It was inevitable. The clock started ticking early last year, when Bethel elder Dr. Andre Van Mol transitioned from 23 years in private family medical practice to Dignity Health Medical Group North State’s clinic on Court Street in downtown Redding.
Dignity Health, formerly known as Catholic Healthcare West, is the largest not-for-profit healthcare provider in California.
Sooner or later, Dignity Health would assign Dr. Van Mol to a gay or lesbian patient who was aware of the longtime local family physician’s anti-LGBTQ activism. That includes Dr. Van Mol’s membership in the American College of Pediatricians, a small group of conservative Christian physicians masquerading as a mainstream medical association that has been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group for years.
The Dignity Health patient drawing the short straw was Patrick Archer, 65, a retired Redding gay man well-known locally for his community service over the past 30 years.
Archer needed a prescription refilled last month and was told he’d have to get an annual check-up first. Since Archer’s regular physician was on maternity leave, he was told he’d have to see Dr. Van Mol to get the prescription refilled.
Full disclosure: Archer is a moderator for Investigating Bethel, a closed Facebook group of which I’m also a member. The group has successfully attracted national media attention to Bethel, the charismatic megachurch in Redding’s midst. Archer posted his experience with Dignity Health in Investigating Bethel on July 31 (post edited for grammar and clarity):
“My doctor at Dignity Health on Court St. is on maternity leave,” Archer said. “They called for my annual checkup but tried putting me in with Dr. Van Mol. WTH??? The biggest homophobic Bethel member ever! I told the assistant I’m appalled you have such a hateful person on staff there. I said I will not be coming back to your clinic and will be finding a new doctor. Is there no place safe from Bethelites in Redding??? Grrrrrr.”
In the comment thread below the post, Archer later posted this:
“I just called Dignity headquarters in Sacramento and informed the patient advocate of Dr. Van Mol’s views on gays/bisexuals and conversation therapy. I said Google him. She did and said oh, they must not have known about this. … She apologized profusely and said he doesn’t stand for what Dignity is about.”
When I met with Archer last week, he was still simmering. A Dignity Health supervisor had by then replied to his complaint, saying that the healthcare provider had no choice about what their employees, including Dr. Van Mol, do after work. Since Archer hadn’t actually seen Dr. Van Mol, he could simply choose another Dignity Health doctor.
“They did give me the option, but they’re not going to get my federal money,” said Archer, who’s on Medicare and is now shopping for a new healthcare provider. “I thought we were past all of this, but it’s happening again, just like back in the 1960s. I thought we were past all of this.”
Enter The Moral Counter-Revolution
Dr. Andre Van Mol declined to be interviewed for this story. According to his bio on Dignity Health, he received his training from the Medical School of Wisconsin, where he graduated in 1986, and from Naval Hospital, where he graduated in 1987 and 1992.
The physician is both a Bethel elder and board member, according to his bio on Bethel’s Moral Revolution website. The former naval officer and his wife, also a former naval officer, were both born in Canada, raised in the United States, have two sons and one daughter and a “reasonably steady stream of foster children.”
Dr. Van Mol’s longtime physician’s assistant, Redding mayor Julie Winter, is also a Bethel elder and board member. The nurse practitioner followed the doctor to Dignity Health. She did not respond to an email query for this story.
Moral Revolution is a nonprofit religious organization founded by Bethel’s No. 2 pastor Kris Vallotton in 2009. Dr. Van Mol serves as a board member and a content provider for the organization.
Moral Revolution represents Bethel’s attempt to resurrect “purity culture,” the 1990s Christian movement that preached abstinence from sex until marriage, no adultery, no abortions and absolutely no same-sex relationships. This reaction to the 1960s sexual revolution fizzled out by the turn of the century, but for Dr. Van Mol, the moral counter-revolution never ended; the cultural war is still on.
In addition to being a board-certified family physician, Dr. Van Mol is a writer of Christian apologetics. For the past several years he’s been quite prolific, with articles appearing on the websites of the Christian Medical and Dental Association, the orthodox Catholic Witherspoon Institute and the aforementioned anti-LGBTQ American College of Pediatricians.
