Prime Minister Boris Johnson has assured churches worried about a ban on conversion therapy that they will still be allowed to pray for people who approach them for help or advice about their sexuality.
Evangelical churches have been concerned that the conversion therapy ban being considered by the Government will lead to pastors and churches falling foul of the law if they offer spiritual counselling or prayer to someone struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.
The Evangelical Alliance challenged the proposals in a recent letter in which it warned that any legislation could end up “restricting individual freedom and impinging on essential religious liberty – potentially criminalising Christians and common church activities”.
“The problem is that some of those arguing and campaigning and lobbying for the ban have also included discipleship, preaching and teaching and praying for other people, and that is where the issue comes because we have no clear definition,” said UK Director Peter Lynas, who penned the letter.
“When one person says they want to ban conversion therapy, if they mean extreme and abusive practices then absolutely. If they mean praying for somebody else, we would have real concerns about that.”
In response to the concerns, Johnson has told the EA that he takes “freedom of speech and freedom of religion very seriously”, and promised that adults will still be able to receive “appropriate pastoral support including prayer” in religious settings in the “exploration of their sexual orientation”, the Daily Mail reports.
Mike Davidson, of the Core Issues Trust, which helps people with unwanted same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria, has previously voiced concerns about the erosion of religious freedom if conversion therapy is banned.
“Are we really saying that a man who is married and finds himself attracted to the same sex but wants to save his marriage and protect his children is going to be forbidden from receiving help? And what about those who tell us that their feelings for the same sex arose after being sexually abused and they want help with that? Are we honestly saying that they cannot receive that help? Because if we are, that is inhumane. A ban will ride roughshod over a minority identity,” he told Christian Today.
He added, “To be frank, if it’s us now, it will be the pastors next. If the counsellors and the therapists are forbidden from doing this work, I doubt very much whether the churches will escape.”
Earlier this month, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer apologised for visiting Jesus House church in north London because of its conservative views on marriage and sexuality.
He was visiting a pop-up vaccine clinic at the church when he came under pressure from LGBT+ members of the Labour Party.
Sir Keir responded by removing a video from Twitter in which he had praised the church, and then called the visit a “mistake”.