The passage of C-4

Canada has just banned conversion therapy with the passage of Bill C-4, which was approved unanimously by Canada’s House of Commons and Senate, and then received Royal Assent on December 8, 2021. Royal Assent means that Canada’s Governor General, Mary Simon, a representative of the Crown, Queen Elizabeth II, signed it into law. The new law took effect on January 7, 2022.

Conversion therapy is defined in C-4 as follows:

a practice, treatment or service designed to

(a) change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual;

(b) change a person’s gender identity to cisgender;

(c) change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth;

(d) repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour;

(e) repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity; or

(f) repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth.

For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates to the exploration or development of an integrated personal identity—such as a practice, treatment or service that relates to a person’s gender transition—and that is not based on an assumption that a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is to be preferred over another.

With the passage of C-4 Canada has created four new criminal offenses: (1) causing a person to have conversion therapy; (2) removing a child from Canada in order to receive such therapy; (3) profiting from offering such therapies; and (4) promoting or advertising conversion therapy. The first two offenses carry a maximum of five years imprisonment, while offenses three and four carry a sentence of two years.

Rather than write a brand-new law, the Canadian legislature simply amended Canada’s existing Criminal Code, Section 164(1), which concerns the making and distribution of obscene materials, such as child pornography, by adding the following words to the relevant paragraphs. I quote just one paragraph to prove the point (emphasis added):

If the court is satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that the material is child pornography as defined in section 163.‍, a voyeuristic recording, an intimate image, an advertisement of sexual services or an advertisement for conversion therapy, or computer data as defined in subsection 342.‍(2) that makes child pornography, the voyeuristic recording, the intimate image, the advertisement of sexual services or the advertisement for conversion therapy available, it may order the custodian of the computer system to delete the material.

Conversion therapy, such as counseling, certain kinds of prayer and preaching, or other services, is now categorized with “child pornography, voyeuristic recording, intimate images, and the advertisement of sexual services” as “obscene material.” So odious is conversion therapy in the eyes of Canadian legislators! On December 8, 2021, Justin Trudeau, Canadian prime minister, tweeted excitedly:

It’s official: Our government’s legislation banning the despicable and degrading practice of conversion therapy has received Royal Assent—meaning it is now law. LGBTQ2 Canadians, we’ll always stand up for you and your rights.

In case you wondered, the Q2 at the end of the acronym LGBTQ2 is “Two-Spirit,” which the Canadian government recognizes as someone who “identifies as having both a masculine and feminine spirit.”

In the preamble to the Bill we read the following, which demonstrates what Canadian lawmakers as well as legislators in other Western nations think about conversion therapy, and why, therefore, they have decided to criminalize it:

Conversion therapy causes harm to the persons who are subjected to it;

Conversion therapy causes harm to society because, among other things, it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, 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 expressions;

In light of those harms, it is important to discourage and denounce the provision of conversion therapy in order to protect the human dignity and equality of all Canadians.

According to secular psychologists, it is harmful to homosexuals, lesbians, and transgender people, as well as to society as a whole, to attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or behavior. While it is true that some kinds of conversion therapy, such as electric shock treatments, medication, and the like, are harmful, this is a blanket ban, which prohibits any attempt, regardless of the method, to change someone from non-heterosexual (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc.) to heterosexual.

Implications for the church in Canada

A ban on conversion therapy is an attack on Christianity and the church of Jesus Christ. Conversion is God’s work of turning a sinner from sin to righteousness, from disobedience to holiness, so that he repents and lives a new, godly life in obedience to God’s commandments. God calls sinners to conversion through the faithful preaching of His Word, which He applies graciously to His elect by the Holy Spirit. To sinners guilty of “killing the Prince of life” Peter preached, “Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Repentance is necessary for all sinners, including those guilty of sexual sins, which are transgressions against the seventh commandment. Never does God permit the preacher to limit the call to repentance to certain kinds of sinners: thieves, but not murderers; adulterers, but not blasphemers; idolaters, but not those disobedient to parents.

Homosexuality/transgenderism is no exception.

On the face of it, it is now illegal in Canada to command, urge, or exhort a homosexual, a lesbian, or a transgender person to repent of his sin. Possibly, one might call him to repent of his other sins, but not of his sexual sins, because those define what he is. On the face of it, it is now illegal in Canada to counsel a person who is confused or conflicted about his or her sexuality. The only counsel permissible by law is to affirm the person in his homosexuality, even if he does not want to be homosexual and even if he wants help in denying worldliness and ungodly lusts (Tit. 2:12). On the face of it, it is now illegal in Canada to counsel a person who is confused about his or her “gender identity” (a biological male who struggles with the desire to be a female and the urge to express himself as a female, for example) and to encourage him or her to be what they biologically are, what God created them to be (Matt. 19:4). The only counsel permissible by law is to affirm the person in his or her transgenderism, even if the person does not want to be transgender or to behave in a transgender manner. In fact, on the face of it, it is now illegal in Canada to offer any service designed to “repress or reduce non-heterosexual… behaviour.” One may not even counsel a man who struggles with feelings of same-sex attraction to abstain from sinful sexual behavior. His feelings and behavior must be affirmed, even celebrated as good and wholesome, despite the fact that God’s Word condemns them as “vile affections” (Rom. 1:26), that it calls homosexuality/lesbianism “the [changing of] the natural use into that which is against nature” (v. 26), and that it describes homosexuality as “unseemly” (Greek: shameful; Rom. 1:27).

Indeed, Paul’s words to former homosexuals must be prohibited too. After naming certain kinds of people (the unrighteous) who will not inherit the kingdom of God, among whom are “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind” (words describing homosexuals), Paul declares the gospel: “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:9, 11).

On the face of it, it is appropriate in Canada to say that about former fornicators (who have, by God’s grace, put away their fornication), former idolaters (who have, by God’s grace, put away their idols), former adulterers (who have, by God’s grace, ended their extramarital affairs), former thieves (who have, by God’s grace, stopped stealing), formerly covetous men (who, by God’s grace, are no longer greedy for filthy lucre), former drunkards (who, by God’s grace, have put away their wine), former revilers (whose tongues, by God’s grace, have been curbed and tamed), and former extortioners (who, by God’s grace, no longer oppress their neighbors with crippling usury); but the Canadian government draws a line under homosexuality and related matters, saying effectively, “You may not speak of former homosexuals, lesbians, or transgenders—God’s grace cannot change them; in fact, they do not need to be changed.”

A sermon that sets forth God’s Word on human sexuality, including God’s prohibition of homosexual lust and practice, is now—at least on the plain reading of this new law, which gives no religious exceptions—illegal in Canada. A prayer offered by a pastor or a Christian counselor asking God’s grace to help a counselee abstain from fleshly, homosexual lusts is now illegal in Canada. A Bible study in which homosexuality or transgenderism is condemned is now considered illegal in Canada, at least if any homosexuals are in attendance, who could view such a Bible study as an attempt to change their sexuality or gender identity/expression. Canadian law makes no exceptions for religious activities, offers no protection to pastors or elders, but is a blanket ban on conversion therapy in all its forms. And let us not forget that it is mainly religious people who seek to help people forsake their sins and find mercy: the secular world has no interest in that. Therefore, religious people are the targets of this new law.

I write, “on the face of it,” because the law is sufficiently vague as to need testing in court, which will undoubtedly happen sooner than we think. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Is. 5:20). “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).