The ongoing entanglement of an important segment of U.S. evangelical Protestantism with the Donald Trump phenomenon keeps taking new and newsworthy turns.
The latest is a small but intriguing ruckus about, of all things, the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC). Objections are being raised about political moves by the group’s president, Timothy Clinton (no relation to President Trump’s 2016 opponent).
The journalistic potential here is shown in an August 4 item about Aaron New of Central Baptist College in Arkansas and why he quit AACC. New is leading an online protest campaign to have the AACC and Clinton shun political activities. The effort claims not to be anti-Trump, but rather pro-political neutrality, and New identifies himself as a “conservative.”
However, New’s words about President Trump are pointed. He says Clinton has “gone out of his way to publicly confirm and praise” Trump while never offering any public criticism, especially regarding his bragging about sexual groping in the infamous “Access Hollywood” video. New thinks that silence was “unconscionable” for the leader of what he considers “the flagship Christian counseling organization.”
He continues, noting that Trump’s “character and behaviors are the kind that cause wounds and trauma to the very people that end up needing the care of Christian counselors.” He says fellow professionals work "with our clients every day" to counteract the psychological harm from such behavior.
Clinton, an Ed.D. and licensed counselor and family therapist, directs programs in these fields at Liberty University, whose President Jerry Falwell Jr. is an ardent Trump fan. Clinton joined the Trump campaign’s evangelical advisory board alongside such Trump enthusiasts as Jack Graham, Texas megachurch pastor and president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2002-2004.
Mark your calendars for this peg: Graham will be a speaker at the AACC’s world conference September 27-30 at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. New is especially aggrieved because another headliner there will be Jay Sekulow, no psychologist but a top spokesman and lawyer defending President Trump.
The previously mentioned August 4 article was an interview with New (accompanied by the text of his petition) conducted by Warren Throckmorton, who supports the protest. He is a professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and (for the moment) member of AACC’s clinical advisory board. Throckmorton is past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, a major group of clinicians and educators in the field.
In a follow-up blog August 8, Throckmorton delved into different sorts of concerns about the AACC that might also merit media exploration. Among them: lax board governance, the mixture of a professional association with Clinton’s commercial enterprises, assorted member complaints, and a D-minus rating from the Better Business Bureau.
The AACC, based in Forest, Virginia, reports a membership of 50,000 clinical professionals, and clergy and lay workers who perform counseling. Members profess belief in, e.g., an “inerrant” Bible and a historical Adam and Eve. Regarding this profession, a reporter’s electronic Rolodex should also list the non-political Christian Association for Psychological Studies. Evangelical physicians/counselors with the M.D. belong to the psychiatry section of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.
There’s also a Society for Christian Psychology, which will meet in conjunction with AACC’s Nashville conference. Its members develop theory and practice in the field based on a distinctively Christian view of human nature.
Mark your calendars.