Conversion confusion?

There is yet another open letter circulating for people to sign, this time asking Liz Truss, in her capacity as Minister for Women and Equalities to allow religious exemptions from the proposed government ban on conversion therapy.  The open letter is available to read at:

Ministers’ Consultation Response – A Christian perspective (

There are some errors and confusion in the letter, so what follows is a breakdown of these matters.

The opening paragraph starts by declaring that the authors hold ‘orthodox, historic Christian teaching on sexual ethics.’  Many of the signatories are from free churches and, for them, their definition of orthodox will vary from one church to another.  But for those who are Church of England / Anglican or Methodist the definition of orthodox would imply that they subscribe to the official positions of their respective denominations. In July 2017 the General Synod of the Church of England voted for a ban on conversion therapy.  At the 2021 Methodist conference there was an over whelming vote tor a complete ban on conversion therapy.  How can someone describe themselves as orthodox if they do not subscribe to the agreed position of their denominations?

The use of ‘historic’ rather than ‘traditional’ is interesting. Possibly it is a recognition that traditions develop and evolve?  Subscribing to historic sexual ethics would surely mean believing that contraception was wrong in all circumstances (because the only reason for sexual activity was for procreation), that there was nothing wrong with marital rape (because it was just the husband ‘enjoying his conjugal rights’), that remarriage after divorce was wrong when there was a former spouse still living (because marriage is permanent and only ends in death) etc.  Are those ideas really the sexual ethics for the 21st century?

Paragraph two contains various aspirational statements about ‘We always seek to act in love, with gentleness and respect…’, or ‘never with any form of coercion or control.’.  Let’s hope that is true of every church whose ministers sign this letter. 

In the third paragraph the authors see a possibility that the proposed legislation will impact on the ‘normal practice of religion.’  They give some examples of this and fear they might be criminalised.  The normal practice of religion should not be abusive. Anything that harms others or drives them to suicide should not be a normal practice of religion in any church that calls itself Christian.

Then we get a very confusing paragraph which seems to conflate conversion therapy with someone converting to Christianity.  I think any prosecutor and even the most inexperienced magistrate could tell the difference between someone coming to faith in Jesus for the first time and someone who is undergoing a form of ministry to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

As the supporting material and the evidence submitted to the Equalities committee points out, ‘conversion therapy’ might not be the best term to use, but it is the term that is so widely used that it is recognisable and used for convenience.

Following this is a paragraph on marriage.  This is completely irrelevant to conversion therapy.  Why is it even included?  My best guess is that it acts like a dog-whistle in signalling to people of a particular viewpoint that they need to sign this letter in order ‘to defend marriage’. 

Paragraph six doesn’t really follow on from the paragraph about marriage.  It starts with ‘To urge and assist people to live in this way, far from being harmful, is a kind and merciful act, and of benefit to all.’  I am not sure what the authors mean by ‘this way’. Are they still talking about marriage?  The paragraph goes on the ascribe everything to people’s identity being in their ‘feelings’. 

This sets up the false dichotomy, in the following paragraph, between an emotional state and ‘Christian conversion’.  It seems to be all about someone living an unsuitable ‘lifestyle’.  It would be helpful if the authors showed that they understood the difference between sexual orientation or gender identity and ‘lifestyle’.   

The paragraph goes on to say that ‘It should not be a criminal offence for us to instruct our children that God made them male and female, in his image, and has reserved sex for the marriage of one man and one woman.’  Nobody is suggesting it should.  Is this another dog whistle to call the ‘orthodox’ to sign?  Imposing those views on others could be seen as coercion.  Do they teach that ‘male and female’ should be interpreted broadly or do they teach it as a narrow binary?  How is adultery relevant to a discussion of conversion therapy anyway?

Paragraph eight ends with ‘Yet we think it important you are aware that if it were to come about that the loving, compassionate exercise of orthodox Christian ministry, including the teaching of the Christian understanding of sex and marriage, is effectively made a criminal offence, we would with deep sadness continue to do our duty to God in this matter.’  I am not sure whether to be more concerned that this is put in the singular, as if there is one and only one Christian understanding of sex and marriage, or whether it is more problematic that the authors think conversion therapy is about sex and marriage, when it is about sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Paragraph nine wants ‘the adoption of an entirely different approach’, but gives no clue as to what the authors think that different approach should look like.

