Religious Liberty in Counseling

There is no doubt religious liberty is facing many strains in modern America. The religious convictions of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, in Lakewood, CO, were questioned when he was directed to change his store policies and require his staff to attend sexual preference sensitivity training. Fox News contributor, Todd Starnes said we should, “Think of [the training] as reverse conversion therapy (or straight man’s rehab) so that the state can mandate diversity through conformity.” Due to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, business owners, such as those who operate Hobby Lobby, are also confronted with yielding their Christian consciences regarding personhood. These issues are representative of a plethora of identifiable cases where freedom of religion has been challenged. While inconspicuous to many, the practice of counseling has remained veiled as a threat to religious freedom.

Recent legislation regarding the definition of marriage, with a clear affinity toward homosexual orientation, poses a threat to any who would counsel a contrary position. In 2012 and 2013, California and New Jersey, respectively, adopted a redefinition of marriage that included provisions for civil unions, but also prevented counselors from attempting any forms of sexual orientation change efforts in youth. President Barack Obama’s recent statements recommending a ban on conversion therapy combined with the Supreme Court’s decision regarding same sex marriage sets the stage for a rapid spread of regulations, in other states, similar to those in California and New Jersey. If states are able to limit counseling practices that attempt to address moral, religious, and spiritual issues such as sexual orientation, then government is demarcating boundaries of religious freedom.

In addition to the state’s clear jurisdictional breach of personal religious convictions, another problem arises in the fact that many Christians are voluntarily submitting themselves to the state’s counterfeit authority by seeking to obtain professional counseling licensure. While there is no question as to whether states have authority concerning civil governance, they exceed their God-ordained jurisdictional responsibility regarding the care of men’s souls. The state is most certainly encroaching upon the religious liberties of evangelicals in this country. The fidelity of believers, in the case of professional counseling licensure, is transferred to the state in order to accomplish a task that was originally given by God to His church. In brief the problem is two-fold: First, the state is meddling in matters not intended by God. Second, a Christian Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) is submitting to an erroneous authority regarding matters of soul care.

The regulation placed upon LPC’s recently in California and New Jersey regarding conversion therapy demonstrated the fusion of responsibility and authority between church and state, rather than promoting proper distinction. In relation to sexual orientation, therapeutic measures derived from Christian convictions would be restricted for those who practice under such regulations. For instance, an LPC would be prohibited from attempting any form of sexual orientation change efforts for minors, even with parental consent. The same regulations, however, do not apply to non-licensed religious providers. The questions then arise, are the states at fault for their regulations, or are Christians at fault for submitting to an improper authority in the matter of soul care?

The government has not been granted the responsibility to care for the souls of men. Neither has the state been given the authority to correct those with soulish maladies. Through scientific fervor, the state has attempted to deluge dominion delegated to the church, and the church has obliged by relegating their duty. As the state protrudes into the jurisdiction of the church, it begins to operate in a pseudo-ecclesiastical role, dutifully branding problems of human nature and devising solutions accordingly. If the church yields to this type of activity by the state, then the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of the church will tend toward compromise.

For those who believe a counselor may integrate psychological theory with theological doctrine should be cautioned at this point. For example, state licensed practitioners who hold conservative Christian convictions regarding homosexuality will be held to the state’s standard without consideration of a person’s religious persuasion. Christian mental health practitioners who hold a license are bound by the legislation of the state, rather than the convictions of the church; therefore, integration of psychological theory and theological doctrine would not be allowed.

The task of soul care is the responsibility of the church and not the state. The church has been granted authority from God to wield the Sword of the Spirit, His Word, to fight against the wiles of the souls of men; however, the God-ordained sword of the state will not suffice for this task. Any action sanctioned by the government may reform a man, but it cannot transform his soul. The precedent being set would inevitably lead to several potential problems. First, the government’s control in the arena of soul care will coax the church to compromise orthodox beliefs, which are founded in Scripture alone, in order to defer to the state’s mandate in such matters.  Second, the church will become subservient to society’s value system, rather than being able to rely upon Scripture alone as the standard of morality and spiritual wisdom. Third, the church will be challenged to compromise orthopraxy, since the parameters of practice in this case would be set by the values of government adopted from society, rather than on the conviction of Scripture. Pragmatism has already influenced the church to compromise its practices in favor of, “what works,” rather than aiming for God’s ends by God’s means.

As the culture shifts its center toward a modernistic quasi-religious individualism, the state is not conducive to the evangelical or broader religious mores of the past, especially regarding soul care. If the Christian counselor chooses to practice, as licensed by the state, he may be faced with the inevitable decision to compromise his belief system. In cases like this, should it be considered a matter of civil disobedience for the Christian, since they are consciously submitting to an improper authority for soul care? If evangelicals simply want the state to allow the freedom to counsel without regulation, then there is no necessity for state licensure in the first place, especially since the church is the sufficient authority in matters of soul care. Those who practice soul care outside of the church undoubtedly possess the necessary gifts, but they neglect the resources of the body of Christ. This will be a pattern that continues to diminish the vitality and ministry of the church in the days that follow.