Victoria Bans Conversion Practices Despite Significant Flaws in the Bill

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)

“Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)

What do we do when good is defined as bad? What is a godly reaction to a society that formally deems Christian beliefs as wrong. How can we respond when a Government makes illegal practices that have been part of Christian religion since the beginning of the Church and have their foundation in the teaching and example of Jesus Christ? 

To be very clear, I am not talking about aversion practices and nonconsensual activity that stems from pseudo-science and bad theology. Church leaders including myself have repeatedly spoken against such things and believe they have no place in our churches. I am talking about prayer and conversation. What happens when people of faith are prohibited by law from praying and speaking in line with our Christian beliefs, even when people come to us for help and ask? If someone is offended, I can be reported to VCAT. If someone alleges ‘harm’, the criminal charges can be laid.

The Victorian Parliament last night adopted the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020. None of the reasonable amendments offered by different Legislative Council members were accepted. I believe there will now be a 12 month implementation period before the Acts come into law.

Amongst other things, the Conversion Practices Bill criminalises prayer and conversation where one person aims to persuade another that pursuing certain sexual activity or change is not the best course of action. A prayer for sexual abstinence can be considered ‘suppression’ and therefore illegal. Sermons are not targeted in this Bill, although the recently resigned Attorney General, Jill Hennessy, explained in the Parliament that sermons may be included at a later date. 

Under this Act, if Jesus shared his views with an individual or prayed with someone who came to him because they were struggling with their sexual or gender identity, Jesus could face criminal charges and time in prison. Why? Jesus taught that all sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman are immoral (cf Matthew 19). Of course Jesus’ view, which upholds the teaching of the Bible, form the beliefs that Christians carry today and that shape our lives.

During tonight’s debate, on member of the Legislative Council asked the Attorney General, 

‘How will the Government up-skill ministers and pastors so that they know where the line in what they can and cannot say to people about sexual orientation and gender identity?’ (my paraphrase of the question) 

What a revealing question! The Attorney General indicated that education materials will be made available. In other words, religious people must defer to the Government’s doctrine.

One of the disappointments in the surrounding debate is how Victorians have been told that this Bill will not intrude on religious freedoms. Even in the Legislative Council today, members simply denounced concerns as though anyone daring to raise issues is either barking mad or of evil intent. This public display has turned out to be one of the great gaslighting projects in the State’s history. There is so much gaslighting going on that the whole of Melbourne could create a new energy supply, only like coal and it’ll have side effects that outlast Climate Change. 

For example, Victoria’s new Attorney General last night claimed on Twitter that the Bill does not ban prayer. The problem is, the Bill expressively prohibits prayer. Illegal practices include, “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice” (5.3B). 

If someone asks for prayer, that they might live a sexual life in accord with Biblical principles, and I then pray in accord with this request, I will be breaking the law and I can face criminal charges. 

Another example appeared on the ABC today. Nathan Despott of the Brave Network, said of the Bill,

“It [the Bill] is precise and nuanced. It targets harm where it occurs, it does not stop conversations”.

The Bill doesn’t stop conversation? Let’s take a look at the Explantory Memorandum that accompanies the Bill,

“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, and more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs and residential camps.” (Bold is my emphasis)

Religious freedom issues are only some of the concerns that have been raised about this Bill. Feminist and LGB groups are concerned that the Bill will send vulnerable children down are dangerous path, as has been demonstrated in the UK’s recent High Court Case, Bell vs Tavistock. The Government ignored legitimate and reasonable concerns articulated by some of Australia’s pre-eminent legal minds and medical experts. Dr Philip Morris, President the National Association of Practising Psychiatrists, has explained how this Bill may prevent doctors from offering due patient care. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) have expressed concerns. The list continues.

Health Minister Martin Foley flicked these concerns away as though they were the rumours of ignorant people. The Australian reported yesterday,

“Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley has dismissed concerns from the Australian Medical ­Association and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists regarding the ­Andrews government’s gay conversion therapy bill, describing them as “misplaced”.

