Dale Johnson: Today on the podcast I am delighted, thrilled always, to have with us Dr. Steve Viars who is no stranger to our folks and listeners at ACBC. He’s the Senior Pastor at Faith Church and Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries there in Lafayette, Indiana. He’s been there since 1987. He’s been involved in the biblical counseling movement for years and years. He’s a certified member. He’s a fellow. He’s a board member with us. He has lots of good ministry there in Indiana. He’s been very impactful in the training of ACBC counselors abroad.
We came today, however, to talk about this issue that’s come up in recent days, even over the Christmas holidays, relative to an ordinance. Steve, I want you to have the freedom to talk about this ordinance particularly, so we’re going to introduce that in a second, but this ordinance is different than some of the legislation that we’ve seen come across in recent history. Something like California Senate Bill 1172. Now that may be unfamiliar to many. I’ll just briefly explain. What they’re trying to do in legislations is they’re often trying to give some perspective on sexual orientation change efforts, and they’re saying things like, for those who are licensed counselors, you cannot engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a minor if you are a licensed professional. In all of that legislation, there is typically a clause that releases non-licensed religious providers from that demand. So, we’re free to engage with biblical conviction in sexual orientation change efforts, not reparative therapy. I want to make that very clear. That’s something distinct.
The ordinance that’s happening in West Lafayette is distinct and different because it now includes this issue of non-licensed providers and so it would incorporate us as biblical counselors. This is a big deal. You know, in many ways this happened in the backyard of Faith Church. Steve, I want you to take just a moment and tell us briefly, if you can, about what’s happening at Faith Church and Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries to help set this story that I’ve sort of begun in context for anybody who’s not familiar and who’s not seen our social media post and the blasts that are coming out from Faith Church as well. So give us some context of what’s happening on the ground there.
Steve Viars: Sure, Dale. Thanks for the opportunity to speak to you and your listeners today. Our church started 58 years ago as a church plant by another church that was concerned about a growing area of our community that needed a gospel witness. So, I’m so glad that the pastor scooped off five families from their church and sent us down to start what is now Faith Church. We relocated as a result of church growth, but we’ve been a Bible-believing church for 58 years. 45 years ago, my predecessor, Bill Goode, and his dear friend, Dr. Bob Smith, started Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries, and it’s a community-based ministry. So we love our town. That’s just one of the ways that we love our community. So now all these years later we have about 32 people on our staff, physicians, university professors, pastors, godly lay persons, and we offer 60-80 hours of biblical counseling services to people in our community every week free of charge.
About seven years ago, we had the opportunity to build a campus over in West Lafayette. We had always been on the east side of Lafayette. We had university students and professors, but they would have to drive across town. So we always wanted to get closer to the campus and, by God’s grace, we were able to, through a very unusual set of circumstances, buy a piece of property right at the entrance to the university. Regrettably, that became rather controversial. When people understood that when we called it Faith West we weren’t really talking about Faith Church, we were talking about the faith that was once and for all delivered unto the saints, they did not like the idea that a Bible-believing church would be that close to the entrance to a major big ten university. Well, by God’s grace, we prevailed. So now we have a beautiful church plant there and a variety of community ministries that we worked on with the immediate neighbors, along with the biblical counseling center. So we’ve been going along there pretty well. We even developed another campus downtown and so we’re just having a lot of fun trying to use biblical counseling as an outreach tool.
Then totally out of the blue, six weeks ago—I was actually getting ready to leave town. It was on a Monday. That’s typically the day that I’m starting to do Sunday prep, so I’m working on a sermon minding my own business—and I got a media tip that the West Lafayette city council was planning to propose a brand new ordinance, 31-21, that was aimed at unlicensed counselors and it prohibits conversion therapy among minors. And if any unlicensed counselor does that, there is a threatened fine of $1000 per day.
What was amazing about that, for one thing—an unlicensed counselor—that was stunning. But as I started to read what they were proposing, they weren’t really talking about conversion therapy and that’s really the game here. They have defined it so broadly that it would include a parent, a teacher, certainly a counselor or a pastor, who would even open the Word of God and show a young person what Scripture says about the church’s 2000-year-old principle of chastity in singleness and fidelity in a monogamous marriage. So that’s really the game that’s being played here, Dale. You know, one of the illustrations I’ve used is, it would be like if the city council said that they were prohibiting the baking of fruitcakes. Well, I’d be for that. I hate fruitcake and I wish they wouldn’t do it anymore in our town. But then if you read through their ordinance and the way they defined fruit cake baking, it was making any dessert that included water and flour and eggs and vanilla extract. Wait a minute. That’s not fruit cake baking. That’s baking any dessert. You are not being honest here, and that’s the issue with 31-21. It’s wrong on all sorts of levels. It bothers me. It’s disingenuous and I’ve said to our city council, listen, if you want to criminalize biblical counseling, stand up and be honest and say that you’re doing it, but don’t call it conversion therapy because we have never practiced conversion therapy. We don’t believe in it. That came from the secular world. We’ve never practiced it. But if you’re going to use the term conversion therapy, define it properly or if what you’re really going after—What you’re going after is anybody who has a viewpoint about human sexuality different than yours—at least be willing to stand up and say to the community what you’re doing.
