The Evangelical Alliance, which represents 3,500 churches across the UK, has urged Boris Johnson to back away from plans to ban conversion therapy.
The Christian group has written to prime minster to express its concern at plans to ban conversion therapy, claiming legislation would stop evangelical Christians from “seeking and receiving support to live chaste lives”.
The organisation said it recognises that the church has perpetuated “stigma, discrimination and harm towards people because of their sexuality” and acknowledged that some forms of conversion therapy, such as electro-shock treatment and corrective rape, are wrong.
It said such practices should already be illegal, and that it will “welcome efforts to clarify or strengthen the law” around some of the most extreme forms of conversion therapy.
However, the Evangelical Alliance hit out at campaigners advocating for a full ban on conversion therapy, saying many are arguing for “an expansive definition that would be highly problematic”.
“Proposals, as currently discussed, could have the consequence of restricting individual freedom and impinging on essential religious liberty – potentially criminalising Christians and common church activities,” the Evangelical Alliance claimed.
The group continued: “It is vital in our society that individuals have significant freedom to explore and decide for themselves how their identity and practices relate to their sexuality. As a consequence, we oppose coercive practices that try to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity against their will.”
But the Evangelical Alliance said it also wants to “defend people’s freedom to choose how they respond to their sexual orientation”.
“For evangelical Christians, the teaching of the Bible is clear that sexual activity is restricted to monogamous marriage between one man and one woman. For Christians who hold to this biblical teaching, it is essential that those who experience same sex attraction are free to pursue and receive support to help them live in accordance with their beliefs.”
The group told Johnson it was concerned legislation would stop LGBT+ people from “seeking and receiving support to live chaste lives”.
In its letter, the Evangelical Alliance went on to describe trans people as “those who present with distress or confusion around gender identity”. It referenced the Bell v Tavistock High Court ruling restricting access to puberty blockers, and claimed that the tiny number of people who subsequently detransition means all trans people should be free to access conversion therapy.
Finally, the Evangelical Alliance claimed that a conversion therapy ban will jeopardise religious freedom.
“This will threaten the everyday practices of churches, church leaders, and Christians across the UK,” the group said.
“An expansive definition of conversion therapy, and a ban along such lines, would place church leaders at risk of prosecution when they preach on biblical texts relating to marriage and sexuality. It would place ministry leaders at risk of arrest for encouraging young people to maintain chastity until marriage,” the Evangelical Alliance said.
Evangelical Alliance is ‘deaf to the cries’ of LGBT+ people
Gay evangelical Jayne Ozanne shared the Evangelical Association’s letter on Twitter, writing: “Here’s clear proof that those who wish to continue the practice of conversion therapy wish to do so with impunity, deaf to the cries of the multitude of people they have harmed.”
She continued: “Freedom of religious belief is only freedom up until the point that it does no harm. There are many evangelicals who take a different view to that set out by the Evangelical Alliance regarding the need to embrace and celebrate LGBTQIA people rather than condemn to a life of misery and pain.”
Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who is also a gay Christian, said the Evangelical Alliance’s letter is “deeply saddening and concerning”.
“Christ implores us to love God, and love one another. Please can we just do that?”
The Evangelical Alliance’s letter comes just days after equalities minister Liz Truss committed to banning conversion therapy “shortly”, after the government faced backlash when Kemi Badenoch refused to use the word ban in a parliamentary debate.
Conversion therapy has been condemned by most major health and psychiatric bodies across the world. A 2019 survey from the Ozanne Foundation found that one in five survivors of the harmful practice later attempted suicide, while two in five had suicidal thoughts.