EMU Lawsuit Dismissed

The Detroit News is reporting that the lawsuit brought against Eastern Michigan University by Julea Ward has been dismissed by District Judge George Caram Steeh. You’ll recall that Ward reportedly had a value conflict with a client’s same-sex behavior in that she did not believe she should affirm it. Apparently her supervisor asked her to make a referral to another counselor who did not experience that value conflict. She was then required to participate in a program that would remediate her Christian value system. When Ward refused, she was dismissed from the counseling program.

The news story on the opinion suggests that the judge cited the program’s commitment to the ACA Code of Ethics for accreditation purposes as significant. Also important was the requirement that students provide counseling services to clients “without imposing their personal values.” More from the opinion as reported by the Detroit News:

“In the case of Ms. Ward, the university determined that she would never change her behavior and would consistently refuse to counsel clients on matters with which she was personally opposed due to her religious beliefs — including homosexual relationships.”

One other line from the opinion was that Ward’s “refusal to attempt learning to counsel all clients within their own value systems is a failure to complete an academic requirement of the program.”

In a previous post I covered the lawsuit and discussed the issue of making appropriate referrals in counseling. In some ways the opinion raises more questions than answers. For instance,  When are referrals appropriate?  What I shared at that time was that counselors make referrals when they are asked to work outside of their competence as determined by education, training, and supervised clinical experience. I also noted that value conflicts are generally understood as inevitable in mental health service delivery. Most of these conflicts are worked through, and services are provided uninterrupted. However, from time to time value conflicts may be so great that a referral is worth considering:

A politically liberal counselor will meet with a client with strong conservative views; a gay counselor will meet with an Evangelical Christian client; a Catholic counselor will meet with a woman deciding on abortion; an atheist will meet with a devout Muslim. The question is, At what point does a counselor make a referral when a value conflict arises? The major mental health organization’s ethics codes each tend to stress respect for differences – these are often identified as differences due to age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, and so on. Showing respect for these differences can mean different things in counseling, but it at least means being aware of how these factors impact the client and their presenting concern. It often also mean taking these factors into consideration in assessment, case conceptualization, and treatment planning.

So the question that remains and that does not appear to be answered in this ruling is:  At what point does a counselor make a referral when a value conflict arises? Or perhaps some people will believe that the answer can be found in this ruling. Perhaps some will hold that value conflicts are not a sufficient reason to make a referral. If so, that would have ramifications that extend far beyond this discussion of same-sex behavior. Value conflicts can cut across the board.

An important question that was apparently being raised by Michican lawmakers has to do with protecting conventionally religious students in such programs. It will be interesting to see where the ruling yesterday takes that discussion.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life of Obedience

I just finished the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. The subtitle is Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, and Mextaxas does a nice job developing each of these four dimensions of who Bonhoeffer was in facing the rise and reign of Hitler during WWII. What reviewers are saying is that Metaxas presents another side to Bonhoeffer – the more conservative side – that has sometimes been lost to liberal theologians who have tried to claim him as their own.

Here are a couple of quotes:

God was interested not in success, but in obedience. If one obeyed God and was willing to suffer defeat and whatever else came one’s way, God would show a kind of success that the world couldn’t imagine. But this was the narrow path, and few would take it. (p. 363)

So God is not merely a religious concept or religious reality. God is the one who invented reality, and reality can only be seen truly as it exists in God. Nothing that exists is outside his realm. (p. 469)

The utter evilness of evil now showed itself clearly, and it showed up the bankruptcy of man’s so-called ethical attempts to deal with it. The problem of evil is too much for us. We are tainted by it and cannot escape being tainted by it. (p. 471)

The solution is to do the will of God, to do it radically and courageously and joyfully. (p. 471)

Aside from the liberal/conservative theological debate, I hadn’t fully appreciated the challenge Bonhoeffer and others faced in dealing with the state church in Germany and then especially the Confessing Church in terms of not acting quickly or decisively with Hitler. On dealing with the Confessing Church, Metaxas writes:

[the Confessing Church] was guilty of the typically Lutheran error of confining itself to the narrow sphere of how church and state were related. When the state is trying to encroach upon the church, this is the proper sphere of concern. But for Bonhoeffer, the idea of limiting the church’s actions to this sphere alone was absurd. The church had been instituted by God to exist for the whole world. It was to speak into the world and to be a voice in the world, so it had an obligation to speak out against things that did not affect it directly. (p. 280)

The book is well-written and comprehensive in its scope. It presents another side of Bonhoeffer and provides a context for many of the decisions he faced. It provides a lesson not only in obedience to God but also in the prophetic role of the church as a community of faith.