Dale Johnson: That’s exactly right. I mean, there are a couple of good points that I want to make sure that we get back to and one of those has to do with the issue of conversion therapy. We as biblical counselors are opposed to conversion reparative therapy. Those things are not biblical approaches to the way we think about sexual immorality. So that’s critical. So we’ve got multiple issues. We’re talking about the definition of conversion therapy. Trying to include biblical counseling under that as a label is fault and wrong. Trying to include non-licensed providers under a government mandate is absolutely wrong. Then even secondarily when we think about the one-way street that we’ve been describing where sexual orientation change efforts seem to be ok in public school systems when we think about sex education and we’re wanting to confuse our children without the consent of parents to describe transgenderism and gender confusion, but yet we can’t uphold our biblical morality when we talk about issues of sexual morality. I mean, these are several things that are of concern, but you guys have sort of boiled down some of your primary concerns as it relates to West Lafayette and its ordinance.
So, why do you think people should be most concerned about this? To my knowledge, this is the first time that legislation has moved in a direction of including a non-licensed provider as well. So why should people be concerned about this particular ordinance?
Steve Viars: Well, the first issue in my mind is individual freedom. You know, even the secular world believes in self-determination. A counselee ought to be able to choose the kind of counsel that he or she wants to receive. For 45 years, we’ve been very, very honest and upfront about what our source of truth is going to be in the counseling room. We call ourselves Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. We actually have our counselees sign a form that says, I understand that the counsel I’m about to receive is based on the counselor’s interpretation of the Bible. We tell people, even minors, if you at any point in this counseling session are uncomfortable with what we’re saying, all you have to do is raise your hand and we’ll immediately stop. We don’t practice coercion. We would never force our views on anybody, so our counseling is all voluntary. Of course, it’s all free of charge. If a counselee, even a minor, who’s thinking about human sexuality says in his or her heart, you know before I make these decisions I at least want to consider what the Bible has to say, who in the world is the West Lafayette city council to get in the way of an individual’s choice for the kind of counsel they want to receive? So it’s an individual freedom issue.
Then, Dale, secondly, it’s a parental rights issue. Here’s what’s fascinating, in this entire piece of legislation that is supposedly aimed at protecting minors, the one word that never exists in the entire ordinance is the word parent. So what this West Lafayette city council is saying is they know better how to parent the child than that child’s own parents. You know, your listeners may remember in Virginia in the fall where Terry McAuliffe was running for governor and he made the statement that he did not believe that parents should have a role in determining their children’s education. Parents couldn’t believe he said that. I liked what one political pundit said about that. He said, look, that wasn’t a gaffe. It’s not like Terry McAuliffe was off-script. Terry McAuliffe said what he honestly believes and many people believe. That’s why he lost that governor’s race in Virginia. Well, what Terry McAuliffe is to education, the West Lafayette city council is to counseling. They believe that they know better how to parent a child than that child’s own parents, and that is frightening that we’ve gotten to that point because when we’re starting to talk about harm, it’s not a long walk from where we are today if this ordinance passes to the government deciding, if you teach your child to Bible you are harming them and therefore they ought to be removed out of your house. If that sounds outrageous, I just wrote an op-ed in our paper on Sunday. Of course, any time you write an op-ed there’s going to be traffic as people are going back and forth on the online comments. There have been people in our community who have made it very clear, they believe that any kind of religious indoctrination is child abuse. In other words, what people in our community are saying is if a parent takes their own children to church, that is child abuse and that child ought to be removed out of that house. That’s where we are.
So, this really isn’t about homosexuality. This is about individual freedom. This is about parents’ rights, and of course, it’s about religious liberty. I had to lovingly say to our city council, we will never obey this ordinance. We will disobey it every day and hopefully before breakfast. I explained to them, here’s why. We already have a God and you’re not Him. So it’s an Acts 5:29 issue for us. We must obey God rather than men.
You know, if your listeners take the time to actually read this ordinance, 31-21, it reads like Daniel 3. It reads like Nebuchadnezzar establishing this big image on the plain of Dura and demanding that everybody come and worship it. So the ordinance has this whole list of psychological associations and it’s—you have to come and you have to worship what we believe about human sexuality. It’s outrageous. It’s absolutely outrageous. We have to stand for individual freedom. We have to stand for parental rights. We have to stand for religious liberty and we have to stand for intellectual honesty. This is actually being proposed by at Purdue University professor. If nothing else, just be honest about what your intent is and then let the community decide.