Dr. Van Mol’s bylines state that he’s the American College of Pediatrician’s co-chair of adolescent sexuality.
According to the SLPC, the organization, also known as AC Peds, formed in 2002, after the American Academy of Pediatrics, the major peer association for pediatricians in the country with 66,000 current members, endorsed adoption by same-sex couples. In protest, a small group of culturally conservative doctors split with the association and formed AC Peds.
Today, AC Peds has an estimated 500 members. The SLPC considers the organization an “anti-LGBQT hate group” due to its long track record of publishing false claims and misleading scientific reports that promote a virulently anti-LGBTQ point of view.
These articles are then passed off to conservative media outlets such as FOX News, Glenn Beck and Breitbart as if they were legitimate research, and reported as such.
AC Peds opposes adoption by LGBT couples, links homosexuality to pedophilia, endorses so-called reparative or sexual orientation conversion therapy for homosexual youth, believes transgender people have a mental illness and has called transgender health care for youth child abuse,” the SLPC states on its website.
That’s a fairly accurate description of Dr. Van Mol’s oeuvre, although none of the dozen or so articles I’ve read by him deals with homosexuality and pedophilia. He hits all the other anti-gay topics, though. Most of his articles follow the same pattern:
An anti-LGBTQ observation is made, the reader is bombarded with worst-case scenarios and statistics that may or may not be accurate, the writer concludes his anti-LGBTQ observation is valid.
We don’t have to travel far from home to find an example. On the Moral Revolution website, Dr. Van Mol’s answer to the question, “Why are same-sex practices not good for you?” is exemplary of the formula.
First, the intended audience, in this case BSSM students in their late teens and early twenties, is given a sermon.
“Sexual intercourse was designed to be between man and woman,” Dr. Van Mol writes. “Theologically speaking, God is quite clear in scripture both that He meant for sex to be between husband and wife, and that problems come from engaging in sex – or anything else – outside of His intention and design.”
Problems like being stoned to death by your neighbors?
It’s standard right-wing evangelical boiler plate followed by a list of graphic sex acts—oral sex, anal sex, rimming, fisting, golden showers, scat—designed to shock readers and soften them up for the grim statistics to come, including the fallacious claim that “people who engage in homosexual activity lose 25 percent to 40 percent of their lifespan.”
“It is often claimed that these health statistics would be better if same-sex relationships were more embraced and celebrated,” Dr. Van Mol writes. “In northern Europe and in Canada same-sex attracted people enjoy supportive governments, affirmation from liberal (if floundering) churches, and a public coerced into silence by hate-speech laws, yet the substandard health statistics for the GLBT community are just a dismal as elsewhere. This demonstrates that acceptance and affirmation of same-sex sexuality are not the promised cure-all for the problem.”
Dr. Van Mol’s comments on Europe and Canada aren’t based on research and tell us more about his religious and political beliefs than anything else. The same theme and rhetorical tactics permeate all the articles I’ve read, as well as the testimony he provided to the state Legislature in opposition to AB 2119.
The bill passed, despite the doctor’s objection and mandates gender-affirming health care and mental health care must be made available to foster children and non-minor dependents who request it. The bill easily passed.
Affirmation of any kind for LGTBQ individuals just isn’t in the Dr. Van Mol’s repertoire. He claims concepts such as sexual orientation and gender identity that are experienced by human beings and studied by psychiatrists, psychologists and social scientists are post-modern ideological constructs, perhaps designed by cultural Marxists, that don’t exist in reality. It’s all fake science.
“Transgenderism is a belief system that increasingly looks like a cultish religion—a modern day Gnosticism denying physical reality for deceived perceptions—being forced on the public by the state,” reads the subhead to an article Dr. Van Mol wrote for the Witherspoon Institute last year titled, “Transgenderism: A State-Sponsored Religion?”
A cultish religion that denies reality for deceived perceptions? That sounds an awful lot like the stuff they’re teaching down at the BSSM.
He acknowledges that Gender Dysphoria, the distress caused when a person’s gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex, is a serious mental health issue. But he ignores the growing body of scientific evidence that in severe cases, which can begin as early as age 3, affirmative therapy—allowing the child patient to explore their gender identity and the possibility of making a non-medical, non-surgical social transition—has shown positive results.
