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Gospel Conversion Therapy – AP

Last weeks article in Australian Presbyterian – you can get the original here

Queensland has just become the first state in Australia to ban Gay Conversion Therapy. Because of Covid 19 restrictions they beat the Victorian government to it, which in keeping with its somewhat more authoritarian character, has proposed something far more draconian and troubling. It’s interesting to me as an outsider to observe how different states in Australia behave – it seems as though there is some kind of race to the progressive bottom – with Victoria and the ACT usually leading the way – but this time Queensland ‘won’.

Why should we care? What does it matter? Should we be for GCT anyway? I wrote this article for the Christian Today website – https://www.christiantoday.com/article/should.gay.conversion.therapy.be.banned/135372.htm which explains why, although I am not for GCT, I think it is dangerous to ban it. It’s a puzzle to me how our society determines that some therapies for change are good but others are bad. If someone wants therapy to change their gender they will be encouraged and helped. If they want therapy to change their sexuality, then whoever helps them could go to jail. Go figure! Our society encourages something which is contradicted by basic biological science, and at the same time discourages dealing with an identity change which was not even recognised as such until the late 19th Century.

From a Christian perspective I doubt very much if therapy is the best way to deal with sin – although it may help deal with the consequences. What concerns me more is the way that ‘conversion’ is viewed. If it is a sin against the holy state to seek to change someone’s nature, where does that leave Christian conversion – which by its definition seeks a radical change of nature? The early church we are told was not ashamed of speaking about conversion, and indeed rejoiced in it. “The church sent them on their way, and as they travelled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad.” (Acts 15:3).

There is an aversion to this in much of modern secular society. It does not mind if we are ‘religious’ and go to church. It is okay if we belong to a knitting club, or a line dancing society. The one thing that we must not do – the one thing that we must never suggest – is that we would like people to be converted. Even in some Christian circles we have bought in to this. We ‘respect’ Islam but we don’t want Muslims to be converted. We should not be looking for our family, friends, work colleagues to be ‘converted’. Who do we think we are? My fear is that much of modern society desires to inoculate people against the Gospel – to therapise us out of the Good News. I often thought that religious education in my school in Scotland (and often the kind of religious services we would get on the BBC) were kind of like the flu jab – it gave you a wee bit of religion, in order to prevent you getting the real thing!

Sometimes I am asked the accusatory question: “Are you trying to convert me?” The answer is simple. “No, because I can’t. It is only God who converts. But I want you to be converted. I want you to have new life. I want you to know Christ. That is what I pray for you.” Given that people without Christ are lost and on their way to hell – why would we not long for them to be converted? How cruel and heartless do we have to be to believe that and not care? Given that we know the joy, peace, love and eternal life that Christ brings, why would we not long for those we love to have those phenomenal gifts? Paul, for example, had such a longing for his own people, the Jews, to be converted, that it caused him ‘great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (Romans 9:2). His passion to see people converted was such that he could write, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

A few years ago I heard my former colleague, Sinclair Ferguson, state at a meeting of the Crieff Conference; “churches in Scotland have ceased to grow with conversion growth, because they no longer expect conversion growth”. The truth of that statement hit me like a hammer. I have been a pastor in two Presbyterian congregations – a small rural and a small inner city. In both the expectation amongst the leadership was that the church would grow by Christians coming to it. The problem with that is simply that in Scotland there were fewer and fewer Christians to transfer – and even if a new Christian family came to our area, they were very unlikely to come to us – because we were so small we did not have all the programmes they expected. We knew that if we did not grow, we would die. And the only way to grow was through conversion growth. The Lord was gracious and granted our desire.

Can I suggest that the situation is the same here in Australia. Our crying need is for new converts. We don’t need new church plants that are in effect just church repotting. We need new churches that result in new Christians (which is often what happens and the main reason why church planting is so important). We don’t need church revitalisation projects which seek to grow by attracting Christians from other biblical churches. We need churches to be revitalised by new believers! How many of our churches have seen any conversion growth in the past five years? If not, then we need to ask why not, and cry out to the Lord. May he give us the same burden that Paul (and Christ) had for the lost. Or perhaps we too have been therapised out of our Gospel passion?

Presbyterianism and Gospel Prosperity in Australia – AP

Evangelism in Todays Church – Interview with Eternity Magazine

10 comments

  1. In all the reporting about legislation being enacted to criminalise Gay Conversion Therapy I have never seen or heard any definition of what exactly Gay Conversion Therapy is actually deemed to consist of. How then can people be expected to distinguish between what might be permitted to be discussed between consenting adults voluntarily entered into concerning a person’s sexuality and what might be deemed to be criminal?

