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Author Archives: Mark Yarhouse

NYWC in Atlanta

atlantaThis week I’ll be joined by Julie Rodgers to speak at the National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC) in Atlanta. We did this earlier this fall in Sacramento. In California, we provided a 5-hour pre-conference workshop titled, “Sexual Identity and the Youth Minister: Walking with LGBT Youth.” We’ll do the same in Atlanta. We plan to go back and forth explaining research conducted through the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity of some of the key considerations for Christian youth who are navigating sexual and gender identity questions. Julie will share from her own experience and connect the dots from what others tell us in surveys and interviews and the lived reality as someone who has been navigating this terrain for many years.

The developmental context is probably the most important thing I try to help youth ministers understand. There are specific milestone events that many LGBT adults identify as important in their own journey. We discuss those, as well as opportunities to explore meaning-making during this stage of life. We will also cover social support and healthy coping. We will try to stay practical and focused on the specific needs of those who are attending.

We also plan to open with a little data from a survey we conducted of youth ministers and how they approach the topic. There is a lot I could say about that study, but it was interesting the young people want to talk about sexual identity. They want to be able to approach youth ministers. As a youth minister, you don’t have to be a certain age or have certain life experiences or hold a certain theological position or have sufficient schooling/education for a young person to come to you. None of those things were connected to having youth come forward to share their same-sex sexuality or gender identity.

The second talk is an abbreviated version of the 5-hour talk. It is titled, “Teens and Sexual Identity.” This is a much less ambitious workshop that goes about 1.5 hours. We’ll discuss the conflict between religious identity (as a Christian) and sexual identity (in light of same-sex sexuality) that a percentage of young people experience. We will again discuss the context of identity development, as well as the messages that a young person hears about identity and community from their faith community and from the LGBT community.

Much of what we share comes from content published in Understanding Sexual Identity: A Guide for Youth Ministry (Zondervan). In fact, this book was written in conjunction with talks given at this same conference last fall. So if you are looking for information on the topic of sexual identity and Christian youth, you might find that book helpful.

 

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Compelling Love

I try to keep up with various documentaries on the topic of sexual identity and LGBT persons. I often use excerpts from some of the better ones in my classes and workshops. There is a really good one that was just released this past week. It is called Compelling Love and you can learn all about it at their web site here.

I have a couple of friends who are interviewed in the documentary, so that alone is meaningful to me.

I also just like the idea of asking people about key concepts that are so frequently tossed around in our society–words like “love” and “tolerance.” The different answers people give throughout the documentary are quite thought-provoking.

Also, I thought one of the most emotionally compelling questions that several people answered had to do with who sits across from you in the cultural debates about sexual identity. This is a great question for all of us to reflect upon.

Ultimately, I think the documentary humanizes the debates that are taking place and helps everyone see through the eyes of the “other” if you will. If you have about 90 min you can spare and have interest in cultivating empathy, perspective-taking, and cognitive complexity, I encourage you to watch the entire documentary. I think you’ll be glad you did.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Forgiveness in Mixed Orientation Relationships

Forgiveness in Mixed Orientation Relationships

The following post is cross-posted at Spiritual Friendship.

The Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity has a new study available online on people in mixed orientation relationships. Recall the mixed orientation couples (MOCs) are relationships in which one partner is straight and the other partner is a sexual minority. By “sexual minority” we mean that the person experiences same-sex attraction independent of identity (that is, they may not self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual). That is a definition used by other researchers in this area and it is not unique to us.

Back to the new study. We’ve been conducting a longitudinal study (a study in which data is gathered over time) of MOCs. This most recent publication examined the experience of disclosure on the part of the sexual minority and the impact of that disclosure on the straight spouse.

Spouses often progress through stages following disclosure and obviously have a lot to navigate. Amity Buxton discusses stages spouses go through following disclosure: 1) Initial shock, denial and relief, 2) Facing, acknowledging, and accepting reality; 3) Letting go, 4) Healing, and 5) Transformation. What we have seen elsewhere is that the impact of disclosure is comparable to what Gordon and Baucom have described in the affair literature. That is, disclosure of same-sex sexuality (which can include disclosure of infidelity) is often experienced as “interpersonal trauma” as it can be a significant betrayal to the offended spouse.

We were looking at the experience and impact of forgiveness on these post-disclosure experiences. Don Baucom and his colleagues say the goal of forgiveness is “to regain a more balanced and compassionate view of the offender and event, decrease negative affect towards and avoidance of the offender and giving up the right to seek revenge or lash out towards the offender.” New understanding, new meaning–these are thought to be important. Also important: forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness sets a stage upon which decisions about whether to reconcile can be made.

