Church leaders have said that they are willing to be “criminalised” if a ban on conversion therapy stops them teaching their faith.
More than 500 Christian ministers and pastoral workers from across the UK have written to Liz Truss, the Equalities Minister, warning that while they “have no desire to become criminals, and place a high value on submitting to and supporting our Government”, if their teachings are outlawed they will continue to follow their beliefs.
The legislation which seeks to ban gay and transgender conversion therapy has been the subject of growing revolt among MPs and peers who believe that the legal changes are being rushed through.
A number of professions, including teachers and therapists, have warned that they could be criminalised for having normal conversations around gender.
The Government, which is holding a consultation on the proposal which closes on Friday, insisted on Tuesday that the freedom to express religious teachings will not be impacted.
But Dr Ian Paul, a member of the General Synod of the Church of England and one of the leading voices behind the letter, said the proposals “seem to be ill considered and ill conceived”.
Many of the issues are already illegal, he told The Telegraph, and the term conversion therapy is “ill defined”.
“The proposals appear to be driven by an ideological agenda rather than real concern and clear thinking,” Dr Paul said.
“There is a real risk that pastoral ministry will be criminalised, and that human rights, including the right to religious belief will be trampled on.”
The letter states that the churches “welcome and show love to many people who have different experience and views, including same-sex attraction and forms of gender transition” and they never act “with any form of coercion or control”.
But despite government assurances, they are “deeply concerned” that the law could “impact the normal practice of religion”.
Legislation could be ‘used against Christian parents’
The letter states that there is a “clear possibility that our duty as ministers… will be criminalised” and that it could also be used against Christian parents.
They warn that the category is “so broad as to be essentially meaningless” and legislating against it “strongly risks criminalising” them which in turn “would be a clear breach of our legal right to manifest our religion”.
They said it should not be a criminal offence for them to encourage people to live as “orthodox Christians”, or to instruct them their parishioners that “God made them male and female”, or that they believe sex should be between a married couple.
The letter concludes by stating 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.”
Pastors who had signed the letter on Tuesday warned that it would leave parents and youth workers “afraid to address these issues” and “unable to support” young people struggling with their gender and sexuality.
One of the authors, Reverend Graham Nicholls, the Director of Affinity, a fellowship of Churches and evangelical agencies, said on Tuesday he was prepared to go to prison if necessary to defend his traditional Christian beliefs.
A Government Equality Hub spokesman tried to assure church leaders, saying: “The ban will not stop religious leaders from offering their support on issues around sexual orientation and transgender identity.
“We know that for people of faith, the support of their religious leaders and communities can be vital.
“The ban will only cover those who seek to change a person to be something they are not rather than offering impartial support.”