Article by Gareth Clegg

“The special mark of the modern world is not that it is sceptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it.” – G. K. Chesterton i

Just yesterday, December 1st 2021, the House of Commons unanimously agreed to pass Bill C-4 (formerly Bill C-6), banning conversion therapy in Canada. Fast-tracked to the Senate, and soon to be law, it is important to sift through some of the consequences of this Bill, given the gravity of its consequences for the life of the Church. Thus, in the following article, the core changes to the Criminal Law in Canada that have been proposed in this Bill are summarised and assessed below.

In the third and most recent reading of the Bill, the preamble states that 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”

Further, the Bill states that “conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to

  1. change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual;
  2. change a person’s gender identity to cisgender;
  3. change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth;
  4. repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour;
  5. repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity; or
  6. 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.”ii

This may feel like a lot to wade through, but some dangers become immediately apparent upon careful reading of these amendments.

Reviewing The Ban On Conversion Therapy

What is quickly evident in this Bill is that it is not a blanket ban on conversion therapy, but simply conversion therapy aimed in one direction. The Bill states that anyone who participates in, or promotes, conversion towards heteronormative or cisgender outcomes is acting criminally. However, it remains entirely legal for conversion therapies conducted between any other sex and gender identities, or indeed for any therapy practiced to move a person’s understanding of their sexual orientation or gender identity away from a heterosexual or cisgender position.

Most ironic then, inherently conflicting even, is that the Bill serves to “deny” the identity and dignity of people who themselves have chosen to move back towards their given identities at birth. Though an express aim of the government is “to protect the human dignity and equality of all Canadians,” those who have de- transitioned are in danger of being ostracised. Many people have regretted adopting a transgender identity and have de-transitioned in order to live in accordance with their biological sex. The Canadian government makes it clear in this Bill that it is not prepared to listen to the voices of those who have transitioned towards “heteronormative” positions.

Last year, Barbara Kay noted in a National Post article that,

“In the United Kingdom, two de-transitioners have brought a case against the National Health Service’s leading gender clinic over what they claim was too-hasty affirmation leading to later regret. The argument that children can give informed consent to the prescription of puberty blockers is a “fairy tale,” the high court has been told. One of them, 23-year-old Keira Bell, says health professionals “should have challenged me more.”iii

Similar cases in Canada, however, under the new amendments to Criminal Law, would likely be immediately dismissed, given the presupposition that one cannot transition in the direction of their biological sex, orientation etc. having already moved once in another direction. Thus, equality is not in fact guaranteed to all individuals, since the Bill does not afford a uniform application across all persons, but promotes a discrimination towards those whose group identifier is considered least in need of liberation. In this case, those who are cisgender and heterosexual. The government is simply making political that which is already ingrained in the social imagination.

Further, the understanding of what conversion therapy is, not just what it is aimed at, remains unclear. Exactly what acts could be determined as illegal under this new law? Would a plain reading of the proposed law prohibit an experienced counselor from helping a child struggling with gender dysphoria to be comfortable with their given body? If a teenager is consuming an inordinate amount of pornography, must a parent refrain from ordering their child to “reduce” this behaviour if it involves anything other than heterosexual activity? Indeed, as reported by BBC News, “Several Conservative MPs had expressed concern the wording of the Bill could criminalize private conversations about sexuality or gender identity between children and teachers, religious leaders or mental health professionals.”iv Federal Justice Minister David Lametti, however, said those objections were unfounded, without himself justifying why such interpretations of the law would be out of the question. The possible consequences of such a vague definition of conversion therapy become dangerously clear.

The law is particularly catastrophic in relation to children. If any of Canada’s top-tier experts in gender dysphoria research had been consulted in the Bill’s creation, the working group would have learned that without invasive intervention, 80% or more of gender-dysphoric children who identify as the opposite sex revert to comfort in their birth sex post-puberty.v Even at such a high percentage, it will now be illegal to encourage a child to return to their biological sex.vi

Raising Concerns

Could delivering a sermon on sexual practice that a listening adult disagrees with be considered conversion therapy against a person’s will? Quite possibly. Given the very non-specific definition of conversion therapy provided by Canada’s government, it seems as though this provision could have a much wider scope than intended (that may be even still too generous an assumption).

The concerns with what the current wording of the legislation might prohibit is captured by André Schutten, who, writing previously on Bill C-6, comments that

“In the Criminal Code, an “offence” means not only doing the deed but also aiding someone to commit the act or attempting it. This means that if a church’s board of elders decided to proceed with biblical counselling around sexuality, all members are potentially criminally liable, even if only the pastor or a hired professional is doing the counselling for the church.”vii

Will youth pastors be restrained from teaching on Christian sexual ethics? Will biblical counsellors be able to provide counsel unless specifically solicited on this issue (even still, could they sustain any biblical understandings of manhood and womanhood without conviction under the law)? Will the preaching of the all- encompassing power of Christ to transform, and of the nature of the fullness of the gospel, for all of life, be condemned? At best, Canada’s government is limiting the reach of the gospel to people within the LGBTQI+ community; their dogmatism restricting the religious freedom of all Canada. “At a minimum,” as Hans Boersma points out, “our context demands that we be alert to the link between banning conversion therapy and undermining religious freedom.”viii

Retaining Christ-Likeness

Of course, the church in Canada must appeal this Bill. The updated law introduces strict contradictions to the public and private life of the Christian. At the very least, the Bill necessitates revisions that guarantee the protection of religious freedom for Christian institutions and individuals. What is required, as a minimum, is the inclusion of specific exceptions or allowances.

