Pastors and churches cannot give close attention to every new piece of legislation that is before Parliament nor engage with every public justice issue confronting our nation. After all, we want to keep our eye on the ball with evangelism and discipleship. That is our great passion and central calling. However, I believe Bill C-6 merits our special attention and concern. It is probably the first federal bill that could (if passed) criminalize teaching certain aspects of biblical truth and place faithful pastors, counsellors, and Christian parents at risk of prosecution.
Bill C-6 may well have escaped your notice in the midst of the pandemic and the prorogation of parliament. It was introduced with the stated intention to criminalize “conversion therapy”, which it certainly does. The concern of parliamentarians to protect vulnerable Canadians from any kind of coercive or harmful therapeutic practice is right and laudable. However, as many have observed, the definition of “conversion therapy” within the Bill is so broad that it captures a very wide range of non-clinical practices.
Here is the definition set out by the Bill: “a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, to change a person’s gender identity or gender expression to cisgender or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour or non-cisgender gender expression.”
Among other penalties set out within the Bill, anyone who causes a child to undergo “conversion therapy” under this definition is liable to a prison term of five years. So, if a preacher, counsellor, or parent engages in any “practice” (which could mean repeated conversations at home or church, or a sermon series on biblical sexuality, to take but two examples) that encourages a minor to repent of any non-heterosexual sexual behaviour or to recognize their body as a good gift from God, that person could be liable to face prison.
I believe it was J.I. Packer who once observed that, since the call of the gospel is to “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15), if we redefine that of which we must repent, we are actually reshaping the call of the gospel. When we talk about the definition of sin, we are always talking about a gospel issue, and not something peripheral or negotiable. Bill C-6 could require us to reshape our gospel and curtail our ministry in ways we could not in good conscience accept. It could leave many unable to hear and receive the good news.
This is a matter of legitimate concern and should be a matter of urgent prayer for the Canadian church.
To learn more, consider participating in the inaugural Canadian Religious Freedom Summit online on January 30th.