There has been a lot of publicity recently about the plans the government has to make “gay conversion” therapy illegal. This would outlaw any attempt to help someone, by whatever means, to lose their same-sex attraction, even if the individual has expressed a desire to so change. How should we respond to this?
Firstly, greater clarity about terminology is required because there is no agreed definition of gay conversion therapy. Are we referring to physical or medical interventions? Or just “talking” therapies? Do we mean claiming to cast out demons? Or praying with someone who wants God to help them change their way of thinking? Without such precision, any law would be a very blunt instrument.
Secondly, is it fair to deny people the right to change their behaviour or attitudes and to prevent them receiving help to do so if they request it? When society and law place such a premium on self-determination in all areas of sexual preference, why is this desire being singled out as different?
But neither of these arguments will gain much traction because we are told that being gay is a fixed characteristic and something to be embraced and of which to be proud. So it follows that a desire to change is an implied slur upon the gay identity, which must be avoided at all costs. Furthermore, when that desire to change is expressed in terms of Christian repentance it becomes religious fanaticism of the most unacceptable kind. This was exemplified in a recent speech by John Bercow in which he said that gay and transgender rights should always trump religious liberty.
Disappointingly, even some church leaders now suggest that praying for someone to be able to give up a gay lifestyle is a form of spiritual abuse. I trust we would all agree that any kind of aggression, coercion, physical violence or shock treatment to try and change someone’s sexual attraction is not biblical and nor should it be legal. Also, although we believe in the power of prayer and the possibility of such change, we would not want to give anyone false hope, because we all suffer a degree of brokenness as part of the fall. But challenging sinful desires is a normal part of Christian discipleship.
We believe that God’s plan for marriage and sex is good. We will attempt to preserve our rights to express our religious convictions about this and to affirm that Christian marriage is beneficial to society. But we also know that the best way to achieve social change is for more people to accept the gospel and come under the lordship of Christ. That is the only real and effective conversion therapy.