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A ban on Biblical beliefs?

Canada’s new conversion therapy law could turn Christian counselors into outlaws

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) and several Cabinet ministers cross the floor of the House of Commons to shake hands with Conservative leader Erin O'Toole and members of Parliament after the unanimous adoption of legislation banning conversion therapy on Dec. 1. Associated Press/Photo by Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A ban on Biblical beliefs?
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It certainly would be a shock to many people if the government of a Western liberal democracy acted to make a basic Christian doctrine illegal. But a careful reading of the text of a new law banning conversion therapy in Canada reveals that this may already have happened concerning Biblical creation and how it relates to human sexuality—whether it was intentional or not.

Last month, the Canadian government passed Bill C-4: An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy). Parliament passed the legislation unanimously by a voice vote with not a single member of the Conservative Party dissenting. Less than a week later, the Senate approved the bill, again without hearings or the normal parliamentary procedure of multiple readings and votes.

What does the bill say? It bans conversion therapy and gives it this definition:

“Conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to (a) change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual; (b) change a person’s gender identity to cisgender; (c) change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth; (d) repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour; (e) repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity; or (f) repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth.

“For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates to the exploration or development of an integrated personal identity—such as a practice, treatment or service that relates to a person’s gender transition—and that is not based on an assumption that a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is to be preferred over another.”

The language here is extremely broad and open to interpretation. Is a sermon on Romans 1:18–31 or a counseling discussion of 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 a “practice, treatment or service” as defined by this bill?

It is possible to read this as outlawing certain Biblical beliefs related to God’s creation of humanity.

In the second paragraph above, the law specifies what falls outside the definition of conversion therapy, which seems to crack open the door to Christian teaching. But that door is quickly slammed shut in the last sentence and its limitations on what can or cannot be assumed.

But that statement must be understood in light of the bill’s preamble, which reads in part:

Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to society because, among other things, it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including the myth that heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”

It is possible to read this as outlawing certain Biblical beliefs related to God’s creation of humanity.

Imagine a situation in which a confused young person approaches a pastor or other Christian counselor for help in overcoming the temptation of same-sex attraction. According to this law, the intent is not to prevent a counselor from helping such a young person work through his or her struggle with sexual orientation. As a pastor or counselor, you can have a conversation with someone about his or her sexual orientation or gender identity—but only if you don’t presuppose that one sexual orientation or gender expression is preferred over another.

It is theoretically possible that a secular counselor who believes that homosexuality is perfectly fine might be open to the possibility that the young person is not a homosexual after all but is merely confused by peer pressure. That counselor’s goal is to help the client consider all options. But a Christian counselor who believes that natural, biological sex is preferred could have the same discussion with that client, but, according to the logic of this legislation, the Christian counselor would break the law.

To be clear, two different counselors, one secular and one Christian, could come to the same conclusion for a client, but only the one who could be shown to believe that natural, biological sexuality is preferred over any other orientation would violate the law. In other words, the counselor with a specific religious belief would face the consequences.

Whether it was the conscious intent of the framers of the law or not, its effect is to ban counselors from affirming the Christian doctrine of creation and from affirming the truth that our natural and biological sex is a good gift from our Creator.

Craig A. Carter

Craig A. Carter is the research professor of theology at Tyndale University in Toronto, Ontario, and theologian in residence at Westney Heights Baptist Church in Ajax, Ontario.

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