On Tuesday, December 7th the Canadian Senate passed Bill C-4, effectively banning the practice known as conversion therapy. The bill had been introduced to the House of Commons on November 29th and was approved on December 1st without further debate or study. It received Royal Assent today and will become the law of the land in 30 days.
The vast majority of Christians are opposed to the sort of coercive practices that many associate with conversion therapy; however, the language of Bill C-4 as passed is exceedingly broad and may have the effect of criminalizing religious conversation and teaching with respect to the Biblical perspective on human sexuality and gender.
The proposed changes to the Criminal Code by Bill C-4 are summarized as follows:
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to, among other things, create the following offences:
(a) causing another person to undergo conversion therapy;
(b) doing anything for the purpose of removing a child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy outside Canada;
(c) promoting or advertising conversion therapy; and
(d) receiving a financial or other material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.
It also amends the Criminal Code to authorize courts to order that advertisements for conversion therapy be disposed of or deleted.
This new bill thus expands the provisions of the original proposal from protecting minors to protecting persons in general. It seeks to criminalize any act of “causing another person to undergo conversion therapy”. It does not matter that the person consented to or even sought out the therapy in question.
Again, if conversion therapy were to be defined as “using coercive means or methods to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation/behaviour” then most Christians would heartily endorse this bill. The definition proposed, however, is exceedingly broad:
Definition of conversion therapy
320.101 In sections 320.102 to 320.104, conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to
(a) change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual;
(b) change a person’s gender identity to cisgender;
(c) change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth;
(d) repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour;
(e) repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity; or
(f) 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.
The Bible does not make a distinction between biological sex and gender, so it is unclear from this definition if preaching a sermon on Genesis 1:27 would now place a pastor outside the boundaries of Canadian law:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 ESV)
Of further concern is the provision that “conversion therapy” be identified with efforts to “repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour”. The Bible clearly identifies heterosexual marriage as the proper context for sexual behaviour and expression and urges all others outside that estate to exercise self-control. Is a Bible Study on the fruit of the Spirit, as taught in Galatians 5, now to be considered outside the law?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23 ESV)
One suspects that the government intends to see such questions answered in the courts.
What is clear is that the government has privileged a very particular metaphysical view – a view at odds with medical science and nearly every religious tradition on planet earth. Their view is plainly stated in the preamble to the bill that passed without dissent and to loud applause on December 7th:
Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to the persons who are subjected to it;
Whereas 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;
And whereas, in light of those harms, it is important to discourage and denounce the provision of conversion therapy in order to protect the human dignity and equality of all Canadians;
Now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:
The idea that gender equates to biological sex would have been taken for granted by every generation of Canadians prior to this one. To enshrine the spirit of the age as the law of the land is an act of hubris. To refer to the beliefs once held universally and still held broadly by many Canadians, as “myths” and “stereotypes” is an act of blatant intolerance. The net result will be legal exposure and authorized harassment of pastors and churches.
Where Does This Go From Here?
As mentioned above, having received Royal Assent, Bill C-4 will become the law of the land within 30 days. At some point thereafter it will likely end up before the courts subject to a constitutional challenge. Given the robust provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to religious belief and expression, it may be expected that the language and breadth of the bill will be found to exceed what is permitted by law.
Christians should be praying for and working towards a better version of this legislation with the ultimate goal of protecting all people from abusive and coercive practices while at the same time protecting the rights of parents and pastors to read, teach and commend what the Bible has to say about sex and gender.
How Should Canadian Christians Respond?
There are two extremes that ought to be avoided.
Firstly, Christians should avoid over reaction. We mustn’t even appear to be in favour of abusive and coercive practices. Christians do not resort to strong arm tactics. We speak, we love, we model, we commend, we pray. That is our playbook. Conversion therapy should never have been a tool in anyone’s toolbox in the first place. We must avoid over stating our concerns and we must avoid even the appearance of indifference toward people who have suffered under these treatments. We must be narrow and specific with respect to our concerns with Bill C-4.
Secondly, we must avoid trimming our sails. I’ve already heard pastors talking about no longer making their sermons available online and no longer broadcasting worship services. This would place the elderly, the sick and the stranger outside the sound of the Gospel! There may be a place for an offline training event; there may be wisdom in providing some “closed door counsel” to the congregation as to how to engage on these matters, but the Gospel must remain public. If we must suffer for preaching the whole counsel of God, then so be it.
Jesus told us that dangerous days were to be assumed and expected.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 ESV)
It’s time for us to take that counsel seriously.
Let us be wise as serpents. Let us not rant and rave in the Public Square. Let us not take the bait on every offered hook. Let us be measured and disciplined in the statement of our concerns.
And let us be innocent as doves. Let us not abandon our call to preach. Let us not turn our backs on the vulnerable and the abused. Let us be humble and restrained in our public protestations.
And if we should suffer for preaching and speaking the truth in love, then let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is our reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before us.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can find his personal blog, Semper Reformanda, by clicking here.