Remediating Christian Beliefs?

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is bringing a lawsuit against representatives of Augusta State University on behalf of Jennifer Keeton, a student in the Counselor Education program. The complaint alleges that Keeton, who intends to become a school counselor, is being asked to go through a remediation plan to “alter her central religious beliefs on human nature and conduct.” What are some of these beliefs?

From page 6 of the complaint:

…sexual behavior is the result of accountable personal choice rather than an inevitability deriving from deterministic forces.  She also has affirmed binary male-female gender, with one or the other being fixed in each person at their creation, and not a social construct or individual choice subject to alteration by the person so created.  Further, she has expressed her view that homosexuality is a “lifestyle,” not a “state of being.”

I am sure that this part of one paragraph does not capture all of Keeton’s beliefs or the layers of complexity reflected in a Christian worldview, but it will be interesting to watch where this goes. This is a different complaint than that by Julea Ward against Eastern Michigan University, in which Ward says she would not want to counsel a homosexual client about that person’s same-sex relationship in a way that affirmed same-sex behavior as morally good. It didn’t get to that point with Keeton, apparently. The alleged remediation here comes from class papers, discussions, and conversations outside of class.

I have been in academics long enough to know that there are always two sides to a story, so it will be important to see how the university officials respond and what their perspective is on the complaint. But it would be concerning if a program was unwilling to respect the conventional religious beliefs and values of students.

There is a unique opportunity here to help all students expand their multicultural competence by identifying differences and finding ways to engage one another and provide appropriate services (or make appropriate referrals) in a way that demonstrates respect for multiple expressions of diversity, including sexual orientation and religion. Faculty and supervisors, too, have an opportunity to model this respect for multiple expressions of diversity to their students and supervisees, and they have an opportunity and an obligation to train their students in ways that recognize and respect our diverse society and the real value differences that exist within the broader culture.

New Book Available in September

Word on the street is that my new book on sexual identity/homosexuality will be available September 10th. Here’s what the publisher is saying about it. Also, they’ve just added some nice endorsements to their web site, so I included them below:

Homosexuality is one of the most controversial topics of our day, and we all need clear, biblical answers that are grounded in love and compassion. As a Christian and a leading expert in the field of sexual identity, Mark Yarhouse provides honest, accurate information about hot-button questions like:
•    What causes homosexuality and same-sex attraction?
•    Can attractions or orientation be changed?
•    What is “sexual identity” and why does it matter?
•    What should I do when a friend opens up to me about his or her homosexual attractions?

Always keeping in mind the real, hurting people—Christians and nonbelievers alike—who are struggling with the issue, Dr. Yarhouse provides a balanced and accessible look at today’s research. He also introduces a new way to think about the topic, carefully separating “same-sex attraction” from a “gay identity.” This book provides a much-needed, deeper understanding of homosexuality that will help our churches, our communities, and our families speak the truth in love.

“As a Christian professor and clinical psychologist, Mark Yarhouse, in his book Homosexuality and the Christian, utilizes his unique experiences to provide Christians believing in a traditional sexual ethic with realistic viewpoints of the current debatable topics of sexuality, while simultaneously giving a compassionate framework leading to a more nuanced understanding of the complexity that is faith and sexuality.”

Andrew Marin, President of The Marin Foundation and author of the Love is an Orientation

“This is a must-read book for anyone who wants sound guidance and trustworthy information about homosexuality, including its relevance to Christians and the church.”
–Gary R. Collins, Distinguished Professor of Coaching and Leadership, Richmont Graduate University

Homosexuality and the Christian is the best book I have seen for evangelicals who want an accessible book that provides accurate, research-based information.”
–Warren Throckmorton, Associate Professor of Psychology, Grove City College, and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at the Center for Vision and Values

Pre-order your copy today through bethanyhouse.com, bn.com, or amazon.com.