By Wayne Besen

It is tragic that so many evangelicals have come to believe that if society asks them to obey reasonable laws to protect minorities from abuse, they are somehow the victims of tyranny. They mask their unholy quest for special rights under the auspices of religious freedom. Although, much of what they vociferously protest has little to do with their actual religion or a genuine loss of freedom.

The most recent example is the hysterical reaction right wing Christians had to a new Canadian law banning “ex-gay” conversion therapy. On January 8, Liberty Coalition Canada had more than 4,000, mostly U.S. pastors, preach against homosexuality in reaction to the law. In a breathless post on Facebook, the always hyperbolic Rev. Franklin Graham whined that Canadian pastors “feel they have been stripped of their religious freedoms.” He went on to mislead his followers by saying that the law “is broadly worded and could even encompass private conversations about the topic, such as when a pastor or any Christian shares what the Bible teaches about sexuality.”

As their Jan. 8 church event proved, these “religious” figures can preach whatever toxic sermons they choose. They can continue to demean and dehumanize LGBTQ people while pretending they represent the love of Christ. These charlatans can still profit by twisting the Bible to sow division and foment fear. No one is contesting their right to destroy families in the perverse name of family values or bully vulnerable LGBTQ teens from their poisonous pulpits.

However, these avaricious preachers are no longer allowed to bilk their own parishioners by offering fraudulent programs to “cure” homosexuality. They aren’t allowed to act as witchdoctors, dabbling in a pseudoscience that the American Psychiatric Association says can lead to “anxiety, depression and self-destructive behavior”, including suicide. These hucksters will no longer be empowered to partake in a practice that the United Nations says is akin to “torture”.

I challenge these right-wing reverends to show me where conversion therapy is specifically mentioned in their version of the Bible. I defy them to demonstrate how they are no longer able to attend church or practice their religion because they aren’t permitted to harm LGBTQ teenagers with quack-like practices. These plaintive preachers are an embarrassment to their religion and make a mockery of Christians who face real persecution, such as those who live in the Middle East or China.

While these radical holy men cry wolf, they are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing. They know they can’t actually cure LGBTQ people – their sorry track record of “changed” ex-gay leaders that they have long trotted out proves this. Their real goal is to ostracize gay and transgender people to render them outcasts and undesirables. Exhibit A is the aforementioned Franklin Graham, who pathetically compared celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride to “lying, adultery, or murder,” and said Pride Month “is an entire month set aside to celebrate a lifestyle that God defines as sin”, according to the GLAAD Accountability Project.

In West Lafayette, Indiana, the Lafayette Citizens for Freedom formed to fight a proposal to ban conversion therapy for licensed professionals, as well as unlicensed, unprincipled faith healers. Opponents of the ordinance are oddly invoking God and religion to justify the psychological voodoo they inflict on clients.

“This proposed ordinance’s broad definitions put pastors, biblical counselors and even parents at risk,” said Ryan Strother, who was named executive director for the State Convention of Baptists of Indiana last September. “It should be opposed. God has given us the truth and has a perfect design for all things, so it is loving to lead people to His truth.”

It’s “loving”? Tell that to the long line of victims and survivors who had their lives upended and their families torn asunder. The only truth God has seemingly revealed is that conversion therapy is destructive and never works. For example, Exodus International was the world’s largest religious “ex-gay” organization from 1973-2013, with the tagline “Freedom from Homosexuality through Jesus Christ.” It permanently shut down after its president and vice president claimed that efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity were fruitless and psychologically damaging. But, hey, why be moral, decent human beings and let empirical evidence, ruined lives and a sordid history get in the way of perpetuating a failed practice? 

One positive element from the Jan. 8 hate-fest and recent actions in Indiana, is that it proves that the fight against conversion therapy is desperately needed. What this nefarious network of biblical bigots vividly shows is that there is a humongous number of churches that are still willing – despite all evidence and reason – to peddle junk science masquerading as religion. They have embraced quackery and relish the opportunity to subject LGBTQ kids to torture that will leave deep psychological scars.

Their actions show that they have no genuine interest in the health and well-being of LGBTQ people. They are simply ideologues who will engage in dastardly behavior to advance their antiquated worldview. And, if the law forbids them from damaging people – even children – they will frame themselves as poor, persecuted victims. The demagogic demonstration by these pastors highlights that the state must step in to protect citizens from abusers – even if they are cloaked in religious cloaks. If the urgent need to ban conversion worldwide wasn’t evident before, it certainly is now in the aftermath of this destructive homophobic preacher-palooza.    

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