Ever since I’ve been in high school I have heard of the apparent ‘gay agenda;’ that gay people and liberals are supposedly trying to spread around the world. Seven years ago, I wrote about a sermon that my old pastor preached on his fear of the ‘gay agenda.’ He is quoted in the sermon saying “there is a gay activist agenda that is knocking at the door that is becoming the principal threat to freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience in America and Canada and this must be resisted.” For years evangelicals have had a deep underlying fear that their religious freedoms are being restricted and that they are just one law from being thrown in jail all because they are a faithful Christian.
When Bill C-6 started getting discussed, evangelicals everywhere started doing what they often do; work their congregations and members up in a lather about all the ways Christians were going to be in danger if this bill actually got passed. It should be noted, that Bill C-6 criminalized anyone who “knowingly causes a person to undergo conversion therapy against the person’s will.” It goes on to criminalize forcing children to undergo conversion therapy, advertising conversion therapy or getting paid for conversion therapy. The bill’s definition of conversion therapy:
A practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relatesBill C-6 Definition of Conversion Therapy
(a) to a person’s gender transition; or
(b) to a person’s exploration of their identity or to its development.”
The evangelical resistance is growing in Canada. There was a ‘freedom summit’ planned at the end of January that talks about Bill C-6 saying that it “calls into question the ability of pastors and counsellors (along with parents and educators) to freely communicate the Bible’s teaching on matters related to sexuality. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has been providing resources, prewritten sample letters to send to MPs and been doing quite a bit of lobbying questioning the wording of this Bill and “is seeking assurances that religious instruction, parental guidance and supportive services for individuals wishing to order their sexual lives in accordance with their religious conscience, faith identity and personal convictions will not be captured.” Evangelical churches and Evangelical Denominations (the president being the past Senior Pastor at Temple Baptist in Sarnia) have been trying to raise awareness by spreading fears and delivering resources to feed misinformation about what Bill C-6 consists of.
In reading through some of the responses from evangelical churches and organizations in Canada brings back a lot of memories of when the Evangelical church in Canada and evangelical churches in Canada launched a similar type of political campaign when our provinces were moving towards legalizing gay marriage. In 2006, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada had compiled the letter with many churches have signed it pushing a similar fear of religious freedoms being at stake in that “the freedom of conscience of marriage officials and service providers is already being violated.” Now, 15 years later, in their analysis of Bill C-6, they say “the definition of conversion therapy in these bans is often very broad, and expands beyond discredited practices in ways that could limit freedom of expression and religion.”
It never ceases to amaze me the ongoing fear of Christians that one day they are eventually going to have their freedoms taken away. You would think that perfect loves casts out all fear. There is very little rhetorical or theological difference between evangelicals in early 2000s and today. In picking apart the EFCs analysis on Bill C-6, there are a few clues as to what they are worried about.
Could delivering a sermon on sexual practice that a listening adult disagrees with be considered conversion therapy against a person’s will?
Could religious instruction in the form of pastoral advice or sermons on sexuality be captured? What about written resources, such as courses of study or books on Biblical sexuality, or Bible studies for youth on sexuality? What about parental guidance on sexuality?
Could it apply to raising awareness of support groups that a person may voluntarily attend for support in ordering their sexual life according to their faith identity or personal convictions? Or advertising for books or Bible studies of biblical teaching on sexual activity.
One of the primary concerns of this letter is that “the definition of conversion therapy in these bans is often very broad” which is mentioned numerous times. However, they contradict themselves by concluding that the definition would be acceptable if the final clause removed in the definition of conversion therapy, “to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.” So removing the part of the definition that speaks directly to the heart of conversion therapy would somehow make it less broad? It seems that the definition was never too broad at all, the definition just encompassed things that evangelicals are already doing, which is repressing non-heterosexual attraction and behaviour. Talk to any LGBTQ person that has ever had an interaction with an evangelical church, and one of the first things they would tell you is that this is exactly what they are doing. Of course now it is under the guise of praying, bible studies, sermons on ‘biblical sexuality’ (any basic study done on sexuality would quickly show you that such a concept is laughable) and offering support for people in “ordering their sexual life according to their faith identity.”
Evangelicals know that their views, that being gay is wrong and an abomination to God, leak out of their praxis. So they request that the bill clarifies certain exemptions which are (1) parental guidance on matters of gender or sexuality, (2) religious instruction on matters of gender or sexuality, (3) the private or public expression of sincerely-held beliefs or views and (4) therapeutic or medical care offered to individuals voluntary seeking support. Which I don’t know about you, but those four exemptions that they are asking for are precisely the groups that would have practiced types of conversion therapy all along and precisely the kind of groups that should not be exempt.
Evangelical homophobia masks itself behind the freedom of religion arguments because it’s an ideal that Canadians hold dear. It’s one of those lines that serves as an empty signifier that people hang their entire beings on, yet so few people have any idea what it actually means. Ten years ago David Fitch wrote a brilliant book called The End of Evangelicalism (which has much support from prominent evangelicals) that speaks about how evangelicals tend to hold onto these ideals as a substitute for action. I’m not sure if it makes me against freedom, but I don’t think that people should be able to do whatever they want. Freedom isn’t that important to me, and anyone who is trumpeting the gospel of religious freedom, probably hasn’t paid too much attention to the Bible (as my friend Rev. Adam Kilner so eloquently puts it). It is awfully suspect that evangelicals are lobbying our federal government to allow pastors, parents and therapists to still be able to preach, teach and counsel people that their gender identity or their sexual orientation is sinful and that they are going against God’s plan. If you are preaching that there are human beings, based on their sexual identities and preferences, in opposition to the all-powerful God of the universe, and you don’t see how that in and of itself is abuse, then you aren’t reading the Bible correctly. There is a reason why an LGTBQ person is 8.4x likely to attempt suicide if they don’t have a loving and accepting family and community. LGTBQ people are already 2x more likely to attempt suicide as it is. Evangelicals don’t seem to understand that, because of their theology and practice, have historically been the leading cause of attempted suicide among the LGTBQ community. That is homophobia.
Evangelical homophobia is at a point now where it is like systemic racism. Evangelicals, for the most part, aren’t out there saying they hate gay people or yelling at everyone that they are going to hell. Their homophobia is built into their traditions, rhetoric, activism and organization. They focus on their religious freedoms being violated, never having given a second thought about how LGTBQ folks have been repeatedly violated and oppressed in every way imaginable within their communities. It sucks that the Canadian government had to step in and enforce the church being more ethical in their practice. You’d think that the church should be leading the government on morality. Thank God for the United, Unitarian and Anglican denominations who have been actively supporting Bill C-6 and doing what they can to love LGBTQ+ folks.