It’s been years since Exodus International disbanded. The organization was a nonprofit, ex-gay Christian ministry serving people who were uncomfortable with their same-sex attraction, viewed by some as a group seeking to "turn gay people straight". In 2013, Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International apologized to the LGBT community for the hurt he believed his organization caused and the organization was no more. After Exodus International closed, other conservative Christians began rethinking their approach to sexual orientation with some denouncing this ex-gay, or conversion, therapy.
In 2009, The American Psychological Association assembled a report with research findings on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) stating that “there was some evidence to indicate that individuals experienced harm from SOCE. . . . These negative side effects included loss of sexual feeling, depression, suicidality, and anxiety.” In some states, licensed counselors are banned from providing therapy to change sexual orientation or gender identity.
Yet, there are still organizations that offer to help those who no longer want to identify as LGBT. Oncegay.com is described as “a community of friends who once identified as LGBTQ+. Today, we celebrate the love of Jesus and His freedom in our lives.” Metro City Church in Riverview, Michigan invited teens to an “unashamed identity workshop” to talk about their struggles surrounded their identity. The church faced severe backlash for what was perceived as a conversion effort, which included death threats toward Pastor Jeremy Schossau.
This has faith groups concerned about California’s AB 2943, which addresses “Unlawful business practices: sexual orientation change efforts” and implies workshops such the “unashamed identity workshop” could be illegal for pastors to hold. AB 2943 specifically states that “advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual” is considered consumer fraud and therefore illegal. The question on the minds of pastors and those affiliated with Christian organizations is whether inviting teens to dialogue about their “unashamed identity” is a “sexual orientation change effort”.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal organization is concerned that AB 2943 takes the individual's right to explore unwanted attraction away, leaving only the option to accept something the individual may want to change. ADF argues that “at the heart of many faiths is the idea of transformation—that circumstances, attitudes, and even behaviors can change.“ Alliance Defending Freedom Attorney Matt Sharp also noted that “it could be a violation if a pastor encourages a congregant to visit the church book store to purchase books that help people address sexual issues, perhaps including the Bible itself, which teaches about the importance of sexual purity within the confines of marriage between a man and woman.”
Pastors are concerned, wondering if they are viewed as mental health providers and that preaching against homosexuality would be an “unlawful business practice”. Some even worry that selling the Bible could be banned because it speaks to same-sex marriage and has some strong verses that are opposed to homosexual behavior. Randy Thomasson with SaveCalifornia.com expressed his concern by saying “a church bookstore selling the Bible, of course, selling a book about marriage or sexual purity or overcoming homosexuality or overcoming trans-sexuality. You could see a member of the public or even a member of the state government coming and saying, 'Hey, that's illegal.'"
Could passing of AB 2943 lead to a threat against religious freedom and free speech for pastors? Anyone who provides counseling in California and does not affirm an LGBT orientation will need to stay informed on AB 2943 and understand the implications for their existing and future services. Since California was one of the first states to ban “conversion therapy” for those under 18, the outcome of AB 2943 will likely influence laws in other states.
Tina Arnoldi is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in Charleston, SC, business consultant, and freelance writer. She is a reviewer for PsychCentral (you can find her work here) and has a public portfolio on Contently. You can learn more about her and connect at TinaArnoldi.com