Darrell Bock:

Welcome to this first cultural engagement chapel of the spring semester. I know it doesn’t feel like spring all the time this time of year, but this is the spring semester. Let me just give you one announcement before we dive into our topic, which is the simple area of sexual identity in the church, and that is to let you know that the table conference that we sponsor through the center is coming up April 4th and 5th in Erving Bible Church. The topic is “Your Worth More Than A Paycheck”, looking at how people view their 9 – 5 job, particularly for students as pastors who teach in this area. It’s an area that often isn’t discussed and taught about from the pulpit to prepare people for how they think about their jobs and their work. As I said, it will be in Erving Bible Church. We have four great speakers who are coming, and you’ll be hearing more and more about this as that day gets closer and closer.

But let me turn now to our topic, and you know it’s a serious topic when the letters of credential by the person’s name have more letters than you’re used to. Most of us are PHDs, but Mark Yarhouse is a Psy.D, a P. S. Y. D., and he’s written two books that we’re going to . . . that helps us with the topic that we’re going to deal with incase you want to follow up with resources. One is called “Homosexuality and the Christian”. Some people think those two things don’t belong in the same phrase, but anyway, a guide for parents, pastors and friends. (book falls) Oops, sorry to abuse the book. And then, a more recent topic called “Understanding Sexual Identity: a Resource for Youth Ministry”.

Let me tell you about Mark. He is the Rosemarie S. Hughes Endowed Chair and professor of psychology at Regent University in Virginia and the director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity, and he has been working in this area a long time. And so, Mark, I want you to talk to us a little about some of the work you have done, and then I just basically have one question for you: what are three things you would say to someone who’s thinking about the LBGT issue? What would you say to them? The floor is yours.

Mark Yarhouse:

It’s a delight to be with you. Thank you for having me. Now, I left six inches of snow in Virginia, which is unusual for us in Virginia Beach, so I was grateful to get that flight and come here and be with you kind folks. So yeah, I direct this institute. I’ve directed it now for ten years or so. We’re celebrating our ten-year anniversary or so of that. I’ve been at Regent for 15 researching these issues. So, I’m a Christian whose . . . it’s been on my heart now for that length of time to listen to the voices of the people who experience their sexuality differently than most people do, and to try to be a resource to them as they navigate what must be very difficult terrain. So, it’s been a good experience, but it’s been humbling so when I was asked, “Would you share some thing about engaging LGBT issues?” I had about 30 things. I don’t know if three is really going to work out, but that is in the classic sermon mode, you give three, so I’ll see what I can do.

Darrell Bock:

It’s the only thing that makes it a chapel (Laughter).

Mark Yarhouse:

That’s right. 30 would not be a chapel. That would be something else. It would be lock-in probably. Ok, so let me share a couple things. One, I want to talk about just being conversant but humble about the best research in this area. Now, I’m a psychologist. This is what I do, but I believe that this, that this topic is best adjudicated through theological argument and understanding, but in our culture, that is not the reference point for our culture. So that’s clear. But we need you. We need good theology. But I’m going to talk more about research because research and narrative is driving the discussion within our culture, and I think sometimes people that I know as good friends whose strength is in theology sometimes feel a bit ambivalent about research, like it somehow trumps the discussion or personal narrative trumps the discussion, and they believe that theology is really, really important. Well, I’m with them on this. I believe that theology is really, really important for the church. For good or for ill, what is driving the discussions today is personal narrative and research.  Now I would like you to be conversant, but humbly so about research in two main areas. So when I identify my frequently asked questions, they are in two areas on my website. One is causation and one is about change. So first of all, what causes homosexual orientation and then, essentially, can it be changed? These are the two most frequently asked questions I get. And this is all under my one point (Laughter).

Darrell Bock:

You’re going to be clear you get under three.

Mark Yarhouse:

