Added Information on the Conversion Practices Bill

New information has come to light since I wrote ‘A Day of Reckoning: Victorian Government pushes to ban Christian practices with threat of 10 years in prison’. Unfortunately, none of it alleviates initial concerns with the Victorian Government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020

First, let me reiterate the astounding step this Victorian Government is taking: a Bill before the Parliament will ban praying.

It is not a prohibition on all prayer but prayers with people that include a Christian view of humanity sexuality.

Also, this extraordinary measure: while it is understandable and agreeable that a Bill might seek to ban non consensual activity, this Bill forbids consensual prayers and conversations in which the Bible’s sexual ethic is explained and encouraged.

The explanatory memorandum states,

“These examples are illustrative only and do not narrow the definition in subclause (1) which is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including, informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity”.

As I noted last week, there are details in the Bill which are ambiguous. Either this serves to deliberately discourage a breadth of Christian (and religious) engagement with sexual ethics or the Bill has been poorly written. I will let others decide which is the case. For example, does preaching or leading a group Bible study fall foul of this Bill?

Associate Professor Neil Foster has written a second response to this Bill, in which he offer some clarity. He refers to the Attorney General’s speech before the Parliament. Unfortunately, rather than her explanation assuaging concerns, she indicates there may be further prohibitions on religious freedom to come, including on preaching. He explains, 

“While I appreciate that activities such as preaching are not explicitly prohibited, I note the Attorney General’s statement, “….” the conduct must be directed at an individual. This ensures that conduct generally directed— such as sermons expressing a general statement of belief—is not captured. However, such conduct may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

In other words, while preaching a sermon is not currently included in the parameters of this bill, the Attorney General is foreshadowing a time when sermons will come under scrutiny.

The Bible urges followers of Jesus Christ to refrain from sexual relationships outside marriage between a man and a woman. This is described in positive and good ways. It is not suppression, it is liberating. Depending on how ‘suppression’ is used, these normal conversations that take place religious communities may well become anathema. Certainly, the Bill may have the effect of creating fear and pressuring Christians leaders into failing their duty to faithfully explain and encourage the Christian faith.

In other words conversations that include the affirmation of normal and deeply held Christian beliefs and encouragement for Christians to live by these teachings, amounts to illegal activity with a possible prison term of 10 years.

For a Bill to name prayer as illegal under an Act of Parliament is astonishing and it is unwarranted. For a Government to make illegal conversations with a faith leader is extraordinary and significant overreach. When the Victorian Attorney General indicates that “sermons expressing a general statement of belief” may in the future be considered in framing new ant-vilification protections we have entered very dangerous territory. This is the kind of authoritarianism that we find in those oppressive countries. This Bill is Victoria’s Sinicization.

The Government’s one way street to conversion fails to do justice to the complexity of issues. It has assumed a narrow posture toward sex and gender, which neither medical experts or religious communities accept as true. Indeed, neither do many LGBT people accept the Government’s hostile stance.

It is important to note that it is not only religious groups who are concerned at the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 . The Government won’t inform the public, but the fact is, there are people identifying as LGBT who are against this Bill.

The LGB Alliance has expressed significant reservations about the Bill. 

One transgender woman has spoken with me and expressed concerns about the Government’s politicisation and popularisation of the issue.

Men and women who have detransitioned are speaking up and making the point that this Bill will prevent people from seeking out and finding both professional help and pastoral care that they require.

The problem with this Bill is that it is neither based on best science nor on essential democratic principles of freedom of conscience, belief, and practice. Rather depends on the narrow and belligerent worldview that is propagated by vociferous ivory tower scholastics with their minions in popular culture and activists groups.

This week saw the landmark High Court ruling in the United Kingdom. 23 year old Ms Bell won her case against Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, for its dangerous treatment of children who have gender dysphoria.

Ms Bell was prescribed puberty blockers at age 16. As an adult Ms Bell has sued Tavistock, alleging that young people do not have sufficient awareness to make an informed decision to undergo invasive treatments that will have long term effects on their physical and mental state. Three judges ruled in her favour

Notice the clear language quote by the The Times

“under-18s in gender clinics need “far better mental health services to help them to reconcile themselves to their (sex) — not life-changing physical interventions that might alleviate short-term distress at the price of long-term trauma”.

This same view, should it be found in a doctors clinic or in pastoral visitation here in Victoria, could see charges laid followed by a 10 year term of imprisonment. For what? For failing to subscribe to the Government’s narrow and one way street of conversion, rather than offering sensible, caring, patient care toward those in our community who are struggling with their identity. 

