The last thing that Malta Christian charity worker Matthew Grech expected was jail time after speaking out about how this faith enabled him to abandon the homosexual lifestyle.
“Jesus consumed my life. His presence brought a freedom, a freedom that I never had, joy and continuous peace in my life,” Grech told PMnews Malta. “This is the basic gospel, that one needs to repent from sin, and homosexuality is not the only sin.”
His Christian testimony, recorded and broadcast by PMnews Malta, is what landed Grech in legal trouble on the island of Malta, which has one of the strictest anti-conversion therapy laws in the world.
The trial is the first time Christians are being put on trial under “conversion therapy” bans and could set a precedent unleashing a wave of prosecution against the free exercise of religion, Grech’s lawyer says. How the case winds up could start a “domino effect” throughout the Western World.
“They want to ban Christian counseling in churches simply because it does not conform to their religion,” the lawyer says. “They claim not to be religious, but I can tell you that they are just as religious as everybody else.”
Grech, 33, a contributor to the Christian nonprofit Core Issues Trust, pleaded not guilty on Feb. 4 the Court of Magistrates in Valetta. He and two presenters of a media outlet, PMnews Malta, were accused of allegedly violating Chapter 567 of a Maltese law of their ban on “conversion practices.”
Grech did not advertise conversion therapy, according to the transcript. He told his personal story and spoke up about advocating for therapists’ freedom to counsel their clients as they would want without any government intervention.
“I was invited by this new emerging platform in Malta called PMnews to share my story and to discuss sexuality in general,” Grech reported to Fox News, sharing that he was surprised when police served him with a summons to court on Feb. 3.
During his teenage years Grech was confused about his sexuality and started a same-sex relationship when he moved to London, keeping it secret from his family, he says.
But he also heard the gospel.
“When I was in London, a woman came up to me and began to share the gospel with me, and she started telling me about Jesus and what He did for us on the cross,” Grech said. “I went into a church, and I can say that I loved it. I felt accepted. I felt loved.”
Grech became involved with the U.K.-based International Federation for Therapeutic and Counseling Choice (IFTCC) that aims “to promote a caring, nonjudgmental environment where people who choose to move away from their unwanted feelings and behaviors can find the support they’re seeking.”
“Many times, they discover that when someone helps them overcome trauma and pain that was behind their homosexual attractions, or their transgenderism… they find that they no longer look at the same sex in the same way,” Grech explained.
“Nobody said to them, ‘If you do this, or hear this, or stop doing this, you will become straight…’ These were genuinely in emotional crisis and looked for help.”
Grech lives on the Mediterranean island state of Malta which is an island nation between Sicily and the coast of North Africa that was the first country in the European Union to criminalize attempts to “change, repress or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/ or gender expression.”
Police wrote in their summons on June 29: “You advertised conversion practices and this is breaking article 3 (a) (iii) of Chapter 567 of Maltese laws.”
Many “conversion therapy” bans in the U.S. only apply to minors, though some bans in other countries prohibit adults from seeking help from anyone for unwanted sexual attractions, even with their consent and a religious exemption.
“To deny people access to spiritual or secular support in any context is barbaric,” Grech said. “It’s simply barbaric.”
Grech sees his legal battle and the struggles of this generation against culture like the story in Acts 28 of the apostle Paul shaking a viper off his arm into the fire, an event in Malta recorded in the Book of Acts.
“I believe that as we survive this snake that is trying to poison us and harm us, as we look toward God, who is able to save us and redeem us, people will shift their perspective,” said Grech.
Grech believes there are many others like him who have valid reasons for seeking to move away from unwanted sexual feelings, but he fears that those individuals are getting driven into hiding because of the effects of overbroad conversion therapy bans.
Grech along with two presenters were cited to appear in a Maltese court on Feb. 3 and face up to €5,000 in fines or up to five months in prison. The outcome of the trial is not known.
“We believe in the best for our nation, but there has been an idol that has been set up, and it needs to come down,” Grech said. “We are facing the idol of our generation, and we’re saying, ‘We’re not going to bow down to you, no matter what the cost.'”
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Ireland Daniel studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy near Pacific Palisades, California.