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Conversion therapy and silence in Canada

Many concerned readers will remember the federal government of Canada’s effort to ban conversion therapy throughout 2021. The Liberals began their efforts in the spring, with a bill that would ban any therapy that was intended to help change a person’s sexual preferences from homosexual or transexual to heterosexual. There were many hearings, some of which I watched, and I was astounded by the clear articulation by so many participants who spoke against the government’s broad definition of conversion therapy. The hearings included horrific stories of tortuous attempts of conversion therapy (and these tortures should indeed be banned), but it became clear that the legislation also sought to ban conversations and advice that, for example, a pastor might offer a parishioner who requested their help.

While it seemed inevitable that the legislation was going to pass, it would have to do so with much opposition. In June 2021, 62 Conservative MPs voted against this bill at Third Reading, and it moved on to the Senate. However, before they could deal with it, a federal election was called, and the business of Parliament came to an end. The next elected government would have to start all over. That meant there would be another opportunity to continue fighting against bad definitions, godless intentions, and government overreach.

Sadly, on December 1, a Conservative Party motion to fast track the government’s latest “conversion therapy ban” legislation (Bill C-4), was unanimously approved by the House of Commons. No debate, no discussion, no hearings, no fighting for care and caution. Mr. O’Toole was one of the 51 Conservative MPs that voted for the Bill originally, and he suggested that there were many different ways to expedite the legislative process for the Bill. What’s worse, as reported by the Globe and Mail, we learned:

Earlier this week, the Liberal government reintroduced a bill banning conversion therapy. The legislation was wider reaching than a previous version. It was intended to ban the practice entirely for children and adults. Before, the proposed legislation left open the possibility that an adult could consent to conversion therapy. The new bill closes that loophole. (Ian Bailey, Dec. 1 – Surprise Conservative motion sends conversion therapy ban bill through Commons).

Silent MPs

There are so many different implications with this move that it is hard to comment on them all.

What is most disconcerting is the silence with which this Bill was passed. Three members of the Conservative Party, Arnold Viersen (Conservative MP clarifies his stance on “conversion therapy” ban | The Bridgehead), Cathy Wagantall (Second Conservative MP clarifies stance on unanimous vote for “conversion therapy” ban | The Bridgehead), and Ted Falk (Conservative MP explains what happened with unanimous Bill C-4 vote), have expressed regret in not speaking up at that moment, objecting to the unanimous passage of this Bill (can we anticipate more such commentary?). Had only one person done so, the Bill would have had to go through the regular legislative procedures. I appreciate the humility and transparency of Viersen, Wagantall, and Falk and I believe they are sincere in their expression of regret – they are consistent with their previous actions and comments on this topic.

Christians excusing silent MPs

Another disconcerting phenomenon flowing from this event has been the social media commentary by many Christians dismissing or even endorsing the silence of these and other parliamentarians as being “sheep in the midst of wolves” and thus, being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).

I understand the very real challenge of being a Christian politician, and I would not want to be judgmental. However, if we won’t take a stand on this issue, with relatively little at stake, what issues do we stand up for? One person considered this a lost cause, so “pick your battles.” Sure, there is truth in both statements, but it isn’t that we were going to lose the battle that concerns us, but how we lost it – capitulation and silence; acquiescing and standing by. Today, it is officially the case that there is not a single Member of Parliament who objects to the definition of Conversion Therapy in Canada. A few months ago there were 61.

We are going to lose most moral battles moving forward – we don’t have a great track record of wins – but for righteousness’ sake we fight the battles. If we don’t fight because we know we’re going to lose, then whenever there is a Liberal government with support from the NDP and others, we may stop fighting altogether. Rather, let us recognize that some are fighting on the front lines, where the battle is most fierce, tiring, public, and hard – they need our support and encouragement. And when they lay down their weapons in a moment of weakness, we can still be behind them spurring them on to pick up the armory and keep on fighting – they haven’t lost all our support for such a moment. But neither should we say to the frontline fighters, “drop the weapons, stop fighting, late us take this blow so we can fight the next onslaught.” Such a strategy will not work. After repeated capitulation like this, it will only make those in the supporting roles look for others to support.

