Has Emmerdale lost the plot on conversion therapy?

23, August 2023

Popular ITV soap Emmerdale has waded into the controversial conversion therapy debate in a recent storyline.

The plot involves a deeply unhinged and abusive ‘Christian’, Colin Hamston, whose son is a same-sex attracted teenager.

Colin has struggled mentally since the death of his wife, and in recent episodes is shown to respond extremely negatively to his son’s news that he is gay.

The show’s writers have chosen to play on his religious character to portray him as manipulative and abusive and using the Bible in an entirely misguided way.

Colin reveals he wants to send his son to a camp in the US to help him choose “a more righteous path”. In a previous episode, he inflicts physical harm on Marshall, evidenced by bruising on his arms.

Marshall eventually leaves the village to live with his aunt. Yet Colin is depicted as so fanatical that he kidnaps Laurel, the mother of the boy Marshall was in a relationship with. He wants Laurel to call Marshall to get him to come home. Unsurprisingly, she refuses to do that.

Laurel tries to escape by bashing Colin across the head with his Bible.

What should we make of these dramatic scenes?

Perhaps the Emmerdale scriptwriters just thought it would make good television. Regular viewers will have to be the judge of that. But if they were trying to make a convincing case to ban conversion therapy, they’ve got a lot more work to do.

Firstly, the caricatured portrayal of a Christian is contrary to how the Bible says Christians should act. Christianity teaches the importance of loving and valuing every human being, even when you disagree.

Secondly, Colin’s abusive behaviour towards Marshall would already be illegal under current laws in this country. Therefore the Emmerdale storyline actually helps explain why there is no need for a new law: people like Marshall are rightly already protected from abuse and coercion.

A broad conversion therapy ban would instead criminalise things like prayers or conversations that do not affirm a person’s chosen sexuality or gender.

And thirdly, the fact Colin wants to send Marshall abroad to a supposed ‘conversion therapy’ camp is presumably because the scriptwriters know that no such camps exist here.   

Sadly, ITV's poor and inaccurate portrayal of Christianity risks causing people to fear the teaching of the Bible. It unfairly conflates Christians and those who disagree with homosexual practice with Colin's disturbing mental health struggles and abusive behaviour.

The scriptwriters may have no animosity toward orthodox Christians – but when are they ever shown in a good light?

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