I am a middle-class, white man who has enjoyed a life of privilege in one of the most prosperous and liberal-minded societies on earth. As a result, I’ve often taken my human rights for granted – as many in my position sadly do.
But two things are changing that – my Christian beliefs and my sexual orientation. As both put me in minority groups in British society today, and both bring controversy, I’ve started to treasure the documents that articulate the human rights for which previous generations fought so hard. I bought a pocket edition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a few years ago and am getting familiar with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The latter is the main basis for a legal opinion I’ve recently commissioned concerning the UK government’s forthcoming legislation to ban ‘conversion therapy’. We undoubtedly need a well-targeted ban that stops coercive attempts to change someone’s sexuality. These are clearly harmful, and there is no good evidence that they are effective.
Just as failing to ban coercive attempts would be harmful, so would banning access to these forms of support that are important for people like me.
But there is a real danger that badly worded legislation could stop a same-sex attracted or gay man like me from accessing professional counselling, pastoral care, support groups, biblical teaching, and prayer as I seek to live out my sexuality in the light of my Christian convictions. Just as failing to ban coercive attempts would be harmful, so would banning access to these forms of support that are important for people like me.
That’s why, with the financial backing of a couple of individuals, I’ve sent the relevant UK government ministers a formal legal opinion outlining how the demands of various campaigners, and examples of legislation from other places in the world, would be likely to infringe my human rights under articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the ECHR.
I’m hoping and praying that the result will be good and effective legislation that bans anything that forces people to change their sexual orientation, but also protects anything that helps people express their sexuality in the light of their religious beliefs or other deeply held convictions.
My growing concern for the protection of human rights clearly has its roots in a degree of self-interest. I have, as result, instructed lawyers and shared their opinion in a purely personal capacity.
But as a member of the Church of England I am also protecting the right of its leaders and members to, compassionately and confidently, articulate our church’s official teaching on marriage and sex.
As a pastor I am seeking to preserve the freedom of all in my church family to lovingly encourage and enable each other to live out Christian sexual ethics.
As a director of Living Out I am simply making sure it remains possible to continue to carry out our charitable objects which include ‘…providing pastoral support and advice in relation to biblical teachings on human sexuality assisting same-sex attracted Christians to reconcile their sexuality with the teachings of the Bible.’
As a human being I am belatedly recognising that universal human rights need to be articulated and defended for the benefit of all people all of the time – including those of other religions whose freedoms could soon be undermined as much as my own. I have rightly stopped taking human rights for granted.
You can read our position on conversion therapy here. You may also find these posts helpful: