You may be aware of current controversies around the issue of so-called ‘conversion therapy’. But you may be wondering what it’s all about and whether we need to worry about it as Christians and/or medics.
This is a debate that, like so many current issues, has become extremely emotive and polarised. The whole issue is especially complicated because there is no clear definition of ‘conversion therapy’ and yet there is a very loud voice crying for a legal ban on all ‘conversion therapy.
Those calling for a complete ban often cite distressing stories of those who have undergone (often many years ago) horrific practices such as chemical castration, electric shock therapy, corrective rape and forced marriage in order to ‘cure’ them of homosexuality. There is no question that this kind of practice is abhorrent and is already illegal. However, those calling for a ban frequently include alongside these practices such things as prayer, counselling and pastoral conversations.
The website Ban Conversion Therapy states: ‘Conversion therapy includes medical, psychiatric, psychological, religious, cultural or any other interventions that seek to erase, repress or change the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of a person.’
I attended a webinar this week where it was stated that the nature of conversion therapy has changed over time – it used to be mostly aimed at gay men but now is mostly centred on transgender people.
There are therefore huge concerns amongst many in the medical/therapeutic world as well as the Christian community that those struggling with same-sex attraction and/or gender identity issues would not be able to access the help and support that they need if this legislation is passed.
It was reported in The Telegraph last Sunday that the proposed ban on conversion therapy could criminalise Christian parents who do not affirm their child’s gender identity but seek to help them become comfortable with their biological sex. It would also criminalise health professionals who do the same based on their understanding of the current lack of evidence of the benefits of treatment with puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones and the knowledge that most children with gender dysphoria will in fact become comfortable with their biological sex over time.
Already in the states of Victoria and Queensland in Australia, anything other than complete affirmation of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal and this is what is being pushed for in the UK.
Ed Shaw, in this excellent article, articulates that ‘there is a real danger that badly worded legislation could stop a same-sex attracted gay man like me from accessing professional counselling, pastoral care, support groups, biblical teaching and prayer as I seek to live out my sexuality in the light of my Christian convictions. Just as failing to ban coercive attempts would be harmful, so would banning access to these forms of support that are important for people like me.’
Andrew Bunt in his recent Living Out article describes how the proposed legislation would ‘risk further harm to and discrimination against gender diverse people’. He states that ‘such a ban would leave many Christians and churches so fearful of transgressing the law that they would feel unable to engage with gender diverse people.’
This would be a tragedy because as Christians, and especially as Christian medics, we have a unique message for the vulnerable and those suffering. A message of love and acceptance for an individual as a person created by God rather than the world’s unquestioning affirmation of a gender identity or sexual orientation.
We would of course support a targeted ban on abusive and coercive practices but need to speak out against this dangerously broad legislation which could outlaw many means of helping and engaging with those struggling in these areas.
One way to speak out is to sign this petition or to write to your MP regarding your concerns.
We must continue to pray for those involved in the proposed legislation and for all those involved in supporting and caring for those struggling with issues of sexuality and gender identity.
Julie Maxwell is a part-time Community Paediatrician and who also works for Lovewise, a Christian charity that provides relationships and sex education from a Christian perspective