To those who have called for amendments, especially when it is religious Victorians speaking, Government members have had the gaul to respond with insult. Those who dare question the Bill are referred to as ‘bigots’ and ‘quacks’. 

Premier Daniel Andrews has said,

“it is cruel. To wrap that bigotry in faith is an insult all of its own … in this debate some faith leaders have been critical of these provisions, critical of a law to ban the worst form of bigoted quackery imaginable. This is not kindness and love or the protection of the vulnerable and persecuted. This is not something to be proud of.”

When a Government ignores the concerns of leading medical and legal experts and resorts to slandering concerned citizens, it is understandable that people feel uneasy. 

Just in case we’re thinking that the only objection is to a few practices, think again. This Victorian Government made clear that the Christian view of sexuality is an underlying problem. 

Jill Hennessy said in the Parliament, “These views won’t be tolerated in Victoria.”

The Government’s LGBTIQ Commissioner explained,

“The proposed law is quite clear in countering any teaching that says that homosexual sex is wrong, so this may well be part of their education”

Yes, churches sometimes get things wrong. Yes, in the past a few religious organisations acted foolishly and wrongly; no one is pretending otherwise. Yes, there are awful stories of people being mistreated because of their sexuality, and where wrong was done repentance ought to come. But this Parliamentary Act is no fair handed solution. In short, in order to catch a rat this Government proposed that the State blow up the whole building. 

The Victorian Parliament has adopted the harshest laws anywhere in the world and with the heaviest possible penalties.

Victoria’s Premier may exhibit the ego of Apollo but he isn’t God. The Victorian Parliament is not the ultimate arbiter of righteousness. Christians are called by God to submit to Governing authorities, to pray for them and to obey them. We should continue to do so. What happens though when a Government oversteps its jurisdiction and demands greater allegiance than is given them?

Churches and religious organisations now need to prepare their people to understand the many implications of the new laws. Pastors, Principals, and parents should educate their congregations, employees, and families to discern how they will live faithfully in this new environment.

Take note, this Bill is not the end of the story. Expect the further steps to limit religious freedoms in Victoria. This is not fear mongering or hyperbole; this is taking on board the words of Government ministers. Even before the Bill was voted, the Government indicated that the list of prohibitions may be extended after 12 months, even to include sermons. Plan for some very difficult days to come.

And continue to do good. The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to Christians whom he refers to as ‘exiles’. They were exiles because the Apostles knew that this world isn’t our home. Our current place of residence is temporary. We love being Aussies and living in Melbourne. We appreciate and value the life that’s enjoyed in Victoria. We serve our fellow Victorians and desire good for them. We are part of local communities who share life with Victorians from all kinds of backgrounds and interests. However, this isn’t the ultimately it. Perhaps we need to learn the lesson that so many believers have understood in other parts of the world: hold less tight to the things on earth and turn our attention to that which Christ directs our affections and hope.

Peter wrote this sentence which is perfectly apt for Victorian Christians today, 

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

A few verses later Peter directs our attention to Jesus,

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly”.

Let us not give up doing good. Should people stop loving others because of unjust laws? If that were the case, many erroneous movements in history would have succeeded.

I pray that the new context in which Victoria now finds itself will be used of God to refine our own hearts and to reform our ways as churches. I pray that LGBT Victorians will be protected from harm and that despite these unjust laws, the good news of Jesus Christ will continue to be heard and embraced like never before in our State.

No doubt many people will celebrate tonight’s decision, and those who voted for the Bill will believe they have done right. Triumphalism fades in the morning. One day our consciences will stir and the reality of the poor decision will strike home. In the meantime, the very law that is aimed at preventing harm will in fact inflict State sanctioned harm on vulnerable people and against religious people who have simply answered questions and prayed a prayer.