Whether the child goes on to a medical transition before the onset of puberty and surgical transition after adolescence depends on how “insistent, persistent and consistent” he or she remains in asserting their gender identity. For severe cases, surgical transition is the only known treatment that provides relief from the distressing symptoms of GD.
In less severe cases of GD, the patient’s sense of gender identity/natal sex incongruity may resolve or “desist.” Dr. Van Mol frequently quotes high desistance rates, about which there is much scientific debate, as a reason not to provide any affirmative therapy.
He neglects to mention that in the studies he cites, the majority of those who do desist assume a gay or lesbian sexual orientation, the existence of which Dr. Van Mol also denies.
Separation Of Church And Science
David Cary Hart is the founder of The Slowly Boiled Frog website, which is dedicated to tracking issues involving LGBTQ equality. Hart’s written frequently about Dr. Van Mol during the past several years; you can read his evisceration of the physician’s Transgenderism-is-an-ideology article here.
I asked Hart via email for his take on Dr. Van Mol.
“For Dr. Van Mol, religion is a belief system,” Hart said. “It’s based on faith which is supported through dogma. There is nothing wrong with that. Medical science, in contrast, is based on evidence. Dr. Van Mol has difficulty distinguishing between the two. This is particularly true regarding trans youth who are very fragile. Van Mol is perfectly willing to torture science—and logic—to conform things to scripture. He is putting the lives of children at risk.”
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Dr. Van Mol and AC Peds’ positions on LGBTQ issues is that every one of them—from the notion that conversion therapy works, to the claim that gays make bad parents to the allegation that affirmative therapy for transsexuals is child abuse—is not supported by research and has been rejected by virtually every major professional medical and mental health association in the country.
This rejection was succinctly summed up by Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Jack Turban, one of the nation’s leading specialists in pediatric gender identity, in a 2017 Psychology Today article calling out AC Peds as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.
Among the organizations opposed to AC Peds views listed in the article are the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association.
“It’s disturbing that news organizations and physicians are citing AC Peds as a reputable source,” Dr. Turban writes, noting that they’ve been listed as an LGBTQ hate group by the SLPC for years.
Dr. Turban asked Dr. Scott Leibowitz, medical director of the THRIVE program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and chair of the sexual orientation and gender identity issues committee for the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, to comment about AC Peds.
“It can hardly be a credible medical organization when it consistently chooses to ignore science and the growing evidence base that clearly demonstrates the benefits of affirmative care with LGBT youth across all ages,” Dr. Leibowitz replied.
Nevertheless, AC Peds has progressed to submitting its pseudo-scientific studies as amicus briefs in local, state and federal court court cases and legislation involving LGBTQ rights.
Even the one major professional medical group to which Dr. Van Mol belongs, The American Academy of Family Physicians, supports affirmative therapy for LGBTQ patients. So does his current employer, Dignity Health.
I contacted Dignity Health’s headquarters in San Francisco by email with links to the Psychology Today article and the SLPC, along with several questions.
What are Dignity Health’s guidelines for treating LGBTQ patients? Are Dr. Van Mol’s outside activities permitted by the health care provider? How does Dignity Health know if Dr. Van Mol can set aside his anti-LGBTQ beliefs when practicing medicine on LGBTQ patients?
Dignity Health provided the following blanket reply:
“At Dignity Health, we work to make sure that everyone who comes to us for care is treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their background, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Our policies and procedures, standards of conduct, and employment agreements explicitly prohibit discriminatory behavior. Our doctors, nurses, advanced practice providers, and staff must agree to these standards.”
Agreeing to those standards must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Dr. Van Mol when he was hired by Dignity Health last year. In an undated column on the Christian Medical and Dental Association’s website, “The Bad Science Battering Ram,” he claimed the only reason that every major medical and mental health association in the country disagrees with him is that they’ve all been swayed by the LGBTQ lobby and faulty research results.
The Dignity Health reply continues:
“We also ask our patients to provide feedback on their experiences to help us ensure that they’re receiving the compassionate and quality care that they expect. We serve a diverse population of patients with different needs, beliefs, and backgrounds. Our physicians and advanced practice providers are equally as diverse, and we encourage patients to research providers to find a doctor who best meets their needs and philosophy of care.”
That answer wasn’t good enough for Patrick Archer, who’s now in search of a new healthcare provider.
“Why would they have him?” he said, shaking his head. “If they’re that hard up for doctors, maybe they should look outside of the area.”
Archer is no stranger to the medical community and LGBTQ issues. The Michigan native, raised by an ultra-conservative religious family, came out at age 19 after moving to California in the early 1970s. He was infected with HIV in the late 1980s, by a former partner who had hidden his diagnosis from Archer and several other men and was later charged with an obscure Michigan law that made such nondisclosure a crime.
The case, one of the first in the country, made national headlines, and Archer appeared on both Geraldo Rivera and Phil Donahue’s TV programs as one of the victims, despite some harsh criticism from the gay community, which opposed his former partner’s prosecution.
Archer said he agreed to the appearances on one condition: that he be allowed several minutes on each program to discuss HIV prevention, a condition that both Rivera and Donahue honored.
Not long after that, Archer retired from UPS after injuring his back. By 1989, he was volunteering as an HIV/AIDS educator in both California and Michigan. He wrote grants for Redding and Shasta County from 1989 to 2006, including a grant that brought the area’s first infectious disease specialist, Dr. Sutton Menizes, from Sacramento to the Shasta Community Health Center.
Since 1989, he’s volunteered or worked for the Shasta County Health Department, the Shasta Trinity Tehama HIV Food Bank, and Positively Speaking as an AIDS/HIV outreach educator, for which he became state certified in 1998. He taught AIDS/HIV/STD prevention as well as drug and alcohol abuse prevention to juveniles at the Crystal Creek Boys Camp until it closed in 2006.
He was also chairperson for Family Planning Inc., the nonprofit reproductive health clinic that provided low income clients in Redding with contraceptives from 2000 to 2006. More recently, he helped get Shasta Support Services, the organization headed by Dale Ball that cleans up abandoned homeless encampments, off the ground.
Archer’s HIV has never progressed to AIDS; doctors told him that thanks to his northern European genes, his body produces a rare natural antigen that provides him some degree of immunity. He was able to skip the dreaded AZT treatments prevalent in the 1990s, and today takes just two medications that produce minimal side effects.
Since Archer has a great deal of experience as an HIV/AIDS educator, I asked him to comment on an article written by Dr. Van Mol titled “HIV Education and How Not To Do It” that appeared on the Christian Medical and Dental Association’s website last year.
At issue is the California Healthy Youth Act, which was enacted in 2016 and mandates that HIV/AIDS prevention be provided in public middle and high schools as part of the sex education curriculum. The state Department of Education is still ironing out the curriculum, which is supposed to be implemented by this September.
In his column, a masterful piece of concern trolling, Dr. Van Mol worries that the curricula he’s been shown by local school board members so far doesn’t sufficiently address the elevated risks gay men face from unprotected or protected anal sex. At no point in the article does he cite the actual curricula he’s referring to. Dr. Van Mol concludes:
“Students are poorly served by HIV awareness curricula that make generalizations and inaccuracies regarding the relative safety of sexual practices, exaggerate and blur the efficacy of condom use in them as though equivalent, and functionally tell students HIV infection is nothing because with medications you’ll live as long as anyone else.”
To Archer, it all sounds too familiar. Parents who don’t want their children presented with such information are allowed to opt out of the curriculum, but religious conservatives are screaming about “parental rights” anyway. They’d prefer no sex education at all. That’s one reason the curriculum has been delayed.
“Van Mol’s input on state mandated prevention information is off base and homophobic,” Archer said. “He’s completely ignored the fact that IV drug use, including the huge increase of IV heroin use, has increased both HIV & Hepatitis C. He’s focused on one specific group, gay/bi men, and that’s precisely why HIV and AIDS went unchecked in the hetero world and spread so quickly.
