book report: Homosexuality and the Christian (2010) by Mark Yarhouse
Is there another way for conservative Christians to respond to fellow believers who are homosexually oriented, other than insist they change into heterosexuals through prayer and counseling? Can we tell our gay brothers and sisters to do something other than "pray the gay away"? Do we have to reject the church's historical and traditional understanding of homosexuality to exhibit grace to our gay brothers and sisters? I found Mark Yarhouse's book Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends a breath of fresh air on the conversation, blowing the smoke and stink away for a moment.
Bethany House offered me a selection of books for review, and this one was exactly what I've been looking for. I think I have practiced this approach, but was insecure, because I felt it was right without a defense for it. It just felt right. I can be open with my gay friends without affirming their expression. Yarhouse's research and experience as a psychologist and professor of psychology gave him insight into a segmentation of the development of homosexual identity and also exposure to gay Christians who have chosen chastity.
His three tiers of homosexuality are same-sex attraction, homosexual orientation, and gay identity. He summarizes this at the end of the book in terms of a psychological development path. In his words,
There is a kind of developmental path toward forming a gay identity that typically involves three broad stages: identity dilemma, identity development, and identity synthesis. Our understanding today is that sexual identity development begins with sexual attraction starting around ten or twelve, and may involve same-sex behaviors around the ages of thirteen to fourteen for those who engage in same-sex behavior. Same-sex behavior may be followed by a questioning of identity and then, for some, labeling of themselves as gay at around fifteen. p. 202
But the last step between development and synthesis is heavily influenced by four main sources of authority in the believer's world: scripture, faith tradition, reason, and personal experience. Yarhouse says, "all believers are encouraged to reflect on the relative weight they give to these different sources of information or authority. Everyone with an opinion on the matter should be able to identify which source or sources of authority are trump for them in these discussions: the Bible, Christian tradition, reason, or personal experience. Everyone favors one or two sources of authority over the others." p.201
He then talks about two scripts for the gay Christian deciding on their identity.
The gay script relies heavily on the discovery metaphor by emphasizing the fact that same-sex attractions signal who a person really is. By doing this, the script categorizes people based on their sexual attractions. In other words, people are defined by who they are attracted to and do not have any choices in the matter.Alternative scripts focus on the metaphor of "integration" and emphasize the fact that people can choose their identities, regardless of their same-sex attractions. One such alternative is an "identity in Christ" script.p.203.
Yarhouse presents the data on the prevalence of homosexuality (single digit percentages) as well as therapy to change orientation (not very successful). Although therapy for change is an option, he cautions us to keep our expectations low. Let God surprise us, not demand a miracle. Finally, he wants us to embrace our family members who are sexual minorities instead of ostracizing them. He exhorts us, "We can support efforts to change sexual orientation, but we can also make sure we communicate to our people that their walk with God, their spiritual maturity, their depth of character is not contingent on the degree of change of sexual orientation they experience. They can pursue a life in Christ, an identity that is central to who they are and is common with all believers." p.217
I know this book does not satisfy gay believers who have reconciled their homosexuality with the Bible and tradition. He is not trying to appease this segment in the church. His appeal is to the friend, parent, spouse, or pastor of a believer who is gay, to one degree or another. He calls us to compassion, which means to "suffer with," rather than add to their suffering by telling them to choose to be straight and stop being gay. Just as we want others to get out of God's way in our lives, so also we should treat others the way we want to be treated, with love.
Yarhouse is not alone in this approach. I have also seen it used in Bill Henson's ministry, Fish on the Other Side. I am happy to see this type of ministry modeled.