A handful of pastors across America and Canada altered their preaching schedules this past Sunday to address the topic of sexuality from a Christian perspective. The impetus for this move was a new law in Canada about conversion therapy. Bill C-4, which criminalizes conversion therapy, passed the Canadian Senate in December. The bill officially became law this past week. It adds a new offense to the criminal code in Canada: conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy, according to the bill, is any “practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, or to change a person’s gender identity to cisgender.” Cisgender refers to the idea that a person’s gender identify corresponds with their birth sex. Both heterosexuality and cisgender are the historic, traditional, and Christian understandings of human sexuality.
The bill states that conversion therapy “causes harm to society because…it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.” It refers to the Christian doctrine of human sexuality as a “myth” when it states: “including the myth that heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expression.”
In a joint statement cheering the bill’s passage, Justice Minister David Lametti described the legislation as an “important achievement for LGBTQ2 communities in Canada.”
“This legislation represents an important milestone in the Government’s commitment to protecting the dignity and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and Two-Spirit communities, by criminalizing a shameful, unscientific, and destructive practice,” the joint statement reads. “We will continue to work with provincial, territorial and municipal partners, as well as stakeholders, to ensure that Canada is a country where everyone can be their true selves.”
Following the bill’s passage, Canadian Senator Rene Cormier, the bill’s sponsor, tweeted: “A major milestone just passed for the rights of LGBTQ2+ communities in this country and I am beyond proud.”
Conversely, the mood of Christian pastors, committed to the biblical categories of male and female, is one of concern. “The definition is intentionally broad,” wrote Andrew DeBartolo, a teaching elder in a Canadian church. “And it can clearly be used against any preacher or elder who either speaks against homosexuality/transgenderism or who counsels a person to obey Christ and abandon their homosexual/transgender actions and lifestyle.”
In response to the law, Liberty Coalition Canada issued an open letter calling “all Bible-believing Christian churches in Canada to unite together in faithfulness to Christian sexual ethics and the biblical gospel.” The letter calls on pastors to “preach a sermon [on January 16] that specifically proclaims the Biblical truth that homosexuality and transgenderism are serious sins condemned by the law of God that exclude a sinner from salvation without repentance.” The letter also asked that pastors “proclaim the Savior Jesus Christ in His atoning death and life-giving Holy Spirit as a perfect and complete Savior to all those in sexual sin.”
In response, John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, called on American pastors to stand against the law as well. In an open letter to pastors across the nation, he wrote that he was “eager to support our Canadian brothers and to preach on biblical sexual morality on January 16.”
“Our united stand will put the Canadian and the U.S. governments on notice that they have attacked the Word of God,” MacArthur wrote. “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.”
MacArthur closed his letter with an impassioned plea: “Will you stand with me and our Canadian brothers and confront, in a spirit of love and mercy, the damning sins legalized in our culture? Pastors, will you join the nationwide effort to preach on a biblical view of sexual morality on January 16, 2022 and proclaim the gospel of salvation that is now criminalized?”
When Travis Van Meter, pastor of First Baptist Church of Coleman, Florida, heard about the Canadian law, he also wanted to stand with the Canadian pastors. “Our elders have deemed it important to stand with brethren who are being silenced and punished concerning issues of biblical sexual ethics,” Van Meter told The Lancaster Patriot.
For Van Meter, his sermon on Sunday was not only a symbolic stand with Canadian pastors, but an opportunity to teach his own parishioners about what he believes to be “the inevitable encroachment of secularist totalitarianism in our own context.” While he hopes similar legislation will not be passed in the United States, he expressed doubts: “If history is any indication, as Canada goes, the U.S. will not be long behind.”
Van Meter views the Canadian law as another sign that Western culture is moving further and further away from its Christian roots. He sees a disturbing trend in the marginalizing of those who continue to hold to the traditional, Christian worldview. “Until very recently,” Van Meter commented, “Christians across virtually every tradition have understood the clear teachings from the Scriptures regarding the created order, maleness and femaleness, marriage, and sexuality.”
The bill directly confronts the biblical idea that sinners need to change their sinful behaviors and thought patterns. “The unadulterated and pure Gospel of God demands repentance and faith,” Pastor Kevin James of Berean Reformed Baptist Church in Indiana told The Lancaster Patriot. “Repentance from a sinful lifestyle and obedience to Christ is required.” Making it a crime for pastors (or laypeople) to urge people to abandon their sin essentially “criminalizes the preaching and teaching of the very Gospel that can deliver a soul from the flames of Hell.”
James’ sermon this past Sunday was entitled “Gender Binary; God’s Sovereign Choice at Conception.” His decision to preach on biblical ethics came as a response to the invitation issued by MacArthur. “I am a preacher of God’s Word,” James said, “Which clearly declares God’s perfect design for marriage and the family. He created man in His image; ‘male and female He created them’ (Genesis 1:27).”
While it is unclear whether Canadian authorities will use the law to specifically target churches, groups like Liberty Coalition Canada remain circumspect: “This bill’s wording is sufficiently broad to allow for the criminal prosecution of Christians who would speak biblical truth into the lives of those in bondage to sexual sins like homosexuality and transgenderism.”