"We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice,
we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (1943-1945)

Therapy Bans: Why Freedom of Worship is not Freedom of Conscience

Posted by Dr Mike Davidson on 20th March 2019

Mike Davidson, PhD

When X Factor Malta contestant Matthew Grech met Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) activist Gabby Calleja who is also Head of the government’s Human Rights and Integration Directorate, we get the clearest indication yet of the nature of the conflict around “conversion therapy” and the purpose of therapy bans. Malta is something of a window in this regard. Therapy bans oppose the Biblical prohibition on homosexual acts, and as such represent an opposing world view on the subject. Forget “therapy”, it’s “conversion” that’s the real target. Perhaps that's why of the 1200 charities promoting religion in the UK, Core Issues Trust is specifically named by the National Secular Society's most recent attempt,  "For the Public Benefit?" to impose secularism and ban religion as a public benefit. Individuals and churches who oppose therapy bans, thereby denying Biblical prohibitions on homosexual activity do so as a matter of conscience. This requires much more than merely allowing them freedom of worship.

The Malta Independent discussion (Interview 1, below) is around the idea of “change” – and whether sexual “orientation” is both innate and immutable. Gabby says yes, Matthew disagrees. Despite attempts to assert that homosexual feelings can’t change and in fact endure in “ex-gays” by both Rachel the presenter and Calleja, irrespective of changes in behaviours as reported by Matthew Grech, he points to the Biblical emphasis on behaviours that are forbidden.  He also points to the absence of any evidence of identities being rejected by the Bible writers - it's the verbs (the acts of homosexual practice) that the Bible uses, that are important. Matthew’s reference is to self-control and the fruit of the Spirit. The discussion usefully indicates the centrality of the notion of “orientation” - in Gabby’s view clearly this is a categorical position that cannot change; the implication of Matthew’s view is that it’s probably an extra-Biblical term - unnecessary since Christians are called to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. “It’s not about who you are its about what you do with your body” he says (3.48).


Interview 1 Independent Malta - Gabby Calleja and Matthew Grech


Now according to Calleja, the law forbidding “conversion therapy” in Malta “is coming from science, from research that shows that conversion practices first of all are not effective…you cannot change sexual orientation.’  Grech disagrees, and Calleja retorts affirming the group think in the West we are now accustomed to, that “it is accepted by the therapeutic community all over the world”.  Grech asserts the contrary, no doubt referring to the fact that despite its reservations and warnings about change-allowing therapies, the largest psychological professional body in the world, the American Psychological Association (APA), discourages - but does not forbid them.  Claiming that there is categorical evidence that such therapy is “unsuccessful” and in certain cases “harmful”, Calleja admits that the psychotherapists and medical practitioners are already “covered by ethical practices and professional codes of conduct” in this regard. But then interestingly, she indicates that the ban (because, she claims it promotes hate) extends to other sectors (8.00) ie, the church we presume.  The fact is she conflates the decisions taken by the mental health bodies and the available scientific evidence which she assumes is in place and thinks is supportive of these standpoints. She's wrong.

As is so often the case in such interviews, the name of science is invoked, but there is little scope to discuss the science.  TV presenters of course, aren’t doing science and are rarely able to encourage scientific discourse that is accessible to audiences – and herein lies the problem. Science is parked, and theology – much more accessible at least in debates around homosexuality, and therapeutic choice, is the next frontier. Equality is the defining doctrine, and conservative evangelical faith is found wanting since it doesn’t recognise “equal” marriage and prevents “inclusive education in schools” (9.02). Grech reminds us that secular humanism is a religion.

The Malta Independent interview (Interview 1, above) is useful in showing that while Christians are free to worship in Malta, as in the UK, they are not free with respect to their conscience in matters of sexual ethics, if Gabby Calleja has her way.  This is the essence of the argument the Roman State had against the early Christians.  Persecution came when Christians held to their consciences and dared to confront or defy the state's imposition of a different set of values on practising Christians.  So the freedom to worship we enjoy is not freedom of conscience.  The churches know this of course and avoid confrontation by keeping a low profile - in most cases, perhaps in the hope that the threat to freedom of conscience will subside, and we will return to previous eras when conscience was not overruled by the state.


Interview 2 TVAM - MALTA: Tyrone Grima and Matthew Grech


In Interview 2 (above) Matthew Grech meets Theologian Tyrone Grima (on TVAM - MALTA) and once again ‘orientation’ and the doctrines of immutability and the innateness of 'orientation' – we’re born that way and we can’t change - is reviewed. Tyrone claims LGBTI identities are gifts of unique identity, created by God (because he asserts the body, His creation, is good). Matthew distinguishes between body and flesh and in a revealing comment, refers to the “Peloponnesian Principle”: when "victims become aggressors". 

When Athens and Sparta went to war in ancient times, a long series of bloody wars were fought.  According to Thucydides the historian, Athens had become greedy, wanting control of all Greece.  Sparta and her allies stood up to the Athenian Empire’s aggression, and ultimately won the war, subduing Athenian oppression. Matthew’s comment in this interview about the “victim becoming the aggressor”, is interesting. He is referring, I believe, to the totalitarian nature of the LGBTI determination to enforce a world view about what Tyrone refers to as the gift of these sexual identities.  The front line of the battle now of course, is within the church, which is what we witness between Tyrone and Matthew in Interview 2. The new "liberation theology" - ironically of personal experience (Tyrone's "gifts") is opposed by a conservative, traditional view (a Biblical Theology, centring not on experience but on the received Word of God), prohibiting homosexual expression (acts).


Interview 3 Xarabank: Kylie Dalia and Matthew Grech


It is in the final interview in which presenter Peppi Azzopardi interacts with ex-lesbian Kylie Delia and ex-gay Matthew Grech, that we gain perspective on how the presenter's view point plays a significant role in promoting misinformation.  Peppi is a "born gay" believer, and for him gay is quite literally the new black. He affirms and promotes an uncritical and unnuanced, even an unqualified allegiance to the scientific and psychological professional bodies - which Kylie counters with reference to her own lived experience, while Matthew appeals to the right of freedom of choice in maintaining sexual identity.

All of this leads to the observation that generally presenters in each interview are challenged in interacting fairly with those coming from a view point that does not support the LGBT promotion of ‘rights’,and are probably not prepared for what those who are not supporting LGBT rights present. The interviews are rich and have certainly provided an excellent opportunity to explain a different point of view, for which we can be grateful.  Certainly the interviews were longer and in greater depth than what would be afforded to the topic in the UK - so entrenched is the LGBT hold on the media in the UK.

Both guests clearly indicate the issue is one of personal conscience and conviction.  Beyond being quiet Christ-worshippers, Matthew and Kylie proclaim their reality - that they found freedom from behaviours and feelings that were in conflict with deeper, more primary values than the sexual mores that had governed their lives before their conversions.

We salute Matthew Grech and Kylie Delia for their brave willingness to share their personal journeys in such a public way!