Bishop Viv's speech to the House of Lords on Conversion Therapy Ban Bill

First published 15th February 2024

In her speech to the House of Lords on Friday 9 February, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol said:

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for her Bill. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for engaging with the complexity of drafting legislation to prevent conversation therapy or practices, given the variety of views there clearly are in this Chamber and in wider society. I declare my interests: until December, I was one of the bishops leading on safeguarding in the Church of England and I am still co-chair of the APPG on Safeguarding in Faith Communities.

I have been aware for many years in pastoral ministry of some horrific practices, from physical punishment, counselling and prayer techniques akin to interrogation to, at worst, supposedly curative rape. Such practices are used against those in faith communities who are regarded as deviating from the communities’ norms for sexuality and gender identity. These more or less hidden practices must be prevented by statutory provision if they are not already. We should note too that those who are victims should be much better supported. I am also aware of the much more subtle impact on LGBTIQ people of faith—the pressure on them to conform to the norms set by the hierarchy of their faith community. The cultures which pervade many faith communities render those exploring their identity very vulnerable indeed to abuse, as the IICSA report reminded us.

I am relieved that the Church of England is at last owning its homophobia and making some moves to change its culture and practice. Personally, I wish that it would change much faster and further, but I am also aware that, in my diocese, there are very different perspectives in this ongoing debate. I am profoundly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for setting out some of the issues as they affected his own life. In my diocese, the organisation Living Out supports LGBTIQ adults who, exercising agency and autonomy and inspired by their interpretation of Christian faith, seek counselling to support celibate lives or marry someone of the opposite sex. I know too how hard it is to write into guidance or regulation definitions that help rather than harm. The Church of England has wrestled for some years to define spiritual abuse. We have begun to recognise its presence and impact, but are not consistently agreed on its definition or how any definition should be applied in disciplinary process.

I am therefore not yet convinced that the text of this Bill and its lack of agreed definition would give Living Out, for example, the safe space that its members need. But I do believe that we need to keep working at this, and I am grateful for the determined efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, in the absence of a government proposal. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who is unable to be present today, and I, want to continue to work to find agreed definitions that protect from harm while continuing to preserve our current liberties.


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