Oh, I’m going to get there. So look. My answer to this is – we don’t know. I wish after 15 years of research I could give you a really impressive academic answer and on my website I do have a lot more words then, we don’t know. People don’t pay me to say, “We don’t know” on my webpage. But we really don’t know what causes sexual orientation, and we’re equal opportunity agnostics in this area. We don’t know what causes homosexual orientation. We don’t know what causes heterosexual orientation. Unfortunately, the whole discussion, which is interesting, has been hijacked by the culture wars that make it nearly impossible to have a meaningful discussion about research here. So it’s usually framed as nature versus nurture. And you have people on both sides of a political and culture debate who want to advance one or the other. So the people who say it’s nature say this is an immutable characteristic like hair color or eye color. And we know from other surveys, if people believe that, they vote differently. They have different attitudes. That is an interesting line of argument. It’s an interesting line of research from neuroanatomical brain regions to twin studies. There is interesting research there from the early 1990’s. That hypothesis has been forcefully advanced. But then you have people, again, in the culture war, who respond to that by responding it can’t possibly be nature, it’s got to be nurture or worse, they just say it’s willful disobedience. You’re just choosing this. So I’m going to say upfront, that’s not it. I don’t think people are making the choice to experience same-sex attraction. But could it be nurture? Unfortunately, it’s hard to look at that in a very serious way with research because of the culture wars. But it doesn’t stop the church and others from entering into this debate at a very polarized way. It’s one or the other. And I think that’s just a mistake. I don’t think it’s one or the other. I don’t think it’s nature or nurture. It’s probably nature and nurture. It’s probably weighted differently for different people. So the way that I tend to organize this is you could look at research on biological antecedents, which we won’t because that would just really put you under for the morning. We could look at issues of maybe childhood experiences, environmental influences, adult decisions, not about experiencing same-sex attraction but decisions about behavior and identity. You can look at these four areas, but I look at it more this way: it’s kind of like if I’m here at DTS, and I want to get to the East Coast. I know that there are many ways for me to get to the East Coast. It’s the principal of equifinality. There is multiple ways to the same end point. But also, look at it this way – there is multiple ways to be at the East Coast, right? You can be at New England. You can be at Florida. You can be where I am in Virginia. So think about homosexuality more like there is no one causal pathway. There are multiple ways to get there that are probably weighted different for different people from nature and nurture and there is multiple ways to be there. There are differences between male experiences and female experiences. There are differences among males and difference among females. It’s that diverse. So to speak of the gay community or all homosexuals are like this, is really a mistake. It’s just not doing justice to the complexity. And this is just causation.

Now, unfortunately, in Christian communities, conservative Christian communities, there tends to be two pet theories for causation: childhood sexual abuse and parent/child relationships. And my view of it is this: the research does suggest that there are higher rates of childhood sexual abuse when you ask adults who are gay about their childhood. A higher percentage would say that is part of their experience, but that doesn’t mean that childhood sexual abuse makes people homosexual. Most people who have experienced childhood sexual abuse develop to be heterosexual. So if it was the causal pathway, it wouldn’t play out that way. I’m sure it complicates sexual identity for people though – raises questions and might be part of a larger discussion. But I think when you reduce it to that, your not doing justice to the complexity here. And the other area that is a pet theory among Christians tends to be parent/child relationships. This does so much damage to people, to families that I just want to urge us to think through this a little bit. I don’t think we have good evidence that it’s parent/child relationship that are some how faulty in a way that create homosexuality. Many heterosexuals report faulty parent/child relationships that complicate their life in other ways. It doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have any sort of contributing influence, but we have no real good sense that it is this and not this.

And yet, there are whole schools of therapy that are built on this premise, that I know what caused your homosexuality, and if you were just honest about the relationship you had with your parents, you too would know. But when that gets imported into the church, look at what happens to pastoral care. So a young person who is 16 shares with his parents, “Mom and dad, I’m gay.” And then the parents try to look for resources and then they are told, “Lo and behold, you caused your child to be gay.” Well, we don’t know that. I don’t believe that that is the case. I don’t think we understand what causes homosexuality, but now you have just put the blame on the parents who are looking for resources. And most parents are willing to take a bullet for their son or daughter. They will sacrifice their selves. And it gives them a casual, explanatory framework “Ok, this is what caused it. It must have been me.” And then these clinicians often then capitalize on that and say, “And if we could help you with that area, you could now become straight.” So it says two things: one is we know what caused it. I’m laying this template on top of your experience. I know what caused you to be this way. And if I help re-parent you, you’ll now become straight. It offers a promise that I’m not sure we can deliver on. So there are two problems with that. So, when I get to this causation question, I am really going to stick with being an agnostic – let me finish that sentence. I’m going to stick with being agnostic on the issue of causation. I don’t think we know what causes homosexuality, and we do great damage when we say with great confidence, “I do know what caused you’re homosexuality.” So I want to urge us as a church to be more humble about that. I don’t have a knee jerk reaction to research on biological bases, environmental issues. I look at it. I don’t think Christians have anything to fear from research that is well conducted, well designed, but I’m not convinced that we have an answer to causation. So that was my first point. My other most frequently asked question is about change.

Darrell Bock:

So go for it.

Mark Yarhouse:

Ok, go with that one? Because that wasn’t controversial at all. (Laughter) I conducted a study with a friend and colleague of mine, Stan Jones of Wheaton College. It was a seven-year, longitudinal study of whether people who are Christian, who experience homosexuality, can change through involvement in Christian ministry. At year three, we published it in a book called “Ex-Gays,” and then year seven we published it in the journal of “Sex and Marital Therapy.” So it’s been peer reviewed. It’s been published in two venues. Nobody liked our study. I think I can just say that – period – because it didn’t really serve the culture wars very well. Remember there are groups on both sides who want to take science to advance an argument culturally. So the group that says this is an immutable characteristic cannot allow for data to show any movement along the continuum. And they did not like this study, because we did show movement along the continuum. Now in the culture war, you have the other group that says anybody who tries hard enough or has enough faith can experience dramatic change, 180-degree change, categorical change from gay to straight, and our data didn’t show that either. Our data showed, I would say, that for some people there was movement along a continuum. That movement was stronger when it was away from homosexuality than when it was towards heterosexuality. So then you raise the question pastorally, “Where does that leave someone? What does it mean to have less same-sex attraction but not more attraction to the opposite sex? Where does that leave someone?” And maybe we’re talking about many of the people that we studied that changed their behavior. Many changed their identity from gay to no label or gay to bisexual or label changes, some behavioral changes. I think some did experience meaningful changes in their attractions, but I think most did not experience as much change as they had hoped for going into the ministry. And it was a very sobering experience both for them and for me as a researcher. So I’m left with, what does the church communicate in this area? On the one side, you could have cynical pessimism that says it is an absolutely immutable characteristic and those that say otherwise are selling you snake oil, and it’s intrinsically harmful to even try to change. But you could also have on the other side an arrogant optimism that says anyone can experience categorical change if they just try hard enough or have enough faith. Those that say otherwise promote the gay agenda and there is no risk in attempting change. Now my view is somewhere in-between.

