The Victorian Government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 made the front page of Sunday’s The Age. Given the issues at stake, it is indeed headline news.
I was interviewed for that article. Yesterday, another piece was published, this time, The Age found two baptist pastors who support the Bill. I’m sure there are a few more out there, but in light of the fact that there are 100s of baptist pastors in Victoria, we are talking about a small number.
Teash Taylor (of St Kilda Baptist) and Simon Carey Holt (of Collins Street Baptist) have the right to say whatever they want. Victoria is a free State, at least it is until the Bill is adopted early next year. The issue is not their freedom to express an opinion. The point is that their views are incorrect and dangerous.
I observe how their quotes are being used to divide the Liberal Party room. Notice the headline, “Liberals tussle over gay conversion laws as religious leaders split”.
Imagine investigating a university campus in order to find which students believe in a flat earth. Say they find 5 students…even 20? Should they conclude that the majority of university students believe the earth is flat? Would it be fair to therefore conclude that this belief is valid and that the academic community are split on the issue?
It is always possible to find contrarian voices on any issue. Quoting supportive Christians voices gives the public a sense of confusion and mixed views within the religious community. On the matter of the Government’s Conversion Bill there will of course be some of this. But let the reader understand, the comments made by Teash Taylor and Simon Carey Holt are not representative of what our churches formally believe and teach. Maybe, they are speaking with the best of intentions, but that doesn’t mean their words are not problematic and damaging.
Let’s look at what the two baptists said.
Conversion Bill will lead to harm
Teash Taylor said that reforms had “the potential to be life saving”.
Everyone knows that those old practices were always marginal and rare. No one today thinks aversion therapy is a good idea. No one supports or practices non consensual pastoral care. So what are we talking about? What is it exactly that’s going to be life saving?
One can only presume that what Taylor has in mind is prayer and pastoral conversations where the Christian point of view is presented and encouraged. After all, these are the kinds of religious activities that do take place today and that the Government is targeting. What an odd position for Taylor to take.
Importantly, there is evidence suggesting that the Government’s Bill will create harm for LGBT persons, not prevent it.
According to the landmark decision made by the UK’s High Court last week, pushing vulnerable children into undertaking hormonal treatment and other invasive practices is a serious threat to their mental and physical wellbeing. The Victorian legislation however will force parents and medical practitioners down that very path.
Take note of the commentary in today’s The Australian,
“Despite a weak evidence base the gender-affirming approach is so dogmatic that it champions the new wave of criminal laws against any therapy deemed to try to “convert” someone’s gender identity, Victoria being the latest with a draft bill. Cruel attempts to force adults to change sexual orientation appear to be mostly a historical footnote. Laws such as Victoria’s could criminalise ethical attempts to help a trans-identifying teenage girl re-embrace her biological sex and find comfort in her body after the trauma of sexual assault. But counselling to assist medicalised gender change for children is exempt from these cookie-cutter bans on conversion therapy. The risk is that some minors struggling with non-gender issues will seize on trans identity as a solution, will be uncritically “affirmed” by teachers or counsellors at school, and will be put on the path to needless medication.”
Another outcome from this Bill that will cause harm is an increased reluctance among Churches and Christians to give the reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ. After all, no one wants to be imprisoned, fined, or sentenced to a reeducation camp as though we’re living in Xinjiang Province. But of course this is the goal. Both Premier Andrews and Attorney General Jill Hennessy have admitted such,
“The Bill denounces such practices as deceptive and harmful, reinforces that the ideology behind these practices is flawed and wrong.”
“These views won’t be tolerated in Victoria and neither will these abhorrent practices.”
Churches remain a beacon of light and hope in a city where there is so much darkness. This Bill will have disastrous consequences for our communities who are searching for answers and looking for hope. Will Churches and Christians now refuse to pray with people, even when invited to do so? Will pastors decline from teaching the whole counsel of God in fear that someone will find offence? Remember, offence is sufficient cause to have you dragged before a civil tribunal and for authorities to force you to attend classes instructing you that what Christians have always believed is a lie and cannot be tolerated.
