2,500 Christian leaders ask government to drop ban on ‘merciful’ conversion therapy

Campaigners against LGBT+ conversion therapy attend a picket outside the Cabinet Office and Government Equalities Office on 23rd June 2021 in London, United Kingdom

More than 2,500 Christian ministers and pastoral staff have signed a letter objecting to a UK ban on conversion therapy, describing the horrific practice, often compared to torture, as “kind and merciful”.

Though the government has already added worrying religious exemptions to its proposed conversion therapy ban, the letter’s signatories say this isn’t far enough, and that the ban should be scrapped altogether.

Authored by 11 Christian faith leaders from churches across the country and addressed to minister for women and equalities Liz Truss, it states: “We are grateful to the government for having made clear in the consultation that it does not intend this legislation to impact the normal practice of religion.

“Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned that the legislative approach outlined would do exactly this.”

While conversion therapy has a clear definition – an attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity – the letter’s authors describe the term as “so broad as to be essentially meaningless”.

“Christianity has always held that God created humanity with the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman as a gracious gift to humanity and a central part of his design for human society,” they write.

“To violate that pattern, by sexual activity outside marriage or denial of our created sex, is sin.”

They state that being LGBT+ is “not only morally wrong”, but also has “deep and tragic consequences for individuals, families and society”.

The church leaders and staff claim “it is a central part of our calling to bring Christ’s compassion to a broken world, that we call people to live according to God’s gift and pattern of marriage and offer them pastoral support to help them do so”.

They add that “to urge and assist people to live in this way, far from being harmful, is a kind and merciful act, and of benefit to all”.

The letter continues: “What is plainly and terribly harmful is when anyone, especially the young, believes that their identity is found purely in their feelings and that happiness is to be found in misusing and harming their healthy bodies.

“Yet the proposals would apparently criminalise us for seeking to care for people and seeking to dissuade them from this kind of harm.”

The debunked practice of conversion therapy has been linked to higher risks of depression, suicide attempts, and drug addiction.

The signatories of the letter declare that if the government goes ahead with its conversion therapy ban, they will continue to subject queer people to it anyway.

“We have no desire to become criminals, and place a high value on submitting to and supporting our government,” they add.

“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 received blistering backlash, and a Twitter account with the handle @BigotShamer has even been set up to “name and shame” signatories and help queer people avoid their churches.

One Twitter user wrote: “We’ve been told that conversion therapy doesn’t happen in the UK and that abuse to suppress sexuality or gender identity is already protected against generally.

“The fact that 2,500 ministers have signed this intensely homophobic and transphobic document suggests otherwise.”