I would call it realistic Biblical hope. First of all, I think there is a kind of natural fluidity for some people. More likely for females than males – it’s been documented – but not for all. Most people don’t have this natural fluidity. They feel this enduring attraction to the same-sex or the opposite and there is some debate whether it’s possible to have that enduring attraction to both sexes. Research suggests that some people may experience meaningful change but it’s going to be along a continuum not categorical. When you have someone at church that gives a testimony of categorical change, they are now married, they have children, I’m not trying to take away from that testimony, but it’s also, I don’t want to have that be the expectation or the standard for the next person. The reason you do research is to say, “How likely is that testimony for the next person going into a ministry or therapy?” And if it’s not that likely, I want to be cautious about making testimonial expectations for the next person. And how about we put up in the pulpit someone who gives a testimony of God being faithful to them with other outcomes. Like their attractions didn’t change, but they are living in a way that is faithful before God in light of that, an enduring condition in their life, but God is being faithful there. I think that could be a testimony we haven’t heard as much of but would be compelling for me anyway. I think people on both sides overstate their case. I think most people don’t experience the degree of change they had hoped for, and so we do have to think about what pastoral care looks like in light of that as a more likely outcome for people. Again, not taking away from strong testimonies, but you hear testimonies of all kinds of healings. I don’t disagree that they happen, but I don’t take them to be the standard for medical care for every condition just because miraculous healing has taken place. And that was my first point.

Darrell Bock:

Wow. So the take away I would take from this first point is that we don’t know what causes it for sure and change is not the automatic landing place that people are going to land in. That there is, if I can say it this way, a “tweener zone” that we have to come to grips with in terms of how people deal with same-sex attraction. They can be moved, but they may not come as far as they may have hoped.

Mark Yarhouse:

Well, I don’t know that they can be moved. Part of it is what is natural fluidity and what is a response that is happening in the course of ministry or therapy. I’m just not seeing the kind of movement in attraction patterns where you . . . I’m confident you can have changes in behavior, changes in identity label, changes in the narrative that is your life, but I’m much more cautious about making statements about these underlying patterns of attractions. I would have liked to have seen different data come out of our study to have more confidence to say that, and I just didn’t see it. So I want to be careful about saying it.

Darrell Bock:

So pastorally that means when you are counseling or engaging in this area and working with someone who has same-sex attraction, the real goal is to place the emphasis not just dealing with behavior but having them think about who they are in terms that go beyond their sense of sexual identity and then what that means for them. Am I right in thinking about it that way?

Mark Yarhouse:

Yeah, I’m much more comfortable working with someone fostering their relationship with Christ. So let’s say they experience same-sex attraction. They have prayed it would go away. They have maybe been in ministry or therapy. I remember one man came to me. He had been in ministry. He said, “I was in this ministry for the last three years.” I said, “Well, tell me about that.” “Well, I went through this curriculum to change and become straight. I went through the first year, and I got to the end, and it didn’t make me straight. So I went to the ministry and said, “What should I do?” They said, “You should go through this curriculum again.” So he went through a second year, and he got to the end and he said, “It was great. I grew in Christ. I feel like I’m spiritually more mature but my attractions have not changed, what should I do?” And they said, “You should go back through the curriculum a third time.” So it was three years and he came to me and I said, “Have you ever explored the possibility of not having to change your orientation but to capitalize on the thing you did see moved – which was your walk with God?” What would it be like to really enter in your relationship with Christ because otherwise, a whole person’s self-worth becomes measured by their heterosexuality? Their sense of, do I belong in the church? Does God love me? Does my shame go away? Well, it does if I’m straight, if I have the capacity to marry and have children. Is that the message the church wants to send? Or do we want to send, know Christ and grow in your relationship there and let’s see what happens. This may not move. This may move. I don’t know. But what I think God does promise us is God will be faithful to bring about sanctification in your life, and I’m more confident putting that forward than putting forward heterosexuality.

Darrell Bock:

Ok, that’s one down, two to go.

