A new law, put in place on Saturday in Canada, is causing concern that it may criminalize the dissemination of the Bible.
The concern is that Bill C-4, the Act to amend the Criminal Code-conversion therapy, defines conversion therapy in overly broad terms. The definition set out in the bill read as follows:
“A practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, to change a person’s gender identity or gender expression to cisgender or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour or non-cisgender gender expression.”
The new law expressly forbids practices, treatments, or services designed to change or repress a person’s gender expression to align with their biological sex. This is the third attempt to pass the bill into legislation due to the concern of many religious leaders that the definition of conversion therapy is overly broad.
In 2020, the Gospel Coalition asked the Parliamentary Committee to clarify the definition of conversion therapy association with Bill C-6, a similar bill that failed to pass. The coalition expressed concern that the overly broad definition could lead to conversations between parents and children, or between pastors and congregants being criminalized. Lawmakers assured their constituents that the bill only criminalized coercive efforts and coercive practices, treatments, and services. The lawmakers claimed that the new law would not apply to a person who sought out a pastor or mentor for help to live a chaste sexual lifestyle or to live in alignment with their biological sex. The coalition of churches remained concerned as no such assurances appear in the language of the actual Bill.
The coalition expressed their concern:
“It is not uncommon for Parliament to pass vaguely worded legislation with the expectation that the specific application and limitation of the law will be determined by the courts. In the meantime however, pastors, parents, counsellors and mentors will be operating without any clear assurance that their good faith efforts to teach and commend a Biblical and historically Christian perspective on sex and gender will proceed without legal interference.”
In a media Q and A on previous Bill C-8 in March 2020, Justice Minister Lametti was asked if it would be legal for religious leaders to speak about homosexuality. He replied that if it’s an open-ended and exploratory conversation, it is not prohibited for religious leaders, parents, or others. He went on to say: “What is covered by this legislation are practices that attempt to change one’s orientation towards a predefined goal.”
Rev. Paul Carter of the TGC expressed concern about the ideological basis of the law:
“The idea that gender equates to biological sex would have been taken for granted by every generation of Canadians prior to this one. To enshrine the spirit of the age as the law of the land is an act of hubris. To refer to the beliefs once held universally and still held broadly by many Canadians, as “myths” and “stereotypes” is an act of blatant intolerance. The net result will be legal exposure and authorized harassment of pastors and churches.”
Rev. Dr. Aaron Rock, pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Windsor, Ontario, notes: “In Canada, the teachings of both basic biology and the Bible are now ‘myths’, according to the preamble to Bill C-4 (conversion therapy bill)… This isn’t about protecting people from harm, it’s about the state playing the role of God. And, not a single MP objected to it, including several that claim to be Christian.”