February 9, 2022
Huge headlines last night out of West Lafayette, Indiana. It's a story with massive significance for Christian, for Christian pastors, Christian counseling for Christian parents, Christian families.
What happened last night is that the city council of West Lafayette, Indiana decided to condemn the use of so-called conversion therapy, but not to issue a legal ban, an outright ban. The background to this is something we discussed rather comprehensive on The Briefing.
And that's because what has taken shape in these developments in West Lafayette, Indiana represents a direct threat to the integrity and to the freedom of Christian ministry, Christian churches and Christian families. That's not an exaggeration, because what had been contemplated, planned and had actually been introduced for action into the west Lafayette city council was a legal ban on what was defined as conversion therapy, but it was extended to those who were identified as unlicensed therapists.
It thus represented a direct threat to Christian churches. There is no doubt that Christian churches, Christian counselors would've been covered by this ban. There is no doubt that Christian parents could well have found themselves facing legal action. And the issue here is not per se conversion therapy, which no one in this entire story actually supports.
It is rather whether or not gospel churches are free to stand on the gospel and to uphold biblical truth and to apply it in not only the preaching of the church, though it starts there, but also in the counseling ministry of the church offering biblical counsel. The report came from West Lafayette last night. Margaret Christopherson, as the reporter for the Lafayette Journal and Courier.
And as she reported last night, "Rather than band conversion therapy, a prospect discussed for months, the West Lafayette city council instead Monday voted to condemn the use of the controversial approach to sexual orientation." But now let's leave that quote and step back for a moment and ask ourselves what is purportedly, supposedly at stake here. That is to say before these Christian pastors and Christians in West Lafayette, Indiana made very clear this threat to religious liberty, then to the integrity and ministry of the church, what was supposedly behind this proposed ordinance?
Will the issue of conversion therapy is one that Christians particularly evangelical Christians committed to the gospel and biblical truth need to understand. What was originally called conversion therapy or repetitive therapy was a therapeutic approach. That's what's most important here, a psychotherapeutic approach. It came out of not the Christian counseling movement, particularly not out of anything rightly defined as biblical counseling.
It didn't come out of Christian conviction, it came out of the therapeutic world. And it was an effort to try to apply a therapeutic understanding of human sexuality in such a way that someone who came with a homosexual orientation or a homosexual set of desires or sexual urges could be redirected by the therapy. Now here's where Christians need to say, "Now wait, just a moment. The issue here can't be therapy. The rescue can't be therapy."
We do not believe is Christians that any significant moral or spiritual issue is rightly addressed by the reality of therapy and the psychotherapeutic revolution. But we do understand it has had vast impact on the larger culture. And we also understand that there are some Christians who lacking a clear theological and biblical awareness have actually embraced much of the psychotherapeutic worldview.
But let's be clear, the churches that were at the center of this issue in West Lafayette, Indiana were not committed to conversion therapy in any form. One of the pastors, Steve Viars actually identified conversion therapy as barbaric. But what these churches were doing and were intent to continue doing in faithfulness to Christ was the application of biblical truth through biblical counsel.
That's what got them in trouble. But the big news here is not what happened, but in one sense, as reporters would say, what didn't happen. What didn't happen is that the ordinance did not go forward. That raises the journalistic question, why? And the answer is, it appears that it was not just public pressure. And that means moral and political pressure brought by pastors and Christians and other concerned citizens of West Lafayette, it was the threat of legal action.
Sometimes that's what does get the attention of the powers that be. And we're talking about the fact that there would've been a major lawsuit. And it's a major lawsuit that lawyers at least must have advised the city it would be likely to lose. And that would come not only with an eventual striking down to the ordinance, it would come with a massive financial cost.