Mark Yarhouse:

Ok, here we go. Second point: I would say, engage this topic with convicted civility. Convicted civility comes from Richard Mouw, who I met recently actually, and he said it came from Martin Marty, so I don’t know, but it’s this idea that . . . the observation was there are far to many Christians with strong convictions, but you would not want them to represent you to the broader culture because they are just not nice people. They are not people that really represent God’s love to the larger culture and larger world. But then you have other Christians that are so strong on civility that you don’t know what they believe in. And so, in a room this size, we probably have people that are in different places. Maybe you are strong on convictions, but your civility could use a little work. And maybe your strength is civility, especially on this topic, but no one really knows what you believe. So I’ve adopted this brand for me, and it may be helpful to you. What is it going to look like for me to live with convicted civility in my relationships? To be genuine in relationships with people with whom I disagree. I have professional dialogues with people on this issue. I’ve dialogued at the American Psychological Association with gay psychologists. I’ve had dialogues at my campus with gay psychologists and others about this issue. I think it’s good, and my dialogues were not debates. I never debate. I dialogue and I listen and I think that has been good for me, been humbling for me. I’ll share one story about this. So I was presenting that study that I was just telling you about, that seven-year longitudinal study. I was sharing that on my campus, which I thought was kind of no big deal. I was asked if I would talk about it, so I set up shop and talked about it. Well, a local young guy who calls himself an activist, I’m not using that out of tern, put up a YouTube video calling all his LGBTQ friends to come and sit in the front row and stare down this son of a gun, he used other language, but it was an interesting video to watch because it was a call to arms. “We are going to tear this guy up.” And what does convicted civility do in these moments? I know there are people on my campus who would say, don’t even let them on.  Have security meet them, and tell them, this is our campus . . . all this kind of discussion. I was talking to a friend of mine about this who has helped me a great deal with wisdom and maturity around these issues and the decision was, let’s call them and invite them. I mean, he’s coming anyway, right? So I called him and said, “Look, why don’t you come. Be our guest on campus. Let me meet you. Let’s talk about this.” I direct this institute so I have about a dozen doctoral students. I work with them about how to engage people and interact with them. They did exactly what they said they were going to do. They filled the first three rows and stared daggers at me and my co-presenter, but we stayed with them a long time afterwards. We talked with them. We heard their stories. I went out for coffee with the one person a few times. Another person of the group, I was out for coffee with him several times. He said, “Mark, by the way people talked about you, I thought you would have horns on your head, smoke coming out of your nostrils. Your not quite what I expected you to be.” Now in his case, the one guy put up a video shortly after that and just explained it wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be. I didn’t agree with everything this guy said, but it was more complicated and there were some interesting points made. He was eviscerated by others who thought he should have used that opportunity to capitalize on tearing me apart. And the contrast effect between what he experienced within his own community and what he experienced on campus was so different. It was a bit, actually, difficult for him to make sense of. The other person I met with several times just became a friend. He gave me permission to share this story. He was raised in the church, and he was really struck with the affection people had towards him and that encounter and he ended up recommitting his life and just going back and saying, “I want to explore this again” and he’s on that journey. That is not a typical encounter for me, but it is typical to reach out. It is typical for me to dialogue with people, to listen and to not use language and categories that I know is going to be offensive to people and to be thoughtful about that.

So those may be some things. I think it’s important for us to rise above the culture war whenever we can, to treat people respectfully. I try to talk as passionately about the research, to recognize I could be wrong about the things . . .I tried to best understand the things I’ve studied, but there are things I try to really be humble about. There are things I do hold convictions about though, and I know people push me about that, but I think that it’s a better place to start a dialogue out, of this place of convicted civility.

Darrell Bock:

Now one of the elements of this conversation, convicted civility and culture wars, is our tendency in our language in the church to create an “us and them” environment. Can you talk a little about that?

Mark Yarhouse:

Yeah. I think what happens is, I always assume in a given audience that there are gay and lesbian people in the audience and people navigating this terrain. I just assume that that is the case. And I am impressed sometimes by how churches seem to interact as though there are no gay people in the church, they are all out there. So we sort of come together and talk about gay people like they are the problem. And this came out of interviews we did with people looking back on their adolescence. So imagine a 14-year-old, a 13-year-old, a 12-year-old, who finds themselves experiencing same-sex attraction, and they are raised in the church, and they are sitting in a pew listening to how we talk about this topic. How would a 15-year-old process, even statements like, homosexuality is a sin, without really separating out what we are talking about, or this is an abomination or gays are ruining this country. So a 14-year-old, 15-year-old – how do they even process what that means in light of their same-sex sexuality? They can’t distinguish all the nuances we may mean when we say that, if you can pull that all apart. What they hear is, “I am an abomination.” And I am more amazed when a young person stays with the church than when a young person leaves the church and says, “I have a better offer some where else.” Because fundamentally, you have to look at what is the overall narrative that comes out of the local church and what is the over all narrative that comes out of the local guy community? The local gay community says, “We can answer questions for you about identity and community, about who you are and about what community you are a part.” And the local church has the opportunity to answer those questions, but we fail on almost every turn to answer fundamental questions about identity and community because we use language that reflects the culture war. We talk about us verses them, and most who are in our pews who feel like they are navigating this issue will believe that they are a “them”. They will leave. It’s almost like I can’t, I don’t want to say I can’t blame them, but I will say, I get why they would leave.

