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How claims of ‘hurt’ and ‘harm’ are being used to limit our freedom

This is a follow up article in Christian Today – I was asked to write it in response to Steve Chalke and Jayne Ozanne’s claim that freedom is only permitted where it doesn’t cause ‘hurt’…An astonishing totalitarian claim…

How claims of ‘hurt’ and ‘harm’ are being used to limit our freedom

Having written my last article on the attempt to use the bogeyman of conversion therapy to force evangelical churches to adopt unbiblical doctrines, I did wonder whether the criticism of some – that it was an exaggerated threat and I was overthinking it – had some validity. But then along came Steve Chalke to helpfully clarify what he meant and leave us without any doubt.

“As I say in the short video, we have to make any law change to ban conversion therapy very clear and explicit on all those deadly religious practices such as manipulative ‘prayer’, ‘teaching’ and so called ‘pastoral care’!” he said.

His target is not extremist coercive and abusive practices, but prayer, preaching and pastoral care. He makes the claim, without offering any evidence, that 5 per cent of LGBTQ+ people have been pressured into “accessing these dehumanising services”, the suggestion being therefore prayer, preaching and pastoral care are now “dehumanising”.

If you define as “manipulative” anything that seeks change then it could of course be argued that all prayer, preaching and pastoral care is manipulative. We pray that we would change. We preach for change. And we pastor for change. We want healing, restoration, and wholeness in Christ. We want that for every person – whatever their sexuality, gender or background – because Christ died for the world.

But then Steve went even further.

In his short video, he then makes this alarming claim: “All freedom ends at the point when it causes harm to another person.”

Jayne Ozanne joined in repeating the same mantra on Twitter: “Freedom of religious belief is only a freedom up until the point that it does no harm.”

And a chorus of politicians joined in this well-orchestrated campaign too. For example, Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse wrote: “The Govt must not bend to pressure from the Evangelical Alliance and row back its promise to ban all types of conversation ‘therapy’. This group is working to erase LGBTQ+ identities. This is not right. The voices of the victims must come first [sic].”

Just a cursory glance at these comments would suggest little wrong. Surely we are all against harm and want to listen to the victims? Surely people should not be free to harm other people? But if we take a deeper look and think about this for a moment, the problems become obvious. Does it not all depend on who the victims are? And who defines what harm is? For example, I find Steve’s teaching harmful and I know people who have been victims of it. Should I then be asking for the government to ban it?

The trouble with Steve Chalke’s version of freedom is that it is no freedom at all – especially in today’s highly sensitive, identity politics ‘victim’ world. If you want to restrict a particular teaching, just claim that it harms or hurts you. As with Scotland’s new hate crime legislation, it doesn’t really matter what you say, or what you intended, it is only the perception of the ‘victim’ that counts. But this is only true for certain victims. Because this is not really about equality. It is the powerful (those who get to sit on government committees or in TV studios) who will get to determine what ‘harm’ or ‘hurt’ is, and who exactly deserves the powerful status of ‘victim’.

By this standard of limiting truth on the perception of potential harm, I’m pretty sure that Jesus would have been banned for harming the Romans, hurting the Pharisees and driving out the money changers in the Temple. He could even have been done for being cruel to pigs! Christ was accused by the religious leaders of causing harm to them and their people. The Pharisees would have legitimate claims to have Jesus prosecuted for hate crime, given that he called them “whitewashed tombs – twice dead” and said that they were of their father the devil!

The problem is that if truth is determined by the powerful’s perception of harm, then truth does not exist. When Jesus challenged the culture and peoples of his day, he made this extraordinary claim: “Then you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). He also claimed to be the truth.

I am thankful that Steve Chalke and Jayne Ozanne have explained so clearly the situation the Church in the UK now faces. We can either have our freedom limited by their ideology and political views, or we can continue to follow Christ and his teaching, know the truth and be free. Choose this day who you will serve!

You can hear Steve’s video in the latest Quantum Quantum 138 – The Woke, the Weird, the Wealthy and the Wonderful

 

18 comments

  1. Thank you for speaking truth to people who do not want to hear it, David! We long for the day when ‘The Truth’ will have His day. Meanwhile, we continue to hope, work, and pray that God would visit us with the convicting power of His Holy Spirit of truth (John 16:8).

  2. The following question needs to be asked of these people who appear to have failed to think through what they are proposing.
    “Why are you happy for young people to be provided with help to undergo transition, yet those same people have no-one to turn to if they later change their minds and wish to detransition?”

    1. I don’t think “these people”, namely Chalke and Ozanne, have “failed to think through what they are proposing”. I think they know perfectly what they are up to and make no secret of it. What they are proposing is an unnecessary ban on conversion therapy, in a country in which there is no conversion therapy. In the confusion they thus cause, they hope to intimidate Christians out of preaching and practising our faith, a faith which they do not share.

  3. The irony of ‘Christians’ who say ‘Lord Lord…’ who make no reference to Christ
    Teachings.

    We have, prosecute anyone who hurts you.
    Don’t ever question your conscience.
    Never feel shame or guilt.
    Any teaching or teacher that causes feelings you don’t like, they’re wrong and must be silenced and punished!

    What happened to…….

    Love your enemies, do good to those who treat you bad!

    If one strikes your cheek, offer the other!

    Forgive 70 x 7, or you will not be forgiven.

    If someone wants you to go a mile, go 2!

    Jesus teaching is a paradox, and completely contrary to what is being called for by Chalke and Ozanne.

    Do they ever call for Jesus teaching?

    His disciples will be known by fruit, not claims.

  4. In a school playground, as long as the teachers aren’t watching, there is no right and wrong. It’s a simply a question of who’s bigger or has more friends to back them up.

    In the supposedly adult world, now that any notion of God’s authority has been taken out of the picture, we seem to be little better. Right and wrong is becoming nothing more than a popularity contest to determine who can best manipulate the emotions of the well-meaning but ignorant masses to rally them against an opponent. That sort of contest massively favours those who feel no particular inclination to tell the truth.

  5. It could be argued that Christianity does grievous harm to the our sinful selves. Surrender to Christ involves picking up a cross and dying. You are correct when you point out that prohibiting change nullifies the Gospel. When it is illegal to change people’s thinking, it is illegal to be persuasive.

  6. This is a tricky one.

    On the one hand no-one is without sin so all of us experience and cause hurt and harm and freedom to do everything is freedom to sin, so there needs to be some legitimate restrictions, laws, for a healthy and functioning society. On the other hand feelings are not facts and can be deceptive, to the point of suppressing truth if overindulged and that leading to an Orwellian nightmare.

    So to the “freedom is only permitted where it doesn’t cause ‘hurt’” claim. Well, truth will result in hurt. Love will result in hurt. We are to treat all hardships as God’s discipline. If God was not to discipline then he would not have children. All discipline is painful but enduring God’s discipline produces a harvest of righteousness. Do you ever remember being a child and your parent saying to you when they disciplined you that you would thank them later? I’m glad that as a child I was made to eat my vegetables and encouraged to have a work ethic.

    OK so Steve Chalke is claiming that any law banning “conversion therapy” has to be clear and specific so that there isn’t any manipulation in prayer, teaching and care. Well, on the one hand yes, it would be wrong for any inappropriate manipulation. In your words David, people are “sinners” and when abuses happen in churches it is abhorrent as you have pointed to on many occasions. God will bring about justice and release for the oppressed just as Jesus stood up to hypocritical teachers! And by his wounds we are healed! Then to his second point, about freedom ending at the point that it causes harm to another person. Well, there is a biblical principle for that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). At the same time “live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil” (1st Pet 2:16). So freedom is not to be used to cover evil i.e. to cause harm.

    So, what Steve Chalke is advocating is debatable biblically.

    But it is the subjectivity by way of opinions of what constitutes harm that is the issue here. With “a born that way” belief clearly one argument would be that advocating that homosexual practice is a sin and causing harm to anyone with same sex attraction. Another argument obviously would be that it is freedom of religious expression to say that homosexual activity is sinful and harmful act of bigotry to be opposed to such freedom.

    What I think is dangerous is bringing in laws. I would prefer a minimum about of laws and a maximum amount of freedom. If there is to be a law against so called “conversion therapy” then what law is there to protect freedom of religious expression. Clearly favouring one over the other is a form of discrimination.

    In the circles I am in I have known people to transition wiht gender, and someone formerly engaged in homosexual practice now being married with children, and happy. I think if someone is gay and they wish to transition, then they should have the same rights afforded to them as someone who wishes to transition gender and there should be equal support available for them to do so.

