U.K. Evangelical Church Alliance Warns Against Banning Conversion Therapy

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday March 18, 2021

The U.K.'s largest Evangelical body warns that banning conversion therapy is a slippery slope to criminalizing church leaders, BBC News reports.

The Evangelical Alliance, which represents 3,500 churches, says any proposed ban would infringe upon religious freedom. The statement appears to be in response to a bill banning conversion therapy that Equalities Minister Liz Truss, who discussed the issue with Tory MPs (members of parliament) on Tuesday, has said she would soon introduce.

Truss, in a letter to the government, said, "the longer we wait, the weaker the words and intentions sound."

LGBTQ groups in the U.K. have criticized the government for moving too slowly on the issue. Three advisers departed the government's LGBTQ advisory panel for this reason.

Conversion therapy is a psychologically harmful practice specifically aimed at "restoring" an LGBTQ person to heteronormative cisgender standards. There is no proof that conversion therapy works. However, substantial evidence demonstrates that people subjected to the manipulative and abusive practice of conversion therapy are prone to self-harm, self-destructive behaviors, and even suicide.

Religious leaders worldwide have called for an end to the practice, as a result. In practice, conversion therapy has been discredited by the World Health Organization and banned in four countries — Brazil, Ecuador, Germany, and Malta. Meanwhile, conversion therapy is banned in parts of the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Spain. Recently, the now "sodomy free" conservative pundit Milo Yiannapolous announced he would open a conversion therapy facility in Florida, where the court system views bans as infringing upon free speech rights. Elsewhere in the world, bans are almost non-existent.

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has called conversion therapy "absolutely abhorrent," the Evangelical Alliance implored that such a ban would "place church leaders at risk of prosecution."

Peter Lynas, U.K. director of the alliance, continued in the letter, "This will threaten the everyday practices of churches, church leaders, and Christians across the U.K."

"It would place ministry leaders at risk of arrest for encouraging young people to maintain chastity until marriage. And it would criminalize a member of a church who prays with another member when they ask for prayer to resist temptation as they are attracted to someone of the same sex but do not wish to act on it."

On Monday, LGBTQ supporters from eight political parties said the government should introduce and pass the ban.

On another front, the more conservative LGB Alliance — which portends to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people — has praised the government's "careful, evidence-based approach" to the issue.

The LGB Alliance, which has been accused of being transphobic, is concerned that "the current push to ban conversion therapy... is being used as political cover to promote an affirmation-only approach to gender identity."

Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch recently said the government did not "intend to stop" people with a predisposition to being LGBTQ from "seek[ing] spiritual counseling as they explore their sexual orientation." Badenoch echoed Prime Minister Johnson, saying conversion therapy has "no place in a civilized society" while adding that "robust" laws already punish troubling examples that involve violence and sexual assault.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.