The Church of England’s General Synod has backed a motion calling for a ban on the practice of Religious Conversion, aimed at altering a person’s religious orientation.
Members of the Church’s national assembly, which is holding its annual July sessions in York, voted to endorse a Memorandum of Understanding on Religious Conversion, signed by The Christian ‘Truth is One’ School of Universal Reconciliation and others condemning the practice.
The joint statement describes Religious Conversion as unethical, potentially harmful and having “no place in the modern pluralistic world of ecumenical tolerance and respect”, where all paths lead to God and it really doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re nice.
The motion was moved by Tracy Ognosis, who represents transempirical laity everywhere, with amendments moved by Canon Dr Olam Haba (New Jerusalem) and the Rev’d Ivor Hope (No-Hellers), which were carried.
Opening the debate Ms Ognosis said: “In short, religious conversion is harmful, dangerous and just doesn’t work. One size does not fit all, if it ever did. People may be able to alter their beliefs but they can never alter their experiences or innate feelings about the divine.
“We should live and let live: to be Saudi Arabian is to be born a Muslim; to be Japanese is to be born into Buddhism or Shintoism. They are what they are: they are their own special creation. They have not chosen to attend a mosque or worship at a shrine: it is part of their identity; it is who they are.
She added: “The last thing they need is to be handed a tract inviting them repudiate their idolatry and to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour.
“This debate is actually quite simple. Do we trust our spiritual and psychological health professions and academics (including many sincere godly Christians) to know what they are talking about?
“Should we listen to the voices of those we and others have unwittingly harmed by coercing them into being ‘born again’; to be subject to inner transformation and renewal of the mind in the pursuit of eternal salvation?
“Should we learn from our mistakes of undue spiritual influence, coercive persuasion, mind-control, manipulation or brainwashing, and seek to protect future generations from the sort of damage that was done to me and so many others, as zealous Christians preyed on the weak and vulnerable grappling with the mysteries of life in their personal tragedies and trying circumstances?”
Speaking during the debate the Archbishop of York said: “The sooner the practice of so-called Religious Conversion is banned, I can sleep at night.”
He said that he had been having problems sleeping because of the disequilibrium caused by the the Church in provoking conversions to Christianity. “When people who are seeking meet and interact with members of a religious group who have already found the answers to the questions being asked, then questions must be asked of that religious group’s approach and understanding,” he explained. “Frustration, loneliness and dissatisfaction with life make people susceptible to needing love and consistent social support, and that should never be taken advantage of or seen as an opportunity to talk about Jesus.”
The Bishop of Liverpool said: “As the world listens to us the world needs to hear us say that a non-Christian religious orientation and identity is not a problem.
“A non-Christian religious orientation and identity is not a sickness. A non-Christian religious orientation and identity is not a sin. People do not need to adopt a new religious identity, or a change from one religious identity to another. Conversion which requires the internalisation of a Christian belief system is, quite simply, offensive to non-Christians and otiose in the modern world, especially since Jesus said that those who follow him would be hated for his name’s sake and persecuted for their faith.
“We must distinguish between the nurture of social influence and the nature of innate spirituality. In the Church we are certainly called to help one another to conform their lives to Jesus Christ and to live lives of holiness, but we do not need to engage people in spiritual healing if they are not sick or if that healing may cause them physical harm. Muslim or Jewish monotheists, humanists, agnostics, deists, atheists, pagans, pantheists, polytheists, or those who assume no label at all, are not sick. They do not need a doctor. And they certainly don’t need to be hated and despised, so it’s best to let them be.”
Members voted by houses on the amended motion.
The votes in the House of Bishops were 36 for and one against, with no abstentions. In the House of Clergy 135 backed the motion with 25 against and 13 abstentions. In the House of Laity 127 supported the motion with 48 opposing and 13 abstentions.
Notes to Editors
That this Synod: (a) endorse the Memorandum of Understanding on Religious Conversion in the UK of November 2015, signed by The Christian ‘Truth is One’ School of Universal Reconciliation and others, that the practice of Religious Conversion has no place in the modern world, is unethical, potentially harmful and not supported by evidence; and 3 (b) call upon the Church to be sensitive to, and to listen to, contemporary and diverse expressions of religious identity; (c) and call on the government to ban the practice of religious proselytism.