Vetoing Religious Liberty
On Wednesday, February 26, Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed state Senate Bill 1062. The bill sought to provide a basis for legal defenses in discrimination suits brought against those who do not wish to provide services for homosexual weddings because such involvement contradicts their sincerely held religious beliefs. In her veto, Governor Brewer denied religious protections to those whose deepest ethical commitments would have them avoid participation in homosexual weddings.
This story is only the most recent in the disturbing trend of our cultural embrace of homosexuality. This latest development, however, ups the ante. In the last several years numerous states have legalized homosexual marriage by judicial fiat, legislative action, or popular vote. That reality is disturbing enough. Brewer’s action—and the many others that will follow—moves the debate from whether homosexuals are allowed to marry to whether an individual or business must participate in that marriage.
Make no mistake: the time is coming when ministers of the gospel will be sanctioned for declining to officiate at homosexual weddings. The time is also coming when it will be illegal for counselors to counsel individuals away from their homosexual lifestyle. If that claim sounds alarmist, you need to remember that the winds are already blowing in that direction.
In August of 2013 a federal court upheld a California law banning so-called conversion-therapy. In that same month Chris Christie signed a similar bill into law in New Jersey. The legislation bans licensed counselors from utilizing counseling interventions that seek to change sexual orientation. California and New Jersey are merely the first two states to do this. Does anyone believe they will be the last? Already other states such as Pennsylvania and Illinois are considering similar laws.
Counseling and Religious Liberty
The implications of all this for all Christians are massive. The implications are particularly acute for Christians with a counseling ministry because the ability of counselors to offer counsel flowing out of their Christian convictions is at risk. Christian counselors who pursue state licensure will feel the force of this the most.
If you are a licensed Christian counselor in California or New Jersey you are not allowed to share your convictions about the sinfulness of homosexuality in the context of your counseling. That means that if a fifteen year old boy comes to see you who is devastated and ashamed by homosexual lust he is fighting against you are not allowed to use passages like 1 Corinthians 6, Colossians 3, and Ephesians 4 to help him.
The Urgency of this Crisis for Christian Counselors
This is a big problem. I am deeply aware that biblical counselors and Christian counselors (integrationists, Christian psychologists, etc.) have had our differences. But the sinfulness of homosexuality, and the need to offer hope and help to those who struggle with it has not been one of them. For example, I have profound disagreements with Mark Yarhouse and Stan Jones concerning counseling theory, but agree completely with their moral position on homosexuality. In fact I have learned much from them in books like, Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate, and Ex Gays?: A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation.
Biblical and Christian counselors have debated the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling. Biblical counselors think the Bible is sufficient to address all the counseling problems people face. Christian counselors dispute that claim and point to secular resources like the findings of psychology and the process of state licensure as essential in developing counseling competency. As important as these debates are, biblical and Christian counselors have never debated the authority of the Scriptures with respect to its moral imperatives.
The current moral crisis raises a crucial issue for integrationists and Christian Psychologists pursuing licensure. What will Christian counselors do when the governments from whom they seek licensure begin to censure them for their religious commitments concerning homosexuality?
In it Together?
Right now counseling certification with a group like ACBC affords more religious liberty and legal protection than is currently the case with state licensure. We can say it more strongly: The days are over when Christians will be able to maintain their religious convictions and be certified by the state. This reality is already the case with the many states that forbid licensed counselors to “proselytize” (i.e., fulfill the Great Commission). It is now the case with increasing numbers of states forbidding religious expression with regard to counseling conversations about homosexuality.
I’ve had my disagreements with people like Stan Jones and Mark Yarhouse, but I haven’t taken those disagreements personally. I hope they haven’t either. In the years ahead we may be bailing each other out of jail.