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Tory MP uses term ‘unclean’ while expressing opposition to conversion therapy ban

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Tensions flared in the House of Commons on Friday when a Conservative MP used the term “unclean” in the midst of a debate on conversion therapy — prompting one Liberal MP to slam the comment as “deeply offensive.”

Now, the member behind the remark says she plans to apologize.

“The quote I used was in reference to hypocrisy. I plan to reach out to Mr. Oliphant and apologize for the misunderstanding,” said Conservative MP Tamara Jansen in a statement sent to Global News.

During a debate on conversion therapy in the House on Friday, Jansen cited a bible verse as she spoke out against the Liberal bid to protect LGBTQ2 youth from the practice.

“I’m going to invoke the words of the Apostle Matthew,” said Jansen.

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees. You hypocrites! You’re like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.’”

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Read more: ‘Historic moment’: Conversion therapy officially banned in Saskatoon

As a gay man, Liberal MP Rob Oliphant said he found the use of the verse “deeply offensive.”

“People like me are not unclean and it is deeply offensive to play Bible baseball like that,” said Oliphant.

“I know my Bible very well…I understand every word that scripture, having studied it and having a doctorate in theology. Madam Speaker, that is offensive to even use that word in the context of this debate.”

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Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen also chimed in, calling Jansen’s question “ignorant.”

“The reality is that as this LGBTQ movement has been progressing, minds have been changed and people have come to realize the mistakes that were made in the past,” Gerretsen said.

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The Liberal bill at the heart of the debate is aimed at criminalizing conversion therapy-related conduct in Canada. It proposes five new Criminal Code offences related to the practice, and would make it illegal to cause a minor to undergo conversion therapy — or to remove a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad.

Jansen argued that by outlawing the practice, the Liberals would be preventing LGBTQ2 youth from seeking counselling about their sexuality.

LGBTQ2 youth who faced rejection from parents or caregivers are over eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide, according to a study from San Francisco State University.

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The term “unclean” also has a painful history in the Church, according to Charles Fensham, a professor of systematic theology at the University of Toronto’s Knox College, who has published a book on Christianity’s mistreatment of the LGBTQ2 community.

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Terms like “unclean,” and its Greek translation, as well as the words “disordered” and “abomination” are all used in anti-LGBTQ2 circles within Christianity, Fensham explained.

“These are often words that are used by conservative Christians, who are anti-LGBTQ, to put down people of other perspectives,” Fensham explained.

“So that’s how I would understand Rob Oliphant’s response. He’s seeing that in her reason for quoting this text. And he’s responding to that.”

The verse in question does not actually address sexuality at all, according to Yvan Mathieu, a professor of biblical theology at St. Paul University.

“What does that mean, unclean? That’s nothing to do with sexuality or the sexual orientation of someone,” Mathieu explained.

Read more: Regina woman shares decades-long journey recovering from conversion therapy

Rather, he said, the verse describes a “whitewashed tomb” that looks nice on the outside, but is full of “bones of the dead and all kinds of filth” on the inside.

“So you…on the outside, look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness,” Mathieu said, explaining the intention behind the verse in its biblical context.

Still, if he were in Jansen’s chair during the debate on conversion therapy, he said he would have chosen a different verse.

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“I think everybody has a right to use scripture as they mean, as they want. But I would be extra careful,” Mathieu said.

“I wouldn’t do that myself.”

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Fensham is intimately aware of the impact words can have on members of the LGBTQ2 community. As a gay man, he says he has experienced his share of condemnation at the hands of his peers.

“I live in a religious context where I’m often, you know, being critiqued and told that I’m not up to snuff because I’m gay,” Fensham explained.

“I have to sort of self-protect all the time. You know, one of my colleagues once said, ‘Charles could never delight the heart of God.’ God can never be happy with me because of who I am.”

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Jansen was misusing the the text when she cited the verse in the House of Commons, he added.

“It’s an abuse of the meaning of the text, because it’s talking about people who, you know, people who are hypocritical with their religion. To say it’s hypocritical to try and protect kids just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

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