It has recently become clearer and clearer that conversion therapy (also known as reparative therapy) conducted on minors has been incredibly harmful and abusive.
The widely accepted definition of conversion therapy is explained as any practice or treatment that seeks to “change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”
This does not include counseling that “provides assistance to a person undergoing gender transition, or counseling that provides acceptance, support, and understanding of a person or facilitates a person’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual-orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices, as long as such counseling does not seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“Pray Away,” a documentary from Netflix, explores the dangers and long-term negative impacts of conversion therapy. The film includes interviews with former leaders of a conversion therapy movement that asserted individuals could “pray the gay away,” while also noting that such ministries continue in churches and religious organizations around the world.
Christians, Christ-followers, should be opposed to such so-called therapy that is concerned more with changing who a teen is sexually attracted to than with teaching how to live faithfully for Christ.
In Jackson County, Missouri, one of our legislators, Jalen A. Anderson, recently reflected on the horrific torment he endured at the hands of faith leaders in an attempt to lead him to faithfully follow Christ and biblical commands from the age of 12 to 14 years old. As a clergyperson, I want to publicly apologize to Mr. Anderson for what he has endured. I hope other clergypersons will do the same.
If we expect police officers to stand up and admit when they are wrong and politicians to admit that they were off-base — we must also do the same. Our job as clergy or faith leaders is to present the gospel in a way that others will want to embrace and follow willfully. As for me, the Word of God speaks for itself. My job is to declare it faithfully and it is yours to accept or deny. The things that Mr. Anderson endured are reprehensible.
I am not sure where the debate or governmental policies will end up as it relates to public outcry on banning conversion therapy. My job as a faith leader is to lift my voice from the pulpit or through the press to say that any measure which dehumanizes a person and takes away their dignity is beyond distasteful.
Everyone deserves respect and acceptance regardless of our biases, prejudices, or biblical positions. Always remember Matthew 19:14-15, “One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.”
Darron L. Edwards, Sr. is lead pastor of United Believers Community Church in Kansas City, Missouri, and serves on the Board of Trustees at Word&Way.