Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Health Professions
Board of Psychology
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3/19/19  3:09 pm
Commenter: Rev. Daniel R. Willson, Williamsburg Baptist Church

Conversion Therapy Does Harm

I was raised an independent, fundamental Baptist. In addition, I completed a degree in Bible, with a minor in Biblical languages, at a fundamental, Baptist college. I also studied at a prestigious, evangelical seminary before completing my education at other institutions. I have had,  and continue to hold, my faith at the center of my identity. My spiritual journey has led through some unexpected terrain and I am commenting today as a faith leader, and more importantly, as a follower of Jesus.

I have changed my mind. I once held bigoted and hateful views toward LGBTQ+ people - similar to or transcending some of the views expressed here in this forum. However, it is not my purpose here to explain the long and painstaking process that led me to my present conclusions. But suffice it to say that I've concluded along with others that the same Scriptural and theological logic that many conservative Christians use to militate against sexual and gender minorities, is a very similar logic used by Christians who opposed the abolition of slavery in the 19th century and interracial marriage in more recent times. Many conservative Christians would wish to distance themselves from these (now, intuitively) harmful positions, but the historical record is incontrovertible.  

This subcultural stasis that is wielded as "gospel" by Conservative Christians misguidedly opposes social progress based on compassion, reason, and understanding, and instead seeks to preserve an oppressive status quo for the illusion of religious fidelity. They read the Bible as a snapshot of the way things should always be (impossible given the Scriptural narrative's diversity!), rather than a hi(story) of liberation that points beyond itself to greater manifestations of God's salvation. 

Forgive me for delving into a theological discussion in a public forum, but I feel this matter is particularly relevant. Studies exist that have made solid correlations between LGBTQ+ suicide rates and the density of conservative Christian churches in a given area. Conversion therapy has been shown repeatedly to be ineffective at anything more than acquiring invasive networks for policing mind and body, as well as manipulative strategies for suppression and denial. The result is trauma of one form or another.

I have counseled people in the aftermath of these traumas and I continue to help young people discern their way through the ignorance and beligerance they experienced in their own families and churches; people who love(d) the church, but felt thrown away by it. If conservative Christians only knew the damage they do to God's very own gifts to the church. 

If it is not clear already, this matter is not about silencing or censoring faith-based counseling. I am faith-based. Some of my counseling colleagues (who do not approve of conversion therapy) are faith-based. This is about the goal of doing no harm. And there is a line that separates the "harm" of losing political status as one's viewpoint recedes from public life and the harm that causes actual, psychosocial trauma. If that line is not clear, look at the body count - the lives lost to suicide and depression. This will inform you as to what counts as free speech and what counts as harmful policy. 

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