will, apparently, be joining California as a state that bans licensed therapists from practicing what it defines as “conversion therapy” for people who identify as gay. Of course the devil is in the details and while the article presents scenarios (without attribution) where frankly bizarre things were done in the name of changing sexual orientation it presents no details as to the potential scope of the law, the issues of freedom and personal choice that may be involved, and of course the rights of religious persons and institutions. Read the rest of the article for context.
On the freedom front I find it interesting that in a country where people are pretty much free to consider a wide variety of therapies as a matter of personal choice this one is singled out. The answer, I believe, is ideology. The standard approved line on the topic is that sexual orientation is genetic and permanent and this must be defended in law so that any dissent is curtailed before it can start. You may find someone to give you a colonic while chanting Buddhist scriptures in a sweat lodge and this is a freedom you enjoy but if you decide you are uncomfortable with the direction of your sexual life and seek to change you run afoul of the law. People deride those who speak of a “gay agenda” but there certainly are orthodoxies among the secular classes that they believe are superior to other orthodoxies and that must be defended, if need be, by curtailing the freedom of others. This is one of them.
On the religious front it will be the defense of those secular orthodoxies by the powerful that will eventually lead to the legal and social stigmatizing of observant believers and their institutions. There will be no gulags for the faithful, but there will be, and already are, legal and social doors that are slamming in our faces. Because we have chosen not to be “of this world” we should not be surprised when this world acts accordingly. I presume that in the future, perhaps the near future, there will be a push to remove tax exempt status and other legal protections of groups that refuse to embrace the new agenda. This has already been proposed in California and somewhere along the line it will find its way to passage and to the courts. In the present observant religious believers, particularly Christians, are being handicapped by virtue of their beliefs in employment and licensing for some professions. I think it would be wise for observant Christians to understand this and be prepared for it.
Now the first reaction of some, when they become aware of this, may be to seek a political solution. Yet I believe this will be difficult because politicians of both parties are defenders of these secular orthodoxies, especially in the area of sexuality. Governor Jerry Brown of California and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey are in two different parties but they share the same desire to enforce secular sexual orthodoxies on the people of their states. A deciding vote in the Supreme Court’s review and subsequent striking down of sections of the Defense of Marriage Act was a Republican appointee. There are very rich and powerful people who may disagree vehemently on how to run an economy but share the idea that any moral restraint is a sign of backwardness, a relic of an era they would like to see disappear.
The answer, I believe, lies elsewhere for the observant Christian community.
We have two incredible assets on our side, truth and love. A traditional Christian sexual morality is life-giving and healthy and those who follow it will avoid many hurts, illnesses, and much brokenness. This is a fact and the hard evidence is starting to come in. However the laws may change at a given time it is becomingly increasingly impossible to ignore the truth of what we strive to live for because that truth is rooted in the very nature of our bodies and our souls. It’s simply a medical fact that the more people a person has sex with, and the kinds of partners they have sex with, has a direct relationship to the frequency of disease and social pathology. As the studies roll in eventually the evidence itself will storm the walls and take down the castle. A Christian sexual morality is difficult, and especially so in a culture where there is real money to be made and power to be gained by destroying it, but it does work and those who attempt to practice it will find themselves remarkably free, not necessarily of struggle, but of many of the pathologies that mark our age.
The second asset, and perhaps the more powerful, is love. The criticism that others may bring towards the Church and religiously observant people has a certain kind of resonance among some in our culture because there is a grain of truth to it. We have often, as observant Christians, been unloving towards the larger world. We’ve forgotten that even those who would harm us still bear within them some form of the image of God. We sometimes lose track of the idea that even truth can be bitter when it is presented without genuine concern and love. The guy wearing the leather thong with a body full of tattoos and pink hair at the Gay Pride event is not our enemy and we’ve sometimes reacted to him, and other like him, as if they were. Now I’m not suggesting that we practice love as the world does, like some form of nebulous approval for any and every thing. Rather love for us is the seeking of the betterment of the other not necessarily as they, or we, define it but as God does. To the extent that we actually practice this love we, and the Traditions passed down to us through history (Love, by the way, is a capital “T” Tradition for Orthodox Christians) will have life and resonance in the larger world. Authentic Christian love is more powerful than the State, always has been and always will be because the State is about coercion and love is about conversion.
So if New Jersey actually does adopt this law will it be a better place? Not really. This attempt to close off any exits for the person genuinely seeking something different for their sexual lives exposes the fragility of the current secular sexual orthodoxy. It shows that they have lost the power of conviction and have reverted to force. Such an understanding in the laws that govern New jersey will not make it a better place to live, even for the people those laws are supposed to protect, because it reminds the people in New Jersey it is the State and not the individual which defines the parameters of conscience. The social programmers will achieve part of their temporary utopia at the expense of the broader freedom of their subjects, but that’s what utopians always do and why utopias always fall.
As to the Church, in the fire She will shine. New Jersey is a legal fiction, so is the United States by the way, an artificial boundary created by the temporarily powerful who have for the moment determined that this is what this area shall be called and this is how the people living there will organize themselves. Compared to the life of the Church the life of New Jersey is a blip and a thousand years after the maps change (and they always do) She will still be present, alive, and active in the world. If we truly understand this such moments as these will not strike fear, anger, or desperation into our hearts but call us, instead, to be who we are meant to be in the fullest sense of the word. What, ultimately, can the times do to people who are already living in eternity?