By Jack Taylor
Wilna van Beek is clear in her stance when she says “I am a former lesbian transformed by the power of Jesus. Her book, When Gay Comes Home is a practical guide for families dealing with issues of sexuality.
Van Beek claims that being able to sit and talk with her pastor and his wife in a safe and trusted environment “gave me the opportunity to voice all my struggles, including my struggles with same-sex-attraction (SSA).” She affirms that their non-judgmental attentiveness and accountability helped her through when she felt weak. Van Beek is the founder of the God Gazers Bridge Builder Ministry. Her conversion therapy occurred in a South African hospital during the 1980’s. She declares herself now to be celibate.
Van Beek joined voices with Dr. Ann Gillies who claimed in a recent webinar that the ban on conversion therapy is based on two false and unproven assumptions. First, that sexual orientation is immutable and that sexual orientation change efforts cause harm. She claims that a bias exists in academic research on the issue and cites findings by Shidlo and Schroeder indicating that talk therapy actually increased hope, provided new coping strategies, increased self-esteem, increased a sense of belonging, developed better relationships and increased spirituality.” In Shidlo and Schroeder’s report “Changing Sexual Orientation: A consumer’s report,” 202 consumers of sexual orientation conversion intervention were interviewed.
Gillies is trained jointly in psychology and theology and focuses primarily on Complex Trauma. She is an ordained pastor, a former adjunct professor, a psychotherapist and an author. She also cited Jones and Yarhouse who demonstrated that 67 percent of those with complete or partial change through Exodus ministries experienced no harm.
New bylaws in Calgary (Bill C8 and Bill S202) would prevent Van Beek from sharing her story of transformation and change. It would also have kept her from getting the help she desired from her pastor. She believes that marriages and families are under attack in Canada. As the government returns to enacting new laws, an anti-conversion therapy act is at the top of the list. Jail may be a real possibility for Christian practitioners who assert their religious rights and freedoms to propagate their faith and teaching.
Travis Salway, an assistant professor of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, a research scientist at the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity, and an affiliated researcher at the BC Centre for Disease Control, wrote in a May 26, 2020 opinion piece in the Globe and Mail that:
“This debate [at the Calgary City Council] had a cardinal flaw: It didn’t centre on a single definition. As with many contentious social issues, language and meanings matter. By clarifying the intent of conversion therapy practices – their defining feature – we will be better prepared to evaluate legislative action at multiple levels of government, as efforts to end this practice continue.”
Jojo Ruba, executive director of Faith Beyond Belief, cites Sam Allberry in saying that “the most important insight the Bible gives us about identity is that it is not earned or discovered, but received.” He points to a website called Church Clarity which gives scores to churches based on their openness to hiring LGBTQ staff, doing same sex weddings, ordaining or welcoming into leadership. There are also scores regarding women in leadership. Ruba believes that, apart from contributing to the upcoming national discussion, influencers need to press for a fixing of the definition currently in play for conversion therapy.
Gillies points to a 2016 study by Diamond and Rosky undermining the immutability of sexual orientation. They cited that 67-100 percent of men and 83-91 percent of women skewed toward heterosexuality when changing. The current definition of conversion therapy, according to Bryan Kliewer of Exodus, appears to be “any practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.” Kliewer sees the upcoming legislation as one which would prohibit any prayer, counsel or support for individuals struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The scope of conversion therapy appears to be broad and, according to Kliewer, may include helping a person as they experience any changes in who they are attracted to; seminars that discuss sexual fluidity; or helping strengthen a marriage where one person experiences same sex attraction. Other things such as helping a person to resist temptation to engage in same sex behaviour; having a discipleship/support group that asks people to refrain from engaging in sex outside of marriage; having a Bible study that teaches any sex outside of marriage between a man and woman is sinful and should be stopped – all will be considered conversion therapy and therefore illegal.
Van Beek says that “our silence (coming from fear) to talk openly about the topic of homosexuality not only caused our churches to be ill equipped on how to deal with this the way Jesus would, but now when we need to take a stand for truth, we don’t know how because we are ill-equipped, and too afraid… Silence causes us to fail miserably in many aspects and all of this needs humility and repentance to start with.”
Kevin Cavanaugh, pastor of Cedar Grove Baptist concurs and says “the only hope I have is that God always responds to true brokenness and repentance. He will hear the cry of his children if his children can get humble enough to cry.” He cites Don Hutchinson in saying that there are five stages in persecution; 1. Stereotyping the group; 2. Vilification; 3. Marginalization; 4. Criminalization 5. Persecution. If this is accurate then believers are in for a rude awakening very soon on this issue.
Van Beek says “I personally don’t believe that we will stop the bans or stop the government from implementing draconian laws. I do believe if we step up to the plate now, there will always be a small remnant left who will take the gospel forward. We most likely will start to face persecution and my hope is that it will wake up a sleeping church!”
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