Darrell Bock:

Number three.

Mark Yarhouse:

Ok, great. All right, so this actually has to do with that point. Christians who are navigating these issues are people. Now let me give you the backdrop because people often ask me, “How did you even get involved in this? Like, what are you doing researching this for 15 years?” Now I will admit, this is not an ideal academic tract for an evangelical Christian. It wasn’t like I said . . . I didn’t say to myself, “How do you develop a career in psychology as an evangelical Christian? Well you study homosexuality for 15 years.” No, I didn’t say that. In my graduate program, I studied under Stan Jones, and I was familiar with his research and he moved on to become the provost at Wheaton when I was a grad student. So a lot of the invitations he had to speak on this topic he couldn’t take or couldn’t write unless his research assistant helped him do this. So I helped him do a lot of that with him, a lot of speaking. I learned a lot at a pretty young age. And when I graduated, I looked around and I just didn’t see any other Christians in psychology writing about this and some of the Christians that I did see were getting it wrong and just didn’t seem to know what they were talking about. Out of humility, I wasn’t seeing them capture the nuances that I knew existed in the literature. So, not to over spiritualize it, but it was almost a matter of stewardship. I knew a lot. I do write and research on other things, but I was going to stay with this for a while but kind of hold it with an open hand and see where things would go.

So anyway, I’m at the American Psychological Association meeting the year after I graduated, so a fresh assistant professor, sitting in on a session where two gay physiologists were talking about Christians who were leaving the gay community to go to Christian ministries that they believed were hurting them.

And this is the phrase that just stunned me, the one said, the one gay psychologist said, “We are failing our people.” By which he meant we are failing to meet the spiritual and religious needs in the gay community so they are leaving for these ministries that are hurting them. And I had never thought that he believed he had more in common with these gay Christians by virtue of being gay than I did by virtue of being a Christina. I always assumed I had more in common with them by virtue of being a Christian. So it kind of changed how I thought about how gay psychologists were looking at these people. And then I was really struck at lunch later that day thinking about how I had never heard a pastor from the pulpit refer to Christians who navigate these this issue as “our people.” And that maybe we were failing our people. I had never heard a pastor say something like that. So I decided that my approach moving forward would be to see people who are Christians, who are navigating these issues, as our people, and it would sort of re-orientate me towards the right heart, towards the population. So the way that I often illustrate it is kind of like this, you have young people who are navigating religious and sexuality identity and that is often felt as a conflict growing up by the way it is talked about in their peer group or the way it is talked about in their church, but they feel this storm cloud, this conflict between their sexuality identity and their religious identity. Now developmentally, they are asking this question, “Who am I?” This is a normal developmental question. Think Eric Erickson here. A normal developmental question in adolescence is to say, who am I? And to try on different identities, different ways of being who you are, and you are looking for something stable across at home, at church, in your peer group. But it’s a normal question that is only made more complicated with same-sex sexuality. And then you have, on the one hand, the gay community saying, “We can tell you who you are. Your same-sex attraction signals a naturally occurring distinction between different types of people – gay, straight, bi-sexual. You are a gay person. These attractions are at the core of who you are. They are central to your identity. Your behavior is not something to be evaluated whether it’s right or wrong. It is an expression of who you are. And now we can talk about self-actualization of your sexuality identity.” And I called that a gay script. And I mean that to be, a script is just a cultural expectation for how we behave and relate to one another, and I think that is a very compelling script for a teenager in the church today. Now, I contrast that with the local faith community. I don’t think we had ever thought about what script is being offered to a young person who is navigating this terrain. And I have come to conclude that the primary script that comes from the local faith community is a shame-based script. And shame essentially says there is something defective in me. And the person feels responsible for it and shame, it’s not guilt, like I’ve done something and I regret it or I wish I had done this but I didn’t to it and I feel bad about it. Shame is more pernicious and more fundamental, and it says there is something fundamentally wrong about me, and if you knew this about me, you would reject me, and it usually involves self-rejection. I reject myself because of shame, and I know you would reject me too if you knew this about me. So everything goes underground. I think the way the local faith community interacts around this topic probably conveys a script that is more shame and then you have this young person, 14 or 15 saying “Who am I in light of this?” I think it’s a no brainer. I think if most of us did a mental exercise and was saying, “If I was 15 and found myself with same-sex attraction, which script would I be more drawn to?” I think most of us, if we’re honest, would say, “I would be drawn to a gay script that answers fundamental questions about identity and community, who am I and of what community am I part?” In the local faith community, we may want to say “Your one of us,” but I don’t think we communicate that. I think at nearly every turn, we push people away. I think that is going to be a great challenge for the church in the next generation, and it’s one that I’m not sure we’re equipped to respond to today.