The ban on conversion therapy legislation passed in silence and was celebrated with loud clamor. This was a sad day in Canada’s history and we pray that the Lord will stem the growing tide of secularism that is filling our land. May he also continue to grant strong men and women who can fight these battles where they are placed, to his honor and glory. May he also forgive all of us when we fail to do so.

Postscript: Conversion therapy definitions

The Bill (needing only Royal Assent now to be law) defines Conversion Therapy thusly:

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

There is one point we need to understand. There is nothing in this law that would prevent a practice, treatment, or service designed to change person’s sexual orientation to homosexual; there is nothing in it banning attempts to change a person’s gender identity from heterosexual; it raises no objections to treatments, practices, or services intended to change a person’s gender expression so that it no longer conforms to their biological sex; it does not stand in the way of attempts to repress or reduce heterosexual attraction or heterosexual behavior, etc.

It becomes clear then, that this Bill is not about banning conversion therapy, it is about allowing conversion therapy in only one direction – the unbiblical direction. Being gender fluid, transgender, homosexually active, etc. are celebrated and promoted in so many different ways in public schools and communities. There is a strong effort to promote sexual conversions through SOGI 123, and other similar curriculum. This isn’t about creating a safe space for struggling youths – it is about creating a cultural revolution where the standards of God’s Word are continually being tossed aside.

ARPA Canada (C-4: Conversion Therapy) and others have commented on the implications of this legislation elsewhere. The next steps, as outlined by Cathy Wagantall, include “working with parents, pastors, and legal experts to develop legislation that protects parents’ and faith leaders’ ability to have conversations with individuals seeking clarity on their personal life decisions.” May the Lord bless these efforts!


Up Next


Sexuality

What is conversion therapy and why does it matter?

When Christians think of conversion, we generally think of a religious conversion experience or “the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new” (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 88). However, conversion therapy refers to a very different kind of conversion. Conversion therapy is any attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. An example of conversion therapy would be trying to make a gay person heterosexual. People generally seek conversion therapy when they have an undesired sexual orientation or are confused about their gender identity. They are struggling with something that they do not want, and they are looking for guidance. Today, this therapy is intended to uncover or understand the root causes of gender confusion, to help people cope with their gender dysphoria, or to assist people in managing their undesired same-sex attraction.  Why are we talking about conversion therapy? This topic has been recently broached at the provincial and municipal level in Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia. Most of these jurisdictions prohibit – or propose to prohibit – healthcare professionals, “persons of trust or authority,” or for-profit businesses from providing conversion therapy to minors under the age of nineteen. Supporters of such bans claim that conversion therapy is always harmful, and tantamount to the persecution of sexual minorities and gender non-conforming individuals. Conversion therapy also arose as a federal election issue in Canada. The Liberal party promised in their election platform to amend the Criminal Code to ban conversion therapy. The NDP has also committed to banning conversion therapy. Both commitments build upon a 2019 Senate bill that proposed Criminal Code amendments to restrict conversion therapy. While the Conservative party has not released any official position on conversion therapy, party leader Andrew Scheer expressed opposition only to coercive or involuntary conversion therapy.  A biblical view of gender and sexuality A biblical perspective on conversion therapy requires a biblical understanding of the underlying nature of gender and sexuality. Throughout Scripture, but particularly in the story of creation, God outlines His plan for humanity. He created humanity to be male and female (Genesis 1:27) and gave specific roles to men and women based on their biology (Genesis 3:16-19). He also created marriage and intimacy to be between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24). Taken altogether, the Bible teaches that our biological sex should determine our sexuality and gender. Scripture also affirms the importance of our physical bodies in connection with our souls. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19). The ultimate recognition of the importance of our physical bodies was the incarnation of Christ, His bodily resurrection, and His physical ascension into heaven.  The secular view of gender and sexuality The secular world, however, denies all these realities. Biological sex is not considered immutable, but as something assigned at birth by doctors. Gender roles are seen as oppressive and should be thrown out the window. Virtually any sexual behavior is acceptable between consenting adults. While Scripture affirms the importance of our physical bodies, the secular world prioritizes our self-perception and downplays or even disregards our bodies. This is why our modern culture accepts same-sex marriage and transgenderism. Both phenomena elevate our subjective self-identity above our objective bodies. Conversion therapy: a case study of these two worldviews These two differing viewpoints affect our responses to conversion therapy. Many people struggle with an unwanted sexual orientation or gender dysphoria and seek some form of help to manage these tensions. Bans on conversion therapy prohibit health care practitioners, counselors or parents from affirming that a child’s objective biological body should be the basis for their subjective gender identity and sexual orientation. On the other hand, conversion therapy bans do not ban “gender-confirming” treatments that attempt to change a child’s objective body to align with their subjective identities. These treatments include the regular injection of cross-sex hormones or an irreversible sex-change operation. In other words, conversion therapy bans may prohibit simple conversations about a biblical view of sexuality and gender between a parent and a child or a pastor and his congregant, but it gives a green light for children and adolescents to make irreversible decisions about their body. Most hormonal or surgical attempts to convert a child’s sex will leave the child infertile by adulthood, to name just one of the many irreversible effects. It borders on the unbelievable that this legislation banning conversion therapy aims to forbid the “conversion” of someone’s subjective sexual orientation or gender identity through counseling but allows the “conversion” of someone’s objective biological sex through surgery and medication. The latter is the truly harmful practice that should be banned. Furthermore… Another major flaw of conversion therapy bans is that they lump together beneficial counseling with harmful conversion therapy. Harmful forms of conversion therapy – electric shock therapy, medication, even lobotomies in some cases – were practiced in the mid-1900s to try to “cure” same-sex attraction. These coercive and aversive forms of conversion therapy have rightly been rejected by medical practitioners. The modern approach to helping people with an undesired sexual attraction or gender dysphoria is body-affirming counseling. Body-affirming counseling includes religious, behavioral, and psychological counseling that emphasizes that sexual orientation and gender identity are normatively linked to biological sex. This counseling is voluntary and uses words and reason, not invasive procedures, to help a struggling person. This body-affirming counseling is worlds apart from the outdated forms of conversion therapy mentioned earlier. But, most legislative definitions of conversion therapy encompass both the older, harmful forms of conversion therapy as well as the modern, beneficial forms of counseling. Such bans on conversion therapy may prohibit parents from reinforcing to their gender-confused daughter that she is, in fact, a girl. It may also prevent pastors and elders from guiding and assisting a member of their congregation in managing an undesired same-sex attraction. The effect, if not the goal, of such conversion therapy bans is to normalize homosexuality and transgenderism and prevent anyone from questioning these subjective identities. What can we do? Talk to your representatives at all levels of government – municipal, provincial, and federal – and talk to your fellow neighbors. Explain to them the biblical truth about gender and sexuality and tell them that body-affirming counseling should never be prohibited by general bans on conversion therapy. This counseling is indispensable for persons suffering from gender dysphoria or an unwanted same-sex attraction. Rather, attempts to convert someone’s biological sex should be recognized as the truly harmful forms of conversion therapy that need to be abandoned. We must also show great patience and love to those within our own communities who are struggling with their sense of gender or their sexual attractions. This confusion contributes to all manners of social and mental challenges for young people. As peers, parents, and pastors, we must gently outline and exemplify the biblical truth around gender and sexuality while affirming our love for these young people. In all circumstances, we need to continue to speak for a biblical view of sexuality, a view which values and honors God’s good design and seeks the good of our neighbors. Levi Minderhoud is the BC Manager of ARPA Canada. You can read ARPA Canada's Policy Report on Conversion Therapy here....


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