What we found was that forgiveness was shown to play a role in how spouses progress through the post-disclosure stages–particularly moving toward the stages of Letting Go, Healing and Transformation. We also saw movement in both forgiveness and post-disclosure stages over the course of a year. Spouses tended to report less cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disruption over time in response to the offense.

What are the practical implications for people who are providing services or ministry to MOCs? MOCs may process disclosure in ways that are similar to how heterosexual couples process affairs. It may be helpful to create space to talk through how disclosure took place, and how each partner processed disclosure, including relational conflicts, rejection, and emotional distancing before and after disclosure.

Processing disclosure and other experiences allows everyone an opportunity to consider if forgiveness is a potential option, as forgiveness provides a healthy way to address the consequences of offenses by allowing for closure to what has been painful; forgiveness, which is itself a process, can also help prepare the couple for reconciliation. If the MOC has chosen to divorce, then forgiveness would not have marital reconciliation as its goal.

If you are interested in past posts on mixed orientation relationships, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and a post with Additional Thoughts on MOCs.

 

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The Sparrow

Our book club read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell this past month. We had quite a range of responses to the book. Some folks liked it; others struggled with it, but that’s true for most of the books we read.

There is a great hook at the beginning of the book that draws the reader in, but at the same time, as one of our group observed, “It’s like reading about the Titanic; you know what’s going to happen and you’re reading to understand how the tragedy came about.” There definitely is that element to it, and the reader is left wondering about the tragedy until nearly the very end of the book (about 90% or more into it).

What I liked about the book was the serious exploration of theodicy or a theology of evil and suffering. This is the area of theology that explores how a good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God exists alongside evil. If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, how does that work in a world in which we come face to face with evil and suffering? The author doesn’t settle for easy answers either. I think that’s what I liked best about the book. However, some in our group felt the author stacked the deck against the main character (essentially every awful thing that could happen to him did happen to him) and so the deck is in that sense stacked against God. Yet we all knew of people whose lives reflected that kind of suffering, almost a Job-like encounter that leaves a person of faith quite uncomfortable. So, yes, the deck was stacked, but the fact that we knew of stories was interesting and the question of theodicy is not only limited to the degree or extent of suffering, so I was inclined to give the author slack in that regard.

The reader comes to care about many of the characters, and the story arc was interesting and well-paced, with difficult questions arising about how good intentions can have disastrous consequences. I really didn’t mind that so many questions were left unanswered until nearly the very end.

I ended up reading the sequel, too, which is called The Children of God. It picks up with where The Sparrow left off and explores the consequences for the main character and for the world and species featured in the first book. I liked the sequel but am still processing some of the ways the author dealt with matters of faith. But, again, the author never takes the easy way out, and as someone who sits with people who are working through pain and suffering, I found that emotionally compelling.

 

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Relational Integration

Psychology-BgIn preparing to lead an opening devotions and prayer with our doctoral psychology faculty, I began to reflect on who we are as faculty in our relationships with our students. I reviewed a line of research began by the late Randy Sorenson and expanded in collaboration between Randy and other colleagues at several integration programs.

Randy was known for the quip: “Integration is caught, not taught.” It has become something of a classic line among educators in integration programs that actually raises more questions than provides answers. How did Randy arrive at that conclusion? Over time.

Randy led a research group that conducted at least five studies I know of on how students learn integration of psychology and Christianity while they are in training to become psychologists in faith-based integration programs. He would develop a relational attachment model for how students learn integration, and in the first two studies the focus was on the impact of students’ own personal therapists, early attachment in their family-of-origin, and their comfort with integration in the therapy they provided. Student indicated the salience of their own personal therapists in shaping their integration. These were what Randy would refer to as “affectively engaged relationships” that provided a venue for learning integration and that overshadowed early attachment figures. Personal therapists tended to intervene as though God were real (and not merely a representation); they were open and non-defensive about integration; they initiated discussions about connections between a student’s experience of God, parents, and the therapist; and they saw a student’s relationship with God as potentially positive and meaningful, among other things.

Randy then turned to the question of how students learn integration from faculty in these same integration programs. Now let me say this: We put a lot of time in these programs toward curriculum development, ordering the course offerings to maximize exposure to what is needed for assessment, clinical practices, ethics, and so on. All of our programs teach various models of integration and test students on their knowledge of these models of integration. But what Randy reported in his third, fourth, and fifth studies in this area was that students learn about integration from real relationships they form with their faculty. Two findings about faculty stood out: 1) Evidence of a process of an ongoing relationship with God, and 2) Emotional transparency.

