Three New Zealand diocesan synods have passed motions opposing the practice of gay conversion therapy.
Gay conversion therapy refers to a course of systematic aversion or reprogramming techniques used to try and change a person’s sexual orientation. Psychologists’ professional associations in several countries have discredited this practice as ineffective and potentially harmful, especially for vulnerable youth.
Retired Judge Fred McElrea from the Diocese of Dunedin’s Social Transformation Committee presented a motion to synod rejecting the practice of gay conversion therapy.
The Diocese of Dunedin 2018 synod agreed that the church “should not be carrying out or promoting any ‘ministry’ or ‘therapy’ that leads to the expectation a person’s basic sexual orientation can or should be changed.”
Speaking to the motion, Fred said that the term ‘conversion’ was an insult to God and to the person concerned, because it assumed that an LGBT person was ‘ill’ or needed to change. He said that also caused offence to many Christians because of their understanding that all people are made in the image of God.
The Dunedin motion went on to call on Government to introduce legislation making gay conversion therapy illegal in Aotearoa New Zealand.
That call for a legal ban was echoed by the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki synod in a motion moved by Archdeacon Malcolm French, which also noted the Church of England’s 2017 decision to condemn gay conversion therapy, and subsequent moves towards bringing a gay conversion therapy ban into British law.
Both dioceses were careful to point out that a ban on the set of practices covered by the term conversion therapy would not prevent various pastoral responses to human need, which Archdeacon Malcolm French stated may include supporting LGBT Christians who wished to live celibate lives.
A similar motion against gay conversion therapy was moved in Wellington by St Peter’s Willis Street synod delegate, Neill Ballantyne. In response, the Wellington synod crafted additions to the motion adding statements on differing pastoral responses to LGBT identifying Anglicans.
Wellington’s final motion took a stand against harmful gay conversion therapies, and also recognised the diversity of views and pastoral responses on issues of sexual identity and Christian life that were present in the synod.
The full texts of the three synods’ motions are here.
I had long thought ACANZP to be one of the earlier Provinces in the worldwide Anglican Communion to incorporate in its synodical procedures those princples of justice that seek to implement the better treatment of disadvantaged members of the society we live in.
New Zealand Anglicans were the first to include lay representatives at its diocesan and provincial synods. We also ordained women (as both priests and bishops) way ahead of our dear old Mother Church of England – which, however, still has ‘Flying Bishops’ to ensure the protesting parishes are free from the ‘taint’ of women clergy!
However, on this matter of protestation against enforced ‘conversion therapy’ for those who are intrinsically homosexual, the normally conservative Church of England, perhaps surprisingly, managed to beat us to the post.
Our New Zealand General Synod has yet to tackle this matter of human indignity but it has now become obvious – perhaps in the light of the positive action of the Church of England General Synod on this issue – that the Church must do something about what amounts to an act of human indignity against a sector of society that has been judged to be anti-social and aberrant in its sexual behaviour. Three of our New Zealand Anglican dioceses have now decided to take action to prevent undue pressure on people who are intrinsically gay to submit to what is known as ‘conversion therapy’, in the hope that they can be programmed to act other than their innate sexual-orientation indicates.
The old idea that homosexuality is an unnatural, perverse, or wicked distortion of the more prevalent binary sexual instinct – an opinion backed up by a traditional ‘Christian’ understanding of the interpretation of certain biblical passages – has now been long discredited. Therefore, to attempt to ‘convert’ a person’s natural sexual identity to comply with an outdated understanding of its aetiology is not only psychologically unwise but also in conflict with the laws of creation reflected in each person’s identity as created in God’s image and likeness.
I am hopeful that our ACANZP General Synod will take note of the courageous action made by the dioceses of Dunedin, Taranaki/Waikato and Wellington and be encouraged to present a Church-wide Petition to outlaw this currently misguided but not illegal ‘therapy’.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand