RIVERVIEW, Mich. (WWJ) – A protest is planned outside a Downriver church Thursday evening as police investigate threats over its alleged practice of “conversion therapy.”
LGBTQ rights advocates have been taking aim at the nondenominational Metro City Church in Riverview over its posting for a six-week workshop for teen girls who “think they might be gay, bisexual, or transgender,” aimed at helping each “be unashamed of her true sexual identity given to her by God.”
Conversion therapy is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation using psychological or spiritual interventions — all of which local transgender advocate Shar Davenport says is dangerous.
“We know that this therapy has led to an increased risk of depression, unhealthy behaviors and what we’re afraid of is that it can also lead to suicide,” Davenport said.
Speaking out in response to the outrage, Metro City Church Pastor Jeremy Schassau said his congregation has suffered from “explosive backlash” on social media, driven by the LGBTQ community.
“People have literally threatened to kill me and my family, to burn our house down, to burn our church down, to assault the people of our church and our staff,” Schossau said in a video posted to Facebook and YouTube. “…We are about conversation, not about condemnation. We believe that sexuality is a choice.”
Talking to WWJ’s Sandra McNeill, Schassau said the church’s $200 sexuality course is misunderstood, and denies that it involves conversion therapy.
“Nobody’s forcing them to be there; nobody is yelling at them,” Schassau said. “They come to us, they trust us, they come to us because we know that we love them…and they feel in their own heart that there’s a struggle, and they want someone who might have or share their same values.”
Seth Toolie told McNeill that when he took part in a similar program at the church at age 13, church members prayed with their hands on him, asking God to release the “demon” from his body.
“It was scary,” said Toolie, who is transgender.”Think (about) being told, ‘Hey, there’s a demon in you.’ It’s scary for a child, anybody; especially being a child at the time.”
Seth’s mother, Kimberly Toolie, disputes Schassau’s claims about the workshop, adding,”He is so sneaky and so manipulative that he had me doubting whether I should support my son.”
Brianna Kingsley of the Metro Detroit Political Action Network said their protest at the church will begin at 6 p.m.
“We believe that expression is a choice, but identity is innate,” Kingsley said. “He (Pastor Schassau) describes being LGBTQIA as is brokenness, something that needs to be fixed. We don’t believe that it’s something that needs to be fixed.”
Riverview Director of Public Safety Clifford Rosebohn plans extra patrols and says he has officers from several neighboring communities on standby to help in the event that the protest gets out of hand.
“It’s the unknown,” Rosebohn said. “Because watching the media you’ve seen peaceful protests before, and they have a potential to become lethal.”
“I just want to make sure that if there protesters that are coming tonight, know that we’re there to protect them, we’re here to protect the church,” he added. “And if people become disorderly we will effect arrests and we will charge people.”
Rosebohn said police, meanwhile, are investigating two threats against the church, but he declined to go into detail.