Congregation May Avoid Investigation for Violation of Michigan Consumer Protection Act
Leaders at Metro City Church and FORGE Ministries – the organizations at the center of backlash for offering what many call a conversion therapy class – may have escaped a government investigation into their church for consumer fraud.
Several weeks ago, Metro City Church advertised a $200 "Unashamed Identity Workshop" run through FORGE Ministries for girls (by birth) ages 12-16 struggling with thoughts that they are "Bi-Trans-Gay or other." Thousands of community members have since denounced the workshop as conversion therapy, a pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual's orientation using psychological or spiritual interventions.
In response to the workshop, five state representatives co-signed a letter to Attorney General Bill Schuette on Feb. 8 demanding an investigation be made into the church for consumer fraud. Representatives say Metro City Church could be found guilty of consumer fraud if they accepted money for the course, as many forms of conversion therapy have been proven to do more harm than good to its subjects.
But one crucial element of the investigation has now changed: the price tag. At a press conference in Lansing on Feb. 15, Schossau said social media backlash prompted the church to make the course completely free.
In an interview with BTL, Schossau confirmed the class will be free, but he claims that the church's change of mind was not prompted in any way by the potential investigation.
"We removed it well before we heard the investigation and before the investigation was filed," he said. "We have a video we put out before the investigation confirming this."
Schossau directed BTL to its YouTube channel "We Are Metro," where he says he published a video confirming the class would be charged at no cost before the investigation was announced on Feb. 8. BTL could find no such video before or after representatives accused the church of consumer fraud.
Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) said he wasn't aware Metro City Church made the class free and would respond to BTL once he consults with legal counsel. While he was unable to comment on the direction of the investigation, Zemke agreed that the price tag was a key component.
Schossau said he is not concerned about the investigation as he believes the classes will ultimately benefit those who sign up.
"It's silly to call anything fraud – are they going to call Weight Watchers fraud?" he said.
Despite his confidence, Schossau is one of many Michigan pastors supporting a new petition from the Family Research Council aimed at preventing government overreach into churches.
The petition, titled "Help Pastors Stand Against Government Overreach," has nearly 16,000 actions with a goal of 20,000. It reads: "It is alarming that legislators, who have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, have attacked the free speech rights and free exercise of religion by a local church congregation, in direct violation of the First Amendment. Moreover, as government officials, for you to dictate what a local church must teach regarding its theology is totalitarian in nature, and is at the heart of what the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was meant to prevent."
Family Research Council is an American conservative Christian group and lobbying organization. On its website, the organization describes homosexuality as "harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large" and "by definition unnatural."
Both during the Lansing press conference and in his interview with BTL, Schossau insists that the girls signing up for his class are being "bullied by the LGBTQ community."
"Kids all over are saying, 'Look, all my friends are gay and they want me to experiment and express myself in this way and telling me I'm gay,'" Schossau said. "It's a constant mantra that's going on out there."
"They are being bullied by the LGBTQ community to explore all things sexual," he continued. "That needs to stop – the LGBTQ community needs to hold themselves to higher standards."
Roz Keith, founder and president of Stand With Trans, opposes the Metro City Church workshop. She told BTL that Schossau's comments about bullies in the LGBTQ community are false and backwards.
"My experience and intuition tells me that's absolutely untrue, and the likelihood of that happening ever is slim to none," Keith said. "If anything it's the kids who identify under the umbrella of LGBTQ who are harassed and feel unsafe every day."
Royal Oak therapist Nicholas Zielke specializes in gender identity. He spoke specifically on the effects the church's workshop will have on transgender youth.
"It is emotionally and mentally damaging for a person who is transgender to attend conversion therapy because it does not allow them to be their authentic self and teaches young people during a critical period of development that they should suppress who they feel they are," Zielke said, adding "The kids who thrive and can survive the cruelties and lack of understanding they face as they learn and try to live as who they feel they truly are, are the ones who have an open and supportive family around them. Without this kind of unconditional love and understanding, these same kids struggle with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, among other things."
Peaceful protests have been held by the Metro-Detroit Political Action Network at the Metro City Church Riverview Campus on Thursday nights and will continue each week from 6-8 p.m. when the workshop is underway until April 8. For more information, visit the organization's website.