Now we don't know exactly what got the city council's attention, but the very context of this news story indicates that the threats of legal action were very, very important. We can actually take one of the members of the council at his word because he said, "The city of West Lafayette has been threatened with a lawsuit by those who oppose," he meant the ordinance. "Nevertheless, we have been persuaded of the necessity to spare the city the expense of defending against a lawsuit that would seek to overturn a law that protects minors from physical or psychological harm." Now that's putting his spin on it, but he comes back to say that he and another member of the council had thus withdrawn the ordinance at this time. Now here's, what's really important.
Now, we said that, the proponents of this ordinance said that the issue is conversion therapy, but what's their definition of conversion therapy? Well, getting immediately to that issue, Margaret Christopherson writing in that newspaper locally there, the Lafayette Journal and Courier reported it this way, "The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry defines conversion therapy as quote interventions purported to alter same-sex attractions or an individual's gender expression with the specific aim to promote heterosexuality as a preferable outcome."
Now just realize that covers the evangelical preaching of the Christian church. That covers any kind of biblical counsel based upon the authority of scripture. And there is no doubt that by that definition, the council of a Christian parent to a child would also count at one earlier point in the deliberations, as this was a developing story before these two members of the council withdrew the proposed ordinance and instead suggested the approved condemnation.
At one point it was argued that the ordinance might be amended so as to be clear that it would not include parents. But that's fascinating because that amounts to a tacit admission that at least in its wording and in its scope in its original version, it did include parents. And there is no doubt it would've included the many counselors involved in biblical counseling through biblical and gospel churches there in West Lafayette.
The church at the center of this developing story in West Lafayette, Steve Viars, pastor of Faith church there that also conducts the biblical counseling through one of its ministries, he made very clear that he and his church and its biblical counseling ministry would simply operate on biblical grounds and defy the ordinance. The action taken last night in withdrawing the proposed ordinance means that they will not, at least at this time have to face that threat.
I spoke last night with pastor Viars, and he was in the midst of speaking with many in the media because this is a big national and potentially international story. But the reality is that as you are looking at the role of pastors and of churches of concerned Christians in this developing story in West Lafayette, Indiana, you see the fact that Christians do bear a responsibility to be involved in the public square on these kinds of issues. And just think about what is actually at stake here.
We're talking out the liberty of the Christian church to conduct a ministry that would honor Christ on the basis of the authority of scripture, that would apply the scriptures preached in biblical counsel. Perhaps there have been some who have been awakened in the midst of this conversation to the fact that much of what goes by the label of Christian counseling is not very Christian.
Some of what's called Christian counseling is just warmed over secular approaches to psycho-therapeutics, various forms, supposedly integrated with Christian truth and sometimes merely decorated with just a few Bible verses. That is not biblical counsel. The biblical counseling movement is based upon the very important affirmation of the sufficiency as well as the authority of scripture. And the key concept to biblical counseling is that the counseling ministry of the church, the truly Christian counseling ministry, should be the application of the very same word that is preached.
But as the word is preached in a public or in a group setting, council is applied, the very same Scripture is applied as preached in the individual conversation. Now let's put this issue in its larger cultural context. Point number one would be this, what we are seeing here is a concerted effort. It's not a surprise. It's not even really a conspiracy because it's pretty much out in the open. It is an effort by LGBTQ activists and those who are basically sympathetic with that movement, those who are trying to bring other forms of social change.
And by the way, that's one of the things that happens, you have people who ride another issue in order progress on their own. Activists have been working in a concerted way to try to, first of all, define any kind of approach, a biblical approach to homosexuality or LGBTQ issues or transgender identity as conversion therapy so that it can simply be dismissed or sometimes even criminalized.
But then furthermore, just to normalize the entire array LGBTQ, and don't forget the plus sign in such a way that anyone who stands over against the revolution who can't join the revolution and that takes place in both the public and the private dimensionality, they're simply castigate as those who really don't belong in proper society.
So in other words, one of the functions of this ordinance, would've been to marginalize genuinely biblical and gospel congregations in this city, basically turning them into outlaws. But the cultural meaning of what's going on here, the big significance of what happened last night and in the days and weeks proceeding, I think comes down to this.
