Thursday, April 22, 2021
It's Thursday, April 22nd, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Will Christian Prayer and Preaching and Parental Conversations Be Declared Illegal? Urgent Questions Arise in Great Britain and Australia — And Will Not Stop There
An absolutely important story is unfolding on both sides of the Atlantic, but right now it is the developments taking place in Britain that are on the front line. And what we are watching there is a picture coming into clearer focus. And we should be watching it with extreme care here in the United States and elsewhere, wherever Christians are observing the world around us. The issue takes us to the British parliament. It takes us to the prime minister, Boris Johnson. Johnson is of course rightly identified as a conservative prime minister, which means in Britain, he is the prime minister and thus the party leader of the Conservative Party. The conservatives, also known as the Tories, have been for the greater part of the last century very well known as a party more conservative than the major opposition parties, either the Liberal Party in the early decades of the 20th century, or now looking at the Labor Party.
Historically, basically, the party committed to socialism. So in that context, there is no doubt that the Conservative Party is markedly more conservative than the opposition. And yes, that matters. You're also looking at the fact that the prime minister is the head of government. The queen, Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of state, but she does not have a day-to-day role in the administration of the government. Instead, the prime minister, the queen's first minister, is the one who steps in to form the government and to serve as the government's head. Thus, when you are looking at the British role, its constitutional role of the prime minister, you're looking at an enormously powerful political force. As a matter of fact, the reality that the prime minister controls a majority of those in parliament means that at least in theory, the prime minister can't lose a vote. It also means that the government in power can restructure much of the policy of the British government.
The policy at stake in our consideration today is a policy that would ban so-called conversion therapy. Now let's just back up and define some terms here. Conversion therapy is a term that emerged in the last half of the 20th century as a form of psychological and psychotherapeutic intervention to seek to help persons struggling with their sexual identity. It was further defined often in terms that are related to Christian ministry as an effort to try to use those therapeutic means to help persons who might have a certain sexual inclination to redirect that inclination in more biblical terms. In more recent times, what we are noting, and this is what is so important, is that you will have many people who are advocates for the LGBTQ+ agenda who will use the term conversion therapy for any position that actually believes that say, same sex sexual behavior and relationships are wrong, are not morally equal to any other sexual relationship.
Furthermore, you have the term "conversion therapy" which is now thrown around, much as you now have terms like "Christian nationalism" thrown around as a way of basically just labeling the opposition. In this case, that means almost anyone who holds to anything like biblical Christianity. Now, as I have discussed conversion therapy over and over again, several things need to be set. Number one, Christians must understand that we have no ultimate hope in any therapy period. We do not believe that all therapies are wrong, all therapies are bad, and that there can be no kind of intervention labeled as therapy that can help human beings in certain circumstances. That's not the argument. The argument is this, we understand that in a biblical understanding of conversion, a Christian being a new creature in Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit, being united to Christ, and of course the doctrine of sanctification, we come to understand that therapy can't actually touch any of that. The most basic transformational power is the power of the gospel, the power of the indwelling Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the preaching of the word of God.
We understand that when we're talking about conversion therapy, Christians have to have infinite confidence in conversion, but a very measured confidence, if any, in therapy. Now we also need to understand that some of the modalities, some of the therapies that have been included under the theme of conversion therapy are actually unbiblical. And that would include such things as the forced use of pornography in an effort to try to realign sexual inclination. That's something no Christian can justify. And you're also looking at the fact that under the label of conversion therapy, some things such as electroshock therapy controversial in themselves have been used.
When we're talking about conversion therapy, Christians affirm conversion unreservedly, and we believe in the power of the indwelling Spirit and the means of grace and sanctification. We believe that Christians can fight sin and must fight sin. We believe that by the means of grace, Christians, all Christians are to be conformed to the image of Christ. We understand that there are those who have a sexual inclination that is not biblical. We understand that that is of sin. That it is in essence itself, sin and sinful. We also come to understand that persons who have those kinds of non-biblical sexual inclinations can, by God's power, by the power of the gospel, live holy lives that are aligned with God's Word. So are you asking me, do Christians have some concerns with conversion therapy? You bet, because some of it could be extremely legitimate in biblical terms. Some of it, perhaps not, that's the problem with the entire therapeutic world, with the so-called triumph of the therapeutic, where just about anything labeled this therapy is going to be used by someone and labeled somehow. Christians have to look at the labels very carefully.
