Edification – Christian Study of GLB Issues

Via the Sexual Identity Institute comes news of the latest issue of Edification (the Journal of the Society for Christian Psychology, and no, I hadn’t heard of it either before reading the ISSI post) which explores how Christians operate in the field of GLB Studies.

Mark Yarhouse contributes a great piece entitled, “Round Peg, Square Hole: Being an Evangelical Christian in GLB Studies”, the money quotes from which are these.

One of the things I tell my students is that if you are studying or making presentations on sexual identity issues for any amount of time and you receive too many pats on the back, you are probably not accurately conveying what we know (and do not know) about the topic. The research in this area is complicated, and it is a (tempting) mistake to “preach to the choir” about what we all agree on. This is a complex and growing area of research, and those who offer strong proclamations are often the least informed or are only conveying a truncated view of the research.

Can a round peg fit into a square hole? Not only is it possible, but sometimes it is useful, as with the original meaning of the phrase. Perhaps there is some value in feeling out of place – in reflecting upon how it can enhance various areas of scholarship. Maybe there is something to be gained when we look at our subject matter from a Christian perspective and attempt to make contributions that reflect a Christian worldview.

Read the whole piece as he surveys what it’s been like being an Evangelical operating in this field. The article is then followed by responses from the like of Andy Comiskey, Kathleen Ritter, Warren Throckmorton and others which engage with Yarhouse’s piece from a number of perspectives. It’s a fascinating read and a great way of providing as much interaction as possible in a limited space.

Yarhouse then responds to these responses and follows with another piece looking at “Finding What Makes a Church Exemplary in its Ministry to Persons who Experience Same-Sex Attraction or who Struggle with Sexual Identity Concerns”. Andrew Marin, are you reading this? Yarhouse and Carr present qualitative research into conservative churches’ response in this area and the outcomes are quite interesting.

What we found was that many churches that are considered exemplary in their ministry to sexual minorities shared much in common. They were usually under-resourced and somewhat invisible within their own communities. They shared a common burden to provide care to “the least of these” even when significant differences existed in terms of theological doctrine. But the pastoral applications and desire to “come alongside” those who are sorting out sexual identity conflicts was perhaps most fundamental in these ministry exemplars, and we hope that this initial study is the beginning of a broader discussion about how churches can facilitate meaningful engagement, support, and ministry to those who are often battered and bruised – often by the very churches that could provide ministry.

Probing stuff, but that’s not all. There is then a study presented into “Characteristics of Mixed Orientation Couples” which analyses key factors in the make-up of gay/straight spouses. It’s fascinating stuff and explores the response of the “straight” partner to finding out his/her spouse was gay/bisexual, the motivations to marry (interestingly, trying to hide same-sex attraction did not feature as a high factor but the desire for a family, to not be lonely and that the couple genuinely fell in love were) and to dissolve a marriage, the on-going nature of the marriage and how self-perceived sexual orientation and attraction changes over a marriage (of note here is that, even with the small sample set, there was a statistically significant shift towards “heterosexual identity and functioning” in the “gay” spouses over the marriage).

To the readership of Edification, it might be noted that Christians are at a unique position at this point in time regarding developing Christian responses to sexual identity concerns. The experience of sexual minorities and heterosexual spouses in mixed orientation marriages is but one expression of sexual identity concerns. Very little has actually been produced for people in mixed orientation relationships that is Christian, psychologically-informed, and culturally competent. While there are some voices in ministry circles discussing sanctification and Christ-likeness (e.g., Comiskey, 2003), there are unique ways in which such concepts might be understood and applied in a mixed orientation marriage, and the issues facing such couples need to be further understood to help make meaningful connections for clinical services and ministry (see Yarhouse & Kays, 2010). While this is admittedly a small sample of the population, research on such couples can provide much needed information that can then be translated into Christian applied psychology, counseling and pastoral care, as it is a unique topic of interest that touches on themes of sexuality, love and sacrifice, marital vows and values, and Christian community response.