  2. David, you hit the nail on the head with “if someone wants therapy to change their gender they will be encouraged and helped. If they want therapy to change their sexuality”. Even Peter Tatchell acknowledges that among his friends there has been a fluidity in sexuality.

    So why this cultural expectation for gender fluidity but not sexual fluidity?

    Perhaps this goes back to the 1980s with gay lobbyists arguing about same sex sexual activity being “perverted”. So, the idea if “born that way” came about. Because if you are born that way then anyone who says that homosexual activity is a sin, is being a horrible bigot. And so this is what activists have been doing since, opposing this idea of sin.

    Of course there are differing views within Christianity over this with some churches supporting same sex relationships and others taking a traditional approach of considering it sinful.

    I agree that there is a limit to what can be done with any kind of therapy. And any other human endeavour for that matter. For what therapy or human effort can achieve what the love of God can?

    I’ve known people in circles I am in say they used to be gay but now are heterosexual, and are married with children. I’ve known people who are gay and would find it absurd to consider that such could happen. I’ve known people transition from being male to a transgender woman or to being noon-binary. I know others who believe that sex and gender are the same thing and anything else is what someone else identifies as.

    If we are truly living in a diverse, tolerant and inclusive society then all of these views would be given equal dignity. But it seems, does it not that our liberal culture has the hallmark of a religion of its own, every bit as much as any other fundamentalist expression of religion?

    It’s not an area that I will comment further on – it’s not an experience I share of being either gay or trans other than to say when someone is either and share of difficult experiences, I think the most humane and godly thing to do in the first instance is to listen.

    Truth is freeing and love never fails. And it’s up to God ultimately to provide for every individual, not the responsibility of any one person to fulfil their needs, which wouldn’t be possible anyway not matter how much someone does for someone else.

  3. “Gay Conversion Therapy” is a pejorative phrase used by the LGBT community to make people abhor it. In the past practices which are now recognised as useless, were used by the NHS as well as by some well-meaning churches, but have long been discarded by all Christians who wish to help such people who are unhappy with that lifestyle and wish to discontinue it. Groups like Core Issues Trust use talking therapy only, and only when asked to do so voluntarily by anyone, as far as I can see. Studies show that up to 35% of homosexuals were abused by older men when young, which led to them thinking they must be gay, and this has made many unhappy. Why should they be denied help either to change, as many have and can testify, or else have been able to live a celibate life with God’s enabling? These stories are seldom heard as they do not fit the secular, pro-LGBT narrative, even though Peter Tatchell has said sexuality can be fluid. There should be freedom to choose in this matter, but unfortunately too many have listened to the few horrific stories from the past and are unwilling to admit that things have changed now. The NHS has not been asked to close down because of the things it did, so why should the Christian church face a blanket ban?

  4. Beware church,
    The Eagles sang about it years ago – “You can’t hide your therapise”. That includes Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
    A few years ago I faced a complaint at work, that I’d tried to convert someone, someone who gave no inkling that they were displeased. My response that I can’t convert anyone, was accepted.
    Having changed church a couple of years ago, I’m a little discomfited by your description of “repotting”, not that I’m in leadership.
    That said, some while ago I think you said that you wouldn’t have been the correct person to do what your son Andrew did, where he did it.
    Where are the Andrews to come from in what can be seen as a class and generation stratified church? And is there any particular training for those with a heart for planting, or rather the lost in a particular locality? Are there any impediments placed on planters by sending, supporting ,churches, such as having to become financially self-supporting within, say, 5 years, if the plant is in an area of high unemployment, of poverty.

  5. David,

    I never understood your sentence in the original post linked above:

    “Personally, I have never, nor do I think I would ever, refer someone for counselling to change their sexuality.”

    Here you say:

    “although I am not for GCT”

    What would you do if a member of your congregation came to you and said I am struggling with SSA what would you do or say? If you spoke to the member or took him to the Bible or prayed with him wouldn’t you be engaging in GCT? It is certainly not an extreme form but I believe the activists would you accuse you of GCT.

    1. Yes they would. But I am talking about ‘professional’ therapy. I may send them to a therapist to help them in general but not to a therapist who promises to convert them to heterosexuality.

    2. “I believe the activists would … accuse you of GCT”

      That’s right. The campaign against conversion therapy, an alleged practice on the part of health professionals which does not actually exist, is waged in order later to miscategorise the ordinary, everyday practice of the Christian religion as an alternative conversion therapy performed other than by health professionals. It is a ploy to silence now-Christian survivors of homosexuality who, by the grace of God, have recovered. It is a hate campaign. The hatred behind it is the devil’s hatred of God.

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