Conversion Therapy and Counselor Agendas

Politicians must be prepared for criticism from any and all angles of their professional and personal life.  Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann learned this lesson yet again when she came under fire because of her husband Marcus’s Christian counseling business.  Former gay clients accused him of practicing conversion therapy, the notion that it is possible for gay persons to change.  Marcus Bachmann responded by telling the Minnesota Star Tribune that “It’s at the client’s discretion” and “We don’t have an agenda or a philosophy of trying to change someone.”

That response may have diffused the political pressure, but is it even remotely biblical?  Is such an approach worthy of the name “Christian”?  My answer to both questions is a resounding no.  The position may be politically correct, but it is theologically bankrupt.

First Things First: Listen

We should all acknowledge that persons struggling with same-sex attraction are in a powerful battle of the heart.  We should never be guilty of offering pat answers or trite solutions to anyone we have the privilege to counsel.  The reason the apostle Paul included homosexuals in his list of persons who were displeasing God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) is because of the serious nature of this issue.  It is incumbent upon all followers  of Christ to compassionately listen to the way our counselees are feeling, thinking, desiring, speaking, and behaving.  My experience with those involved in same sex attraction is that they believe they are simply being true to themselves at the deepest levels imaginable.  To suggest an alternate form of living is often deeply hurtful and offensive.  Carefully listening to our counselees is an important first step of ministering to others in a way that honors the Lord (Proverbs 18:13).

At the Client’s Discretion?

What is the appropriate and ultimate source of truth in the counseling room, or anywhere else in the Christian’s life?  Is it the client? Is it the counselor?  The answer is neither.  Christian counseling is predicated on the notion that Jesus Christ is the rightful Lord and authority (Romans 10:9-13).  Our goal is to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9), and we are therfore deeply interested in what His Word says about all matters of the inner and outer man (John 17:17).  What the client thinks and what the counselee thinks must be submitted to what the Savior thinks.

Understanding the Difference Between Desires and Actions

Homosexuals frequently argue that to be true to themselves, they must act on their natural and powerful attraction to the people of the same sex.  That misses the all-important biblical point that all our desires should always be filtered through the lens of God’s Word.  Every person has all sorts of desires to do things sexually that would displease God.  The worst advice we could possibly give is, “be true to yourself” or “just do what comes naturally.”  Such counsel is a recipe for spiritual and moral disaster.  This dynamic is explained in places like James 1:14-15 where we learn that “every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.”  Many of the desires that naturally well up in our hearts must be put to death because they do not meet the standards of God’s Word.

Should Counselors Have an Agenda?

Marcus Bachmann’s suggestion that counselors should not have a counseling philosophy or agenda is simply untrue.  God outlines a definite agenda in His Word, namely to redeem men and women through the power of His Son’s shed blood and then to transform us in the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). Everyone is in need of conversion therapy.

Christian counselors should have the agenda of compassionately listening to their client’s story and then skillfully pointing them to the appropriate truth of God’s Word.  Sometimes our counselees will find hope during periods of suffering.  At other times, they will find confrontation for instances of sin in either the inner or outer man.  In both cases, they will walk away with the tools necessary to change and grow and become more of the person God desires.  That is an agenda worthy of the name Christian.

Steve Viars
Dr. Viars has served as a pastor and counselor at Faith since 1987. He is an author, national speaker, and Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.