More than a half a decade before the NSW government brought on its "Conversion Practices" bill being debated this week, the Sydney Anglican Church expressed its opposition to harmful 'conversion therapies'. It had become apparent from the testimony of survivors that some groups, including Christian faith groups, have employed harmful practices in an attempt to change or suppress feelings of attraction to the same sex, or gender dysphoria.

Our decision to speak out came in 2018, before the move to legislate against such practices across Australia. Since then, such legislation has moved beyond these now rare and bizarre practices and in some jurisdictions encroaches unnecessarily and ominously into areas of orthodox religious belief and ordinary faith practices including teaching and preaching, prayer, conversation and mutual encouragement.

There have been comments that churches and faith groups have been consulted and are happy with the bill now on the table. This is not the case. The points of agreement are simple. Politicians care. Churches and faith groups care. My own network of churches does not practise, recommend or endorse ‘gay conversion therapy’, we want appropriate pastoral care for all. Proponents of the bill say everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. We very much agree. We are made in the image of God and deeply loved by him. 

It is important to realise that, for us, this commitment goes further and deeper. As Sydney Anglicans we teach and seek to live in accordance with deeply held biblical convictions in relation to sexuality, marriage and family. Our human propensity to choose our own way over God's way is the cause of much of the suffering in the world. But in a demonstration of God's love, he sent his Son into the world not only to be a pattern for us, but to be a rescuer. His death that we celebrate at Easter was an atonement for our sin, and his rising again makes available the gift of his own Spirit to work in his people a transformed life. Since God has shown his love for us in this way we trust what he has said in his Word and seek to live in accordance with it, including about sexuality, gender and identity. We believe that God is in the best place to tell us the shape and direction of the good life. 

Of course, many do not share our outlook. Other worldviews deny or minimise the existence of God and therefore prize above all else, autonomy, self-expression and self-fulfilment. This fundamental conflict of worldviews should not preclude us as a society from arriving at laws which protect others from real harm. But legislation, such as this, illegitimately seeks to regulate what people can say and do in the ordinary course of living out their faith, and what faith groups may teach and promote in their communities, and to the wider society. These are very grave intrusions into the lives of families, individuals, and religious communities which seeks to impose upon them frameworks designed to undermine and diminish them. 

As we began to look at the need for legislation in the first place, the initial consultation paper provided no direct evidence of conversion practices in New South Wales. Further, it was clear that definitions of such a bill would need to be clear and unambiguous. The UK, despite pressure to do so, has so far not enacted any such legislation given the legal minefield that accompanies it, as well as the intrusion into faith communities.

What we have ended up with is a 'least worst' version of such legislation compared to some other Australian jurisdictions but cannot be regarded by biblical Christian churches as representing good law. I am grateful for the government's engagement with faith communities in preparation for the presentation of the bill, but it continues to be inadequate. The idea of ‘supression’ of sexual feelings is poorly defined, extended families are not part of the exemptions, parent’s rights to set standards for their households are undermined and individuals are blocked from accessing support, even though they wish to. 

Good laws must target extraordinary harm not ordinary faith. 

This editorial appeared on the Daily Telegraph op-ed page on Thursday, 21st March, 2024.