Here is a conclusion from one of the earlier reports:

From the students’ point of view, the most salient dimension to contribute to their own integration was how well they could determine that a given professor had an authentic, lively and growing relationship with God, coupled with the professor’s nondefensive, emotionally unguarded, and even vulnerable relationship with students.

The conclusion from the final report in this line of research is similar. It is not about “creedal orthodoxy,” let alone memorizing models of integration (e.g., parallels) as such, but rather an

…ongoing process that a mentor is modeling before the students’ eyes in ways to which students feel they have real access personally, perhaps even as collaborators in the project together. … students are saying, “Show me.”

That is powerful.

I try to keep this line of research in my mind at the start of each new academic year. At a practical level, I wrestle each year with how many students to bring onto my research team, which is where most of my mentoring takes place. For me I am balancing a desire to “let everyone on who wants to learn” against the real limitation of “the number of people with whom I can be in an authentic relationship.” Of course, faculty can be open and transparent in the classroom and with larger numbers of students, and I want to do that. But mentoring relationships and research teams lend themselves to increased accessibility, collaboration, and the “Show me” approach.

I concluded this time of devotional reflection with a story I read to our doctoral students before they head off to internship. It’s from Henri Nowen’s book, Reaching Out. Nouwen is visited by a former student who just wants to be with Nouwen for a time. The student says,

I have no problems this time, no questions to ask you. I do not need counsel or advice, but I simply want to celebrate some time with you.

How disarming is that? It’s beautiful. Nouwen relays what happened next:

We sat on the ground facing each other and talked a little about what life had been for us in the last year, about our work, our common friends, and about the restlessness of our hearts. Then slowly as the minutes passed by we became silent. Not an embarrassing silence but a silence that could bring us closer together than the many small and big events of the last year. We would hear a few cars pass and the noise of someone who was emptying a trash can somewhere. But that did not hurt. The silence which grew between us was warm, gentle and vibrant. Once in a while we looked at each other with the beginning of a smile pushing away the last remnants of fear and suspicion. It seemed that while the silence grew deeper around us we became more and more aware of a presence embracing both of us. Then he said, “It is good to be here” and I said, “Yes it is good to be together again,” and after that we were silent again for a long period. And as a deep peace filled the empty space between us he said hesitantly, “When I look at you it is as if I am in the presence of Christ.” I did not feel startled, surprised or in need of protesting, but I could only say, “It is the Christ in you, who recognizes the Christ in me.” “Yes,” he said, “He is indeed in our midst,” and then he spoke the words which entered into my soul as the most healing words I had heard in many years, “From now on, wherever you go, or wherever I go, all the ground between us will be holy ground.”

So the question that I have is this: “What kind of relationships will you form with students now that will lend themselves to this kind of celebration of time together in the years to come?”

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2014 in Personal Integration

 

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On Queer Theory and Practical Engagement

Following a recent engagement with an advocate of Queer Theory, I had the opportunity to reflect on some of the challenges that arise in establishing meaningful lines of communication. Although I was not being asked to participant in a dialogue in this specific exchange, the engagement highlighted for me several of the challenges that would present themselves had that been the format.

Queer Theory is an academic lens that is primarily focused on how we know things to be true and what counts as knowledge, both of which are part of epistemology. Queer Theory is indebted to the writings of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, among others, particularly those who identify existing structures of authority as sources of oppression that must be deconstructed.

For example, Judith Butler, in her book Gender Trouble, stresses the need to deconstruct not only gender, which is widely viewed as socially constructed, but also sex, which is widely viewed as fixed and stable aspect of personhood steeped in biology:

Is there a history of how the duality of sex was established, a genealogy that might expose the binary options as a variable construction? Are the ostensibly natural facts of sex discursively produced by various scientific discourses in the service of other political and social interests? If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called “sex” is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all.

Whereas the biological distinction between male/female had been considered rather immutable, as we can see, there are those who wish to recast sex as just as socially constructed as gender.

That topic alone is worthy of extended analysis. However, I want to focus on the practical challenges associated with entering into dialogue with true believers of Queer Theory. In the exchange I am reflecting on, I was struck by how the appeal by proponents to concepts like microaggressions and, more recently, trigger events, function to manage community discourse on topics of genuine theological debate. (Trigger events are those circumstances that could cause symptoms to surface among those diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

Before we go further, let me state that I believe microaggressions exist. In fact, my research institute has studied the experiences of same-sex attracted students at faith-based institutions of higher education and documented the occurrence of subtle verbal and nonverbal insults and offenses. Microaggressions are real and should be a topic of study.

