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Moves to outlaw Christian counseling?

The disconnect between gender theory and gender science

New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman speaks in favor of a bill to ban "conversion therapy" in 2019. Associated Press/Photo by Hans Pennink

Moves to outlaw Christian counseling?
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Last month, Canada’s CTV ran an investigative report on the state of medical gender transitioning among minors. Surprisingly (to those familiar with Canadian politics), the special included many high-profile critics of gender reassignment procedures. All testified that the current screening and consulting regarding child transgender medicine in the U.K. were rushed and biased towards medication and surgery. The news special also mentioned that clinics in Sweden and Finland have recently stopped prescribing puberty blockers due to new medical concerns. These developments are consistent with growing research that shows medical gender transition does not improve the long-term wellbeing of persons struggling with gender dysphoria. In other words, when it comes to transgender youth, the popular presentation of the social science does not match the actual findings of clinical science.

For Christians, the Bible is our ultimate authority for matters of faith and religious practice. This includes a basic sort of anthropology, the reality of creation and sin, but also the original creation order. As Jesus himself stated, “from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female’” (Mark 10:6). The Scriptures consistently teach that humanity is comprised of a complementary relationship between male and female. And so, Christians have a religious commitment to retaining what many people think of as the traditional model of human sexuality. However, Christians also believe that natural revelation supports God’s truth, for nature is God’s creation and reflects His handiwork. Even with the distortions brought about by the fall, the created realm teaches basic truths about God and man, which can be learned through careful study.

It is also important to know the reality of the scientific landscape regarding transgender studies because it shows many of our proposed social policies and, indeed, many current legal policies to be unscientific and dangerous. For instance, a recent bill in Canada attempted to criminalize certain types of counseling deemed insufficiently affirmative of certain expressions of sexual identity. While it claimed to be a ban against “conversion therapy,” the offensive activity was defined in the following way: “a practice that seeks to change an individual's sexual orientation to heterosexual, to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviors, or to change an individual's gender identity to match the sex they were assigned at birth.” Notice that this definition addresses both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” and it includes attempts to “reduce” either attraction or behavior. Counseling a young person to accept the body in which they were born would be considered “conversion therapy” by this bill. This bill died before it could be made law, thanks to a premature election interrupting the legislature’s ability to complete their work, but it will surely return. But this bill would outlaw foundational doctrines of biblical Christianity.

These sorts of laws are not only a problem in Canada. At least 20 states and an even greater number of municipalities have passed “conversion therapy” bans in the United States. Many of them use nearly the same language as the proposed Canadian bill. For example, the City of Seattle outlaws, “any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.” The law applies to a variety of counselors, including “marriage and family therapists,” “marriage and family therapist associates,” as well as “social workers” and “social worker associates.” There is no clear exemption for religious groups.

It should be reasonably clear that such policies would criminalize all Christian counseling. Under such laws, a Christian, whether a pastor or a layperson working as a counselor, could not advise an avoidance of same-sex sexual behavior. And it would surely be impossible for them to encourage a person to transition away from the body in which they were created. But Christians can also say that such laws are more than bad philosophy or theological anthropology. They are, in fact, medically harmful. They effectively mandate an exclusively affirmative approach to gender theory and therapy, even when it contradicts important scientific findings (and creation).

Christians should not allow themselves to be intimidated by loaded language like “conversion therapy.” This label covers a broad range of diverse theories and actions. Instead, they should press further and ask for the specific details of what is and is not being promoted and forbidden in the field of gender theory. Many arguments claiming to be affirmative and humanitarian, we are learning, are actually quite destructive. If our current secular order will not promote the truth about human sexuality, the least it could do is not outlaw it.

Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the rector of Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Ind. He has written for Desiring God Ministries, the Gospel Coalition, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and Mere Orthodoxy and served as a founding board member of the Davenant Institute. Steven is married and has three children.

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