What Christians Can Learn from Anti-Conversion Therapy Laws

by | Culture and Spirituality, Faith and Reason, Gender Identity | 2 comments

Note: For more about Bill C-6, see our article Will Bill C-6 Take Away Our Freedom to Speak on Sex and Gender?

At the time of writing, Bill C-6, an act to ban conversion therapy, awaits final vote in Canada’s Parliament. The stated purpose of the bill is to protect people from harmful or coercive practices to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. And of course, protecting people from coercion and harm is something we can all affirm. 

The problem with Bill C-6, however, is how it defines “conversion therapy”. The wording is so vague that many fear it being used to deny even beneficial therapeutic practices. Of particular concern to Christians are the threats the bill poses to religious freedoms. With so much unclear language, Bill C-6 has the potential to make even affirming and expressing biblical beliefs about sex and gender unlawful.

A threat…yet an opportunity

In its present form, Bill C-6 poses a real threat to our civic freedoms. But it also supplies us with a clear window into the worldview assumptions that have captivated our culture. This brings to mind something Paul said when discussing our battle to demolish spiritual strongholds.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

We must not overlook the insights Bill C-6 gives us into the “arguments and pretensions” Satan is using to keep our culture in captivity. The better we can understand these spiritual deceptions, the better equipped we will be to avoid them ourselves and dismantle them as we participate in the public square and gospel proclamation.

The arguments and pretensions of Bill C-6

The opening preamble of Bill C-6 states,

Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to society because, among other things, it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes…including the myth that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity can and ought to be changed.1

In using the word “ought”, Bill C-6 is expressing a moral imperative about the way things “should be”. The morality being smuggled into the bill is that believing sexual orientation or gender identity ought to change is wrong.

But moral imperatives (“oughts”) require moral authority (“Who says?”). That’s what makes this proposed inclusion into criminal law code so peculiar and concerning. What moral authority has determined that believing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity ought to change is wrong?

No answer is given, of course. That’s because the statement rests on the unspoken authority of our culture’s deeply held, yet extremely unstable, assumptions of authenticity and self-creation.

Bill  C-6  presents  us  with  an  opportunity  to  gain  insight  into  the  “arguments  and  pretensions”  Satan  is  using  to  keep  our  culture  in  captivity.

The assumption of authenticity

The assumption of authenticity is reflected in mottos like “live your truth”, and “be true to yourself”. 

Joe Rogan’s recent podcast interview with actress/singer Demi Lovato expresses it perfectly. Regarding her own sexual identity, Lovato declares,

I’m done living other people’s truths. I’m here to tell you that I’m going to live [my truth] no matter what you think of it because it feels right to me.2 

Individually determined through emotion and intuition, authenticity is the new knowledge principle for identity. Our “true” self is found by looking within, and we know we’ve found it when it “feels right”. And since verification is completely personal, our self-declared authentic identity is unquestionable.

Of course no one stops to consider what happens when my self-declared authentic identity calls your self-declared identity into question. But that’s because reason and logic don’t factor into the assumption of authenticity. It’s an irrational conviction. That’s why it increasingly demands assent by law rather than deserving it by nature.

But to understand how such an irrational assumption has captured our culture, we must understand its supporting assumption of self-creation.

The assumption of self-creation

With his theory of natural selection, Charles Darwin declared: “…everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.”3  This supposedly gave mankind a way to re-tell his creation story without the Creator. 

The logical consequence and cultural impact of this idea is clearly stated by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre:

There is no human nature because there is no God to have a conception of it…Man is nothing else but that which he makes himself.4 

With no God to give life meaning our only choice is to create meaning ourselves.

But this raises the question: “How do we decide what that meaning will be?” The prevailing cultural consensus is that, given its powerful influence, sexual experience and performance must be central to this self-creating process. Sociologist Charles Taylor refers to this as expressive individualism, “that each of us finds our meaning by giving expression to our own feelings and desires.”5 

Unfortunately, we can’t turn back the clock. The moral authority behind laws like Bill C-6 is based on these basic assumptions of authenticity and self-creation. They are unstated because they represent ultimate assumptions that are religious in nature. But they do inform people’s deeply held beliefs about who they “really” are and how they know it.

The question is, how do we reach a generation captivated by the worldview of authenticity and self-creation?

How do we respond?

There are no easy answers, but there are a few principles we must observe as we engage this generation with the gospel.