The final paragraph is a mistake, in my opinion.  It invokes the Queen, in her role as ‘defender of the faith’.  In fact, the monarch holds two religious titles – ‘Defender of the Faith’ and ‘Supreme Governor of the Church of England’.  The defender of the faith title was bestowed on Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in 1521.  The faith being defended was Roman Catholicism.  This would have implications for anyone ordained who signed this letter, it means understanding that only men can be ordained and those men must be single and celibate for life.  I wonder how many of them are?

The other title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England would suggest that the monarch would be expected to uphold the official position of the Church on this matter.  As mentioned earlier General Synod, the ruling body of the Church of England, voted on this in July 2017 and voted for a complete ban on conversion therapy. 

Quite a confused letter, in my opinion.

Yes Bishop.  Sir Humphrey 2 – Church of England 0

Sometimes great comedy succeeds when it finds true to life characters and situations and takes them to extremes, where we see them differently and find the humour in the situation.  Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby, from the TV programme Yes Minister, are two of those people who have become character classics. 

It is clear that the influence of Sir Humphrey and his mantras of delay and obfuscation are thriving in the upper echelons of the Church of England at the moment.  Except, it is not funny in real life.

For anyone not familiar with the Jim Hacker / Sir Humphrey dynamic, you might like to view

Yes, Minister – Sir Humphrey’s Stalling Technique – YouTube  on creative inertia

“In Due Course, Humphrey …” – YouTube  in the fullness of time

Then look at the minutes of the zoom meeting of the House of Bishops from 24 November  Meeting of the House of Bishops, 24 November 2021 | The Church of England   A grand total of 82 words, including the date, description and mode of meeting.  They ‘were updated…approved the direction of travel… received a series of updates… an update was given to the house…reflections…’   The only definite thing was that ‘the meeting ended in prayer’.   Sir Humphrey would have been so proud.

The level of obfuscation almost makes me wonder what is not being said.  The biggest thing missing is any sort of decision about anything.  As Sir Humphrey memorably put it ‘a decision is only an official decision if it was recorded officially in the minutes by an official’ even allowing that some might have recollections of other decisions being made. 

Sir Humphrey 1 – Church of England 0

Then there are the latest minutes from the Next Steps group about Living in Love and Faith.  These are available to read at LLF Next Steps Group Meeting on 24 November 2021 | The Church of England  Frankly watching Question Time at General Synod was far more informative about what was happening at the Next Steps Group meeting than their minutes. 

The minutes say ‘[T]he group also agreed actions relating to each of the Synod Questions which Bishop Sarah had promised to take to the Next Steps Group.’  To start with there were three questions – 52, 53 and 55 where their written answers were referred to the next meeting of the Next Steps Group.  The supplementary question to question 53 was also referred to the next meeting of the Next Steps group and answering the supplementary to question 55 Bishop Sarah promised to communicate the answers to the matters referred to the Next Steps group.

GENERAL SYNOD (  question paper

The supplementary questions can be viewed at General Synod November 2021 – Tuesday 16 November 2021 Afternoon – YouTube from about 3hrs 55 mins.

If it is already in the public domain, why not just say what was discussed and decided?

The obfuscation goes further. 

‘Discernment to Decision Making

The meeting agreed to work on shaping the process of discernment that will begin once the findings of ‘listening to the whole church’ had concluded. A sub-group will be formed to consider this over the coming months. It will draw on a diverse group of people for wisdom and advice.’

There is so much redundant language used here that I can’t work out if the new sub group is the LLF reference group or if the reference group is the ‘diverse group of people for wisdom and advice’. 

Then on Diocesan Synods materials for Living in Love and Faith, according to the minutes the group has just ‘agreed to offer Diocesan Synods a range of materials’, but at Question time at General Synod, in the answer to written question 47 it was stated that these materials would be available at the beginning of December.  Perhaps this is what Sir Humphrey would call ‘in the fullness of time’.  Still waiting.

Delay, contradiction, meaningless phrases and no clear answers.  Yes Bishop.

Sir Humphrey 2 – Church of England 0

For more on Sir Humphrey’s tactics you may like to watch,

Best of Sir Humphrey Appleby – Yes Minister Part 3 – YouTube  especially the part beginning around 5 minutes.