But the second thing we need to note is that when the contemporary LGBTQ movement opposes conversion therapy, they're not just opposing what we believe is wrong and unbiblical, they're opposing anyone standing on a biblical morality who would say that same-sex inclinations, same-sex orientation, same-sex behaviors, relationships, same-sex marriage, and now transgender, everything in the LGBTQ spectrum, to say that those are unbiblical, contrary to nature, contrary to the word of God, not to be accepted by God's people, not to be normalized, well, that is now defined as conversion therapy. And here's, what's really crucial for Christians. Let's just talk as Christians. When we are talking about the power of the gospel and the call to sanctification, it really does come down to the means of grace. The means of grace, a term that goes back in history of the church, but became most famous during the reformation. You're talking about the means God uses to call people to Christ, the means God uses to hold believers to Christ, the means God uses to conform Christians to the image of Christ.
And as the Reformers rightly said, those means start with the preaching of the word of God. The preaching and communication of the word of God is how the Holy Spirit calls persons to Christ. They hear the gospel. They believe. Believing, they are saved. It is also the means whereby Christians are built up in Christ, how we are matured in Christ, how we are conformed to Christ's image. And so the means of grace are absolutely crucial. One of the means of grace would be the devotions of the Christian life, including prayer. Now, how do we get to prayer? Well, you're going to be very interested and very troubled to know how we have arrived at the means of grace that include prayer. So how does all of this tie together? Concerns and laws concerning conversion therapy, really understanding what conversion therapy is, understanding the confusion whereby the label is now being applied by many who wants to shut down Christian witness.
How did Boris Johnson fit into this? Where's the Conservative Party in Britain playing a role in this? Well, it comes down to the fact that sometime back, Boris Johnson spoke of the fact that conversion therapy "has no place in a civilized society, and has no place in this country," that means the United Kingdom. That was dated in a statement that was made the 20th of July 2020, just less than a year ago. Boris Johnson made very clear that it would be the intention of his government to pass a comprehensive ban on conversion therapy in Great Britain. And of course, the Conservative Party itself has appointed a so-called Equality's Minister within the government. The Conservative Party on so many of these moral issues is not very conservative, is more conservative than the other parties, especially the more radical parties on the left, such as the Labor Party. But that's a very strange point of comparison.
In terms of the history of the party itself, it has moved markedly from conservative positions, including issues related to abortion, sexuality, the criminalization of certain sexual acts, the legalization of same sex marriage. The Conservative Party now has basically abandoned conservative conviction. Boris Johnson himself has been very, very vocal, saying that he wants his administration, that's the administration headed by the Conservative Party, to be the most pro-LGBTQ in Britain's history. And it's turning out to be. But what we're talking about today is that in recent weeks, the prime minister of Great Britain has had to give assurances to evangelical Christians and to other religious groups in Britain, including Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews and also Muslims, but particularly, he has had to respond to evangelical Christians that the criminalization of any form of conversion therapy would not mean the criminalization of family conversation, preaching in the pulpits of the churches, and prayer.
Just think about that. The prime minister of Great Britain has been put in the position where he had to respond to questions coming from the Evangelical Alliance in Great Britain to answer the question, "Does this policy proposed by your government mean that prayer with a person, a believer who is struggling with these issues would amount to an illegal act?" Now, the most interesting coverage on this issue doesn't come from those who are pleased with the fact that the prime minister said, "No, the criminalization would not extend to preaching, to family conversation, and to prayer." Now, the most interesting response is coming from those who are demanding that the Conservative Party actually criminalize prayer and preaching and parental conversation. For example, the pro LGBTQ group that publishes PinkNews in the United Kingdom had a story with the headline, "Boris Johnson says Conversion Therapy Ban Won't Cover Prayer for Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity."
The article says this: "Boris Johnson has said any ban on conversion therapy will not apply to adults who seek pastoral support from churches while exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity." Now wait just a minute. Did you notice that the noun there was "adult?" He's saying that it would not be a criminal act for adults who seek pastoral support from churches to receive that pastoral support based upon religious conviction. We are then told, "The prime minister made the comments in a letter to the Evangelical Alliance, a Christian group that represents 3,500 churches across the United Kingdom." The prime minister said, "I want to reassure you that I take freedom of speech and freedom of religion very seriously." He went on to say, "As the government made clear in 2018, when we first made our commitment to end conversion therapy, we will continue to allow adults to receive appropriate pastoral support, including prayer, in churches and other religious settings in the exploration of their sexual orientation or gender identity." The prime minister also said, "Like you, I do not want to see clergy and church members criminalized for normal non-coercive activity."