The UK ruling is relevant to this conversation because it demonstrates a growing awareness of and concern for those who are treating gender issues according to dogmatic and myopic views. 

Members of Parliament and the Victorian public should note this Bill is a disaster not only for religious groups but also for LGBT Victorians who don’t wish coercion down the ideological path which the current Government is directing. Doctors and psychologists are increasingly concerned about this one way street and the road blocks this Government is laying down will prevents real and necessary conversation and care to be offered.

Far from protecting people this bill will have the unfortunate consequence of threatening many Victorians with legal proceedings to they continue to believe and practice a Christian worldview, it will pressure faith leaders from exercising their pastoral responsibilities, and it will prevent many people in our community who are wrestling with their identity and are looking to faith communities for wisdom and prayer and support.

Where the Government could have made allies with faith communities in Victoria, they have unnecessarily targeted them and pushed them away. They are sadly driving this Bill over other Victorians who deserve love and care, not this coercive piece of legislation. One prays that commonsense will prevail and that the Government will return this Bill to the drawing room and start again. 

5 thoughts on “Added Information on the Conversion Practices Bill

  1. Amen! We are dealing here with the legislative consequences of a legal error based on an empirical mistake that is enshrined in the Marriage Act 2017. Our polity is not going to get out of this mess perpetrated by politically ignorant and foolish Parliamentarians on all sides while there is such political dominance by those adhering to this prevailing ideology. It relentlessly assumes that the path to the future is to subordinate all of life (and not just marriage) to the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013. And so, to now “exclusively” define marriage as a husband-wife relationship, according to Biblical teaching, which the Marriage Act allowed prior to December 2017, is viewed as an implicit violation of human rights, and therefore needs to be “excluded” by legislative means. The Ruddock panel completely failed to address this matter. We are left with ongoing legislative and regulatory endorsement of a jurisprudence that upholds a legal error based upon an empirical mistake that is now held world-wide wherever this crusading neo-liberal ideology has gained dominance.

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  2. “One prays that commonsense will prevail and that the Government will return this Bill to the drawing room and start again.“

    At the moment you can still pray that prayer.

    Some interesting questions: does the Premier believe in God? Does the Premier think that God will listen to certain prayer but not other prayer?
    If not, why is he afraid of prayer?

    What if someone prays silently?
    Will there be a law against *appearing to pray*?

    Will it be an offence for a church to have a public statement of faith that affirms biblical norms of sexuality?

    Surely an institution (or a home) should be able to proclaim its own beliefs within its own walls. If a person chooses to seek advice or counsel within those walls, they should be free to do so. If a person does not seek advice or counsel from a church, they do not have to attend.

    I think my prayer will that they mind their own business and scrap the Bill…….. not that they “go back to the drawing room and start again”.

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    • Alan,
      I think there are more complexities at work than your comment suggests.
      Whether the Premier believes in God is not of consequence to his role in politics. Although it wouldn’t go astray but I don’t think we want to suggest (if you are) that belief in God should be a requisite for the office of Premier.

      I also think you have exaggerated the issue of prayer in Bill.
      In regoard to a church’s statement of faith, I think that is a valid question. At the moment I don’t see a problem but it may well become problematic down the track, which is unfortunately and insane.

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      • I agree with your assessment of my comment. I guess I was trying to be a touch hyperbolic. And no. I was not suggesting that belief in God should be a requisite for the office of Premier but I cannot say it is of no consequences to his politics…. (unless that is different to having no consequences).

        My point re praying silently was merely to highlight the ridiculousness of trying to make any law to control its use. If the Premier does not believe in God, then prayer is a powerless act…. so why make laws against any use of it? If he does believe in God, then he knows that no law can prevail against it.

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  3. Well written Murray.

    I encourage you to look at the legislation of other states too. You might be surprised to know Victoria is late to the party with Canberra and Queensland implementing similar legislation already.

    I do agree that any discussion on sexuality is complex and requires sensitivity. I can’t imagine a conversation, prayer or sermon where a person is told unilaterally told to change or suppress their sexuality. That is unthinking, unconcerning and unloving of that person’s lived experience. What is to be done then? You ask questions, you point to examples of how you live your life and the benefits and joys that brings. A narrow posture to these things only turns people away from the church.

    If someone at a clinic told a heterosexual person they are in fact gay and should change – that’s a problem. If a church told a gay person they are in fact heterosexual – that’s a problem. There is no sense in asserting what someone is or isn’t. Have a conversation – ask them, listen. That’s prayer.

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