Government bans on the discredited practice of conversion therapy amount to persecution of evangelical Christians and an “attack on the word of God,” according to influential California pastor John MacArthur.
The pastor who famously defied county and state authorities to keep his church open during the COVID-19 pandemic — once declaring, “There is no pandemic” — now is calling on pastors in the United States and Canada to join in a day of simultaneous preaching on “biblical sexual morality.”
That view of what is “biblical” includes zero tolerance for same-sex attraction, same-sex relations, bisexuality or transgender identity. It also includes a firm belief that there are only two genders assigned by God at birth and that same-sex attraction is a choice that can be “cured” by therapy.
In a Dec. 28 letter to other Christian pastors, MacArthur declares bans on conversion therapy “an urgent matter in which the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is under attack.”
MacArthur declares bans on conversion therapy “an urgent matter in which the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is under attack.”
The precipitating event is adoption of a strict ban on conversion therapy in Canada that takes effect Jan. 7. This Canadian law defines conversion therapy as any practice, treatment or service designed to change or repress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. It makes it illegal to provide, promote and profit off conversion therapy.
According to MacArthur, this means evangelical pastors no longer can preach the Bible without the threat of fines or jail sentences.
To make his case, he quotes a letter sent to him from Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. MacArthur also points out that Coates was “recently imprisoned for keeping his church open during COVID-19 lockdowns.”
According to the Edmonton Journal, Coates was held in custody for about five weeks while awaiting trial on charges that he flagrantly and intentionally endangered public health by not following required COVID-19 protocols with large gatherings.
On Feb. 7, 2021, he was charged with breaching distancing and capacity restrictions imposed by the chief medical officer of health. He was released on a promise to appear in court, but on condition that he comply with public health orders.
A week later, authorities attended the church and documented continued “blatant violation” of the public health orders that broke the terms of his release from custody while awaiting trial. Thus, he was jailed.
Coates is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, a school affiliated with MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in Los Angeles and where MacArthur serves as chancellor.
According to Coates as quoted by MacArthur, the Canadian law against conversion therapy “directly comes against parents and counsellors who would seek to offer biblical counsel with respect to sexual immorality and gender” and could be used to “criminalize evangelism.”
Although it took three attempts over several years to pass the Canadian law, the final version passed without dissent — a point emphasized by Andrew DeBartolo, teaching elder at Encounter Church in Kingston, Ontario, in another letter quoted extensively within MacArthur’s missive.
DeBartolo asserts: “According to Canadian law, as of Jan. 8, 2022, the belief in God’s design for marriage and sexuality will now be seen as a myth.”
To oppose this perceived persecution, conservative evangelical pastors — “faithful men” — across Canada have chosen Sunday, Jan. 16, to preach “on God’s design for marriage and a biblical ethic of sexuality, DeBartolo said. “We will be doing so illegally, declaring to the state that there is one God and one Lord over his church, and that Christ alone gets to both define marriage and dictate what is required in the pulpit. We are honored that our American brothers will be joining us in this.”
MacArthur, in his widely disseminated letter, urges American pastors to join in this effort.
“According to Canadian law, as of Jan. 8, 2022, the belief in God’s design for marriage and sexuality will now be seen as a myth.”
“I am eager to support our Canadian brothers and to preach on biblical sexual morality on Jan. 16, and I invite you as a faithful pastor to do the same,” MacArthur said. “Our united stand will put the Canadian and the U.S. governments on notice that they have attacked the Word of God. We are all well-aware of the evil power and destructive influence of the homosexual and transgender ideology. Our government is bent on not only normalizing this perversion, but also legalizing it, and furthermore criminalizing opposition to it.”
He adds that in the U.S. and Canada, it has become a “political priority … to make perversion safe from criticism.”
To make his case, MacArthur cites one of the six so-called “clobber passages” most often used to argue for a biblical condemnation of same-sex relations: 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. In this passage, the Apostle Paul writes about the “unrighteous” who will not inherit the kingdom of God. In the 1946 Revised Standard Version of the Bible, two key Greek words in this passage were translated into English as “effeminate” and “homosexuals.”
More modern biblical scholarship has challenged these translations as not accurate to the original Greek text — there is a book and a documentary about this coming out in 2022 — yet MacArthur and other conservative evangelicals stand by the RSV translation as essential.
“Our calling as gospel ministers is to preach the truth, confront sin, and call all men to repentance and obedience to the gospel — the good news that achieves soul conversion and saves sinners from eternal wrath,” MacArthur wrote in his letter.
In most of the rest of the U.S. and other Western countries, the kind of conversion therapy MacArthur seeks to defend has been debunked as both dangerous and ineffective. The chief purveyor of this philosophy, Exodus International, shut down in 2013 and apologized for its past abuses.
In a later email to BNG, DeBartolo asserted that his letter does not defend conversion therapy. “The issue, as I clearly stated, is that given the broad definition of conversion therapy given by the Canadian government, any formal counselling or service, which could be nothing more than a private discussion, could be deemed conversion therapy, which would then in turn lead to the arrest or imprisonment of any pastor who offers that counsel.”
Across the U.S., 20 states and the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have banned the practice of conversion therapy on minors. The same is true of 100 U.S. cities.
Every major medical and mental health organization in the U.S. has condemned the use of conversion therapy. There is no documented evidence that conversion therapy is effective in changing sexual orientation or gender identity.
The American Counseling Association, for example, says it “opposes conversion therapy because it does not work, can cause harm, and violates our Code of Ethics. It is an attempt to treat something that is not a mental illness.”
The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ-rights advocacy group, conducted a national survey of 40,000 LGBTQ youth in the U.S in 2020 and found that 10% had been subjected to some form of conversion therapy. Also, according to a peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project, published in the American Journal of Public Health, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.
To learn more about conversion therapy from the testimonials of those who have experienced it, visit the Vimeo page of Good Faith Media.
My quest to find the word ‘homosexual’ in the Bible | Opinion by Ed Oxford
‘Pray Away’ and the harms of the conversion therapy movement | Opinion by Amber Cantorna