Finally, there is a discussion of the role of the exploration of grace and sin within the counselling framework. Once again, good statistical research leads to the following conclusion.

These findings demonstrate the vital role that understanding and receiving God’s grace plays in the lives of Christian.  They offer empirical support for what has been assumed for centuries, answering Tjeltveit’s (2004) challenge to do so.  These data substantiate the important place grace should play in Christian counseling, arguing that grace is indeed an essential element in Christian counseling.  While Christian psychologists and therapists admit the general need for grace to do their work, relying on common grace and God’s special grace to believers, these studies make clear that Christian counselors should consider a more explicit consideration of grace in clinical work.  This effort will require more use of specifically Christian terms and concepts than many Christian therapists are accustomed to, but the prospective good is considerable.  Tapping into such a rich resource of understanding, and breaking down barriers to this kind of approach, are certainly viable strategies for Christian counseling.

After an exploration of Anabaptist approaches to Christian counselling, the journal concludes with a review of Andrew Marin’s “Love is an Orientation”.

Not all will embrace Marin’s approach for constructive and meaningful dialogue that promotes relationship building between the evangelical Christian and gay communities.  Some on the conservative Christian side might disagree with Marin’s theological interpretations of scriptural passages addressing same-sex related behaviors.  Others may likely find that it fails to fully address ecclesiastical concerns, such as the number of denominations recognizing and accepting gay clergy or appointing lay-leadership positions to actively gay people.  Certain members of the gay community might express concern that it falls short of complete acceptance of the gay lifestyle, failing to recognize it as an equally respectable form of sexual expression.  However, Love is an Orientation does not present itself as being an authority on such issues and other related concerns involved in the moral debate, but rather draws its strengths from elevating the conversation beyond non-agreeable topics.  As a result, Andrew Marin’s work establishes itself as a middle ground and invites people from both the evangelical Christian and gay communities to engage in more purposeful and less destructive dialogue—to be countercultural to the relational norm.

Great stuff. The reviewer recognises that what Marin is doing is not engaging in the theological debate on this issue, but rather following a calling to try and build bridges between two often overly hostile communities. Though such an approach might be counter to the pastoral approach some of us take (I am much more challenging in my pastoral encounters with those struggling with same-sex attraction, but then I am trying to fulfil a different role), we all need to recognise that what Marin is trying to achieve is not “victory” for one side or the other but rather to create a dialogue that is so often lacking and that this whole journal issue tries to contribute to.

In a time when society is witnessing increased publicity of prejudicial behaviors, such as bullying directed toward same-sex attracted people and religious protests at funerals for gay soldiers, Marin’s Love is an Orientation is a necessary and highly relevant assessment of the current state of relationship between the gay and conservative Christian communities and a needed voice calling for change.  His daily, collaborative work with gay persons affords him a unique understanding of, and compassion for, this severely underserved population.  He offers his perspective in hopes that both communities can begin to turn toward each other instead of furthering the divide between them.  Marin’s work continues to pave the way for a critical Christian understanding of the nature of the issue, and is a significant step forward in building a humble, sincere, and meaningful bridge into the heart of the GLBT population.

This journal is worth a good hour or more of your time to read through and digest. Challenging at some points and confirming of our understanding at others, this collection of papers deserves to be explored and talked about over the next few months.  Given that it’s freely available online (and embedded below) you have no excuse not to!

Click to access edification_4_2.pdf

3 Comments on “Edification – Christian Study of GLB Issues

  1. I'm halfway through Marin's book, and finding it helpful.

    Perhaps he is too critical of Christians, but for someone like me, who is ignorant of the details of the debate, I am learning a lot.

    I'll bookmark this page and come back to read the journal when I've finished the book.


    • Or not so much.

      Someone who, on becoming a Christian, realises that promiscuity can just, y'know, stop having sex with strangers. Would someone who abandoned heterosexual fornication count their years of heterosexuality from when they first realised they were straight, or from their first sex act? Don't you find the double-standard significant?

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