Christian counselors acknowledge harm from anti-gay religious teaching

AACC must make further revisions

Faith In America today praised the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) for acknowledging in its new 2014 Code of Ethics that religious belief can be harmful to gay and lesbian individuals and for eliminating the promotion of reparative therapy. However, the gay youth advocacy group is requesting the 50,000-member organization further clarify and revise its ethical code as it applies to counselors serving gay youth and their families.

In addition to eliminating the promotion of reparative therapy in its 2014 Code of Ethics, the section entitled "Application to Homosexual, Bisexual and Transgendered Behavior" states "Counselors acknowledge the client’s fundamental right to self-determination and further understand that deeply held religious values and beliefs may conflict with same-sex attraction and/or behavior, resulting in anxiety, depression, stress, and inner turmoil."

Brent Childers, executive director of Faith In America, said his organization applauds the decision by the American Association of Christian Counselors to remove from its code of ethics any language that promoted the misguided religious view and junk science behind reparative therapy.

"We are even more pleased that the AACC is acknowledging in its new Code of Ethics that certain religious belief indeed causes gay and lesbian individuals emotional, psychological and spiritual trauma," Childers said. "The conflict created by misguided religious teaching is not limited to just the young gay or lesbian person as it also brings harm to bear on parents and the entire family."

However, he said that existing language in the AACC's 2014 Code of Ethics must be addressed if its Christian counselors are to avoid violating the code's overriding ethical premise of causing no harm to clients and families.

The AACC's 2014 Code of Ethics section entitled "Application to Homosexual, Bisexual and Transgendered Behavior", reads "Christian counselors do not condone or advocate for the pursuit of or active involvement in homosexual, bisexual or transgendered behaviors and lifestyles."

Childers said he is gravely concerned that such existing language in the AACC's new code of ethics creates the potential for immense harm to befall a young gay or lesbian person who may find themselves working with a Christian counselor.

"If a Christian counselor shares the mindset that seems apparent behind a misinformed statement that homosexuality is confined to only behavior or that a person's sexual orientation is part of some "lifestyle" imagined in the minds of those working in the anti-gay religious industry, then the young gay or lesbian individual may indeed find themselves in an extremely dangerous and potentially harmful place," Childers said.

The 2014 Code of Ethics also states: "Counselors may agree to and support the desire to work through issues of homosexual and transgendered identity and attractions, but will not describe or reduce human identity and nature to sexual orientation or reference, and will encourage sexual celibacy or biblically-prescribed sexual behavior while such issues are being addressed."

Childers said his organization must question what a Christian counselor might consider "biblically- prescribed sexual behavior" for the young gay or lesbian individual. "Is the young person going to be told that developing an intimate relationship with a person is considered sinful behavior? Is a young person dreaming about someday marrying a life partner going to considered an unclean thought?

"While we again are appreciative that revisions to the AACC's Code of Ethics appear on the surface to be a positive step toward full affirmation of young gay and lesbian individuals, the existing language presents a host of potential problems for a counselor-client relationship that seeks to cause no harm to the client or the client's family when the client is under the age of consent.

"To avoid the highly unethical practice of a counselor causing harm to the very individual who sits before them seeking guidance and effective treatment for their well-being, we urge the American Association of Christian Counselors to immediately begin addressing the contradictory and problematic language that remains in the 2014 Code of Ethics pertaining to gay lesbian, bisexual and transgender clients."

Childers said the AACC must demonstrate to other professional mental health organizations – which it says were consulted for the revised 2014 Code of Ethics – its genuine desire to cause no harm to gay and lesbian youth and families.

He said a good start would be for the AACC to publicly denounce the extremely harmful stigma and hostility that is promoted by anti-gay religious organizations such as the Family Research Council and others.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the AACC's annual conference in San Diego, Calif. in July. A North Carolina pastor who ended his church's association with Boy Scouts of America is also scheduled to be a featured speaker.

"While we understand that revisions to an organization's ethical code can be a lengthy process, we hope the AACC in the immediate future will acknowledge that it is opposed to the anti-gay stigma and hostility that has been promoted by the Family Research Council and other individuals and organizations who seek to misuse religious teaching and belief to create conflict in the lives of young gay and lesbian youth and in their families."

Faith In America is a nonprofit organization that educates the public about the harm to LGBT youth and families when religious teaching is misused to justify and promote stigma and hostility. Brent Childers, who once aligned himself with the anti-gay religious industry, serves as executive director.