A statement from our Senior Pastor, Paul de Jong
If you’re a part of our church family at LIFE you will by now have likely seen my email and video – as sent last Sunday – regarding the government’s Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill.
The purpose of that communication was to inform people at LIFE about the Bill, provide further resources and to encourage people to make a personal submission to the select committee.
Because of a number of recent comments made in the public arena about the stance of LIFE and other faith-based organisations in relation to the Bill, I felt it needed me to bring some further clarity both personally and from a legal perspective.
A few things to say upfront:
I personally believe every single person, regardless of their sexuality, gender or lifestyle is loved by God. Our church, LIFE, has always had and has an open door to everyone, no matter where they are on their faith journey. There is no place within the church or the life of any Christian or part of society for homophobia, hatred or hurtful comments toward those who experience same-sex attraction or identify as LGBTQ.
There is also no room, nor should we engage in nor tolerate any form of manipulation against someone’s will, nor hate against another human being. We are clearly taught throughout scripture that we are not to judge but are to live an example of a life devoted to Christ.
LIFE, along with many other churches and faith-based organisations in our nation, let me be very clear, are not opposing the Bill; we are proposing changes to protect all New Zealanders are made to it as it passes through the select committee process.
What we agree with, and affirm about the Bill is:
1. Its intention of protecting vulnerable people from harm and low mental and emotional health.
2. Its declared intent to “promote respectful and open discussions regarding sexuality and gender.”
3. Its declared intent to “affirm the dignity of all people” and “uphold the human rights of all New Zealanders…to live free from discrimination and harm.”
What we have issue with, are these aspects:
1. The Bill currently limits the freedoms of parents and whānau to counsel their children.
2. The Bill is unclear about what would become legal and illegal.
3. The Bill limits people’s freedoms to seek prayer and counselling, and the Church’s freedoms to provide it.
On these points I want to bring further clarity from an expert, legal perspective and the Crown Law advice to the Attorney General
Firstly, Grant Illingworth QC READ HERE a NZ barrister, made these points in a recent legal opinion.
He states: the intended purpose of the proposed legislation is to prohibit “a broad range of practices” that necessarily involve the communication of ideas between individuals in the community. This immediately indicates that the proposed legislation is likely to interfere with various rights and freedoms that are currently protected under our existing law.
In relation to ‘practises’ as currently expressed in Bill, he goes on to say, ““Any practice” could also include conduct other than persuasion, such as prayer for the person to be set free from thoughts considered to be morally inappropriate. Parental or pastoral counselling could potentially fall within the residual definition as well, if expressed in words or conduct.
One of the purposes of the proposed legislation is “to promote respectful and open discussions regarding sexuality and gender”, he advises. If enacted into law, and even if a narrow interpretation of “conversion practices” were to be accepted by the courts, the proposed legislation would almost certainly have a profound “chilling effect” on freedom of expression concerning gender issues. Some people would be afraid to talk about the subject, or to advance strong opinions, for fear of being prosecuted or being subjected to a claim for damages under the Human Rights Act 1993. The idea that the proposed legislation would promote respectful and open discussions regarding sexuality is therefore difficult to accept…”
Second legal expert Patrick Parkinson AM a Professor of Law at the University of Queensland READ HERE. He’s an expert on family law and child protection with 35 years’ experience in these fields. His comments are from his recent submission to the New Zealand select committee.
He says, “The Bill creates a draconian offence, punishable by three years’ imprisonment, for engaging in a conversion practice in relation to a child under 18…. This will mean that some mental health professionals refuse to see young patients with sexual orientation or gender identity issues who have other serious mental health concerns. This could lead to an increase in the mental health burden on already very troubled young people, and may lead to increased suicide attempts.
Parents who act upon expert medical advice in helping their children with gender identity issues risk prosecution and jail sentences under the law as currently drafted. This is likely to lead to huge distress for parents who are already experiencing very difficult circumstances. It could lead to very grave harms.”
And finally, I wanted to share some advice that the New Zealand government received from its own Crown Law Office READ HERE. In relation to what the law will do, “There is no doubt that as expressed the prohibition will extend to activities and communications that occur within families and within religious groupings.”
Crown Law also advises that, the Bill would bring “a significant limitation on freedom of expression”, and could have “a potential chilling effect on legitimate expressions of opinion within families/whānau about sexuality and gender”.
In conclusion, let me be very clear, once again: we are not opposed to this proposed legislation, and can see value in much of it; however, if it were to pass in its current form, it would open the door to parents no longer being able to guide their children in areas of sexuality, and many New Zealanders losing the right to live freely with what they believe to be truth.
As a faith-community and as believers in Jesus, we do embrace and seek to live according to God’s divine word, the Bible, and therefore also have a right to live and profess what we believe to be God’s design for humanity to live by.
We pray God’s best for you and His will be done.
Paul de Jong
Senior Pastor LIFE.