Sacramento, CA—After facing growing opposition from religious organizations and leaders, California Assembly Member Low withdrew AB 2943 in 2018, which would have declared sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) consumer fraud, causing conscientious objectors to LGBT sexual orthodoxy to be targeted and punished by the state. Now, he has replaced that failed effort with a resolution (ACR 99) seeking to pressure all Californians, including all religious institutions and religious leaders, to voluntarily embrace a statist sexual orthodoxy, regardless of their deeply held religious beliefs. This time, however, Low is boasting about the very thin evangelical Christian support for his new resolution, specifically that of one appeasing evangelical leader.
As currently written, by a joint resolution of the Senate and Assembly, ACR 99, the government of the state of California “calls upon all Californians to embrace the individual and social benefits of family and community acceptance….” Furthermore, “the Legislature calls upon religious leaders with conviction to counsel on LGBT matters from a place of love, compassion, and knowledge of the psychological and other harms of conversion therapy…. We call upon the people of California—especially its counselors, pastors, religious workers, educators—and the institutions of California with great moral influence—especially its churches, universities, colleges, and other schools, counseling centers, activist groups, and religious centers—to model equitable treatment of all people of the state…” (emphasis mine)
ACR 99 is a transparent attempt to chill religious speech and silence the biblically faithful voices of our pastors. The resolution not-so-subtly pressures religious leaders, including pastors, to disaffirm biblically orthodox viewpoints on human sexuality and replace them with pagan viewpoints. Specifically, ACR 99 asks pastors to agree that change-allowing therapies, which the resolution defames as “conversion” therapy, are always harmful and ineffective. Apparently for Low, pastors and churches should just get on the alleged “right side of history” here and adjust their preaching and counseling accordingly.
“Evangelical leader” Kevin Mannoia, who submitted a letter in support and testified in support of ACR 99 on June 18th in Sacramento, serves as Chaplain at Azusa Pacific University (APU) and formerly served as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. His letter claimed the support of “some Christian pastors,” who remain unnamed, vaguely expressing “various levels of support for ACR 99….”
During the resolution hearing, Evan Low read aloud the 2018 Op-ed. Mannoia had written in support of AB 2943, which threw change-allowing therapy under the proverbial biblical bus:
“Reparative therapy is without evidence as to its efficacy and is inconsistent with Christian living. We support Mr. Low in his opposition to practices that cause harm in people. This is contrary to the nature of the Christian message, which, while calling for change in all people to be oriented toward Christ even at great sacrifice, neither favors nor supports any practice that causes harm.”
Not surprisingly Mannoia’s employer, APU, has itself struggled with remaining biblically faithful, especially regarding issues of human sexuality, and according to many respected evangelical leaders, has, in fact, failed to remain biblically orthodox under growing cultural pressure.
Elizabeth Wonning, a former lesbian who is a leader with Equipped to Love and Changed, testified against ACR 99 implication that religion is to blame for LGBT suicides, “I take exception to the belief that religion is central to the high rates of suicide among LGBT youth. For me, and many others, faith rescued us from suicide. The experience of discovering you are different than most other people is traumatic and troubling whether you have faith or not. Hopelessness causes suicide.” Ken Williams, a pastor and former homosexual, concluded his testimony with these powerful words, asking Low to respect rights of conscience and religious freedom: “And so, assemblyman Low, I am asking you, you may have the votes to pass this, but I don’t believe that you have the right to presuppose people’s consciences, or to tell them what they need to believe. I totally support your right, and everyone you represent, to experience whatever in life that you’d like to, I have no intention to take that away. I just am asking that my rights, and my people group would also be respected. So I, I ask for a no vote on this resolution.”
We can all agree that aversive therapeutic methods, involving coercion or physical pain, should not be employed in the context of change-allowing therapies. However, I submit that this is not actually a current problem. Aversive therapeutic methods are not being employed today nor have they been widely employed for decades. Indeed, the false accusation that change-allowing therapies are harmful and ineffective was strongly rebutted by a letter submitted and signed by dozens of therapists, attorneys, and public policy organizations, confirming that change allowing therapies are non-aversive, in that they often give people hope and result in transformative change. Indeed, the very lives of thousands of former homosexuals and former transgender individuals tell a very different story. Sexual identity isn’t immutable. People can and do change.
Biblically orthodox evangelical Christians cannot affirm that all change-allowing therapies are ineffective and harmful, nor can they endorse a therapeutic ban. This is true for the following reasons: First, it is a denial that we are created in the image of God, as male or female. Second, it is a denial of the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to change the human heart. Third, thousands of former homosexuals and former transgendered persons have been genuinely helped by change-allowing therapies—being set free from unwanted same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. Fourth, it would result in government coerced supression of speech, in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the further diminution of religious freedom.
Members of the Coalition for Counsel Choice repeatedly tried to warn Kevin Mannoia and other pastors about engaging with Evan Low. They specifically raised the issue that any resolution that evangelical leaders might agree upon with Assemblymember Evan Low would be a compromise of one or more of the above truths—as ACR 99 actually is. Furthermore, they cautioned that from a public policy and legal perspective, a compromised resolution will almost certainly serve as a stepping stone toward a future outright legal ban on change-allowing therapies. If it does, CCC members warn that history may prove that evangelical leaders will have actually been complicit in moving the cultural conversation towards an ultimate ban on change-allowing therapies with the further erosion of religious freedom—resulting in Orwellian restrictions on sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mannoia was also specifically asked to not submit his vague and confusing “support” letter for ACR 99. He did not listen.
Immediately after the resolution hearing, Evan Low was quick to take a victory lap, touting Kevin Mannoia as a PR prop by posting a glossy photo of himself and Kevin on Facebook, tagging all his radical friends at Equality California, the Trevor Project, the National Center for Lesbian rights and the Human Rights Campaign, “@Kmannoia, Former President of the National Association of Evangelicals & Chaplain at @azusapacific, speak in support of #ACR99, to reaffirm our values of love and dignity while also acknowledging the harmful practice of #ConversionTherapy @TrevorProject @eqca @NCLRights @HRC”
Unfortunately, this unorthodox and aberrant behavior by one of our purported evangelical “leaders” highlights the dangers of the strategy of appeasing the enemies of the gospel and freedom in Christ. It never ends well. Tragically, too many Christians leaders today fear people and worship the culture, rather than fearing God and worshipping Christ. But this isn’t Christian leadership, it’s cultural surrender. To shamefully join forces with the enemies of Christ, to defame all change-allowing therapy, and to surrender to the idea that people can’t change is to surrender to the satanic lie that the Gospel has no actual transformative power. For biblically orthodox evangelicals, that is heresy.
Christians can certainly all agree that everyone, including those struggling with same-sex attraction or gender identity should be treated with love, dignity, compassion, and respect. Everyone deserves this, precisely because they are created in the image of God. However, in a free society, this can and should be done without the government attempting to tell churches and pastors how they should counsel or what they should preach. Christians, who desire to remain free, must always oppose the annexation of the church by the state. We don’t want to have to relearn the painful and difficult lessons of the appeasing German Lutheran church of the 1930’s and 40s.
Christians ought to be concerned—very concerned—and must remain vigilant against the dark impulses of statist domination. Let’s be clear: our enemies want to silence us and thereby kill the gospel message. California, over the past five years, has been churning out a series of bad legislation targeting religious freedom and the freedom of speech, often in the name of LGBT rights (See i.e. AB 775, SB 1146, AB 1888, AB 569, AB 2943). And History confirms that non-binding resolutions like ACR 99 often proceed more coercive, restrictive, and freedom-robbing legislation. That is why the NCLP submitted a powerful separate legal opinion memorandum explaining how ACR 99, if enacted, will chill speech and suppress religious beliefs and practices, in violation of the protections of the First Amendment.
The gospel is not fraud, consumer or otherwise. It has the power to transform us, including our sexual desires. Although deceptively camouflaged in the language of love and compassion, ACR 99 is a naked attempt by the government to establish progressive sexual orthodoxy and dis-establish (and destroy) religious sexual ethics. Although not binding, this resolution, if adopted, will chill the speech of pastors, churches, and Christians who are already concerned and fearful about government infringements, especially related to LGBT issues. We can’t afford to have our voices censored and silenced by the state. Truth is at stake. The Gospel is at stake.