The word for today is LOVE. The HarperCollins Bible dictionary defines love as “an inner quality that expresses itself through unselfish behavior” (2011, p. 570). In the Hebrew Bible, a significant command is “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). In the New Testament, Jesus indicates that the most important of all God’s commands is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). It is also said that the #1 Christian ethic is love. In the New Testament, Paul gives priority to love over all other human expressions, virtues, or phenomena, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). With this being said, I am troubled by the recent chain of events in our society related to race relations, anti-Muslim rhetoric, gender-inclusive restrooms, religious choice and expression, and specifically House Bill 1840 that was approved by the Tennessee House Health Committee on Wednesday.
As I perused my Facebook posts this morning, I could not help but to stop at the American Counseling Association’s post as follows:
“Imagine being turned away from a doctor’s office because you are gay and your lifestyle goes against the physician’s “strongly held religious beliefs.” Would we stand for that type of discrimination as a society? Tennessee just advanced a bill to allow this very thing to happen with counselors. Imagine being turned away from a counselor’s office during a serious mental health crisis for the same reason. Is this the world we want to live in?” (https://www.facebook.com/American.Counseling.Association/?fref=ts)
As I clicked on the link, the heading stated “Tennessee Advances Bill That Tells Counselors to Discriminate” (https://www.counseling.org/news/updates/2016/03/24/tennessee-advances-bill-that-tells-counselors-to-discriminate). My stomach sunk as I read that Tennessee would allow professional counselors to deny (i.e., discriminate) services based on their own “strongly held religious belief.” How could this be when scripture says love your neighbor as yourself? How could this be when the #1 Christian ethic is love? How could this be when the ACA Code of Ethics clearly states that professional counselors may not deny services to a client regardless of that person’s “age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/partnership status, language preference, socioeconomic status, immigration status, or any basis proscribed by law” (Section C.5)? As a Christian with strongly held religious beliefs, this is not the love I was taught to display. As a professional counselor, this is not how I was trained to provide effective counseling services to anyone in need and/or who seek mental health services. This is also not an example of the Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies that offers professional counselors a framework to implement within their research, counseling theories, and practice.
“He has shown you, O Mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)
This passage provides a theological foundation for justice and mercy as well as a theological foundation for moral/ethical principles for helping professionals, religious leaders and the church. The premise is that individuals and churches are “to bring justice where there is injustice, to make right what is wrong and to demonstrate the holiness of God as well as to live in a just way and to work towards a world that is more just” (Lee, 2013). “Mercy ministry is a vital part of the church’s mission, and justice is an essential category for the church’s theological agenda” (Lee, 2013).
The church is to imitate Christ and show mercy (Lee, 2013). Matthew 18:20 says “for where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Church does not have to be confined to the four walls of a building. God’s mission is for the church to be his instrument, which through him, creates one, called-out, holy people, the church for his glory and worship from all creation (Prentice, 2011). The church is entrusted with the missional task of proclaiming and living out the gospel and its implications in the world (Franke, 2005; Wright, 2005).
Just as the mission of God is about getting people saved, liberating people from bondage to sin (i.e., seeking and saving those who are lost), and social justice in and through Jesus Christ, the church plays a major role as well. The church should be culturally appropriate and meet people where they are within their cultural context while staying faithful to the witness of Scripture. The church is responsible for shaping culture in the society in which they serve. Peters (1984, p. 163) states, “if man is to be reached, he must be reached within his own culture.” God became a man in the form of Jesus Christ to come to earth and incarnate the gospel. As members of the body of Christ, Christians, religious leaders, laypersons, professional counselors and other helping professionals must learn to exegete their surrounding culture and cultural context to reach people with the gospel message (Wright, 2005). Additionally, ministry of community development, a process by which people gain greater control of themselves, the environment, and their future in order to realize the full potential of life that God has made possible, becomes a vital one for the deacons of the church and the church as a whole (Lee, 2013).
It is my belief that the calling of the church today, both inside and outside the mortar bricks and the calling of those with deeply held religious beliefs, in matters of doing justice and loving mercy is providing a ministry of care that includes professional counseling to culturally diverse individuals, families and groups. I agree with my professional organization’s statement, “Because the ability to provide mental and physical health services to those living in Tennessee would become even more difficult should HB 1840 be adopted, the American Counseling Association will continue its opposition to the discrimination that this bill perpetuates.” Additionally, this bill would go against the #1 Christian Ethic of Love and against the command “love your neighbor as yourself” as well as against what God requires us to do, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.”
American Counseling Association (2016). Facebook page. Retrived from
Franke, J. R. (2005). The character of theology: An introduction to its nature, task, and purpose.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Lee, K. (2013, Winter). Biblical seminary justice & mercy course syllabus and lectures.
Peters, G. W. (1984). A biblical theology of missions. Chicago, IL: Moody Press
Powel, M. A. (Ed.). (2011). HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins
Prentice, J. (2011). A pedagogical paradigm for leadership training in a postmodern mega
church context (Doctoral Dissertation). Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh Theological
Wright, N. T. (2005). Paul: In fresh perspective. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.