By Bob Allen
Planners of a conference for Christian counselors about homosexuality distanced themselves from the controversial “reparative” or “conversion” therapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, but not because they believe an individual struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction cannot change.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., criticized the psychological practice associated with the once-popular “ex-gay” movement as a “superficial” response, urging ministers instead to call on those tempted to homosexual sin to repentance and faith.
“We don’t think the main thing that is needed is merely repair but rather redemption,” Mohler said at a press conference convened in response to protestors denouncing the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors annual meeting held on the seminary campus discussing the theme Homosexuality: Compassion, Care and Counsel for Struggling People. “When it comes to sexuality, we do believe that wholeness and holiness can come, and will come, to the one who faithfully follows Christ.”
About 40 protestors representing the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign picketed outside the seminary campus holding signs with messages including “conversion therapy kills.”
“This is a recurring theme, unfortunately, of LGBT folks persistently being targeted — fixated upon — and attempted to persuade to change the nature of who they are,” Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman told television station WDRB. “And we know that this is a dangerous — and frankly a deadly — course of therapy for folks.”
Though long rejected by mainstream medical and mental health organization, groups like Exodus International once believed that conversion therapy could be a useful tool in working with young people encountering same-sex attraction. The method fell into disfavor in 2013, when Exodus International President Alan Chambers apologized for “pain and hurt” caused to the LGBT community and directors voted to close the doors of the 37-year-old organization.
“The Christian church has sinned against the LGBT community by responding to this challenge in a superficial way,” Mohler told local media, according to a seminary news release. “It’s not something that is so simple as converting from homosexual to heterosexual, and from our gospel-centered theological understanding that would not be sufficient.”
“Our message is the gospel for all people and that means we call all people to be converted to faith in Christ and then as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ to live in holiness and wholeness, which is defined by obedience to him, each in our own way,” Mohler said.
“We don’t call people to embrace heterosexuality,” explained Heath Lambert, executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. “We call people to embrace Christian faithfulness.”
Lambert, who also serves as assistant professor of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College, contrasted reparative therapy as a “secular” position to “the Christian position of repentance and faith.”
“The standard for sexuality in the Bible is one man and one woman in the context of Christian marriage,” Lambert said. “If you are not in that one man, one woman relationship of marriage, then the call on your life is joyful, faithful, Christian celibacy, and that is what we’re calling people to — Christian faithfulness regardless of what your sin is and regardless of what your situation is.”
Fairness Campaign protestor Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, an ordained Baptist minister and a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits that led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, said whether or not they call it reparative therapy, to him the conference message is “spiritual abuse.”
“These folks here are already OK with God,” Blanchard told the Associated Press. “They don’t need fixing. They don’t need correcting. They’re just as they’re supposed to be.”
Blanchard, a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, was ordained to the gospel ministry by Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., where he volunteers as leader of the church’s outreach program to the LGBT community called True Colors.
The three-day annual meeting of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors kicked off Monday night with keynote addresses by Lambert and Mohler.
It continues this evening with a message by Rosaria Butterfield, a former liberal feminist who described her journey from a lesbian to a full-time mother and pastor’s wife in her 2013 book Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.
The final speaker Wednesday afternoon is Sam Allberry, a British pastor and author who describes himself as a same-sex attracted Christian committed to living in celibacy.