New Jersey governor signs bill banning reparative therapy for minors
On Monday, Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law that bans reparative therapy for minors in New Jersey. This is the second bill of its kind after California passed an equivalent bill in 2012, a bill now stalled in the courts.
The New Jersey bill states that licensed mental health professionals “shall not engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a person under 18 years of age.”
Sexual orientation change efforts “means the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual persuasion, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.”
Well-meaning evangelicals disagree on the practice of reparative therapy or what’s also called “gay conversion therapy.” Within evangelicalism, there are conflicting viewpoints as to whether changing one’s sexual desire is possible or, admittedly, whether attempts to do so are in the best interest of our same-sex attracted brothers and sisters.
Differences aside, there are legitimate concerns about the bill passed by Gov. Christie, even if you think reparative therapy is problematic or even harmful. It is right and fair to be against reparative therapy and still reject the bill.
The implications for religious liberty are sufficiently problematic on their own to warrant Christian concern. Consider these scenarios:
- If a licensed social worker in New Jersey is a Christian, does his or her personal belief that homosexuality is sinful (apart from whether she engages in reparative therapy) put his or her licensure and accreditation in jeopardy?
- If a licensed psychologist is a Christian and offers free counseling services within the context of his or her church, can he or she counsel a Christian teen with unwanted same-sex attraction? Can the psychologist insist that, while altering one’s orientation is uncertain, that the appropriate Christian response for unwanted or wanted same-sex attraction is sexual chastity? Is the psychologist free to do so, or does his or her state licensure prevent him or her from exercising a sincerely held religious belief?
- Imagine a scenario of a 14-year-old boy with unwanted same-sex attraction. Can he seek assistance on how to quell sexual temptation or can he only be told by professionals to embrace his same-sex attraction?
As written, the bill’s text poses several uncertainties like those above. What’s for certain is that a child, Christian or non-Christian, with unwanted same-sex attraction is forbidden from seeking or receiving help from licensed professionals. Additionally, children with confused gender identities are prohibited from receiving attention. Concerned parents and confused children are left powerless before a law that elevates desire above conscience.
Religious liberty concerns aside, there are reasons for concern about the state entering the sphere of desire and attraction.
In this instance, the state is speaking authoritatively over human biology and making it subordinate to human ideology. This ought to cause Christians to pause and reflect. When the state can speak authoritatively on whether a person’s desires are to be kept, shunned, or celebrated, the state is speaking with an authority it does not posses (Matt. 28:18). It is neither the job nor the role of the state to speak to the entirety of the human self—an action in this particular circumstance that enfeebles the capacity for self-determination.
The law’s power grab is purposed under the pretense of compassion and child protection, but it is a power left undefined because it is a power that is not legitimate. Gutting desire of ethical norms, the state gives its tacit blessing to any imaginable desire that is buffeted by whatever lobby supports it. What the bill counsels is that behavior and desire are beyond the pale of question and reconsideration.
In the Scriptures, we are told to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and we do so happily and dutifully with our taxes, driver’s license fees and even our draft cards. But the responsibility to render what is rightly Caesar’s also requires us to not render unto Caesar what belongs to God—the Imago Dei.