Sometimes Christians wonder if our involvement in these issues ever makes a difference.
Now, number one, we should not measure our faithfulness first of all, as to whether we see any kind of visible results. We are commanded to obey Christ, regardless of whether we see an impact that is fitting or satisfying to us or not. But then we also need to understand that sometimes when you're looking at a development like this, you see that Christians are actually able to have a voice and to make a difference sometimes merely by alerting, not particularly just our friends, but sometimes even those who oppose us of what's at stake.
And sometimes that does mean doing something that Christians sometimes are reluctant to do. And that means bring in the lawyers. We live in a litigious society. We live in a society of laws and of administrative procedures often with the force of law of cities that pass ordinances. And the fact is that sometimes Christians are called to defend religious liberty in a way that takes us with lawyers into court. That's why from time to time, we discuss cases in which you have lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom, First Liberty, or the Beckett Fund, or a similar kind of organization.
And they are ready to defend religious liberty, particularly they are ready to defend Christian ministries, Christian churches, Christians who find themselves, or find their churches on the wrong side of this kind of proposed legislation or on the wrong side of a court decision. And you have a direct injury to religious liberty.
You have a direct threat to the preaching and to the ministry of the Christian church or to Christian faithfulness. We need to understand that sometimes you do have to take an issue, not just to the public square and not just to public attention, you sometimes have to take an issue to the courts. But another dimension I want to raise here is that I think there's a parallel in something that happened just before the end of the year, last year. And that was the parents revolt that took place in the state of Virginia.
It eventually led to the election of Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate as the governor of Virginia. But the big issue, the big catalyst had to do with state authorities who were clearly pressing critical race theory and other agendas through public's school curriculum. Parents were concerned. And the former governor of the state of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, who was running to be elected again, told parents, you basically have no role here, go home.
And there were others who came out and said, just right in public, they articulated right out loud that parents ought not to have any particular role in determining what schools would and would not teach. There was a parents' revolt and that had political consequences in Virginia. I think what we saw, what we witnessed last night in West Lafayette, Indiana is a similar move that reminds us that a difference can still be made, that Christians who operating out of Christian integrity and Christian conviction find ourselves in a situation where we simply have to speak and we simply have to act.
We're not always promised any kind of effectiveness by our measure or success, but we are nonetheless commanded to act in concert with other Christians in the defense of the gospel and of the liberty of the Christian church. And I think we've seen some very interesting recent developments in which it becomes clear that there is still at this point in this culture, an opportunity to press back. And woe to us, if we do not.
Finally, on this issue, another Christian worldview concern here has to do with our concern for persons, has to do with our concerns for human beings. Every single one of us made in the image of God equally bearing human dignity. And we need to recognize that when we are talking about the array of LGBTQ issues, when we're talking about concerns about gender identity, the transgender movement and all the rest, we're not just talking about issues. We're not even just talking about issues to which the Scripture speaks very clearly, we're talking about human beings.
And the one thing that Christians must always keep in mind is that our ultimate concern in everything must be obedience to Christ and the greater glory of God. But we also in accordance with God's glory and according to the dictates of God's love, we also care about human beings. But we care enough to tell human beings, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, the truth. If the government or some other power comes to us and says, you must say, what is contrary to God's word, then we will just have to refuse to obey and then bear the consequences.
And remember, as we bring our consideration of this issue to a close today, all this took place in West Lafayette, Indiana. This didn't take place in the Pacific Northwest. It didn't take place in the American Northeast. It didn't take place in Berkeley, California, or Silicon Valley. This is in the state of Indiana. And again, we just have to recognize if something like this can happen in Indiana, it can surely happen and happen in a hurry in your state as well.
An American evangelical theologian, the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and host of the podcast The Briefing, where he daily analyzes the news and recent events from a evangelical perspective.