By Joshua Arnold
Now for some good news: pastors and Christian counselors in West Lafayette, Indiana preserved their ability to teach God’s Word to young people, after the city council withdrew a proposed ordinance that would have banned it.
Pastor Steve Viars of Faith Church in West Lafayette joined “Washington Watch” to discuss the welcome news. “We’re having a celebration in West Lafayette right now just thanking the Lord for his protection over our churches,” he said. The proposed ordinance threatened Faith Church’s extensive counseling ministry, with 32 doctors, professors, pastors, and godly Christians offering free biblical counseling, because it banned non-licensed counselors from advising minors from a biblical perspective on issues related to human sexuality.
The Left likes passing bans on “conversion therapy,” a term which describes traumatic, discredited practices, but the bans are really designed to prevent those seeking help with unwanted homosexual desires or gender dysphoria from finding a sympathetic person with whom to talk. So-called “conversion therapy” bans really serve only to prohibit speech opposed by the LGBT agenda. Even one of the ordinance’s sponsors connected the dots between West Lafayette’s proposed “conversion therapy” ordinance and a faithful Christian witness. He said one Faith Church pastor “attempt[ed] to practice conversion therapy on me” simply for presenting the gospel, which he found “profoundly insulting.”
West Lafayette’s ordinance “would have criminalized gospel ministry to minors,” explained Viars. The sweeping resolution prohibited “non-licensed” counselors from talking to minors to “change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity… or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions to people of the same gender,” with a $1,000-fine per violation. But the proposed ordinance left endless questions unanswered. Who, besides paid professionals, isn’t a “non-licensed” counselor? What counts as counseling? Did it include pastors preaching from the pulpit? Did it include parents talking with their teenaged children? The very vagueness of the ordinance would surely serve to intimidate.
The church proposed a compromise, but the council refused to consider it. “I don’t know that, at least for most of them, they had faith-based counselors on their radar screen,” explained Viars. But when the church “offered an amendment that had strong religious protections, they turned that down.” That’s when “it became very clear to us that they did not want biblical counseling offered to children.” And that’s when the church knew it was going to have to take a stand. “We believe in the sufficiency of the Scriptures. We believe in free speech. We believe in religious liberty,” said Viars. “It even became an Acts 5:29 issue for us. We must obey God rather than men.” They even told the council, “We already have a God, and it’s not you.”
At that point, he continued, the church hired a law firm, who “presented a letter to the City Council explaining [to] them that this was constitutionally invalid on its face. If it faced a lawsuit, it would likely lose, and that would cost the city a lot of money.” Evidently the city council cared nothing for the Constitution, but the prospect of an expensive lawsuit convinced the sponsors to withdraw the ordinance, in favor of a non-binding resolution condemning “conversion therapy.”
“Jesus said, permit the children to come unto me, and don’t hinder them,” said Pastor Viars. “Our city council [was] saying, we’re going to stop children from coming to Jesus.” Does that seem like an exaggeration? It isn’t. Jesus commanded, “go therefore and make disciples… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Obedience necessarily follows evangelism. Prohibiting pastors from teaching obedience to Christ would suffocate Christianity. But if the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church Christ builds, neither can a local government.