    So, I don’t buy the “born that way” faith of some but I respect their freedom to express that even if it causes hurt feelings to someone who is gay and wishes to transition to being straight. Will the LGBTQ* community and Steve Chalke respect the freedom of anyone to express that homosexual practice is sinful even if it causes hurt feelings to anyone in that community?

    Because if we are truly to live in an inclusive, diverse and equal society there will be room for all these freedoms. And inevitably where differing assumptions and preconceptions exist, discomfort will be encountered. So as well as the issues at hand it’s how we navigate this discomfort that matters.

    Truth is freeing and love never fails!

  7. I find Chalke and Ozzane deeply mendacious and manipulative and controlling in their use of “straw man” language of hurt and mere unevidenced passive -aggressive assertions of abhorrent practices.
    Let alone the untold, untold as it is silenced, harm, hurt and confusion to unformed, suggestible minds, emotions and bodies of pre and pubescent children. Let alone their inability to give informed consent due to in no small part the lack of scientific evidence of medium and long term physical and psychological effect of so called drug therapy, affirmation counselling, and irreversible surgery – a conveyor -belt – medical and psychological pathway, that Keira Bell has pressed the stop button on, through the courts.
    And, of course, the Evangelical Alliance is wrong just by virtue of its name. Oh and they just happen to have removed Chalke from its ranks some years ago, but it had nothing to do with gender, but his non orthodox Christian beliefs.
    And so, gender is a house he builds on sand, not the Rock of Christ.

    1. Arkenaten, in my experience I have experienced power in prayer that has enabled me to cope and give me hope in difficult times, empowering me to be able to survive through such times. In easier times it keeps me orientated to truth and love so that I don’t either fall into despair or become narcissistic through my own ego and sense of self-reliance.

      And this helps me orientate myself in the world. Human rights can hold it to be self evident that all are born equal and with dignity and should relate accordingly. I assume that we can be in agreement wiht this in principle. So this is what should happen. But human rights can’t answer why this should happen. And every person with a conscience at some point in their life, I would suggest, asks the question “why am I here”. I don’t know any other response to that, which can give meaning and purpose in the midst of lives suffering (with suffering being inevitable) than believing in being created in the image of God with purpose for good, being love personified and truthful, empowered by God when speaking to speak as if God is peaking and when serving to do so in the power that God provides to do so. And in doing this alchemising pain to beauty, hate to love, and having effortless dignity in being, for no other reason than being a child of God with truth freeing and love never failing.

      So – that’s just my experience, some will say I am deluded, some will think me foolish, others may think I am dangerous and evil for aligning myself with a god that commits cosmic child abuse. But thankfully I don’t need to lose any sleep over anyone else’s disapproval.

      I hope that helps :).

    2. Ark,

      I’d say that in the context of the article that question is a one for Chalke and Ozanne to answer. Maybe they don’t like answered prayer, maybe they think prayer is a waste of time and is itself offensive. Maybe it is the type of prayer or in the case of Chalke, which God it is directed to?

  8. Good points, well made.
    “Truth” and “hurt” determined by the perception of the powerful. That takes us straight to tyranny and totalitarianism; to USSR and Third Reich, to today’s National Socialist PR China.
    Illustrated in its own small way by the pair on the BBC mocking the Government Minister for having a flag and picture of the Queen in his office (I dislike the fad of flags in the corner, but that’s anither matter); their actions and sneers hurt a great many people, but, since the BBC is a powerful organ, PC Plod is unlikely to visit.

  9. I read an article elsewhere today contrasting the reaction to Mehgan Markle and Priti Patel.

    Markle pleaded victimhood by the racist Royals, and received a lot of sympathy.

    Patel spoke in Parliament about the serious racism she experienced at a teenager at school – “Paki” – an was soundly criticised by left wing Lanour MPs.

    Victimhood depends on being the “right” kind of victim.

  10. It’s an interesting position to take: “All freedom ends at the point when it causes harm to another person.” I do hope those espousing it – especially the politicians – will be the first to apply it to the issue of abortion, a practice that terminally hurts another person under the banner of ‘women’s freedom.’

  11. Both Steve Chalke and Jayne Ozanne have said that ‘freedom ends when it causes harm or hurt to others’.

    As their campaign is causing harm and hurt to SSA Christians, by their own standards they should end their campaign and apologize for their actions.

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