August 19, 2020

When it comes to conversion therapy legislation, the devil in the detail

Screen Shot 2020-08-19 at 6.46.13 pm

As reported in Eternity News, conversion therapy bills have either been passed by Australian state and territory governments, or are being brought before parliament.

And as usual, the devil is in the detail. And as usual, it’s the grey areas that are ill-defined where things will go pear-shaped. They always do. And indeed that increasingly seems to be the point of such bills.

It’s a commonly held viewpoint among the vast majority of health professionals and indeed the vast majority of Christian groups that conversion therapy around the issues of gender and sexual identity is damaging and problematic. The evidence is there.

Of course there will be those who counter this evidence, but even the Australian Christian Lobby, so often the whipping boy of many a progressive activist, admits that there has been much hurtful craziness going on. People have been hurt.

But in this age of litigation it’s once again important to realise that the primary target is rarely the primary target.  Or more to the point, the stated primary target is often a cover for a longer term campaign that has bigger fish to fry.

Hence the nervousness about the detail among many Christian groups. And the devil in it.  Devils love getting their thorny little hands and pointy little feet into details.  Just love it.  Intended or unintended consequences, it doesn’t matter, the devils love it.

So we get this statement, which Eternity pointed out, in the bill currently before the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly:

“The measure does not limit the right to have or adopt particular beliefs or to hold particular opinions and does not limit the right to teach religious tenets, but limits the demonstration or manifestation of those beliefs where they are directed at changing sexuality or gender identity, given the evidenced impacts on the rights of others.”

As Eternity notes, this bill paves the way for the ACT’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal to order “cease and desist” and does not limit monetary recompense amounts or compensation.  And as it’s a civil action, then I assume it is clearly not bound by such tight rules around burden of proof.

But note the devil in the detail.

The measure does not limit the right to have or adopt particular beliefs or to hold particular opinions

Phew! Well that’s good to know. For now. You can think what you like. After all wasn’t it the former Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs who lamented how unfortunate it was that one couldn’t control what was said around the nation’s dinner table. Though if news reports coming in from China are to believed, these days you actually can! Triggs is the new Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations these days, so maybe she can have a word with the Chairman Xi.

And then it goes on:

and does not limit the right to teach religious tenets

Well that sounds okay too. It sounds like if we do a Q&A with our young people at church and they request some information around sexuality and identity matters, then we are perfectly within our rights to explain to them the whole counsel of God, and instruct them to be sober-minded in their assessment of these matters.

And we’d want to do that in a way that was deeply conscious of those within the Christian community for whom sexual identity and gender matters are deeply painful.  Hey we could even preach a sermon series on how sex is not the centre of our identity, straight, gay or whatever.

But it’s after this that it gets interesting. Really interesting.

… but limits the demonstration or manifestation of those beliefs where they are directed at changing sexuality or gender identity, given the evidenced impacts on the rights of others.

So in fact if you do that Q&A, even if it’s a general all-comers conversation around these matters, rather than simply a one-to-one counselling session that spills over the edge into a more therapeutic action, then you could well be in trouble. In short, you cannot tell people that change is possible. Ever.

Indeed those championing the recently passed bill in Queensland lamented the softening required by Parliament for it to be passed, as Eternity reports:

According to a LGBTIQ lobby group, the Bill should have captured religious activity. “The vast majority of survivors currently come from conversion practices that are done in informal spaces, like in religious groups or pastoral care,” said Chris Csabs from advocacy group SOGICE Survivors.

If this ACT bill – and others like it across each of the Australian states and territories – passes, we will simply see churches self-censor on sexuality, and at a time when it is the most topical and culturally driven matter in society.

Churches will avoid preaching and teaching on the “hot” passages, or at least never making any application of such passages to their own congregations. I mean with the onus of proof being shifted to the perpetrator to demonstrate they had no intention of conducting conversion therapy, who would bother?

I guess that’s the point.  We can do the hard work of silencing dissenting opinions for them!

It will become too big a risk to openly talk through these matters in a meeting space, even a church building. Indeed even in a closed meeting, such as a study group or youth group, how would you even know that something you taught would end up bringing you before a tribunal?

What if someone who once agreed with your stance, and had talked it through with you looking for advice, suddenly jumped ship? You’d be feeling just a tad nervous about that.

I mean, who wants to spend all that time and energy and money and emotion dealing with something that is increasingly hard to defend, and in which the burden of proof is not high?

Now do I think people can change their predilections around sexual identity and gender identity?  It doesn’t matter what I think, the fact that they do – and often – proves they can! And they can – and do so –  in opposite directions.

There’s enough anecdotal evidence of it. And there’s enough anecdotal evidence that conversion therapy techniques can be harmful. And there’s enough anecdotal evidence that most churches – even the most conservative and orthodox, – wouldn’t touch conversion therapy with a bargepole. Yet the wording of this bill is designed to over-reach into the discipleship life of the church, no question at all.

Do I think that people can change around any other issue; money, greed, forgiveness, love? Of course. Do I think that people who are same sex attracted have to become hetero-sex attracted? Of course not.

That’s not what the gospel call to change is. The gospel call to change is that our identity is not in the things that the world values, and that it is in Christ. It is as he shapes our identity – by calling us to loosen our grip on all of those other identity shaping things – that we become more like him, and all other identity markers lose any idolatrous grip they may have on us.

So my takeaway for pastors as these bills become law – put a “members only” password on your sermons. At least until there’s a test case to see how this all plays out! You can be sure there’ll be some activist trawling your messages to make you the test case, and he or she the cause celebre.

Meawhile, and ironically, this heavy-handed approach to conversion therapy is in direct contrast to the almost cavalier approach taken by governments around the issue of conversion surgery. (though the warning bells are starting to sound and giving legislators cold feet).

I’ve noted before that some of the bravest – and most clarion – voices speaking out against the madness of crowds, are not themselves believers; the likes of Tom Holland, Douglas Murray, and increasingly Dave Rubin.  And once again, on this front at least, it is the lesbian community in Australia that won’t self-censor, as again reported by Eternity:

Another objection (to the bill) was raised by the Coalition of Activist Lesbians (Australia) which submitted: “We are concerned that sexual orientation and gender identity are combined into the same clauses of this Bill. This results in significant tension in the Bill because harsh medical treatments are outlawed for sexual orientation conversion, while extreme surgery and dangerous hormones are condoned and supported for children, in the case of gender identity.

Activist Lesbians are willing to be vilified online and called TERFS because they see the dangers of conversion surgery. As the saying goes, I like the cut of their jib.  Yet they too are destined to fall under the wheels of the devilish details that our legislators seem too dull to comprehend.

Interesting times!








Written by


Written by

Recent Posts

There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

Stay in the know

Receive content updates, new blog articles and upcoming events all to your inbox.