‘Torrents de vie’ organises camps to help people struggling with their sexual orientation. The Equality Minister condemns what she describes as “homophobia and transphobia on display”.
An evangelical group in France has come under the radar of the media and the government after a journalist covertly record images and conversations in one of its activities.
Torrents de vie (part of a larger international inter-denominational Christian ministry) is active in around 10 French cities offering seminars, pastoral counselling and conferences with the aim of helping to find “grace, truth and freedom in one’s relationships and sexuality”, says its website.
A reporter of the news broadcaster BFMTV attended one of the organisation’s summer camps in July with a hidden camera, recording the conversations happening among people seeking spiritual help in issues related to identity and sexual orientation.
The report aired later on tv showed testimonies of someone struggling with their “confusion and emotional dependence on other women”. Another attendant appears saying: “the Lord has restored my relationship with men”.
A “prayer of renounciation to the fire of desire” towards people of the same sex is also recorded on camera.
BFMTV described these activities as “disturbing therapies” and invited the French government’s French Minister for Equality between Women and Men and the Fight against Discrimination, Bérangère Couillard, to the studio to comment on the information.
Les thérapies de conversion sont interdites depuis 2022.
Je demande immédiatement à la @DILCRAH de saisir le Procureur de la République pour enquêter sur les agissements de Torrents de vie.
Je condamne fermement ces pratiques intolérables.
— Bérangère Couillard (@BCouillard33) August 30, 2023
“I condemn it in the strongest possible terms”, the Minister said after watching the images. This evidence were to be sent to the public prosecutor, she added, who would “investigate the actions of Torrents de vie”.
According to Minister Couillard, the ideas of this evangelical group are “homophobia and transphobia on display”, and Torrents de vie “should stop these practices” and be “dissolved as an organisation”.
Couillard also asked “victims” to “lodge complaints” to the police.
Since January 2022, so-called ‘conversion therapies’ are banned in France. The law (passed unanimously in parliament) includes criminal penalties for people who are convicted of trying to “convert” LGBTQ people to heterosexuality. It allows campaigners to file civil suits on behalf of other people who hesitate to go to the police for themselves.
The French Penal Code speaks of up to 3 years imprisonment and a fine of up to €45,000 for “repeated practices, behaviour or statements aimed at modifying or repressing a person’s actual or assumed sexual orientation or gender identity and having the effect of altering their physical or mental health”.
But there is a debate about the description of ‘conversion therapy’, and whether prayers and spiritual accompaniment of people should be criminalised.
Torrents de vie is one of the 120 associations that are members of the National Council of Evangelicals in France (CNEF), a body representing most evangelical Protestants in the country.
In 2022, the CNEF reacted to the new law reaffirming their commitment to “the protection of individuals and its opposition to all forms of abuse, particularly those committed against people questioning their sexual orientation and gender identity”. The Council launched a listening service for potential victims of abuse of all kinds in churches last year.
But the CNEF also underlines the need to make sure “that all people remain free to seek spiritual and religious support from the faith to which they belong, in accordance with their freedom of worship and personal freedom”.
The evangelical body will “remain vigilant in preserving freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression for all”.
According to a recent survey, there are 745,000 evangelical Christians in France. The faith minority has grown 15-fold since 1950, and over 2,700 active worship places are registered.