KANSAS CITY – Therapy and counseling from a biblical, Christian perspective that suggests leaving homosexuality behind have been banned in two of Missouri’s largest cities, and the matter is progressing through the St. Louis city government. Instead of protecting children, the proposed ban is a direct threat to religious liberty, Baptist leaders say.
In Kansas City, the city council Nov. 14 voted unanimously to prohibit licensed medical or mental health professionals from counseling minors from a biblical perspective in matters of their sexuality or “gender identity.”
Critics of biblical counseling that seek to help a person leave homosexuality call the practice “conversion therapy.” They contend it is not effective and is dangerous to the mental health of those being counseled. Last month the city of Columbia banned such counseling for minors. Proponents of the bans say it does not keep a church or pastor from speaking on such matters, but the measures do not provide exceptions for counselors who hold to those same convictions.
In a statement to the Kansas City Council before the vote, Mike Whitehead, general counsel for the Missouri Baptist Convention and a local resident, testified that “Missouri Baptists deplore child abuse and urge the strong enforcement of many existing criminal laws and regulatory rules that would apply to mental health workers who deal with children. But at the same time, Missouri Baptists affirm the principles of religious liberty, parental authority, and rights of conscience that are at risk in this proposed ordinance.
“The proposed ‘conversion therapy’ ban is dangerously overbroad. It sweeps away traditional moral and biblical convictions about parental rights to control the religious upbringing of minor children. It demonizes counselors who, as a conscience matter, hold to such biblical convictions about human sexuality. But more broadly, the overbroad use of the term ‘conversion’ threatens to make the City Government the enemy of every religious, philosophical and moral viewpoint that teaches that spiritual transformation is possible. Change of mind and heart is possible. Surely these are unintended consequences that conscientious parents and professionals on your council will want to avoid.”
Owen Strachan, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Senior Fellow of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, also submitted testimony.
He argued that the ban goes too far and poses a “real danger” to religious groups that call for change for spiritual reason.
He offered several reasons for opposing the ban, noting that “these measures sound positive on paper but fall beneath the historic American standard of fairness, equality, and mutual tolerance.”
“Christianity offers sinners just like us the hope of Christ,” he concluded. “Christianity is not a movement of hate, but a movement of hope and change and love.”
Across the state in St. Louis, a similar ban was passed unanimously by the Health and Human Services Committee of the Board of Alderman Nov. 13. It now goes before the whole board. It would specifically ban “conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, ex-gay therapy, or sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts to a minor, regardless of whether the provider receives compensation in exchange for such services, and providing penalties for the violation of said prohibition.”
Bev Ehlen is a member of the Missouri Baptist congregation, The Way in Warrenton, and of the Missouri Baptist Christian Life Commission, and she is president of the Missouri chapter of Concern Women for America. She was present at the Nov. 13 meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee in St. Louis. Ehlen’s talking points included:
• “The ban infringes on individual’s rights and parents’ rights as well. There are steps that one should take to bring a charge on a therapist who is unethical in his/her practice.”
• “At the heart of many religions is the idea that people can change and find true joy in embracing and living out their faith. Government should protect the right of individuals to practice their faith…” “Civil government has no business telling people that their counseling goals are illegal.”