Now, notice that there's some assurance in what the prime minister said, but notice that that assurance basically is drowned out by the fact that there had to be such a response, that there had to be such an assurance. And then notice even more carefully, this insurance is not actually very reassuring at all. Notice who are absent here. You have young people and children who are entirely absent. You have here the reference to the fact that conversation, even pastoral conversation, and prayer that would involve adults would not be criminalized if it is consensual. The head of the Evangelical Alliance had written the prime minister, stating, "For evangelical Christians, the teaching in the Bible is clear that sexual activity is restricted to monogamous marriage between one man and one woman. For Christians who hold to this biblical teaching, it is essential that those who experience same sex attraction are free to pursue and receive support to help them live in accordance with their beliefs."
And he went on to make the argument that an overly comprehensive ban on conversion therapy could actually represent an infringement of religious freedom. He described freedom also for those who are "seeking and receiving support to live chaste lives." Now, this is what we said. We as Christians understand that believers, those who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, who are his disciples, even if they experience an unbiblical sexual inclination can, by the power of Christ, the power of the gospel, and by the means of grace, find all the strength that they need to live holy and chaste lives.
But despite the reassurance that was given by the prime minister, even though it really lacks much assurance at all, a person identified in this news report as gay evangelical Christian, Jayne Ozanne. She went on to say that conversion therapy "must be banned, and perpetrators must face the full force of the law." She went on to say, and listen to this sentence very, very carefully, it's the kind of sentence we're going to see ominously enough, in many contexts and times to come, "As a Christian, I too take freedom of religion very seriously up until the point that it causes harm." Now, as I said, note those words extremely carefully. You're going to be seeing that kind of argument over and over again. You are looking at the LGBTQ agenda packaging itself as a way of preventing harm. Now, of course, one of the purposes of the law is to prevent harm and furthermore, to punish those who cause harm.
What harm are we talking about here? We're talking about the societal judgment that it causes harm to tell a person identified as LGBTQ, that there is anything wrong with those sexual identity, sexual behavior, sexual relationships, et cetera. Saying that God does not approve of these relationships, saying that such relationships and behaviors constitute sin, that is being packaged as harm. The person who's identified here as a gay evangelical Christian, and we understand all the problems with putting those three words together, but this is how it's reported in the press. She went on to say, "We know that spiritual abuse occurs in various religious settings, which is why there are already precedence of when the government has intervened to protect people from harm. In this context, prayer that allows true and free exploration of someone's sexuality or gender identity without a predetermined outcome is right and proper. However, prayer that focuses on ensuring someone conforms to a norm causes untold damage, is degrading, and leads many to contemplate taking their lives."
Now, just notice what she's saying here. She's saying that it should be illegal for Christians to pray that someone would have relief from, holiness in, biblical obedience in, even understanding a same sex inclination or anything covered under LGBTQ. We're talking about basic Christianity. And of course, we're talking about fundamental religious liberty. We're talking about the ability of the church to be the church. We're talking about the freedom of Christians to convictionally speak even to other Christians concerning the reality of God's word. We're also talking about an explicit limitation on the part of Christians from being able to speak openly about biblical conviction concerning these issues of human sexuality, the definition of marriage, God's intention demonstrated in creation, in creating human beings as male and female. All of that is now being packaged as harm. Governments on both sides of the Atlantic are now facing the demand that they legislate away to avoid this harm, to prevent this harm, and to punish those who would bring about this harm.
You have to understand where we're going. We're going towards the limitation of speech. We're going towards the constriction of religious liberty. We're going towards the criminalization of Christian preaching, Christian teaching, biblical Christianity, parents talking to their own children about their understanding of biblical obedience and the purpose of God. We are talking about limiting what can be said in Christian counseling, and even what can be said in Christian prayer. Welcome to 2021.
Threats to Religious Liberty Increase Around the World as Governments Bans on “Conversion Therapy” Extend to Basic Christianity and Gospel Ministry
And we're not just talking about developments in the British parliament. We're also talking about current conversations and controversies that are emerging from Northern Ireland, where the legislature there is also facing demands that it criminalize so-called conversion therapy, that it render it illegal. And of course, you're also looking at the fact that suggestions were made there, that there should be an exemption for Christian churches and for activities that would include preaching prayer and pastoral support. But that measure with those exemptions did not pass.
