Over the next few weeks parliament will twice debate measures which could have far-reaching consequences for church teaching on sexuality, prayer and discipleship, as well as support for people who are same-sex attracted or questioning their gender identity.

A private member’s bill aiming to ban conversion therapy is being debated on 1 March, and an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill proposes very similar changes to be made to the law and is likely to be debated at some point during March.

Both the bill and the amendment aim to outlaw a wide range of activities that they class as conversion practices. The proposed amendment creates an offence if someone offers, administers, or takes payment for conversion practices, or for materials to be used in the conduction of conversion practices, or advertises or assists in any of these actions. The private members’ bill has a very similar set of offences. 

At the heart of the problem with both these measures is the difficulty in defining what is meant by conversion practices, and therefore what activities will be criminalised. A recent legal opinion on proposals to introduce similar law in Scotland referred to it as jellyfish legislation’.


The Evangelical Alliance has consistently argued that there is no place for forced or coercive activity which tries to change someone’s sexual orientation. We also consider that the law already provides wide-ranging criminal sanctions for such abusive behaviour. The risk of ill-defined legislation such as what is currently being proposed, is that it is not needed to prosecute egregious abusive actions but will stop people from receiving the support they want and will criminalise churches or organisations for teaching biblical sexual ethics and pastoring people as they seek to live by them. 

The amendment defines conversion practices as, any conduct or activities carried out with intent to change, replace, suppress, or negate an individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity (or lack thereof)”. This means that not only efforts to change someone’s sexual orientation but potentially any activity or material that could be viewed as encouraging someone not to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same sex could be criminalised. 

Private members’ bills rarely become law, unless the government agrees to back them (even if parliament votes in favour of the idea). An amendment to government legislation is more likely to become law, although if passed by the House of Commons it also has to be agreed by the House of Lords. 

"There is a very real risk that parliament could vote in the coming weeks in support of a law which under the guise of banning abusive behaviour would criminalise the ordinary, everyday, activity of churches."

There is a very real risk that parliament could vote in the coming weeks in support of a law which under the guise of banning abusive behaviour would criminalise the ordinary, everyday, activity of churches. There is no need for the activity to have caused injury or distress for it to be deemed illegal. There is no defence if it is an activity or support a person desires or chooses. There is no need for someone to have even engaged in any activity – in fact the provision of material, whether that’s a book, an article or a video, which is judged to be encouraging someone to resist same-sex sexual activity, is likely to be enough for an offence to be committed. 

Both the proposed bill and amendment include a vague exemption for the expression of religious belief, but this is likely to provide little protection. One lawyer’s analysis of the private members’ bill stated: an exception for a mere expression of religious belief serves to confirm that any action taken to seek to persuade another to abide by that belief or to sanction another for failing to abide by that belief is potentially criminal.”

This would mean that church discipleship, pastoral care and prayer ministry is under threat of prosecution when matters of same-sex sexual attraction or gender identity are at hand. For example, if a church did not baptise someone because they were in a same-sex sexual relationship or removed someone from leadership unless they repented and turned away from such activity, they would likely fall foul of this law. 

Not only would these proposals severely limit the support available to Christians who seek support to live biblically faithful lives, or to anyone seeking to not engage in same-sex sexual activity, but they would also be a hammer blow to religious freedom in the UK

Please pray for our politicians over the coming weeks as they consider these proposals. Pray that MPs will understand the risk that poorly designed laws could severely restrict the work of churches and Christian ministries. Pray for courage for MPs to speak up in these debates and that their voice will be heard.