CNN, Media Matters Lead Charge to Ban Religious Counselors From Social Media

Instagram has banned a Christian nonprofit due to its stance on sexuality. Now a free speech coalition leader and Christian counselor reveal the threats of cancel culture.

By Josh Shepherd Published on July 22, 2020

Last week, Instagram shut down the public profile of UK-based Christian nonprofit Core Issues Trust. The ministry had published “violating content” about so-called “conversion therapy.”

Facebook owns Instagram. Some view shutting down the ministry as an indicator of social media censorship to come.

Gracious Address

“When Core Issues Trust posted on addressing homosexuality, it did so graciously,” said Anne Paulk, executive director of Restored Hope Network (RHN). “Their content comes from a therapeutic and scientific viewpoint. Yet they were banned and Instagram removed all content.”

Days ago, CNN published an exclusive report headlined: ‘Instagram and Facebook ban all content promoting conversion therapy.’ They referred to nonprofit groups, many faith-based, who offer counseling and resources for those facing unwanted same-sex attraction.

The headline itself was slanted, Paulk said, let alone the story. “Our group rejects ‘conversion therapy’ as a term,” she said. “That language is intended to demean and vilify those of us who are helping people who want help.”

A leader of the Free Speech Alliance noted this reporting veered closer to activism. “Traditional media have become leading voices of cancel culture,” said Dan Gainor, vice president of Media Research Center in Reston, Va. “And no news organization is more supportive of censorship than CNN.”

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Activists behind the campaign have tipped their hand. On Thursday, Media Matters for America published a list of nonprofit groups it deems should be banned. Among them was the Christian network led by Paulk that resources ministries, pastors, and counselors across the U.S.

“Normally when you have dialogue, you may disagree with someone, even passionately,” said Paulk. “In this case, gay activist groups really intend to completely shut out our viewpoint.”

CNN Advances Cancel Culture

Activist groups are being aided by the third-most-watched cable news channel, noted Gainor.

“The idea that the traditional press is some free speech, First Amendment zone is a fraud,” he said. “CNN reporters regularly support the silencing of opposition voices or will even drum up support for boycotts. ‘This company isn’t boycotted yet,’ are the sort of stories they produce.”

Tara Hopkins, Instagram’s public policy director for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, fed CNN an exclusive quote for their report. “We are updating our policies to ban the promotion of conversion therapy services,” she said. “We don’t allow attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Dan Gainor

Gainor links this report to how the world’s best-selling author has lately faced relentless activism.

“Across social media, the most radical anti-free speech people are the trans activists,” he said. “They’ve repeatedly tangled online with J.K. Rowling, the most famous living author.”

Author of the Harry Potter novels, Rowling has been labeled a “TERF” which stands for “trans exclusionary radical feminist.” Media commentary has remained unified against her viewpoint.

Christian author Paulk remains baffled by critics seeking to ban their ministry. “Hearing our point of view seems to irritate them,” she said. “Maybe it triggers some degree of conscience.”

Over the past year, Media Research Center has coalesced a group of 70 diverse organizations into the Free Speech Alliance. They attempt to respond to incidents like this one.

“These are attempts by a micro-minority to mandate speech for the entire globe,” said Gainor. “You don’t dare say anything that disagrees with them. Really it’s not just speech, but belief.”

Christian Counselor Banned from Amazon

Paulk and her small ministry team have become a lightning rod in recent culture wars. Last July, activists pressured Amazon to ban her book Restoring Sexual Identity from being sold.

Formerly living in a lesbian lifestyle, the mother of three sons has for decades offered biblical teaching and counsel to those seeking change. While she has observed harmful approaches in churches in the past, she says such mindsets have largely faded away.

Anne Paulk

“There are still some people who want to shame someone into overcoming something,” said Paulk. “They’re ignorant about how change happens or what it looks like. But that I find is more rare than common these days.”

She noted anyone familiar with Christian counseling would find nothing surprising in RHN-affiliated programs. Clients are not coerced, nor have any long-discarded harmful psychiatric practices been used.

“Surrender, repentance, and transformation are all critical parts of the Christian walk,” said Paulk. “It also applies to those who are dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction. They’re not excluded from the picture of the gospel.”

Support in Following Jesus

Knowing the complexity of her own journey, and those of many others, she notes the network does not make guarantees. “From the very beginning, we have instituted disclosure forms that do not promise anyone anything,” said Paulk.

“The outcome of talking together with a counselor will not be A, B, or C. If the person is willing to walk with Jesus, I believe they will find their lives are changing over time.”

While most believers have rejected what she called the “Westboro Baptist philosophy” of shaming, another pitfall has emerged. “Certain leaders today who are really empathetic tend to be swaying towards gay Christianity and not calling out sin,” she noted. “Neither extreme supports the healing pathway right down the middle.

“We’re not to shame other people, rather we’re to support them in their goal of following Jesus.”

Hate Speech And Groupthink

Current crises have kept Paulk occupied with seeking to help those in need. She laments that seeking to silence differing views has become a cultural norm with certain groups.

“They want to control what’s allowed to be spoken,” said Paulk. “It’s an unfortunate bent in that activist community.”

Another breaking development may affect how these issues play out in society.

On Friday, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media announced it would be issuing a specific definition of “hate speech” to apply across platforms. The consortium includes Facebook, Google, Twitter, NBCUniversal, and many of their largest advertisers.

“When they operate more and more with one collective groupthink, it becomes a cartel,” said Gainor. “And a cartel against free speech is a cartel against freedom. It’s insidious and evil that so many supposedly pro-free speech voices like CNN, NBC, and The New York Times would support this.”

Legislative fixes may be necessary, he asserts. Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has floated changing how Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is applied to big tech companies.

“For a long time, these social media companies were pro-free speech, and the world benefited from it,” said Gainor. “Now these companies, across the board, are not.

“If they’re actually going to undermine the republic, then why is the republic protecting them?”


Stream contributor Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith, and public policy issues for media outlets including The Federalist. Find him on Twitter and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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