A client is referred to you by a senior leader/pastor within your national church organisation.
Context: The church leader has been working with 23-year-old Michael for six months striving to help him overcome his same-sex attraction. Michael is desperate to be straight and thinks he should find a loving, female partner. The church leader and Michael’s local church community have been very supportive of him in his quest.
Michael’s efforts to abstain from sexual acts with men are met with frequent disappointment. After his last relapse where he, over one weekend, engaged in 20 sexual exchanges with random partners, it is decided Michael see a counsellor—the pastor and the church community after six months of loving Michael, supporting him with prayer and bible teaching, feel counselling is an appropriate course of action.
You are assigned the responsibility of counselling Michael in his quest to become straight.
Identify the power dynamics in the above scenario and the ethical implications imposed by those power dynamics.
It was precisely around issues such as homosexuality and a case such as Michael’s that my own views against organised religion have been formed. It is the coercive nature that I see at the centre of this case study, a power structure that both Colin and Sara (two colleagues in my Ethics class) have identified that may not be working in the best interests of Michael.
As has been pointed out, Michael may risk losing his support network of friends and colleagues from his church if he follows his sexual predilections. He obviously is getting something from his sexual preferences otherwise he would not default back to them. I don’t believe that finding Michael a heterosexual partner will stop his homosexual activities, or at least for long. I have a friend who is happily married with two grown children, but he still indulges in the occasional homosexual liaison at a ‘distinguished’ gentleman’s club.
As has been noted, the church (a formal power entity with a defined power structure) is ‘mandating’ that a counsellor (presumably somehow affiliated with the church) uses their power and influence to ‘persuade’ and help Michael become straight. The risk for Michael is that by not going straight he is upsetting a lot of people—his church friends, his church community, the church hierarchy, what he has been taught by the church that God thinks of homosexuality and Michael’s right to enter Heaven after death.
Yet the counsellor’s own governing body, PACFA, is clear in its handling of cases such as Michael’s: the counsellor must “recognise and respect the diversity among people and oppose discrimination and oppressive behaviour.” In addition, the counsellor is to promote client autonomy and encourage the client to make his own decisions. It could be argued that the decision has somewhat been taken out of Michael’s hands. PACFA also note that the counsellor must consider the client’s social context and connections with others. As Sara has said, “Michael has found support and community with the church. This is a good thing, but the connection may be dependent upon Michael continuing his quest to be straight.”
1.8 Counsellors shall show respect for their client’s personal worldview and offer help without bias across the boundaries of gender, race, religion, disability, ethnicity, or socio-economic status.
Note there is nothing there about sexuality. It is as if there are either no problems with sexuality within the church and LGBT issues don’t exist, or the good Christian counsellor must refer any LGBT cases to a non-Christian counsellor. A perplexing stand, I feel. But then again, I think the Church’s views on homosexuality are behind the times and have no relevance to the vast majority of the adult population it seeks to influence. Like birth control and women’s rights to choose to give birth or not, society has shown very strongly that it has moved on, and that the Church must work with the society it has, not the society it wishes it had (a society, I might add, that existed in a patriarchal milieu over 2,000-4,000 years ago).
To sum, there are power structures and influences from the church, the church hierarchy, its teachings, those that teach, Michael’s church-going friends and collegiate community. Wherein lies power lies the possibility and opportunity for misuse.
Michael may genuinely want to be straight, or he may want to be straight because it is what is expected of him if he is to stay within the supportive structure of his local church. Only informed counselling that allows him to explore the meanings of his predilections will be able to tell. Discussions that the CCAA would prefer its members do not have.