Victoria is not the only jurisdiction in the world to introduce laws prohibiting conversion practices. While Victoria’s The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act remains the most extreme, both in the breadth of what is banned and in the criminal sanctions that are threatened, other Australian State and several countries have or are in the process of banning elements of Christian practice and belief.
The United Kingdom is introducing legislation to ban so-called conversion practices. More than 2500 pastors have signed a letter to the Government, explaining their position,
“It should not be a criminal offence for us to instruct our children that God made them male and female, in his image, and has reserved sex for the marriage of one man and one woman. Yet this seems to be the likely outcome of the proposed legislation,” they write.
“We therefore very much hope (and pray) that these proposals will be dropped in their current form. We have no desire to become criminals and place a high value on submitting to and supporting our government.
“Yet we think it important you are aware that if it were to come about that the loving, compassionate exercise of orthodox Christian ministry, including the teaching of the Christian understanding of sex and marriage, is effectively made a criminal offence, we would with deep sadness continue to do our duty to God in this matter.”
These are not words of bigotry. These are not malevolent attitudes toward fellow human beings who don’t identify with their biological sex or as heterosexual. These are reasonable convictions accompanied by love of neighbour. Indeed, the views articulated in the letter remain normal and orthodox in Christian churches around the world today (including Melbourne). The classical view of sex and marriage was even broadly held in civil society until just a few short years ago. But of course, the socio-political landscape has changed dramatically and it will continue to do so.
No doubt there are many faithful pastors who haven’t signed the letter. While others are weighing up the right course of action. I cannot of course speak for many who have signed. Among the signatories though are friends of mine. Indeed, some signatories are same-sex attracted. These are men and women who love God and are convinced by God’s good Gospel about his Son.
They are not malicious troublemakers or intolerant social miscreants. These are thoughtful people who are convinced by the teaching of Scripture, the very same Scriptures from which our society gleans the belief that all men and women are equal and that all life has value.
Perhaps I should clarify for those who are reading and are unsure about Christian motives behind objecting to these laws;. Christians seek good laws to govern society. Christians desire good for all citizens, and not just for those who agree with us. But introducing bad legislation for the sake of keeping up with today’s cultural controllers isn’t beneficial for anyone. Where people are mistreated on account of their gender and sexuality, we all call it out. The problem with these laws however isn’t just that they are an affront to religious freedom, but that they will also harm the very people the laws are designed to protect.
I’m sure there are more than a few Church leaders in the United Kingdom who are happily following Demas and have no issue with this Governmental intrusion and oversight. But that kind of fallacious living is myopic in the extreme. For those who choose Christ and care for their congregations by teaching the full counsel of God, Christian ministry will become more difficult in the United Kingdom as it is here in Victoria, Australia. There may be short term pain and trouble (and let’s not pretend, this pain and trouble will impact lives in significant ways), but to those who persist in faithfulness, there is eternal gain.
I am encouraged by the stand these Christian ministers are taking. No doubt, the decision to sign their names wasn’t done lightly. It takes courage to take this kind of public stand, knowing that signing your name may well cause attention and trouble for you and knowing it may indeed lead to accusations and slander, and even criminal charges.
To my brothers and sisters in the United Kingdom, may you be encouraged and strengthened. As Paul writes to Timothy, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”
Governments and societies are important but they are not infallible. Sometimes popular ethics makes huge mistakes. Remember, Jesus found himself on the wrong side of popular opinion and on the wrong side of the courts. The Apostle Paul often found himself on the wrong side of the dominant culture, whether it was Jerusalem or Ephesus or Philadelphia. Christianity has often played this unwanted role in the last 2,000 years of history. It’s just that our cultural moment is unusual. In parts of the world like Australia and the UK we have reaped the rich gains of the Christian message, but we are now slowly turning our backs in pursuit of a life without God.
During one of the many occasions when Paul was imprisoned he wrote a letter to a young Timothy and encouraged him not to give up. Paul didn’t suggest altering the message, he didn’t argue for cultural domination or appropriation, nor did he resort to embittered speech toward those who had him put away. Paul did confront judges and legal counsel when he thought it wise, but he could not betray the God who saved him nor the people around him. After all, he had experienced Divine mercy, he who self-identified as the worst of sinners. How could he not seek good for others too?
From his prison cell, Paul wrote a letter to encourage Timothy. He said to Timothy, join me in being enthralled by what lays in store,
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Let us not give up trusting and obeying God. Let us not give up loving others.