Surely we are all against harm and want to listen to the victims? Surely people should not be free to harm other people? But if we take a deeper look and think about this for a moment, the problems become obvious. Does it not all depend on who the victims are? And who defines what harm is?
Having written my last article on the attempt to use the bogeyman of conversion therapy to force evangelical churches to adopt unbiblical doctrines, I did wonder whether the criticism of some – that it was an exaggerated threat and I was overthinking it – had some validity. But then along came Steve Chalke to helpfully clarify what he meant and leave us without any doubt.
“As I say in the short video, we have to make any law change to ban conversion therapy very clear and explicit on all those deadly religious practices such as manipulative ‘prayer’, ‘teaching’ and so called ‘pastoral care’!” he said.
His target is not extremist coercive and abusive practices, but prayer, preaching and pastoral care. He makes the claim, without offering any evidence, that 5 per cent of LGBTQ+ people have been pressured into “accessing these dehumanising services”, the suggestion being therefore prayer, preaching and pastoral care are now “dehumanising”.
If you define as “manipulative” anything that seeks change then it could of course be argued that all prayer, preaching and pastoral care is manipulative. We pray that we would change. We preach for change. And we pastor for change. We want healing, restoration, and wholeness in Christ. We want that for every person – whatever their sexuality, gender or background – because Christ died for the world.
But then Steve went even further.
In his short video, he then makes this alarming claim: “All freedom ends at the point when it causes harm to another person.”
Jayne Ozanne joined in repeating the same mantra on Twitter: “Freedom of religious belief is only a freedom up until the point that it does no harm.”
And a chorus of politicians joined in this well-orchestrated campaign too. For example, Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse wrote: “The Govt must not bend to pressure from the Evangelical Alliance and row back its promise to ban all types of conversation ‘therapy’. This group is working to erase LGBTQ+ identities. This is not right. The voices of the victims must come first [sic].”