Darrell Bock:

So the follow up question is – ok, so what should the church be doing? And while I’m asking that, the mics are here, do feel free to come up to the mics, and I’m going to open it up to student questions in just a second.

Mark Yarhouse:

Yeah, what is the quick fix? There is so much baggage behind this image that it’s hard to say, “Here are the three strategies that you do to make this better.” When I was presenting, the first time I presented the gay script to a group of Christian leaders, one of the astute observers said, “So what is the alternative script?” I hadn’t come up with anything for the local faith community. I was just studying the gay community, and they said, “What is the alternative script?” And I said, “Well look, it can’t come from me. It can’t come from a straight guy who is married. Why would it come from the researcher who is a conservative Christian? It has to come from the gay community.” By this I meant, Christians who are navigating this issue, who themselves say “no” to a gay script. It has to come from them. What is another script that would be compelling? Because the script we’ve given them so far, before it was shame, was an ex-gay narrative – meaning a script of heterosexuality. Our expectation was you are welcome in our church, but you’ve got to be straight with the capacity to have children. And most of our churches function this way. The top tier of our churches – most of our programming goes to couples and families, and we don’t tend to minister well to singles. Period. Well, that adds another layer to this, because if you don’t minister well and love and have a place of prominence for being single in the church, then you are saying to the person who navigates these issues, you’ve got to become straight with the capacity to marry and have children to really be in the upper tiers of the body of Christ. Is that the message we want to send to people? All right, so I’m having that discussion with these leaders, but I left that meeting saying, “I’m going to conduct research with people who don’t adhere to a gay script, and I’m going to hear from them what they do, and I will present that to the Christian community. So I did that. One of the scripts that came out was in the book that you . . . I wouldn’t say threw to the floor, but you dropped. He’ll throw it now! (Laughter) But it was this idea that, and this came from Christians who are navigating this issue, they say no to a gay identity, and what they did is they formed their identity in Christ. I’m not saying the other group never did that. I’m just saying this group said my same-sex attraction signals not a categorical distinction between types of people, but one of many human experiences that are just not the way it’s supposed to be, and that’s using Neil Planning . . . I think it’s also in the movie the “Grand Canyon,” get my references straight here, but it was not the way it was supposed to be. Meaning there is this fallen world we live in, and my attractions are sort of a reflection of that. My attractions are a part of my reality. They are part of my experience, but they are not central to my identity, so I say no to that. I acknowledge that they are part of my experience, but I don’t form my identity around it, and I form my identity around other aspects of personhood that are more salient for me. And that varied in different interviews and surveys that we did. For many, it was an identity in Christ, but again, from a pastoral care standpoint, what happens to you sexuality if your identity is in Christ? It is a reasonable question. Other’s identity was in being a man or a woman, not in being heterosexual or homosexual. Others it was in a role, like, I am a husband, or I am a wife. I’m a father. I’m a son. It was a role related identity. Others were this identity in Christ. So people formed all kinds of identities, but they tended to be positive identities, not ex-gay. Not, I’m something negative, but I’m something positive, and more life giving than obviously a shame-based narrative. So again, that was just one script. I wasn’t trying to set up a contrast that it’s either a gay script or an in-Christ script. Several people accused me of that later. What I said in the book is that this is one of potentially dozens of other scripts. What we need to do as a church is create an atmosphere where those scripts can be developed and discussed and lived out so that we have people who share a testimony of God’s faithfulness as they walk out this other script, but it’s not necessarily that ex-gay narrative of heterosexuality. It’s something else. We could potentially have dozens of other scripts, and I think young people would do well to see those possibilities out there in front of them, because when they don’t see them, they don’t see a future for themselves.

Darrell Bock:

All right, go. (Gesturing)

Audience Member:

Thank you for your work. My question really pertains to what you just talked about, and us as church members, how can we, with those of us in our community who may experience same-sex attraction, promote openness and authenticity so that we can . . . we can embrace them as people who are created in the image of God and who share our identity in Christ, that can struggle with that along with us so that they don’t feel lonely? They don’t feel lonely. They don’t feel ostracized. They don’t feel left out. What are some practical ways we can do that as the community and the body of Christ?

Mark Yarhouse:

That is a great question and it’s . . . let me say something that I think gets in the way of this. Nobody wants to be a project. Nobody wants to be our friend, because we want to have gay friends. So it’s more, like, how to I position myself to have natural, genuine relationships and encounters with people who are different than me? Most of us don’t want to do that. Most of us live our lives around people who agree with us. It’s kind of like what happens with the Internet. Most of our social media is formed and shaped around our preferences so that we only see things that reflect things that we already believe. There is interesting data on how social media and news is tailored to our interests. Well, we do that in our real life. In reality off the Internet we do that too. So I think you have to be pretty intentional about that. One thing that I do with students who come to Regent to study with me . . . I want to get them out of the ivory tower, and I want to have them enter into real relationships with gay and lesbian people so everyone receives volunteer training to work with a local HIV/AIDS group that is largely staffed by LGBT persons. We never discuss this issue, but they are the people doing the work in our area to reduce HIV and AIDS in our community. I want my students to work with them. Not as the mental professional who everyone looks up to but as a volunteer who works with stuff who are gay, are transgender and were identifying superordinate goals that transcend our differences. We all want to reduce HIV and AIDS in our community, but we want to work with the staff as staff who are gay. So it’s artificial, because I’ve created it. But it’s a real thing that people are doing. That’s one thing that we do to be intentional about that. So there are things like that are superordinate goals. I also think that, like, for me, I defend people’s right to get an education within our local schools. So when a young person who sees me in counseling is being bullied in school, I go to the schools, and I look at their anti-bulling policy, and I say, “Hey, I’d love for my 15-year old client to be able to get his education at your school.” I had one kid that I saw. He had been to four schools in three years, and the worst experiences he had were with private, Christian schools with being bullied and teased. He had never identified as gay, but he did have an effeminate mannerism and presentation, and people just went after him mercilessly. His best experience was at a public high school where people were like, been there, done that, got the T-shirt. But I would go to those schools and say, “You have a great anti-bullying policy in writing, but my client is being bullied in your school, and your teachers are within earshot. I would love for this policy to be implemented in a way that made a difference for him.” Anybody could have done that. I think they were a little surprised that the evangelical Christian was coming in to have that conversation, but we need to be doing those things. There are things that are just wrong that we need to do. I know that gets into some political issues. There are other directions you could go, but at the level of pastoral care, at the level of the person trying to get his education, it was the right thing to do.

Audience Member:

First off, I just want to say thank you for coming and appreciate your lecture so far. The second thing, I need to preface my question with, you're probably not going to want to directly answer my question, because it’s a really pointed example, and I’ve kind of put you in the hot seat, but what I do want, I guess, is an ethical question that I can reflect on myself that can lead me into developing an answer with my question. So, I’ll start with a story to you. I have a friend that was abandoned by his parents. He never knew his dad. His mom was into drugs. So his aunt adopted him. His aunt was homosexual and had been living with her partner for years. In high school I got to know him, and I led him to Christ, and we’ve been really good friends. We were on a walk the other day, and he said, “My mom really wants to get married now to her partner, because they legalized gay marriage in Illinois.” And so his question was, “What do I do? Can I say I’m not going to be in the wedding to the one who took care of me my whole life?”

And so for me, I didn’t know what to say. I was like, “Wow, that is a good question.” And so I was torn between the two worlds, you know if anyone loves his father and mother more than me, he is not worthy of me and the love of Christ, and to not go to that wedding, would be an absolute punch to her stomach, and saying I’m not there for you when you have been there my whole life. So what kind of question would you say would guide the ethical principals of searching out what you would do in that situation? Thanks.

Mark Yarhouse:

Well, you are right about one thing. I sure don’t want to answer that question. (Laughter) Look, in a room this size, we are going to have people who are going to disagree as to what is the right thing to do, and I want to be respectful that we are going to be in different places on this kind of question. If you are sitting here saying, I know what I would do and it’s this – I’m sure we have a range of responses in a room this size. The question that comes up for me is, in what way do I witness Christ to the people who have a stake in my life, in my relationships? My witness, my testimony is to the people who see me and interact with me every day. Am I pointing them to Christ? And I could image there are folks in the room that say the way I point people to Christ is I stand by my convictions and I say this. There are other people in this room who say I stand by my convictions. I stand by my relationship with the one who raised me, and I stand in that wedding, and that is how I love people well. I know there is going to be people in different places. I think that is the question I would ask. What is my testimony? Ultimately, this is about how people know Christ. That is kind of our reference point. I think people could think through different ways to testify to who Christ is with different answers to whether he should or shouldn’t go, but I think that is probably the better question to get to that conclusion.

Darrell Bock:

Okay. Over here. (Gestures) We have a few more minutes so a few more questions.

Audience Member:

This is a question I have wondered about since I worked in the mental health field many years ago. Is there any, this is sort of going back to causation, but really more ramifications for therapy, is there any correlations that you have noticed between homosexuality and relationship difficulties such as borderline personality disorder?

Mark Yarhouse:

I haven’t seen it, like, researched based. What I have seen is clinically, a number of people that I know that specialize with female experiences of same-sex attractions have reported anecdotally that they have seen, what they have experienced as a higher than base rate percentage of woman who have those features. So, I’m trying to be very careful with that because part of that is these clinicians who have a clinical sample. Because, as a researcher, you research from a representative sample to say how likely is it in the population. A clinician is getting a skewed sample of people who are asking for help. So the question is are they asking for help because of those characteristics that are part of their personality or because of their homosexuality and are the two related? So I am very careful about drawing . . . I don’t know if this is even making sense, but I am very careful about making claims like that from a clinician standpoint. It’s kind of like when . . . I think we ran into the problem with child/parent causation and childhood sexual abuse is because when clinicians and pastors meet with people on the front lines and see a high prevalence of difficult parent/child relationships and childhood sexual abuse, it’s really easy to say I wonder if that’s not what caused this. But that’s not how you do research. You don’t do research based on your clinical sample of people who came for help. It’s like the study we did of ex-gays. A very high percentage of them had experienced childhood sexual abuse. It was over 60 percent of men and woman that we studied over seven years said that was part of their history. So a non-researcher would say, “It sounds like that’s the cause of homosexuality.” But a researcher says, “Wait a minute. They were help-seeking. They were going to Christian ministries for help. How do I know it wasn’t the abuse that was driving them more so than the other?” So it’s really hard to answer that question well other than to say, clinically, several people have said to me anecdotally that they have seen that among woman. But I haven’t seen it in a research study that would help me answer it in a responsible way.

