Last year the California legislature considered, and passed, a radical bill that would have made "conversion therapy" a criminal offense under their consumer fraud laws. This bill was introduced and championed by California Assemblyman Evan Low.
I wrote about that bill on another forum.
The idea for the bill was to silence Christians who practice "conversion therapy." The bill would have made criminal any transaction which promised to help reduce or eliminate same-sex attractions or gender identity confusion.
It would have been a huge violation of free speech and religious liberty. It would also have had a big toll on men like me. If this bill had become law, the State would have begun telling me, officially, that my identity is rooted in my sexual attractions.
So what happened?
The California legislature passed the bill, right, so why isn't it a law? Did the Governor veto it?
Assemblyman Low withdrew the bill from consideration before the Governor could sign it, which was seen as a miracle by many.
Assemblyman Low said that his decision to withdraw the bill was because of the response from Christian leaders who spoke out against it. But his goals haven't changed.
My intent is still to stamp out conversion therapy, but rather to do it in a more deliberate fashion, enlisting the support of evangelical and faith leaders. There are those in the LGBTQ community that say we shouldn’t compromise, but I think this is the best approach to changing hearts and minds. - Assemblyman Evan Low in the Desert Sun
This goal is quite frightening to me.
He wants to stamp out conversion therapy by changing hearts and minds. It's a good move. Legislating such a position in this country would not go over well. But if he eliminates all dissent, then he can end the practice even more fully than by making it illegal.
Assemblyman Low has brought a resolution to the California assembly this year which is much softer than the bill he withdrew last year. This year's resolution doesn't criminally punish any Christians who engage in transactions that could attempt to change someone's sexual desires or eliminate their experiences of gender confusion. This resolution simply "calls upon religious leaders to counsel on LGBTQ matters from a place of love, compassion, and knowledge of the psychological and other harms of conversion therapy."
And it appears that he is succeeding in getting the support of evangelical and faith leaders.
Last week the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Chaplain and Azusa Pacific University, Dr. Kevin Mannoia, spoke out in support of this new resolution.
Dr. Mannoia spoke for some pastors and leaders who are in agreement about the intentions and heart behind this resolution, especially the call for the equitable treatment of all people.
He says that they have a different starting point when it comes to human sexuality, and yet he accepts the very premise of this resolution - that some people are "Lesbian," some are "Gay," some are "Straight," some are "Bi-sexual," some are "Transgender," and, although unspoken in the actual text of the bill, some are any other shade of "Queer."
These are not appropriate categories of human identity.
There are no such distinctions in the image of God which all people are made in.
Any real Christian will agree that we are to love our neighbors "for who they are." But Christians cannot adopt the false idea that "who we are" is the same as "what we feel."
Christian doctrine on the Imago Dei cannot be modified by the State.
This non-binding resolution calls on Christians to abandon their Christian theology about the image of God.
There is no such thing as a distinction between "gay" and "straight" men.
Undoubtedly some people will claim that I'm misunderstanding the terms that I'm writing about. "It's not about a status of being," they will say, "it's just the same thing as saying there are left-handed people and right-handed people."
According to this position, there is no greater moral weight in saying "I'm left handed." than in saying, "I'm straight."
Saying that you're left handed is acknowledging a preference for using the left hand. You have that preference, presumably from birth, and it is part of what you experience through life.
Saying that you're straight is more than simply acknowledging that you have a romantic and sexual preference for the opposite sex. It's saying that your preference, which is presumably with you from birth, determines how you will experience all of life.
Sexual identity terms like "gay" and "straight" make the mistake of elevating experience to the level of nature.
Identity terms based on preferences, like "left handed," don't go any deeper than the surface level of experience.
LGBT (and sometimes Q) identities are claims based on nature, not on experience. There might be a reasonable argument that calling yourself "gay" is simply acknowledging a sexual preference. That argument fails, however, because the T has been fixed to the remaining letters. Transgender identity is not rooted in any preference (unlike being left-handed).
So as long as the LG and B are equivalent to the T, you cannot reasonably claim that it's just like being left-handed or right-handed.
Regardless of all of that, why is the State being asked to call upon religious leaders to act with respect to a theological position on human nature?
What if there was a deep social stigma against being left-handed? (It has been stigmatized in the past, and still is stigmatized by some.) Would the state be right to call on religious leaders to preach against this stigma?
This isn't the appropriate sphere for the State to be involved.
There should be separation of church and State. Governments should not tell the religious community what to believe.
Religious leaders shouldn't be comforted by this resolution.
Assemblyman Low hasn't abandoned his goal of stamping out one set of religious beliefs, he's just going about it more tactfully.
His strategy to try to change hearts and minds will likely be much more successful than his original idea to ban it outright. And that should concern us. He is using his position as a legislator to proselytize for his religious views on sexuality.
Right now he's trying to get a resolution condemning the practice of conversion therapy.
What will he do next?
How long will it be before he's determined that enough hearts and minds have changed and it's time to criminalize certain religious doctrines?
Failing to Confront Culture
Earlier this week I met a secretary at a mega church in my area. I was asking for permission to make flyers available which advertise an upcoming pro-life conference. (Life Action Conference - July 23 and 24. Register Online Here.)
She refused, telling me that their church doesn't distribute "anything which might make someone uncomfortable about coming in."
The goal of the church, I was informed, was to tell people about the love of Christ. And they wouldn't speak any message that would make someone uncomfortable and therefore potentially miss the chance to hear about Jesus Christ.
I didn't want to fight her, of course, because she doesn't make the policies there. But I was very curious how anyone could hold to such a view for a church.
If we don't speak any message that could make someone uncomfortable, then what happens when culture is made uncomfortable by Jesus himself? How can we avoid causing offense with our messages if we are committed to speaking the truth?
Society is uncomfortable with the practice of conversion therapy.
These pastors and evangelical leaders who are speaking out against conversion therapy, and supporting the State's actions to silence some Christians, are shortsighted.
If society condemns conversion therapy today, what's to stop them from condemning the preaching of sin and the need for redemption tomorrow?
We as the Church must stand up for the truth.
Don't be afraid to speak the truth.
Jesus does transform lives.
Let's speak that truth.
If people avoid our churches because they're uncomfortable with the truth, we shouldn't stop speaking the truth.
The truth will set us free.