ACT and QLD ‘conversion therapy’ laws pave the way for Christian persecution in Australia.
In the last month, two Australian jurisdictions (Queensland and the ACT) have passed laws which are a serious threat to the Christian faith. While these laws may not seem dangerous at first glance, they have serious implications for religious freedom.
In mid-August, Queensland became the first Australian state to ban ‘gay conversion therapy.’ Health professionals in Queensland who are found guilty of trying to suppress or change a patient’s gender identity or sexual orientation through any form of therapy face penalties of up to 18 months’ imprisonment.
By the end of August, the ACT did the same, making it an offence to perform a “conversion practice” on a “protected person” (including children), irrespective of whether or not the person, a parent or guardian gives consent. Despite a last-minute clarification by the government that “a mere expression of a religious tenet or belief” would not be banned, more stringent amendments to specifically protect parents, teachers and counsellors as well as amendments to protect churches and faith-based schools were not passed.
Legal analysis of the ACT laws by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) reveals that:
• A parent counselling his or her male 5-year-old child that he is a boy, when he wants to be a girl, could be subject to criminal proceedings.
• A faith-based school that teaches there are two genders could end up before the Human Rights Commission.
• A pastor who teaches a Biblical view of sexuality could face the same fate.
You can find a link to a full legal analysis of both the QLD and ACT laws in the footnotes.
ACL Managing Director Martyn Iles has labelled the laws “utterly diabolical,” calling them “the most serious thing I have observed in my lifetime from a legislative standpoint.” Professor John Whitehall, from the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia, called the ACT’s laws “the most coercive intrusion in the Western World into the management of gender confusion in children.”
It is true that same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria have been treated in bizarre and harmful ways in the past. Electric shock therapy and aversion therapy, for instance, are forms of treatment now universally rejected and, one would sincerely hope, no longer in use.
But let’s be honest, these new laws aren’t really about those practices. LGBTI advocates are actually upset by the fact that Queensland’s laws were amended to apply only to “health professionals.” They wanted the laws to include “informal settings outside of healthcare… like in religious groups or pastoral care.” If you were ever in any doubt that LGBTI issues are being used to drive a wedge against faithful Bible-believing churches you now have concrete proof.
Listen to what WA Greens politician Alison Xamon had to say in WA’s Legislative Council last month:
“Unfortunately, although Queensland became the first state to pass laws banning gay conversion therapy, its legislation remains inadequate. It has been widely criticised for targeting only official health and mental health providers, which sort of defeats the purpose because it leaves out religious organisations. Effectively, that misses the point… ex-gay and ex-trans ideology, counselling and pastoral activities are still being promoted in the messages and teachings of many churches, mosques and synagogues through print and digital media, and through some Christian radio programs.”
That should send chills down your spine. Queensland’s legislation “defeats the purpose” and “misses the point” because “it leaves out religious organisations.” LGBTI advocates have praised the ACT’s laws as a “vast improvement” because that legislation “covers religious and informal settings.”
Contrary to Alison Xamon’s later assertions in her speech, Christians do not try to “pray away the gay.” That caricature overlooks the fact that most Christians deal with issues of sexual attraction and gender identity sensitively and with love, while at the same time maintaining Biblical truths about male/female identity and the place of sexual relationships exclusively within heterosexual marriage. It would probably shock her to learn that there are groups like ‘Living Out’ which consist of Christians who experience same-sex attraction and yet embrace the Bible’s teachings and are willing to live a life of self-denial in that area.
The biggest threat with ‘conversion therapy’ laws is their potential to stop the church from teaching a Biblical view on sexual identity and sexual relationships as explained in passages such as Genesis 1 and Romans 1. If you think about it, it’s a clever ploy by Satan. The average non-Christian Australian considers most Christian teachings irrelevant. People don’t even get upset about Christ’s teachings against divorce, despite the practice being widespread in contemporary culture.
But with sexual orientation and gender identity issues, Satan is driving a clever wedge into the church. By framing sexual orientation and gender identity as fundamental human rights akin to previously hard-won rights associated with race, sex and disability, churches which maintain Biblical sexual ethics are by default being positioned as harmful, unsafe and discriminatory presences in society. Satan boxes churches (and their affiliated organisations) into a corner: maintain their teaching on sexual ethics and face financial and legal persecution, or capitulate and face deformation as eventually all scriptural teaching is up for debate, causing the church to become indistinguishable from the world around it and impotent in its ability to live a holy life before God.
It’s an old trick, the same strategy Satan used in the Old Testament against Daniel. When the governors and satraps tried to find a charge or fault against Daniel they realised, “We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God” (Daniel 6:5). As a result, they drew up laws to make Daniel’s religious obedience to God a political crime incompatible with the laws of the Medes and Persians. Similar tactics were used against the apostle Paul in Acts 17, where the Jews used Paul’s belief in the kingship of Christ to bring a political charge of disloyalty to Caesar.
This strategy is clever because it works. In one of his latest ‘Truth of It’ videos, ACL Managing Director Martyn Iles analyses several high-profile Christians apologists, including Joshua Harris, who have very publicly left the faith in recent years. He has found that questions about God’s judgement, as well as assertions that God’s standards on sexual and gender ethics are unfair, form a common thread in their ‘deconversion’ stories. Through these attacks, Satan sows doubt about the very nature of God Himself. Is God harmful? Unjust? Unfair? Unsafe?
A second threat from these laws is that they prevent people from seeking Christian counsel. It makes no difference whether the ‘conversion therapy’ (be that prayer, reading of scripture etc) was requested by the person experiencing the issues or not, it is illegal anyway. In doing so the laws prevent people who may want to learn how to be comfortable with their biological sex or who may want guidance on dealing with unwanted sexual desires from seeking help. In doing so the laws affect the internal operation of the church. This perspective is well argued by ARPA Canada in its policy report on Conversion Therapy.
These laws also attack the provision of faith-based health services. There is no clarity in Queensland about what happens when the provision of religious and health services intersect with each other. It is almost certain that the provision of prayer in a health setting, such as by a doctor at a surgery or hospital, would be banned. “Religious or spiritual interventions” are only allowed by the law in “non-health settings.”
Australia currently faces a sad irony in the area of gender dysphoria. On the one hand, efforts classed as gender ‘conversion’ (by which a person is encouraged to accept and identify with his or her biological sex) are becoming illegal forms of treatment. On the other hand, gender ‘transition’ (invasive medical surgery and/or the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, including for minors) is encouraged, despite increasing evidence that many people regret their gender transition, can become sterile and have no improvement in their mental health outcomes.
Where this will all lead only God knows. This issue and the people it effects, on both sides of the debate, require much prayer. If proposals for similar laws come up in WA and Tasmania, we will certainly need to fight them. Once implemented, there is no doubt that conversion therapy bans will be used as a form of religious persecution. They will be another bullet in the arsenal of legal weapons which can be used against Christian churches, schools and other organisations.
If that occurs, we will take comfort that God is in control. The words of 2 Timothy 3:13-15 are reassuring: “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
Laurence Van der Plas
Association for Reformed Political Action