Will Your Church’s Preaching and Counseling Be Criminalized? Will Parents Be on Wrong Side of the Law Just for Talking to Them About Sexuality and Gender? A Warning from the American Heartland

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
January 21, 2022

It seems that no matter where you turn, threats against religious freedom continue to surface—and sometimes, those pressures against this precious liberty appear in unexpected places. You expect to see the rights of conscience suppressed in China, North Korea, and regrettably, in nations like Canada. Yet a recent development in the state of Indiana has placed religious freedom on shaky grounds.

Steve West of World Magazine reported that Faith Church in West Lafayette Indiana has, for the last forty-five years, operated a free, biblical counseling ministry for members of the community. Now, however, as West wrote, “that outreach is now threatened by a city council proposal that would penalize anyone who talked with minors to help them overcome unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.”

The proposed ordinance is identified as 31-21 and would prohibit unlicensed persons from practicing what the ordinance describes as conversion therapy with those under the age of eighteen. Those found violating the statute would face a penalty of up to $1,000 per day. As West describes, “It defines conversion therapy as any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”

Similar proposals have populated news stories as of late—most recently in Canada and also pending legislation before the British 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 a half century. The pastor of Faith Church, Dr. Steve Viars, said, “We’re not fighters. We’re not people who are just looking to get into it with somebody. We want to love our community and biblical counseling is one of the ways that we’ve chosen to do that.” But, as the pastor rightly pinpointed, legislation like the one his community is facing would criminalize speech rooted in deeply held religious convictions.

The proponents of this ordinance clearly targeted the ministry of Faith Church and other biblical counselors not in line with the sexual revolution. The ordinance specifically pursues “unlicensed” counselors, meaning Christian counselors. Indeed, as another pastor in West Lafayette stated, “We currently have 31 counselors offering sixty-eight hours of biblical counseling to members of our community each week, free of charge at multiple locations. The reason faith counselors and others choose not to be licensed is because we have dramatically different counseling presuppositions than the secular world. We have never practiced conversion therapy or used the term because we find this practice that was developed by the secular counseling community to be barbaric and harmful to persons experiencing same-sex attraction.”

During the middle to late period of the 20th century, some who identified as evangelical Christians began integrating their theological concerns with the contemporary currents of psychiatry and psychology. This became known as the integrationist approach and surged in popularity throughout the late 20th century. Biblically minded Christians, however, understood a problem with this model. The Scriptures make clear that you cannot integrate a Christian worldview with any other comprehensive truth claim. Psychiatry, as a modern humanistic discipline, emerged as a rather intentional effort to supplant the church’s counseling on a host of issues. It begins with a different understanding of the human being that is antithetical to the Christian worldview. Attempts to integrate a humanistic discipline with the Christian theological commitments about the human person, culminates in a way of counseling incompatible with the Scriptures and, by extension, harmful to the human person. That is why The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, for almost thirty years, has committed itself to replacing the old Christian counseling movement with a far more biblical system known as biblical counseling. We understand that the most important function of counsel, especially within the context of a local church, is that we direct people to the life-changing power of the inspired Word of God. Biblical counseling, furthermore, resides outside the confines of state licensure—it is a ministry of local churches to care for its members and people 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 Christians ministers to practice Christian ministry. It is also an assault upon the rights of parents to seek biblical counseling and guidance for their children.

To be clear, the biblical counseling movement does not use any form of what is legitimately called conversion therapy. That method is a discredited secular therapeutic device. Yet, the term conversion therapy is now being weaponized by the secularists. They take what Christians believe about gender, sexuality, and how to counsel people through issues related to same-sex attraction, and equate that with conversion therapy. Thus, the West Lafayette ordinance bans the right and responsibility of Christian churches to counsel Christians upon the basis of the inerrant, infallible, Word of God. It would make such methods a criminal act in an American town. In fact, the ordinance defines “counseling” as “techniques used to help individuals learn how to solve problems and make decisions related to personal growth, vocational, family, and other interpersonal concerns.” This is exactly what pastors and counselors do in local churches; but the ordinance provides no exception for Christian churches.

Shannon Kang, a member of the West Lafayette council and advocate of the ordinance, declared, “Until all of our vulnerable populations in the city are protected, we cannot stand by and say that we’ve done enough. This is extremely important to me.” She went on to argue, “Ordinances and resolutions like this are intended to change the culture. I’m not asking that these people who do it would convert, but it sends a message into what sort of community they are living in, and it sends a message to our vulnerable communities as well.” This is a candid confession of what these laws and measures are trying to do—this is an attempt to normalize the entire spectrum of the LGBTQ sexual ethic and ban any contrary worldview from the public square.

This ordinance, along with what is happening in Canada and in the United Kingdom, 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 being commanded to surrender our moral understanding and biblical convictions about what it means to be human. Tragically, not only is religious freedom threatened, but as more and more of these measures go into effect, real men and women will continue to suffer and not receive the aid and counsel they truly need.

This will not be the last time we hear about a community trying to ban Christian churches from being Christian churches. More of these stories will continue to surface in the coming weeks, months, and years. 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 contend for the truth, speak against these measures, and, no matter what, preach the full counsel of God. This we must do, in season and out of season, no matter the cost.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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