It seems that no matter where you turn, threats to religious freedom keep surfacing — and sometimes those pressures against this precious freedom show up in unexpected places. You expect to see conscience rights suppressed in China, North Korea and, sadly, countries like Canada. Yet a recent development in the state of Indiana has placed religious freedom on shaky ground.
Steve West of world magazine reported that Faith Church in West Lafayette Indiana has, for the past forty-five years, operated a free Bible counseling ministry for members of the community. Now, however, as West wrote, “that awareness is now under threat from a City Council proposal that would penalize anyone who speaks with minors to help them overcome unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.” .
The proposed order is identified as 31-21 and would prohibit unauthorized persons from practicing what the order describes as conversion therapy with people under the age of eighteen. Those who break the law would be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 per day. As West describes it, “She defines conversion therapy as any practice or treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic feelings or attractions towards people of the same sex. ”
Similar proposals have populated the news lately, most recently in Canada and also pending legislation in the UK Parliament. Each of these stories presents a direct collision between religious freedom and the totalitarian demands of the sexual revolution.
The West Lafayette ordinance, if enacted, would deny the freedom of gospel ministry that a church has practiced in that community for nearly half a century. Faith Church pastor Dr Steve Viars said: “We are not fighters. We’re not people who just want to get down to business with someone. We want to love our community and Bible counseling is one of the ways we have chosen to do that. But, as the pastor rightly pointed out, legislation like the one his community faces would criminalize speech rooted in deeply held religious beliefs.
Proponents of this ordinance were clearly targeting the ministry of Faith Church and other biblical counselors who did not conform to the sexual revolution. The ordinance specifically targets “unlicensed” counselors, that is, Christian counselors. Indeed, as another West Lafayette pastor stated, “We currently have 31 counselors offering sixty-eight hours of Bible counseling to members of our community each week, free of charge in multiple locations. The reason religious and other counselors choose not to be licensed is that we have radically different counseling assumptions than the secular world. We have never practiced conversion therapy or used the term because we find this practice which was developed by the secular counseling community to be barbaric and harmful to people experiencing same sex attraction.
During the middle to late period of the 20and century, some who identified as evangelical Christians began to integrate their theological concerns with contemporary currents in psychiatry and psychology. This approach became known as the integrationist approach and gained popularity in the late 20and century. Bible-minded Christians, however, have realized a problem with this model. Scripture makes it clear that you cannot integrate a Christian worldview with any other overarching truth claim. Psychiatry, as a modern humanistic discipline, has emerged as a rather intentional effort to supplant church counsel on a host of issues. It begins with a different understanding of the human being that is antithetical to the Christian worldview. Attempts to incorporate humanistic discipline into Christian theological commitments to the human person result in a form of counseling that is incompatible with Scripture and, by extension, harmful to the human person. That is why Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, for nearly thirty years, has been committed to replacing the old Christian counseling movement with a much more biblical system known as Bible counseling. We understand that the most important function of the council, especially in the context of a local church, is to direct people to the life-changing power of the inspired Word of God. Bible counseling, moreover, resides outside the bounds of state authorization – it is a ministry of local churches to care for its members and those who need the help that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can provide.
But the proposed ordinance in West Lafayette represents a direct attack on the right of churches to be churches, on the right of Christian ministers to practice Christian ministry. It is also an infringement on the rights of parents to seek biblical guidance and counsel for their children.
To be clear, the Bible counseling movement does not use any form of what is rightfully called conversion therapy. This method is a discredited centuries-old therapeutic device. Yet the term conversion therapy is now being weaponized by the laity. They take what Christians believe about gender, sexuality, and how to counsel people about issues around same-sex attraction, and equate it with conversion therapy. Thus, the West Lafayette ordinance prohibits the right and responsibility of Christian churches to counsel Christians on the basis of the infallible and infallible Word of God. That would make these methods a criminal act in any American city. In fact, the ordinance defines “counseling” as “techniques used to help individuals learn to solve problems and make decisions related to personal growth, career, family, and other interpersonal concerns.” This is exactly what pastors and counselors do in local churches; but the ordinance makes no exception for Christian churches.
Shannon Kang, West Lafayette council member and advocate for the ordinance, said: “Until all of our vulnerable populations in the city are protected, we cannot sit idly by and say we have done enough. . It is extremely important to me. She went on to say, “Ordinances and resolutions like this are about changing the culture. I’m not asking that those people who do convert, but it sends a message to the type of community they live in, and it also sends a message to our vulnerable communities. This is a candid admission of what these laws and measures attempt to do – it is an attempt to normalize the full spectrum of LGBTQ sexual ethics and to prohibit any contrary worldview of public place.
This ordinance, as well as what is happening in Canada and the UK, are clear messages to Christians: change your message and capitulate on your sexual ethics if you want to continue to have a place in society. Christians are challenged to give up our moral understanding and our biblical beliefs about what it means to be human. Tragically, not only is religious freedom threatened, but as more and more of these measures come into effect, real men and women will continue to suffer and not receive the help and guidance they really need.
This won’t be the last we hear of a community trying to ban Christian churches from being Christian churches. More of these stories will continue to surface in the weeks, months and years to come. These laws thwart religious freedom, perpetuate suffering, and increase the power of an ever-growing totalitarian regime that can now tell parents what kind of counseling they can and cannot seek for their children. These are major developments, and it is up to Christians to fight for the truth, to speak out against these measures and, no matter what, to preach the full counsel of God. This we must do, in season and out of season, no matter the cost.