Government to think more carefully about how to achieve their stated aim. We can help them better understand how spiritual support like prayer and pastoring operate and why they are so vital for so many. And we can help them to recognise that their current proposals would have a negative effect on some of the very people they are wanting to protect.
To respond to the consultation, you’ll want to understand a little bit more about the Government’s proposals and the potential problems. The Evangelical Alliance have produced some helpful advice on responding to the consultation. If you want to think in more detail about the way that this legislation would negatively impact trans-identified teens, Transgender Trend have produced some advice for consultation responses specifically focussed around that issue.