“Van Mol has completely forgotten the ‘H’ in HIV stands for human, any human that puts themselves at risk can contract HIV,” he continued. “It’s never been specific to just the LGBTQ population. His irrational beliefs actually contribute to the spread of HIV & Hepatitis B and C.”
Archer counts himself as fortunate for being aware of Dr. Van Mol’s anti-LGBQT activism when he was assigned to him, but questions Dignity Health’s assertion that patients are capable of ferreting out such beliefs.
For example, he’s convinced that his former Dignity Health primary care physician for the past two years is also a Bethel member, even though he says she denied it twice when he questioned her point-blank.
Bethel Church communications director Aaron Tesauro, who confirmed that Dr. Van Mol declined to be interviewed for this story, refused to confirm whether Archer’s former primary care physician is a Bethel member. He did answer my question as to whether Bethel requests its physician members to adhere to the church’s anti-LGBTQ dogma.
“Doctors and healthcare professionals play a crucial and valuable role in the health and treatment of all people,” Tesauro answered. “Bethel Church believes in and values both traditional medical practices as well as healing from divine intervention. Bethel Church does not instruct any medical professionals on how to practice medicine, because as a church we are not equipped to do so. Bethel’s annual Medical Healing Conference exists to encourage healthcare professionals in a faith-based environment to affirm the value of their medical knowledge, skills, and experience.”
Funny thing about that annual Medical Healing conference, which takes place next month: Archer’s former primary care physician is listed as a scheduled speaker.
What’s Hate Got To Do With It?
Does it matter if Archer’s former primary care physician is a Bethel member? It’s fair to say that not every Bethel member is a gay-baiting homophobic hater. But their church’s outspoken public stance against the LGBTQ community, fueled by Dr. Van Mol’s claim that sexual orientation and gender identity don’t exist, is more than enough to give LGBTQ patients and their allies legitimate pause.
Personally, I’m going to stop short of calling Dr. Andre Van Mol a hater. I’ll leave that up to organizations like the SLPC and the LGBTQ community, who have ample evidence to support their point of view. I’m fairly certain he’s a competent family doctor, as long as you or your child aren’t LGBTQ.
Instead, I’ll call him a dangerous sign of the times. Nearly 80 percent of the country supports equal rights for LGBTQ individuals. The small minority that doesn’t is mostly comprised of right-wing evangelical Christians, including Bethel elders such as Bill Johnson, Kris Vallotton and Dr. Andre Van Mol.
Who knows how many of Bethel’s 11,000 local members and millions of internet followers share the same beliefs?
At any rate, with the election of President Donald Trump, the right-wing evangelicals have been feeling their oats. Their sinful messiah, their modern day King Cyrus, has been rolling back the scant gains made by the LGBTQ community during the Obama administration at a rapid rate.
It’s macabre. Last year, Dr. Van Mol was so desperate to prove that sexual-orientation change-efforts work, he wrote an entire article based on a report that was retracted by its conservative publisher. The article remains online, but click on the link to the study, and you’ll find it’s been pulled. Still no smoking gun.
That’s the same criticism Dr. Van Mol frequently levels at studies he deems to be pro-LGBTQ, and in some cases he’s correct. Occasionally, researchers make mistakes. The study gets pulled. That’s called science.
In addition, the ease of publishing pseudo-scientific articles in the internet age has led to a proliferation of websites publishing non-peer-reviewed research such as AC Peds, as well as a sharp increase in retracted peer-reviewed studies across all fields during the past two decades.
Dr. Van Mol and the AC Peds crowd have taken advantage of both of these facts to sew doubt in LGBTQ research, the abundance of which is not going their way.
As a result, they’ve broken the first commandment of Doug Coe, the founder of “The Family,” the conservative Christian lobbying group that first invaded Washington D.C. in the 1950s and are featured in a recently released Netflix documentary.
In order to successfully infiltrate and influence public affairs, Coe advised Christians first and foremost to “stay invisible.”
Today’s right-wing Christian evangelicals, including Bethel’s leadership and Dr. Van Mol, have not heeded this advice. They’ve become a spectacle.
Ultimately, that’s why they’ll lose this battle. Their ideas can’t stand the light of day.