Church leaders have written to the Prime Minister to express their “considerable concern” after a double U-turn by the government this week on banning conversion therapy.
The government said it would be dropping the ban altogether and instead review how existing law could be used to prevent abusive practices. But just hours later, it backtracked under pressure from LGBT campaigners.
In a clarification, the government said it would be bringing in a ban on conversion therapy for gay and bisexual people but not transgender people.
Writing to Boris Johnson, nine church leaders have called on the government to reconsider its decision to push ahead with an LGB ban.
They welcomed the decision to exclude trans issues but raised concerns about the impact on the religious freedom of Christians and church pastors.
“[It] remains the case that a poorly-drafted ‘LGB only’ conversion therapy law could still criminalise mainstream Christian teaching and ministry, by making it illegal for us to teach people and help people of every age to live according to the Christian understanding of marriage,” the letter reads.
The church leaders ask for “urgent clarification” on whether the government intends to make it illegal to teach and pastor people according to the Christian view of marriage.
They say that it would be “exactly the right approach” to use existing law to hold abusers to account rather than bring in a ban “since coercive and abusive practices are already well covered in UK law”.
“We have no interest in defending any kind of disreputable practices which purport to ‘cure’ homosexual or transgender feelings,” they write.
“Our concern with the proposed legislation was that it would have made it a criminal offence to teach the historic, orthodox Christian understanding of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and to help people of every age to live according to it.”
The letter has been signed by Rev Ray Brown, Rev Dave Gobbett, Rev Clare Hendry, Dr Julie Maxwell, Rev Graham Nicholls, Rev Dr Ian Paul, Rev Thomas Penman, Rev Dr Matthew Roberts, and Rev Santhosh Thomas.
It follows an earlier letter to equalities minister Liz Truss in which they said they were prepared to risk going to prison in the performance of their duties.
“We have no desire to become criminals, and place a high value on submitting to and supporting our government,” they wrote last December.
“Yet we think it important you are aware that if it were to come about that the loving, compassionate exercise of orthodox Christian ministry, including the teaching of the Christian understanding of sex and marriage, is effectively made a criminal offence, we would with deep sadness continue to do our duty to God in this matter.”
The letter has been signed by over 7,000 people, including 2,500 ministers and pastoral workers.