The Bishop of Dorchester’s statement on the ‘Ministers’ consultation response’ on conversion therapy.

In response to an open letter sent by thousands of ordained and lay Christian ministers (including ministers from the Church of England) responding to the Government’s consultation on ‘Banning ‘Conversion Therapy’’[1] the Bishop of Dorchester, Gavin Collins, issued the following statement: 

‘The letter has undoubtedly upset a lot of people. It puts out a message that people aren’t safe or welcome in our churches, and it cuts across the settled view of the Church of England that coercive conversion therapy is unacceptable and should be banned.

I am disappointed that the authors have used an open letter to diminish people who are in faithful same sex relationships and those who are transgender. Thankfully, the views expressed in the letter are not representative of the Church of England today. I am clear that we are all made in God’s image, that all are welcome in His church and that everyone has a place at the table.’[2]

This statement is problematic in several ways.

First, the fact that the letter may have upset a lot of people does not mean that the letter should not have been written. The fact that a lot of people were upset does not mean that they should have been upset. The question that has to be answered is whether what was said in the letter provides adequate grounds for people to be upset and as we shall see below the answer to that question is ‘No.’

Secondly, it is not true that the message of the letter is that ‘people’ (presumably LGBTQ+ people) are not safe or welcome in Church of England churches. The letter says:

‘In our churches we welcome and show love to many people who have different experience and views, including same-sex attraction and forms of gender transition. We always seek to act in love, with gentleness and respect, for the good of all, and never with any form of coercion or control.’

How does this send a message that people are not safe or welcome?

Thirdly, the statement claims that the letter ‘cuts across the settled view of the Church of England that coercive conversion therapy is unacceptable and should be banned.’ However, as we have just seen, the letter in fact specifically rejects ‘any form of coercion or control’ and thus any form of coercive conversion therapy.

Fourthly, the statement declares that the authors of the letter have used it ‘to diminish people who are in faithful same sex relationships and those who are transgender.’ The issue here is what it means to ‘diminish’ someone.

From a Christian perspective people are diminished when they are prevented from flourishing as the people God created them to be. The point made by the authors of the letter is that such flourishing involves living according to the biological sex in which God created us and respecting God’s institution of heterosexual marriage as the proper setting for sexual intercourse. This being the case, they are right to warn that it is a ban on conversion therapy which would seek to prohibit all efforts to help people with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria to flourish in this way that would in fact run the risk of people being diminished.

Fifthly, the statement says that ‘the views expressed in the letter are not representative of the Church of England today.’ What it does not do is give any evidence for this claim. How does Bishop Collins know what views on the matters discussed in the letter are representative of the Church of England?  The number of Church of England ministers who have signed the letter indicates that there are many people in the Church of England who feel that it does represent their views.

Sixthly, Bishop Collins concludes the statement by saying ‘I am clear that we are all made in God’s image, that all are welcome in His church and that everyone has a place at the table.’ This statement is unproblematic in itself. The problem is that the bishop uses it to suggest this is not the position of those who wrote and signed the letter, whereas they would agree with all of it. The letter is clear that human beings are all made in the image of God, and it specifically says, as we have noted, that ‘we welcome and show love to many people who have different experience and views, including same-sex attraction and forms of gender transition.’

Finally, Bishop Collins totally avoids engaging with the substantive issue raised by the letter, which is that the term ‘conversion therapy’ is so broadly used that passing legislation to ban it runs the risk of criminalising the ‘loving, compassionate exercise of orthodox Christian ministry, including the teaching of the Christian understanding of sex and marriage’ and thus leaving  ministers with no option but to break the law in order to continue to offer such ministry.

He might argue, as others have done, that the harm brought about by all forms of conversion therapy is so great as to justify a total ban regardless of the consequences. However, the research that has been done on the topic indicates that this is not the case. See, for example the article ‘Do efforts to change sexual orientation (‘conversion therapy’) cause harm?’ published on Ian Paul’s blog Psephizo on 4 February.[3]


[1] ‘Ministers’ consultation response’ at https://ministersconsultationresponse.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Dear-Secretary-of-State-Letter-from-2546-signatories-to-the-consultation-on-banning-conversion-therapy.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2cA2L8z6UrIK4h2FcmdbI894wrytIjledSSlaFlP5OwYRH-pr4mVPk8aA

[2] Bishop Gavin Collins, ‘Statement: conversion therapy’ at https://www.oxford.anglican.org/news/conversion-therapy-statement-feb22.php

[3] ‘Do efforts to change sexual orientation (‘conversion therapy’) cause harm?’ at https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/do-efforts-to-change-sexual-orientation-conversion-therapy-cause-harm/.