This Bill creates an environment of fear and bullying. Instead of ideas being shared and discussed, and people being persuaded, this a Government attempting to control religious belief.
Despite recent comments by our political leaders, it remains the case that the Christian message is good news. It is wonderful and extraordinary news for people who believed they can never approach God and that hope can never be theirs. Jesus says to believe his message is to find eternal life.
At the same time, the same Christian message always causes offence to some. As the Scriptures say,
“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:16-17)
If freedom is taken from Christians to speak, engage and pray in favour of the Christian vision for human life and flourishing, we can only expect serious consequences for the health and life of our fellow Victorians.
All this is unnecessary, had the Government acted reasonably and fairly. The Government acknowledged in 2019 that there are narrow definitions of conversion practice, which focus on those few and rare practices that once existed in marginal religious groups. That would have had validity and probable support amongst Christians universally. However, this Government deliberately settled on parameters that are broad and vague. Indeed, they have already declared that they are open to extending these parameters. For example, while sermons are not currently included in the prohibitions, the AG has said in the Parliament that they may be included at a later stage under new “anti-vilification protections”.
The Baptist supporting imprisonment of fellow Baptists
Let’s turn to Simon Carey Holt from Collins St Baptist. He said,
“This seems to me to demonstrate an extraordinary lack of self awareness” .
“While it is true that many churches have never sanctioned the more extreme practices of aversion or shock therapy, their consistent messaging that those people of a homosexual orientation are broken and must suppress, deny and repent of their sexuality has been far more consistently damaging and over such a long period of time for so many of its own people.”
What Simon means to say is that he doesn’t believe what the Bible teaches about human sexuality, marriage, and life. He disagrees with Jesus in Matthew 19 and with the Apostle Paul in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 5. Simon belongs to those progressive voices who are better informed than the authors of Scripture.
Simon Carey Holt does not speak for the Baptist Denomination. Nor do I for that matter. However, I happen to believe, for example, the Baptist definition of marriage. This baptist understanding of human sexuality and relationships is in line with what Christians have held across the world for thousands of years. Simon dissents from this and instead follows the view that is currently popular in our culture.
The gall isn’t only in the fact that these pastors reject Christian doctrine around these anthropological questions. It is that they support a Bill that will imprison Christians for doing nothing more than upholding Christian teaching and practice.
For religious leaders to support this Bill is beyond reprehensible. Our Roman Catholic friends and Eastern Orthodox friends are behaving in a more baptist manner on this issue! It is one thing for politicians to pursue a course of action. As Jesus might say, “they don’t know what they’re doing”. However, for Church leaders to do so, even if it is only a few, is an attack on the body of Christ.
Particularly for Baptists who have a long tradition of upholding the separation of Church and State, for these Baptists to applaud Government intrusion into the prayer life of churches is a slap in the face of the Baptist community. Again, we are not talking about those archaic and awful practices once employed in a psychologists clinic that seeped into a few religious groups, we are speaking about praying and conversation.
The greater problem isn’t even these two outspoken baptists; it is years of Christian Denominations lacking courage to stand for Christian truth and to refute bad theology when it arises. Years of inaction and faux-peace-making has created this scenario. It is as though everyone has forgotten Thyatira.
Will the Andrews Government vision for our churches finally stir denominations into life? Or perhaps it will merely consolidate their dying breath. The best thing Churches can do is continue to lovingly, winsomely, and faithfully present and live out this good news from God.
Daniel Andrews doesn’t define what is good anymore than Simon Holt or Murray Campbell. Sexual norms and gender theory is constantly changing, The lines of orthodoxy are redefined almost every year. Even gays and lesbians are finding themselves publicly cancelled and vilified because they do not support the latest version of ‘my truth’. Amidst these shifting shadows is a piercing light that does not change and that continues to promise “life to the full”. Not life without difficulty or confusion, but a contentment and peace and clarity like no other. This message is worth holding onto. .