Dale Johnson: That’s right. Those are really helpful distinctions relative to conversion therapy—who we are as biblical counselors—Those things are in two different camps. To conflate that definition is disingenuous and dishonest. Listen, I want to make sure that we’re very clear on this particular subject. When we’re at the stage that we’re at right now in a place like West Lafayette, churches need to strategize. We need to think about how we attack this in a way that upholds biblical morality so that we can freely talk about the Scriptures. We can encourage parents to engage their children. We can do biblical counseling in a way that’s not coercive in the way that conversion therapy is. We need to strategize. But as you mentioned, there comes a time, if they were to pass something like this, that strategy’s over. We stand. We stand and we do not compromise what God has called us to do, because He is the Sovereign and He’s the authority over all. I love the way you describe it.
Now, as we think about how to strategize right now, you guys have been doing some things in West Lafayette at Faith in particular with a collection of churches and other city leaders. I want you to talk about, what are some of those steps? Listen, I think we’re going to learn from this process. I think other places around the country are going to have to engage in something like this coming to a city council near them very soon. So what are some of the steps you guys have taken along with some others at least up to this point so far?
Steve Viars: It became very apparent early on that there was a lot of concern beyond Faith about this ordinance. You know, this is right around Christmas time and so everybody’s busy. We’re trying to do evangelism, right? We’re trying to win every person in our town to Jesus, not fight with the city council, but we put together an organization called Lafayette Citizens for Freedom. The name of the website is freedomlafayette.org. It was a broad coalition of churches, campus groups, and even concerned citizens, who wanted to work in a collaborative way toward addressing this ordinance.
That website allowed us to start posting blogs, videos, along with some social media graphics, and so we’ve just been putting that out on social media. We also put on an online petition, and that petition after six days has garnered over seven thousand signatures. We also have a very easy way for people to send auto-generated emails to our city council members. They’re public officials. They want to hear from the public whether you live in West Lafayette or not. So we’re encouraging people to go to freedomlafayette.org and to take these steps.
First of all, sign the petition. We’d love to have people join. Secondly, send an auto-generated email to our city council members. It just says, please vote no on 31-21. Then just look at one of those blogs, look at one of those videos, and post it on social media along with the associated graphics just to get the word out. One of the reasons that we’re putting that kind of horsepower into this, Dale, is like you just said, I think this is going to come to many other communities as well. Six weeks ago this was not on my radar screen at all and so we’ve had to make this up on the fly and we’re trying to be in a position where if others face this, they can develop a similar website. They don’t have to start over.
Dale Johnson: I appreciate that and you guys are thinking in ways that will be very helpful to those who face this in the future, but our fight right now is certainly at West Lafayette. And I want to make sure that our listeners know how to respond. If you’re a part of ACBC or you get our emails, you’ve heard about this issue. I wanted you to hear from Pastor Steve directly what’s happening. So he’s giving you some tasks. He’s given you some things that you all should be engaged in, ways that you can engage in this issue, and to take a stand on how we think about biblical counseling, how we think about utilizing the Scripture, and that sort of thing. So Pastor Steve, thank you for joining us. Thank you for giving us some of these tips and giving us an idea of what’s going on there. I’ll give you a final word here on the issue.
Steve Viars: Yeah, I just really appreciate folks standing and it’s not a negative thing. You know, we’re really taking a positive stand. We’re taking a positive stand for individual rights. We’re taking a positive stand for parental rights. We’re taking a positive stand for religious freedom. We’re taking a positive stand for the power of the gospel and the truth of the Word of God. You know, I don’t know where all this is going to go, but there’s a sense in which I’m glad that the Lord has brought it here.
As I have pulled the thread back out of the sweater, I don’t think the Purdue University professor who got this started knew of our existence. And so at least we’re in a situation where I’ve got friends, co-laborers, that we can talk about this together. We can try to put resources together as quickly as we can. I don’t know what the Lord has for us moving forward, but I hope it’s an honor to the Word of God. I hope it’s a help to the church of Jesus Christ, and if folks can pray for us along the way I would surely appreciate it. Again, go to freedomlafayette.org. Sign the petition. Send our council members an email, and then share those blogs and videos, and let’s just try to get the word out.
Dale Johnson: Yeah, make sure you pay attention to the show notes. We’re going to put all that information in the op-ed, the West Lafayette Citizens for Freedom. We’re going to connect you to all that. Steve, I told you in a personal conversation several days back, I know you’re probably not feeling like this because of the loss of sleep and that sort of thing and the effort that you guys have put in, but I’m grateful to God for His kindness in allowing something like this, if it was going to happen, to happen with you guys. I think the Lord has given you preparation and experience there to be able to fight this and we want to join in with that.
So this is an opportunity for those of you who listen and love biblical counseling—and listen, even if you don’t, Steve has listed several reasons why you should engage in this fight if we think about personal freedom, parental rights, those sorts of things that are critical and crucial, especially as we think, it’s not a far leap, if they’re going to come into the private ministry of the Word, to think about pulpits being hindered and what we talk about in our own homes. Those things are not far around the corner if something like this were to pass. We just want you to be aware of those things. So Steve, thank you for what you’re doing there. Thank you for informing us about what’s happening on the ground and some ways that we can be involved.