A Confusion of Categories
Conversion is a core and central part of many Christians’ experience of God, and is a theological concept of considerable importance. While this is particularly prominent in Protestant and Evangelical traditions, it is present in all streams of Christian thought, describing the essential turn from the self and one’s own desires to God and his commands and love which is inherent in Christian faith. Calling people to Conversion to Christ is a central part of the calling of Christian ministers.
We therefore view the use of the title ‘Conversion Therapy’ as the definition of what is to be banned as both bizarre and troubling. Conversion, being a work of God, cannot be brought about by any kind of therapy. The phrase ‘Conversion Therapy’ seems to carry the implication that Christians are particularly associated with the disreputable, cruel and thoroughly unchristian practices of some quack therapies in the past. For some, at least, who are calling for a ban, this implication seems deliberate.
The consultation itself provides an example of this. Question I ‘about respondents’ experiences of conversion therapy’ reads:
“A wide range of acts can be committed in the name of conversion therapy. This includes anything from acts of physical violence e.g. assault and rape, to talking interventions and therapies.”
We suggest that a category which includes both a parent gently encouraging a son or daughter to accept and like the body he or she was born with, and also the monstrous crime of rape, is not a category with any conceivable usefulness. Moreover, the use of this category in legislation seems to make it all but inevitable that loving parents, pastors and others will be seen as being guilty of something horrific.
If there is firm evidence of a real and current problem with coercive and abusive therapies, not covered by existing law, we have no problem with legislating against them. But we see no reason at all why the Christian concept of ‘conversion’ should be associated with them. Doing so can only fuel confusion and increase the likelihood that the law will be misused against Christian ministers and churches merely doing their normal work. If this is not the intention, there is every reason not to use the word ‘conversion’ in any legislation, and we urge and request that this should be the case. Far clearer and more accurate, and less open to misunderstanding and misuse, would be to call the things the government wishes to ban ‘coercive therapies’ or ‘abusive therapies.’