After our Facebook live discussion of conversion therapy, we received some negative feedback from the general public. We want to respond by busting some myths about ARPA’s position on conversion therapy.
Criticism #1: How can you support a practice that is condemned by scientific and health institutions? Conversion therapy is a pseudoscience that is not based on science or facts.
Response: First of all, ARPA Canada does not support conversion therapy. ARPA Canada instead supports body-affirming counselling, which is being inappropriately lumped together with aversion therapies under the too often ill-defined term “conversion therapy”. We would have no issue if governments sought to ban physically harmful conversion therapies, like shock therapy, shaming practices, or other aversive therapies. In short, ARPA Canada’s position is that conversion therapy (properly defined) is bad, but body-affirming counselling is good.
We also respectfully submit that scientific and health institutions overlook a significant portion of the academic literature demonstrating that people can change their pattern of sexual desires and behaviour, or their sense of gender. To quote from our policy report, “Douglas Haldeman, a skeptic of such [conversion] therapies, estimates that they have a success rate (changing sexual orientation or gender identity to align with biological sex) of approximately 30%. A study by Jones & Yarhouse finds that 23% of their participants changed sexual orientation. Even many of those who do not fully change sexual orientation reported some benefit from obtaining help to address undesired same-sex attraction. In the Jones & Yarhouse study, an additional 30% lived chaste lives after therapy, which was their goal.”
Finally, there is scientific agreement on the objective fact that biological sex is genetically based. On the other hand, there is wide scientific, social, and legal disagreement around whether sexual orientation and gender identity are based on any objective genetic or developmental factor. Consequently, we believe that undesired discrepancies between someone’s subjective identity and their biological sex should be resolved in a way that respects biological sex.
Criticism #2: Your support of conversion therapy is homophobic and transphobic.
Response: Our first response is, “how?” In this discussion of conversion therapy, ARPA Canada’s position is that people who have unwanted sexual attractions or confusion around their gender should be allowed to resolve their struggles in any way of their own choosing that does not harm their body. If an adolescent who struggles with gender dysphoria desires to visit a counsellor to work through his or her distress, the unloving option would be to deny him or her this option.
Secondly (and this applies to many other issues and topics), disagreement with a particular perspective or action does not equal hatred. I can disagree with my friend’s choice to enter a same-sex sexual relationship (or an opposite-sex relationship) but still love him. Brothers or sisters may often disagree, but still love each other. Parents will often disagree with the actions of their children and discipline them for these actions, yet parents do so with love.
If disagreement with a particular viewpoint or behavior is tantamount to hatred, then most of these negative comments around ARPA’s position on conversion therapy could be considered religiophobia. You can’t call someone homophobic or transphobic because of their religious (never mind scientific!) convictions without being religiophobic. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Criticism #3. Conversion therapy bans must be passed to protect gay and transgender individuals.
Response: A final argument is that conversion therapy bans protect members of the LGBTQ2+ community from potential physical and psychological harm. Again, we ask “how?”
Conversion therapy (e.g. shock therapy, shaming practices, or other aversive therapies) is simply not widely practiced. For example, Spruce Grove, Alberta recently passed a municipal ban on conversion therapy. The municipality only has jurisdiction over business licenses. (The province of Alberta has jurisdiction over charitable and religious organizations as well as medical practitioners.) The city counsellors could not point to a single business or institution within their entire city (never mind within their jurisdictional authority) that offered conversion therapy. Nevertheless, the city still passed its ban.
Although provincial and federal governments have greater jurisdiction than local governments, the same problem applies. Conversion therapy is rarely practiced, but body-affirming counselling and discussions occur much more often. Although provincial and federal legislators could pass a conversion therapy ban that specifically targets conversion therapy (but not body-affirming counselling), such a law would impact very few people.
Criticism #4: Jesus said, “Judge not lest you be judged.” No one has the right to judge another person’s life choices.
Response: Although Christians must not be hypocritical in their judgement – that is the wider thrust of Jesus’ command in Matthew 7 – judgement or discernment between right and wrong is necessary and unavoidable. Politics and policymaking in particular are fraught with such judgments. Both Christian and non-Christian lawmakers judge murder to be wrong, for example, and so they prohibit and punish it. By publicly funding so-called sex-change surgeries, for example, the government endorses them as good. Behind every law, there is a judgement of right or wrong.
ARPA Canada believes that our creation as male and female matters, both for human relationships and for public policy. Men and women are equal but not the same. Sexual difference is God-given and innate. Many conversion therapy bans muzzle people from expressing and lovingly acting on this truth.
Criticism #5: Separate church and state, and keep religion out of politics.
Response: ARPA and Reformed Christians have responded to this criticism so many times that we will simply reiterate two of ARPA’s core principles here:
Separation Between the Institutions of Church and State:
Jesus said that we are to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). The implication is that the church, as an institution, should not direct the affairs of the civil government and vice versa. But this does not mean that faith or religion has no role in the state. It is impossible to make public policy without a moral foundation and direction. The state should protect the place of the church in society so that the church can do its calling which includes equipping its members to honour the state and to function constructively to God’s glory within our democracy.
Our Responsibility to Influence Government:
Christians should seek to influence civil government according to God’s moral standards and God’s purposes for government as revealed in the Bible. But while Christians exercise this influence, they must simultaneously insist on protecting freedom of religion for all citizens. In addition, ‘significant influence’ does not mean angry, belligerent, intolerant, judgemental, red-faced, and hate-filled influence, but rather winsome, kind, thoughtful, loving, persuasive influence that is suitable to each circumstance and that always protects the other person’s right to disagree, but that is also uncompromising about the truthfulness and moral goodness of the teaching of God’s Word.