Last year, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) recommended several revisions to a previous version of the Bill that remain relevant. The EFC advocated for “clarifying in the exemptions that the following will not be considered conversion therapy:

  • parental guidance on matters of gender or sexuality
  • religious instruction on matters of gender or sexuality
  • the private or public expression of sincerely-held beliefs or views
  • therapeutic or medical care offered to individuals voluntary seeking support.”ix

The EFC has provided further resources to Christians (or concerned citizens) wishing to repeal the Bill, accessible here. And yet, these issues will not be unravelled through shrewd legal argument and collective pushback from the Evangelical Church. They will be addressed in the churches, through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, as applied to the whole of life. Changing the law will most likely begin with changing a culture. At a pastoral level, then, the church must not shy away from teaching on the fullness of the gospel for all of life. It must remain steadfast, clear, and unwavering on teaching a Christian sexual ethic, true human identity, the grand story of salvation history, the totality of Christ’s life and work, and God’s design for his good, ordered creation. It is unlikely that an individual pastor will shape a court ruling on Bill C-4, but he is very likely to be confronted with congregants asking questions about the matters it concerns. In such circumstances, a good grasp of the biblical position on natural law and the order of the created world will prove invaluable.x

It is quite evident, in this instance, that pastors must be unafraid to address the sin of the nation, and more explicitly the sin in their pews—where it pertains to acceptance, apathy or practice of sexuality and identity outside of the Bible’s clear instruction—calling for confession and an obedience to sacrificial, death-to-self life in Christ. A death-to-self that means repentance of any other idolatrous identity outside of being in Christ. Christian maturity and the putting off of sin requires being formed-to-fit God’s good design for the body, mind, heart, and soul in his worship and service.

In the same manner, all Christians must call upon one another to encourage bold, non-passive, cross-shaped parenting. The family ought to be once again understood and reclaimed as an institution that underpins society, a microcosmic industry for faith and life. Establishing culture begins in the home, and this should include, but is not exhausted by, taking serious the application of the Scriptures to the modern, anti-natal resistance to having children, the unthinking use of technology, and a regained parental responsibility for the education and maturity of children.

Reclaiming Conversion Therapy

Church leaders must uphold a sincere confidence in the word of God as the true way to human flourishing, which includes, whether legal or not, the practice of the seeking to enable a person to grasp the nature of the community to which they belong. What might, in broad terms, be defined as conversion therapy. That is the traditional role of the therapist, the priest-pastor who embodies and trains individuals in the rituals, language, doctrines, and symbols of the church by which they might then participate in the community, including its explicit sexual ethic. Out of love and concern for the members of our flock who are struggling with who they are or where they belong, we cannot abandon them to the dominant and destructive ideas and discourses of this age.

Whereas Canadian culture regards the community as a hindrance to the full expression of the authentic individual, the biblically founded view of therapy depends on an understanding of personal sin, and the wider (Christian) community as a positive good for those individuals who constitute it. In Phillip Rieff’s language, “it is the community that cures.”xi Nonetheless, as the culture further unties itself from the church community and its ethic, what is needed most is a church full of people that does not fear confronting alternative narratives to Christianity, because it is convinced that Christianity’s answers to fundamental questions stand up favorably against all other options.

Recovering Clarity

Where the ambiguity of Bill C-4 causes concern for the church, the clarity of Scripture prevails. In this battle, Christians aren’t called to win. They are called to persevere. And while knowing Christ has already overcome the world, Christians are called to keep allegiance to Christ by maintaining a biblical morality for the greater good. As Boersma again remarks, “It is not pastoral to use the psychological discourse of our therapeutic culture rather than the biblical language of sin and repentance. It is not pastoral to keep nodding when someone self-identifies as gay. And it is especially not pastoral to refuse to call sinners to repentance.”xii

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily held by everyone at Christ City Church. 

Endnotes

i G. K. Chesterton and Iain T. Benson. The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, 441.
ii https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/44-1/bill/C-4/third-reading, Accessed December 1st, 2021.
iii https://nationalpost.com/opinion/barbara-kay-the-case-for-deep-sixing-bill-c-6, Accessed December 11th, 2020.
iv https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-59500095, Accessed December 1st, 2021.
v https://genderreport.ca/about-us/, Accessed December 1st, 2021.
vi Royal College of Psychiatrists’ statement on sexual orientation, Position Statement PS02/2014, April 2014 (https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/PS02_2014.pdf); In 2014, in an attempt to de-stigmatise people who say they are gay (or otherwise), the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) in London made a degree of inciteful comments about sexual orientation. Even in condemning conversion therapies, and whilst asserting that “sexual orientation for most people seems to be set around a point that is largely heterosexual or homosexual,” the RCP also comments that “It is not the case that sexual orientation is immutable or might not vary to some extent in a person’s life.” vii https://ca.thegospelcoalition.org/article/bill-c-6-what-the-criminal-ban-on-conversion-therapy-means-for- churches-in-canada/, Accessed December 3rd 2020.
viii https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2021/03/gay-anglicans-in-the-acna, Accessed March 5th 2021.
ix https://files.evangelicalfellowship.ca/si/Religious%20Freedom%20in%20Canada/EFC/conversion-therapy-Bill-C- 6-overview-Oct-2020.pdf x Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 405. xi Reiff, Triumph of the Therapeutic, 57.
xii Ibid.