And it's not just in the Atlantic. In the Pacific, news comes to us from Australia of a very similar development. Whereas the Catholic News Agency reports there, a proposed ban on conversion therapy for sexual orientation or gender identity in Australia's Victoria state is far too broad and could target normal prayer and conversations between children and parents. One of the persons cited in this article, and this is a letter that came from both Catholic bishops and Muslim leaders addressed to the government in Victoria said, "Unfortunately, this bill doesn't just ban outdated and insidious practices of coercion and harm, which we firmly reject. The bill also criminalizes conversation between children and parents, interferes with sound professional advice, and silences ministers of religion from providing personal attention for individuals freely seeking pastoral care for complex personal situations."
Further developments back in the British parliament include the fact that when the current British government under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and including a statement that was made by members of his government, gave some indication of the fact that yes, the government was going to move forward with banning conversion therapy, but there would be respect for and exemptions for the kind of religious ministry we're just talking about in particular, the evangelical Christian concerns about prayer and preaching and parental conversation. One member of parliament of the Labor Party posted on Twitter, "This proposed loophole is so large, there would effectively be no ban on conversion therapy." In other words, there should be no legal allowance for prayer, preaching, and parental conversation.
An article that was published at Christian Concern in Great Britain by Andrea Williams asked the open question, "Can We Trust Boris [meaning Prime Minister Boris Johnson] on Conversion Therapy?" There is little assurance that there should be much confidence in Boris Johnson's reassurance to these evangelical Christians, in this case, the Evangelical Alliance. First of all, he mentioned adults, and that leaves out adolescents and children, and he was neither adequately specific about the issues at stake, nor adequately clear about what he understands as the basic commitment to religious liberty. Now, all of this is currently going on as we're seeing a further compromise and fracturing of the historic Christian churches throughout Europe and in the United Kingdom, thankfully not all of them, but many of them, including the Church of England.
You see that now there is a capitulation to the current political correctness in which you have these denominations calling for an end to conversion therapy. And whether they admit it or not, they're actually setting the stage for a denial of religious liberty to evangelical Christians, but not just evangelical Christians who are seeking to live out lives consistent with the Scripture. You're also talking about at least conservative Roman Catholics who actually believe in the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church. And you're also talking about Muslims and Orthodox Jewish citizens there in the United Kingdom. But here is where we need to be emphatically clear, this is a point at which the Christian Church, the authentic Christian Church, Christ's church, blood bought, established upon the rock of the confession of Jesus Christ is Lord, it is where we as Christians are going to have to understand that we cannot give up the right to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
We cannot allow the church to be silenced in preaching and in prayer. We cannot allow a government, Boris Johnson's government, a Labor Party government, the government of Australia, the government of the United Kingdom, the government of the United States of America, or any other government to tell us what we will preach, how we will counsel, not to mention how we will pray.
Banning the “Pernicious Power of Prayer”? Faithful Christians Must Not Be Told How to Pray, Preach, or Parent Our Children from Secular Governments
But as we're thinking about this issue already with such deep concern, I want to point to an article, a headline front page article that appeared in the April edition of the British newspaper, Evangelicals Now. It cites an article written in The Independent, a London newspaper, in which one person very clearly said this, "Those who resist legislation against conversion therapy often resist the idea of a prayer or pastoral conversation being subject to the scrutiny of law. However, if these things take place in an overwhelmingly homophobic or transphobic context, the pernicious power of prayer must be dealt with."
Now, repeatedly on The Briefing, we have to look at hard issues. Recurringly, we have to look at language and understand just how stark the challenge we face really is. Sometimes you see language that betrays in a very honest, even if accidental and emphatic sense, something we just have to see. In this article, we have someone calling for a ban on conversion therapy, defining conversion therapy as any belief, let's face it, any belief that there is anything wrong with anything LGBTQ. We have here, the language that goes so far as to say that if you're going to have the society that the LGBTQ+ activists are demanding, and for that matter, many governments are now promising, then you're going to have to face the fact that you're going to have to criminalize "the pernicious power of prayer."
Just hear those words again, "the pernicious power of prayer must be dealt with." And so believing Christians are now the people who must be dealt with, even as we pray, especially as we pray. That should cause us to pray.