The trouble with the words used by the clerics is that, at a superficial level, they sound nice. Of course we want safety and non-judgementalism but on examination, not only are the words in this letter meaningless and contrary to the teaching of Christ; they cause harm. While attempting to create a ‘safe space’ for some, they are making the world distinctly more harmful for others. In promoting transgender ideology, they are harming women, children and indeed, men.
There was a time when Church leaders wrote letters that proclaimed and affirmed the Christian faith, challenged false gospels and glorified Christ. Think of Paul’s letters in the Bible or the wonderful letters of John Newton or JRR Tolkien. They are edifying, exhorting and encouraging.
This week a letter was sent from some professed Christian leaders in the UK which is directly the opposite. The Rev Canon Steve Chalke, Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury; Very Rev Rogers Govender, Dean of Manchester Cathedral; Professor Susannah Cornwall, Professor of Constructive Theologies, University of Essex; Rev Paul Bailey, Pentecostal Minister; Very Revd. Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral; and several other suitably entitled church leaders.
In their letter to the Prime Minister, they lament that the government’s ban on conversion therapy excludes trans people, and it is worth examining both the background and detail of this letter.
The government itself has got into a bit of trouble over this issue. Firstly, it was announced that it was going to backtrack on the ban on so-called conversion therapy and instead use the existing laws to deal with any wrong practices.But within 24 hours of this U-turn, the government did another one and said it was going ahead with the ban – except for trans people. This U-turn was largely the result of pressure from Tory MPs who haven’t really thought the issue through and didn’t want to be seen as the ‘nasty’ Tories again. Of course, the political and media elites could hardly contain their outrage – cue Twitter ‘outrage’ and lots of stories and reports – and so the U-turn was itself U-turned.
But the latest U-turn was not enough for these Christian leaders; they want the government to go much further. And what their letter reveals is that they are a million miles away from the New Testament letters and the teaching of Jesus. In my view, there are three basic errors which remove them from Christ’s teaching.
1. They do not understand what “conversion” is. Or indeed what a Christian is. The letter argues that “conversion to Christianity is the event or process by which a person responds joyfully to the glorious embrace of the eternally loving and ever merciful God”.They go on to say, “To be trans is to enter a sacred journey of becoming whole, precious, honoured and loved, by yourself, by others and by God.”
This is a classic example of people using spiritual language which sounds good, in order to undermine and change what Jesus actually said. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). He urges us to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). He tells his church, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline” (Revelation 3:19).
There are hundreds of similar verses throughout the Bible which show clearly that the Good News is not ‘God accepts you are you are and wants to affirm you’, but rather that because God loves you, He wants to change what you are, heal you, forgive you, and give you a new heart.
This is radical conversion. The conversion described by the letter’s signatories is little more than a meaningless meme – with no substance, no love, no reality and no forgiveness. It is in a different spiritual universe from what Paul wrote to the Colossian church: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” Colossians 3:5.