Darrell Bock:

Last question.

Audience Member:

Yes, very quickly. Part-time student but full time pastor at a local congregation.

As someone who wants to be able to communicate about this well, are there common mistakes in language that you would say are important? You think it’s ok to say this, but your doing more damage with your words. What things should we avoid and watch out for as we try and teach our congregation?

Mark Yarhouse:

Ok, one thing I think I would strike from our vocabulary right now is “love the sin, but hate the sinner.” This is a phrase that only makes sense among straight people within very conservative churches, because it helps us sort of gauge what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to love people well, but we’re trying to have our convictions. I kind of get what we are trying to say there, but no one in the gay community believes that there is real love there. They don’t feel the love, and it just feels like an empty shell to them. And there are even conservative gay Christians who are celibate that I know would say, “That feels really empty to us. We are not feeling love.” So I would not use that phrase. Another that I was really careful with, remember I shared that the activist came to my campus? I specifically said that because he said he was an activist. I don’t refer to very many gay people as activist. Yet many gay people feel like straight conservative Christians believe everyone who is gay is an activist. Most gay people are not activists. They are just trying to live their life, do their thing. So for example, when I was setting up my very first dialog with two gay physiologists, and we were going to have two conservative Christian physiologists have this dialogue at the American Psychological Association, we worked for a year on an email on how to relate to one another so publicly when we were in front of an audience of 400 psychologists who wanted us to have a battle royale on stage, how we were going to model respect for one another? I remember early on I said, “Is there anything I can do to facilitate a healthier discussion?” And he said to me, “Please don’t call me a gay activist. I am a gay psychologist. That would be fine. You could call me that.” And I said, “Great. That’s good. I never even thought about it.” I probably would have called him that. And he said, “Is there anything I can do for you?” And I said, “I am an evangelical Christian. You can refer to me that way. There are other words that might come to your mind. I rather you didn’t use those.” (Laughter) So, it was like this very basic thing. So part of it is, some language is just really, really going to put a gulf between you and the gay community. And other times, it’s actually interacting with gay people and saying, “What is helpful in our discussion?” It really shouldn’t come from me. This is the thing I have learned from talking to people. But as we know within our communities, our own families, individuals who are navigating this issue, we should be talking with them about what language is helpful here, like hear from them what has been useful. It is good to know going into the discussion there are some landmines I want to avoid. But they are the people that can help us understand the best way to talk with them. I make a three-tiered distinction that I didn’t get into today between attraction, orientation and identity, and I use this in pastoral care and in counseling so that someone can describe what they feel if that is helpful to them to describe their sexual orientation. They can adopt an identity label, like gay, if that is helpful to them, but I make this three-tiered distinction so they can use it as a resource in their life if they want to, but I have many people say, “Thank you for that three-tiered distinction. I’m gay.” They are not going to describe their attractions to me. They are gay. If someone says to me, "I’m gay," I’m not going to say, “Well, it sounds like you as describing your same-sex attractions to me.” I’m not going to use something that I would use if it isn’t the way they would use it. If they use an identity label, I talk to them with the language they use. It resonates with them. I know some people who are like, “No, no, no. I’m not going to name it gay. I’m going to talk about it differently.” Ok, well, then you aren’t building any kind of bridges. You're not in any kind of relationship with people because you have set the standard for how you are going to relate to people and people don’t want to enter into relationships with people who already have the rules in place for them. It just doesn’t work.

Darrell Bock:

Let’s thank Mark for his time. And let me close in a word of prayer. Our Father, we know we live in a world that, where we all, in different ways, struggle to draw closer to you, and that only by your spirit and your goodness and your grace does that take place. Teach us to be people who live in the context of your goodness, your grace, your kindness, your forgiveness, and yet at the same time are willing to take the risk to enter in to relationships with those around us who have the very same needs we do. Help us to do so wisely and help us to do so well in ways that are honoring to you. In Jesus name we ask it. Amen. 

About the Contributors

Darrell L. Bock

Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for 2000–2001, writes for the Christianity Today’s Places and Space series, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College, Chosen People Ministries, the Institute for Global Engagement, and Christians in Public Service (CIPS). His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.

Mark Yarhouse

Mark A. Yarhouse, Psy.D., is the Hughes Endowed Chair and Professor of Psychology at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Dr. Yarhouse has published over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and is author or co-author of several books, including Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends, Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, andUnderstanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministers.  His most recent book is titled Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture.