Church leaders deny supporting 'abhorrent' gay conversion therapies

Suffolk Pride 2019 on Ipswich Waterfront

The government are considering feedback on proposals to ban 'abhorrent' gay conversion therapies. - Credit: RACHEL EDGE

Church leaders have denied supporting controversial gay conversion therapies, despite backing a letter urging the government to reconsider a proposed ban on the practice.

Pastors and ministers at sites across Waveney and south Norfolk added their names to the letter to voice their concerns the proposed legislation would "criminalise Christians".

The government is now reviewing feedback on the proposals following the end of a consultation period, but has stated the planned laws will not have an impact on the freedom to express religious beliefs.

A total of 2,546 Christian ministers and pastoral workers backed the letter before it was sent in December, with almost the same number adding their names following the publication.

The letter has been criticised by several LGBT campaign groups as well as other church leaders.

Tom Fenning who is to be inducted as the new pastor at Beccles Baptist Church

Tom Fenning, pastor at Beccles Baptist Church - Credit: Kieran Lynch

Tom Fenning and Peter Skerratt, pastor and associate pastor respectively at Beccles Baptist Church, were among the initial signatories.

In a joint statement, they said: "Our reason for signing the letter comes from our deep concern that the current draft legislation is confusing and will, perhaps unknowingly, criminalise Christians, not least ministers and parents, who advise and support people who are seeking help to honour the Lord Jesus Christ in every area of life, including sexuality and gender.

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"We do not in any way support therapy that is abusive or coercive - which is already criminalised in existing legislation.

"People ought to be protected from such mistreatment, if necessary, by a change to the law - as explicitly stated in the letter.

"It's also worth noting that it's not just Christians concerned about this draft legislation, but also other religions and interest groups."

Rev Jonathan Carter, interim priest-in-charge at Christ Church Lowestoft also signed.

He said: "I signed the letter so that we can continue to offer the message of God's love to all without discrimination. 

"The letter does not oppose a ban on gay conversion therapy, rather it calls on the government to honour its twin commitments to ban abusive and coercive practices and to protect the freedom of individuals to still receive the spiritual support they choose."

David Little, team vicar at Loddon Reach Benefice, said: "I am in favour of banning gay conversion therapy, or any other coercive technique for that matter.

"Those who read the full text of the letter will know that its signatories are certainly not supporting conversion therapy.

"They are rather expressing widespread concerns that, without further clarification, the proposed legislation could unintentionally end up criminalising key aspects of mainstream Christian belief and ministry.

"So what we are guarding against is bad legislation that hasn't been thought through and which has unwanted consequences."

He also highlighted the government's reassurance which states: "The freedom to express the teachings of any religion will not be affected by the ban."

When opening the consultation on the plans in December, south west Norfolk MP Liz Truss, minister for women and equalities, said: "The UK is a global leader on LGBT rights and is committed to banning the coercive and abhorrent practice of conversion therapy.

"We want every individual to have the freedom to be themselves and proposals have been developed with the protection of LGBT people in mind.

"It is vitally important that no person is forced or coerced into conversion therapy, and that young people are supported in exploring their identity without being encouraged towards one particular path."

The proposals include introducing a new criminal offence and a number of civil measures such as Conversion Therapy Protection Orders. 

Roger Prime, who retired from his role as minister at Beccles Baptist Church in 2009, also signed the letter, but declined to comment on his reasons.

Other signatories in Waveney include Mike Betts, pastor at Lowestoft Community Church, Major Gwenyth Lynes, retired church minister with the Salvation Army at Lowestoft Citadel, and Rodney Sexton, part of the leadership team at the New Life Christian Fellowship in Beccles.

All three have been contacted for comment.