‘Conversion practices’ study authors cannot answer BBC interviewer on prayer

24, May 2024

Last week, a new report on ‘conversion practices’ was published by The Rainbow Project – Northern Ireland’s version of Stonewall.

Appearing on BBC radio show ‘Talkback’ earlier this week, the academics responsible collapsed into nervous laughter when asked whether church prayers and pastoral support should be criminalised.

The study was written by several LGBT activists, two of whom are academics at Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University. The study was described by The Christian Institute as “useless” and lacking “any kind of academic rigour”. The study interviewed a mere ten people, presenting snippets of their accounts as fact and making policy proposals without any critical analysis.

Read more about the study here.

In response to the study, Alliance Party MLA Eoin Tennyson restated his commitment to bringing legislation on conversion therapy should the Stormont Executive not do so:

“That is why, should legislation not be forthcoming from the Communities Minister, it is my intention to seek the Speaker’s permission to introduce legislation which will ban conversion practices once and for all.”

The BBC’s William Crawley discussed the plans with Mr Tennyson on his ‘Talkback’ radio show. He asked: “What are the practices that you would hope to ban?”

The answer gave no clues regarding ordinary religious practices. Tennyson admitted that physical assault was already illegal, but said there were a “wide range of potential behaviour” that would be covered, “and therein lies the complexity … and why perhaps there has been some legitimate delay”.

That is, of course, an understatement. LGBT activists have been asking for “private prayer” and “casual conversations” to be criminalised in new legislation for several years. The ordinary work of churches and parental responsibilities are squarely in the sights of those who call for a ‘conversion therapy’ law. It’s not just a little ‘complex’, but, in fact, entirely impossible.

William Crawley then introduced the authors of the study, Professor Fidelma Ashe and Dr Danielle Mackle. Curiously absent were any voices opposed to the report, though despite the interviewer’s evident sympathy for the activists, they still collapsed under even the gentlest questioning.

Crawley put to them a scenario several times that obviously shouldn’t be outlawed, of a 35-year-old church member, who believes the church’s teaching and is well-informed, and asks for prayer.

The clearest answer he got from any of the activists was “as an impartial academic I can’t answer that question”. Between the nervous giggles and squirming attempts to evade the question, the silence on the topic was deafening.

Clearly, banning prayers is on the cards.

Looking at the published report, it doesn’t take long to confirm that is precisely the intention. The word “pray” or “prayer” turn up 35 times in the undetailed study. Admittedly, the first mention is the claim that “Pastoral prayer, which is not directed at changing an LGBTQI+ person’s identity is not considered a conversion practice.”

That’s hardly a reassurance when those calling for a law have repeatedly claimed ‘repentance’ and ‘confession’ are aspects of ‘conversion therapy’. For them, Christian conversion is an attempt to change a LGBTQI+ person’s identity.

The rest of the mentions in the study are clear causes of concern for Christians. The first example given is of someone whose ‘conversion therapy’ experience consisted of “prayer, Bible studies and teaching”. Another participant explained how an “elder prayed with me, prayed for us, prayed for me, prayed for my then wife, and allowed me to answer in prayer”.

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See also: ‘Conversion Practices’ study paid for by Stormont’s Communities Department branded “useless”

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