But what happens if every rational point of disagreement is referred to as a microaggression?

In a recent exchange a Queer Theorist identified the phrase “Love the sinner; hate the sin” as a microaggression. I found this fascinating because, as I mentioned in the exchange, I take a completely different approach to foster cognitive complexity and empathy. I try to understand this phrase through the mind of those who use it. I find that while I do not encourage the use of this particular phrase, I understand how it frequently functions as a heuristic for traditionally believing Christians who wish to hold two claims simultaneously. The first claim being that same-sex behavior falls outside of God’s revealed will for genital sexual expression. The second claim being that there is intrinsic value and worth and dignity in all persons.

One of my goals in these kinds of exchanges is to understand the views of those with whom I disagree. I can appreciate how the “Love the sinner…” language, being as over-used as it has been, has been a source of great consternation to Queer Theorists and the broader LGBT community.

I have not seen this kind of mutual understanding as the goal of Queer Theorists. Rather, my experience has been that it is strategically necessary to frame any contrary assertion – regardless of rational argument – as a microaggression and summarily dismiss it and (by extension) those for whom it has functioned as a meaningful heuristic.

The same claim was made in response to the traditionally-believing Christian’s view that marriage is founded in the creation story as it depicts a male/female union. In other words, this perspective was also deemed a microaggression. I thought this was incredible at the time. Although I marveled at the Queer Theorist’s consistency, I was struck by how this maneuver functions in public discourse about sexual ethics: It shuts down meaningful discussion. There is little that can be said in response to the assertion that ones rational account of sexual ethics is nothing more than an aggressive and dehumanizing source of oppression.

I think a response that could be worth exploring would be to ask the Queer Theorist what kind of assertion could be made to express disagreement with the lens through which the Queer Theorist views the world. In other words, I know that I can argue my case and the case of those with whom I disagree. Can the Queer Theorist articulate a perspective that is not a microaggression or trigger point but which also stands in clear disagreement with the conclusions the person holds as an adherent of Queer Theory? If so, it may be an argument worthy of analysis. If not, it may be best to retire the notion that this was ever a rational dialogue.

 

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APA in Washington, DC

DCThis week is the 122nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA). We are meeting in Washington, DC. I was just up there to work with the National Institute for Corrections on the various challenges that arise for incarcerated persons who are LGBTI. On this trip I will be co-chairing a symposium titled Integrating Identities – Spirituality, Religion, and Sexuality. The other co-chair is Joshua Wolff, a graduate of the Rosemead School of Professional Psychology and an emerging voice in LGBT studies in faith-based institutions of higher education among other areas of interest.

The papers presented here should be interesting. In addition to a study I will be presenting (co-authored with three students and research team members titled, “Experiences of Sexual Minority Students and Alumni in Faith-Based Higher Education”), Stephen Stratton (Asbury Seminary) and Janet Dean (Asbury University) will present a paper titled, “Identity Formation in Context: The Intersection of Sexual Identity and Religious Spiritual Identity.” They will be reviewing relevant themes from two previously-published studies of sexual and religious identity among Christian college students who are also sexual minorities.

The other two papers come from psychologists with expertise in LGBT issues. Glenda Russell (University of Colorado-Boulder) is presenting a paper titled, “Open and Affirming Congregation: Opening What? Affirming Whom?” Finally, Caitlin Ryan (San Francisco State University) is presenting a paper titled, “Beyond Either/Or: Helping Religious Families to Support Their LGBT Children.”

The two discussants (or colleagues who read the papers/PP slides in advance and comment on them and related themes they deem relevant) are John Gonsiorek (Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity) and Tamara Anderson (Biola University).

In addition to this symposium, we have two posters from the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity on Thursday and Saturday. (A poster session involves displaying research findings and discussing them with other professionals.) The Thursday poster is titled, “What are Helpful and Unhelpful Resources to Religious Parents After a Gay Child Comes Out?” This should be interesting in light of Caitlyn Ryan’s presentation noted above and her work directing The Family Acceptance Project. The data we are presenting comes from a collaborative effort with The Marin Foundation and is based on interviews of Christian parents whose children had come out.

The Saturday poster is titled, “Youth Ministers: Attitudes Toward and Experiences with Sexual Minorities.” This poster presents data collected at two youth ministry events where attendees were invited to share their experiences with their churches and with sexual minority youth. This poster is one of several presentations we hope to have out in the next year or so on youth ministry and youth ministry education and LGBT issues facing the church.

There are many other exciting things happening at APA, but these are a few highlights of things I’ll be involved in.

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2014 in Conferences, Presentations, Research

 

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