In my testimony at the Allentown City Council meeting on July 19 in support of a ban against conversion therapy, I used an illustration that many found helpful, and I promised to publish it here. Considering President Trump’s tweet last Thursday banning transgender individuals from serving in the military, and the subsequent stance of the Justice Department against LGBTQ civil rights, it is obvious that anti-LGBTQ initiatives are going to continue. Here’s hoping my story helps people see this issue from a new perspective.
“Sometimes I can be seen not only wearing this tricorn hat but also clothing from the colonial era for our commemorative services at the Liberty Bell Church. I also wear a pair of colonial era straight last shoes.
“For those of you who are not colonial re-enactors or historians, I need to explain that in colonial times, shoes were made to fit either foot, which is to say, they fit neither foot. There was a single form used to make shoes, called a “last.” It was straight, so you could put either foot into either shoe. Eventually, the shoe would conform to the shape of your foot, or perhaps your foot would conform to the shape of the shoe. And if it hurt it hurt!
“Thank goodness for the invention of the machine lathe in the 1850s when they began to make shoes in left and right styles. And thank goodness for the eventual manufacture of adult sizes from 4-16 and widths from AA to E, resulting in 60-some shoe size combinations that we are free to choose from. We wear whatever size fits us best!
“Council members, perhaps you’ve had the experience, the painful experience, of forcing your foot into a shoe that does not fit properly; imagine how painful it is when someone tries to force you into a way of being that does not fit! Unfortunately there still are people in America who think everyone should fit into one straight shoe.
“I begin with this illustration because I hope it is a memorable image. If I’m known to people in the wider community, it’s probably because I wore this tricorn hat all over Allentown during our city’s 250th anniversary a few years ago. People know me as the pastor who dresses in colonial garb. But few people know that, in addition to being pastor of the Liberty Bell Church, I also have a master’s degree in pastoral counseling.
“For almost a decade, I engaged in a counseling ministry, working with clients from Bethany Counseling Service, the Church Renewal Center at Good Shepherd, as well as with a psychologist in private practice in Bethlehem. So I am well-aware of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association diagnoses and standards of care. And I am well-aware that it is unethical to try to force people to fit into a heteronormative mold. But there are others present who are credentialed in those disciplines who can speak more directly to those standards. I speak as one who now is primarily a pastor.
“I respect my conservative Christian colleagues: we agree on many things, we disagree on others. Certainly each of us is blessed to be Christians in America: each is free to have our own opinions and engage in our own ministry, including counseling people according to our interpretation of the Bible. There is nothing in these this legislation that interferes with clergy or prohibits them from counseling adults according to their interpretations. This legislation only affects licensed professionals, and it only applies to minors. Forcing conversion therapy on a child or a teen is the antithesis of personal freedom, and I would hope my colleagues would never encourage this.
“I personally understand the teachings of the bible very differently from many of my conservative colleagues. I’d be happy to talk about the bible with just about anyone, just about anytime, on these and other issues. Because it’s obvious to me from a Christian pastoral perspective that the only type of conversion Jesus was interested in was related to your soul, not your sexual orientation.
“Council members, legislation has more than one purpose. To be sure, legislation allows for enforcement, but equally important, another purpose of legislation is declarative and educational. To enact this legislation declares the boundary of humane practice and educates people about justice and social norms. As the third largest city in Pennsylvania, Allentown can be a leader in this effort. I urge you to vote in favor of this legislation.”
The following week, Council passed a ban on gay conversion therapy for minors.