A leading Christian charity in the U.K. is concerned about a push to criminalize prayer — even of a “gentle, non-coercive” nature — that doesn’t wholeheartedly affirm LGBT lifestyles.
In early June, David Walker, bishop of Manchester, told The Guardian he supports the ban, noting wherever activity “has harmed someone, the person who has caused the harm should face prosecution.”
He included in his support, however, a caveat. Walker said there should be an exception made for “gentle, non-coercive prayer” against LGBT behavior. Instead, the governmental prohibition should apply “where there is a level of power imbalance and a level of force,” he argued.
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Jayne Ozanne, an activist and prominent lesbian Anglican, took issue with Walker’s suggestion there should be any allowances.
“I’m very grateful to Bishop David for his clear support for a ban, although I would strongly refute that ‘gentle, non-coercive prayer’ should be allowed,” she said. “All prayer that seeks to change or suppress someone’s innate sexuality or gender identity is deeply damaging and causes immeasurable harm, as it comes from a place — no matter how well-meaning — that says who you are is unacceptable and wrong.”
The U.K.-based Christian Institute issued a statement last Thursday, announcing it is “alarmed” by the push for the government to criminalize such prayers.
“While the Institute does not oppose a ban that protects people from harmful pseudo-medical practices,” the charity stated, “the idea that ‘gentle, non-coercive prayer’ should be included in a list of illegal actions is alarming. In any event, it would violate the human rights of believers.”
Continuing in its statement, the organization referenced the legal opinion of human rights attorney Jason Coppel, who said a ban so far-reaching to include prayer “would be likely to violate convention rights.”
“Those pushing for the ban to include ordinary prayer seem to attribute the worst possible motives to those of us who hold different theological beliefs from them,” stated the Institute. “They are not willing to listen to mainstream Christian groups or to their concerns.”
“Now they have gone a step further,” it continued, “by stating that the legislation should cover not only practices they consider coercive but all forms of prayer, no matter how mild.”
Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs at The Christian Institute, described Ozanne’s remarks as “very revealing.”
He said it shows her focus “is not about protecting people from genuinely abusive behavior.” Instead, Calvert claimed, “it’s about criminalizing mainstream theology that campaigners on the fringes of the church don’t agree with.”
This push comes just a month after a street preacher in the U.K. was arrested by police in northwest London and forced to spend a night in jail because he was preaching a biblical view of marriage in a public space.
Pastor John Sherwood, 75, was preaching from the Old Testament book of Genesis about “God’s design in creating mankind” and the “distinction within mankind of just two genders, male and female, made in the image of God,” which he said, “constitutes the essence of God’s created order.”
Police officers said they arrested Sherwood because a handful of passersby claimed he was “homophobic” and spreading “hate speech.”