John MacArthur, YouTube censorship and 'conversion therapy' ban
It is worth looking beyond a headline event from last week: Christian websites reported the US Baptist pastor John MacArthur had a sermon thrown off YouTube.
“There is no such thing as transgender,” Macarthur said in his Sunday sermon. “You are either XX or XY, that’s it. God made man male and female. That is determined genetically, that is physiology, that is science, that is reality,” he said.
“On the one hand, the reality of that lie and deception is so damaging, so destructive, so isolating, so corrupting that it needs to be confronted, but on the other hand, that confrontation can’t exaggerate what already exists, which is a sense of feeling isolated in relationships.”
The US-based conservative journalist Todd Starnes reported YouTube’s response after he had uploaded a clip of the MacArthur sermon.”‘Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our hate speech policy,’ YouTube wrote to me. ‘We’ve removed the following content from YouTube: “There is no such thing as transgender. You are either XX or XY. That’s it. – Pastor John MacArthur.’”
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It is possible some words have been removed, the transcript is not yet available, but there is no hint it was censored on the GTY site.
It may be that only the Starnes clip has been removed. But the sermon itself is a very strong affirmation of a conservative Bible exegesis on homosexuality.
“The concern is that Canada’s Bill C-4 is broadly worded and could, in effect, ban biblical teachings on sexual ethics.” – Christian Broadcasting Network
But outside of the YouTube controversy, MacArthur was making news. Some 5,000 pastors preached alongside him on human sexuality on January 16.
Their motivation? Protesting against the passing of C-4 – Canada’s new law banning sexual orientation gender conversion efforts. “The concern is that Canada’s Bill C-4 is broadly worded and could, in effect, ban biblical teachings on sexual ethics, and might even limit personal communications on the subject,” the Christian broadcasting network reported.
Australian readers will see strong parallels with Victoria’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 that is due to come into effect next month.
The Canadian Bill passed after two failed attempts with the unanimous consent of the Canadian House of Commons. Bill C-4 defines conversion therapy as a “practice, treatment or service designed to” change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity – for example, repressing or reducing “non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour” or repressing “a person’s non-cisgender gender identity”.
But the Gospel Coalition Canada did not go along with MacArthur’s approach. Gospel Coalition Canada’s Paul Carter responded to the MacArthur mass preaching initiative: “I have tremendous respect for Pastor John and rejoice in the fact that there are a number of initiatives intending to peacefully protest the potential abuse and misapplication of Bill C-4. However, while many pastors will no doubt participate in this particular initiative, others will have concerns due to the fact that the statement associated with this initiative concedes illegality.”
Instead, Carter took part in reading a statement in church written for the Canadian Religious freedom summit, which included this key passage. “The law’s stated purpose is to outlaw ‘conversion therapy’. We strongly oppose the coercive and unscientific therapeutic practices the Bill was introduced to address. We appreciate and affirm the desire of parliamentarians to protect the vulnerable.
“However, we are deeply concerned that the effective reach of the legislation could be extended far beyond its stated purpose. Because its definition of ‘conversion therapy’ is vague, many are concerned that it could capture parents, pastors and counsellors who teach a biblical understanding of sexuality in a variety of situations. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees our freedoms of religion, conscience, thought, belief, expression and association. It is our prayer that the law will be applied – and clarified as needed – in such a way as to honour these Charter protections.”
C-4 will be tested against Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms Charter, which declares freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and freedom of media communication as fundamental freedoms.
“All initial assurances are that it does not intend to criminalize religious expression.” – Paul Carter
He adds: “It is not clear that preaching on biblical passages espousing a biblical ethic of sexuality is now illegal. That matter has yet to be adjudicated in the courts. Bill C-4 nowhere uses that language and all initial assurances are that it does not intend to criminalize religious expression in any of the contexts suggested in the letter [from MacArthur and his allies].
“The statement suggested by the Canadian Religious Freedom Summit specifically makes use of language drawn from the Charter and also makes it clear that there is no desire whatsoever, on behalf of the participants and signatories, to endorse or engage in coercive or abusive practices. The MacArthur statement expresses no such sentiment.”
Carter declares that he and other pastors are “hopeful that the church will not be drawn into an adversarial posture toward the LGBTIQA community”… while “I am praying for the wise application or emendation of Bill C-4 such that abusive or coercive practices are forbidden while ‘speaking the truth in love’ continues to be permitted.”
He recognises it is possible that the day will come when preaching what the Bible says about human sexuality is banned and adds: “If it comes – when it comes – I will count it an honour to suffer on behalf of Christ.”
The militancy of the “mass preachers” protest was noted by Good Book Company author and Baptist pastor Andrew Roycroft:
To clarify: I am not advocating that we don’t preach on issues around sexuality and sexual sin. Of course we should. Just not on demand. Just not in lockstep. Just not as a means of bonding a group identity or orthodoxy. Just not as though unbelieving people aren’t listening.
— Andrew Roycroft (@AndrewTRoycroft) January 13, 2022
The Canadian bill came into effect in early January. Its final effect may be decided by the courts, which will have the task of balancing religious expression versus the LGBTIQ2S (the Canadian initials which include the “Two Spirit” group) community’s desire to avoid efforts to change them.