1. We don’t use worldly tactics

Paul reminds us that, “we do not wage war as the world does” (2 Corinthians 5:3). In our battle to demolish the spiritual strongholds of authenticity and self-creation, we mustn’t resort to moral outrage, insults, or ridicule. We can’t resent unbelievers for thinking as they do. Remember, except for God’s grace you’d think the same way.

What’s  important  for  us  to  remember  is  not  simply  that  the  gospel  transforms  how  we  live, but  that  how  we  live  reflects  a  deeper  spiritual  reality.

Rather, Paul says, “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone” (2 Timothy 2:24).  Because the gospel is true, we don’t need to anxiously quarrel about it. We can afford to be kind toward everyone because truth doesn’t require belligerence or coercion for its defense. It simply requires declaration. It’s God who does the convicting and convincing, which takes all the pressure off us. 

2. We demolish ideas, not people

Keep in mind that, while all sinners stand in wilful rebellion against God, Paul also describes them as caught in “the trap of the devil” and “captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).  This ought to evoke in us a sense of solidarity with and compassion for anyone, regardless of their ideological pre-commitments.

This really goes back to the issue of our posture toward those in our world who espouse the virtues of authenticity and self-creation. With compassion, we should see them as captives to the “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Col. 2:8) of culture, whose author is Satan himself. 

This means we must lose the “us vs. them” mentality that too often slips into Christian conversation. Those who oppose us are not our enemies; they are captives of our enemy.

3. We are living witnesses of the truth

Cultural beliefs about authenticity and self-creation do not line up with reality. They’re counterfeits to the true meaning God gives our lives. And like any counterfeit, they’re most easily detected when compared to the genuine article.

In 2 Corinthians 3:3, Paul refers to the believers in Corinth as living “letters”.  He meant their lives bore witness to the gospel’s transforming power.

What this reminds us of is that not only does the gospel transform how we live, but how we live reflects the deeper spiritual reality that

  • we were created by our heavenly Father for his glory; (Gen. 1:26-27)
  • the guilt of our sin has been eradicated by the gracious blood of Jesus; (Romans 3:21-26)
  • we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who makes us holy; (Eph. 1:13; 1 Peter 1:2)
  • we’re adopted as God’s children and heirs of his eternal kingdom; (Rom. 8:15-17)
  • God has placed us into an eternal family of brothers and sisters who make up his church; (Eph. 3:6)
  • God’s presence and power sustain us for every trial, adversity, depravation or heartache; (2 Cor. 12:9)
  • the glory of Jesus is our great and eternal reward, both in this life and the life to come (John 17:24).

In a culture of counterfeit authenticity and self-creation, we must strive to live out the authentic realities of God’s creation. May God help us to take seriously our calling to live life in Christ, so that our lives may reflect the truth of the gospel we declare. 

Conclusion

When Paul visited Athens in Acts 17, he took time to observe the idols of the city. In seeing them Paul was “greatly distressed” (Acts 17:16).  Bill C-6 isn’t made of silver or gold, but it does reflect the idolatry of our culture’s deeply held “religious” beliefs. And as such we too should be distressed.

In a culture of counterfeit authenticity and self-creation, we must strive to live out the authentic realities of God’s creation. 

However, Paul also observed and “looked carefully” at these idols in order to understand those who worshipped them. In so doing, he was able to “reason” with them when the time came to talk about Jesus. 

In the same way, our distress should prompt us to oppose the threats to civil liberties posed by Bill C-6. But we should also not miss the chance to gain deeper insight into the hearts and minds of those around us and the deceptions that hold them captive. And to pray for God’s wisdom to reason well for the gospel in those God-appointed moments we have to point people to Jesus.


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Notes

  1. House of Commons Canada, Bill C-6: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy), First Reading, October 1, 2020. 
  2. The Joe Rogan Experience – Podcast, #1625 – Demi Lovato, March 27, 2021.
  3. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, (with original omissions restored, edited with appendix and notes by his grand-daughter Nora Barlow), Collins, London, ‘Religious Belief’, pp. 85–96, 1958.
  4. Jean Paul Sartre, “Existentialism Is a Humanism,” (1946), in Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, ed. Walter Kaufman (London: Meridian, 1989). – Quote in Pearcy’s Love Thy Body, p. 205.
  5. Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution, (Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2020), p. 44.

2 Comments

  1. Phil

    Thanks for this insight, Scott. Thanks for highlighting the underlying values of authenticity and self-creation.

    Reply
  2. Cindy Grantham

    Excellent in every way!

    Reply

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