Parliament in Victoria voted 29-9 on 4 Feb. to pass the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020. The bill bans practices that aim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and it specifically includes prayer and other religious practices in the ban.
The law is scheduled to take effect in 12 months. At that point, if someone is found to have engaged in such practices that “result in serious injury,” they could face fines of up to $10,000 or a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
A government fact sheet about the bill seeks to explain what is and is not allowed under the bill. In a FAQ section, the fact sheet includes the following:
If someone comes to me asking to be changed, are there any issues if I try to help them?
Yes, because it is not possible for a person to change their sexual orientation or gender identity …
Can I run a support group designed to help people not act on their same-sex attraction?
No. This type of support group is designed to suppress a person’s sexual orientation. …
In what Christians might find comical if it weren’t so dismaying, the fact sheet concludes by saying, “If this information is upsetting or worrying, you can get help and support by contacting the following organisations.” The list that follows includes six LGBT support and advocacy organisations. As one might guess, no evangelical organisations are included.
Christian response to the bill’s passage expressed a determination to hold true to Scriptural teaching.
Conservative blogger Bill Muehlenberg wrote: “All the media headlines got it wrong. It is not ‘conversion therapy’ that is now illegal in Victoria. It is Christianity, prayer, counsel, biology, common sense and help for those struggling that is now banned in Victoria.” He added: “If troubled folks come to me to discuss their sexuality, and if they ask me for prayer, I will discuss these matters and I will pray. So crucify me already. Here I stand, I can do no other.”
Martyn Iles, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, referred to the apostles’ words, “We must obey God rather than men,” which they spoke when they were ordered to stop preaching about Jesus. “Those are words to live by,” Iles said in a recent “The Truth of It” video. “Times are changing, and we must recalibrate and say we must obey God rather than men. We’re not going to live by lies, but we’re going to live by righteousness.”
Eternity News, published by Bible Society Australia, quoted Baptist Minister Murray Campbell as saying, “Under this Act, if Jesus shared His views with an individual or prayed with someone who came to Him because they were struggling with their sexual or gender identity, Jesus could face criminal charges and time in prison. Why? Jesus taught that all sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman are immoral (Cf. Matthew 19). Of course Jesus’ view, which upholds the teaching of the Bible, form[s] the beliefs that Christians carry today and that shape our lives.”
And Peter Barnes, moderator general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, wrote to the congregations of his denomination: “We are obliged before God to preach all that He has revealed to us, whether law or Gospel, and to do so in a spirit of love and truth. … It is our task to keep on keeping on, to proclaim and to live out so far as we can the Gospel of Christ which has been entrusted to us.”
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