Over the weekend, I attended a two day workshop for clinical therapists on the topic of sex and sexuality. There was one incident that got me thinking very seriously about the negative impact of popular Christian beliefs on American culture.
A great deal of the material dealt with breaking down the cultural myth of two sexes, and of gender being equal to sex. There was a lot of discussion of various problems, both cultural and interpersonal, experienced by homosexuals and bisexuals.
Now, let me make something abundantly clear. The traditional Christian view of human sexuality is dead wrong. Recent scientific discoveries have made it abundantly clear that gender and sex are separate, and that homosexuality, bisexuality, intersexuality, and trans-sexuality are all normal parts of nature, and perfectly healthy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay.
Having said that, I should also point out that it is part of the code of ethics in most states for therapists not to discriminate against anyone based on religious beliefs. That is, either the patient’s or the therapists. In other words, therapists have an ethical obligation to keep their religious views to themselves and practice therapy based on science. Keep all of this in mind as I tell you this story.
One lady, who had already taken pains to let us know that she was Southern Baptist, asked a question during one of the discussions of helping homosexuals with sexual issues in relationships. She wanted to know how she, as a Christian, could help a homosexual who had been referred to her by the church for therapy to become straight. (This is known as restorative therapy, by the way. It’s neither restorative, nor is it therapy.) The clinician said very matter-of-factly that she should refer them to another therapist.
That was the correct answer. Of course, it wasn’t satisfactory, and nobody in the room expected the lady to just accept it and change her mind about being a bigot. But she didn’t just sulk in her disagreement. She preached. For a good ten minutes. She was angry. She yelled at us for our intolerance of her beliefs. She berated us for giving preferential treatment to the gay therapist in the room. She wouldn’t let anyone, including the clinician, finish a sentence. For ten minutes.
After the group finally got her to stop, and convinced her that we had not paid our good money to listen to her preach, she said, “I think maybe this isn’t the right place for me.” The clinician, who was doing an admirable job of remaining calm and rational, told her that if she was just here to preach, it was not the place for her, but that she was welcome if she was willing to at least entertain the ideas presented without trying to impose her own doctrine. She packed her bags and left.
This led to a prolonged discussion of ethics. Luckily, there was a lady there who had served on ethics review boards, and she told us that this kind of complaint is very common. Therapists use the church and their beliefs to try to impose their religious views on clients who are hurting and want to feel better. And in the process, they tell them demonstrably false things about human sexuality, and give them demonstrably harmful advice. We talked about clients who had killed themselves after being told that their homosexuality was wrong.
I don’t want to belabor the point, but sexuality is one of the most core parts of our identity. Science (and simple observation of more tolerant cultures) has proven that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality. Christians who use the guise of science to try to peddle their incorrect dogma are doing a huge injustice to vulnerable people. They are causing people to kill themselves out of feelings of hopelessness that they will ever be “normal.”
I feel really bad for that woman as well as her patients. I believe she truly wants to help people. She didn’t become a therapist to try to get people to hang themselves because they’re gay. She believes deeply and truly that all of science is wrong, and that she alone carries the light of truth. She thinks she’s helping. And it makes her mad that us horrible science-loving hippie love-everyone types are destroying the world she’s trying so hard to save.
But she had to leave. She couldn’t even stand the thought of treating gays as equal to straights. She couldn’t even entertain the idea that it’s fine to just let people be who they are. She can’t accept the evidence — the mountains and mountains of evidence — that sexual preference and desire are largely set in utero. And she won’t be referring her gay clients to a therapist that would actually be able to help them. She’ll continue to advise them to pray the gay away and pretend to be straight.
And that, gentle readers, is why I do what I do. That’s why I’m not just letting religious people have their beliefs without challenge. Because their beliefs are causing real suffering. They’re causing good, loving people to do hateful, harmful things while believing that they’re doing good. And I want a world where good loving people do good, helpful things.