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Accepting people as they are

I belong to several professional listserv discussion groups. In these groups psychologists and psychotherapists of various stripes share news and events and they talk shop. When they talk shop, depending on the particular list, it can range from the philosophical underpinnings of psychological theory and practice to the science involved, and on to the way professional organisations run, to the politics of public policy and the ethics that is involved at every turn.

In addition to a discussion group focused on gestalt therapy and its applications in various contexts, I also belong to the listserv for Division 12 of the American Psychological Association. Division 12 is the Society for Clinical Psychology. This is the group that concerns itself largely with what constitutes evidence-based practice. However, this last weekend we got into it over conflicts in the ethics code and the way the APA accredits academic organisations offering doctoral degrees in psychology. In particular was the question of how the rights of those who have a religious identification and those who have a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or questioning (GLBTQ) identification conflict, and how the ethics code tends to set up a dilemma in honoring these rights.

Principle E of the code states: “Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Psychologists are aware that special safeguards may be necessary to protect the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making. Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status and consider these factors when working with members of such groups. Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices.”

When the APA accredits doctoral programmes in psychology it allows for diversity in that it makes a statement on diversity arising from Principle E and then footnotes statement for programmes that exist at religious institutions:

“The programme engages in actions that indicate respect for and understanding of cultural and individual diversity. Throughout this document, the phrase “cultural and individual diversity” refers to diversity with regard to personal and demographic characteristics. These include, but are not limited to, age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, language, national origin, race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, and social economic status.” (Domain A, Section 5)

“This requirement does not exclude programmes from having a religious affiliation or purpose and adopting and applying admission and employment policies that directly relate to this affiliation or purpose so long as: (1) Public notice of these policies has been made to applicants, students, faculty, or staff before their application or affiliation with the programme; and (2) the policies do not contravene the intent of other relevant portions of this document or the concept of academic freedom. These policies may provide a preference for persons adhering to the religious purpose or affiliation of the programme, but they shall not be used to preclude the admission, hiring, or retention of individuals because of the personal and demographic characteristics described in Domain A, Section 5 of this document (and referred to as cultural and individual diversity). This footnote is intended to permit religious policies as to admission, retention, and employment only to the extent that they are protected by the US Constitution. It will be administered as if the US Constitution governed its application.” (Footnote 4)

If a central aspect of religious identity is to proscribe same sex behaviour, that discriminates against GLBTQ people. However, if the APA were to withdraw accreditation of programmes at religiously based schools (who have codes of conduct that prohibit same sex behaviour), then that would discriminate against those who identify religiously. Both Principle E of the ethics code and Domain A, Section 5 of the accreditation policy uphold diversity, and footnote 4 of that section supports that rights of people, referring to the civil liberties contained in the United States constitution.

It is left to the individual to resolve this clear dilemma.

Here is the way I currently look at it:

Not every Christian makes sexual identity a criterion for relationship. Pardon the ensuing use of scripture here, but I pivot off the fact that God so loved the world that He gave his son so that WHOEVER believes in Him might be saved. In my theology once a person believes in Jesus he is saved, transferred from a performance-based relationship with God in various religious rules and regulations and placed into a grace-based relationship in which God forgives all sin (past, present, and future). Therefore, the glutton is not rejected. The liar is not rejected. The adulterer is not rejected. The gossiper is not rejected. The same-sex oriented person is not rejected. So, if God does not reject us because of our imperfections, why should I?

I realise it is still offensive for me to use the terms “sin” or “imperfection” with regard to someone's sexual orientation, but I am speaking from the perspective of one side of the dilemma, attempting to reach across the divide to living people and to accept and appreciate others… but one can only start from where he or she currently stands.

I choose to leave it to God to deal with any given person about what is the next item for attention for personal growth in relationship to Him. I fully believe that with God any given GLBTQ person might not need to attend so much to the issue of sexual identity as much as to the struggle with idolatry or covetousness (or some other vice). I don't want to play God. I've got enough to do just to be me and to attend to my own struggles. So, as a Christian who is also a psychologist, I accept people as they are. I leave the changing of persons up to the people themselves and to God Himself.

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Published March 22, 2011 at 9:00 am (Updated March 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm)

Accepting people as they are

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