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Marin’s Our Last Option

The new book by Andrew Marin is out. It’s titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility Can Save the Public Square. It is published as an e-book and is a straightforward and accessible read.

imageAs someone who spends a lot of time promoting (and participating in) dialogue among people who view the topics of sexual orientation and identity differently, I found the book extremely interesting. Marin has lived in Boystown (a predominantly gay neighborhood in Chicago) for years and launched The Marin Foundation to promote dialogue between the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and the evangelical Christian community. It has been noted that the strengths of Marin’s first book, Love Is An Orientation, were his ideas for how to build interpersonal bridges and enter into more more constructive and meaningful discussions.

So when Marin offers ideas for promoting civic engagement, I think it’s important to read what he has to say. Given the context in which Marin cultivated and practiced his commitment to relationship-building, it comes as no surprise that LGBT issues play a central role in the book. But that topic is illustrative. It would be a mistake to limit the book to that topic. There are many applications and a much larger vision on display throughout.

Marin introduces the reader to his model for civic engagement in a pluralistic culture. He refers to it as the Composite Engagement Model (CEM). It has four principles: 1) A Proper Implementation of Reconciliation; 2) Practice the Countercultural Act of In-Person Interaction; 3) Build Bridges Instead of Armies; and 4) Fidelity Leads to Sustainability.

His opening chapters set the stage. Most of the book is dedicated to unpacking and illustrating each of these principles. The remaining chapters cover models of civic engagement and the application of CEM and religion and CEM and politics.

I hope people will read Marin’s book and consider his thesis, as well as other perspectives that may be a part of moving forward in a diverse and pluralistic culture. After all, many Christians have expressed concern that recent and pending rulings may restrict religious liberties in the U.S. in the years to come. Some conservative religious readers may question if Marin concedes too much in the culture wars. I can hear that concern, but the concern is often expressed by those who believe Christians should oppose each and every instance of divergence (away from a Christian ethic). Marin is at the very least asking Christians to think that through in light of a culture that has changed dramatically.

I believe Christians could benefit from thinking outside the box of the current models of cultural engagement. I was recently listening to Doug Laycock, a respected religious liberty attorney discuss some of the differences in the role of religion and the public perception of religion in the French Revolution and in the U.S. I will not be able to do the argument justice here, but let me say this: In part because religion does not have a positive cultural association in French history (as contrasted with the positive cultural associations in the U.S.), we see a very different contemporary relationship with organized religion in France. If Christians continue to engage in the culture wars as they presently do, will we be at risk of losing positive cultural associations and good will that have long been a part of our history?

If this thesis is right, would Christians benefit from thoughtful reflection on alternative models of engagement? I think it is worth careful analysis, and Marin places a model on the table for our consideration, and it’s one he has tried to live out and apply to a particularly divisive topic.

 

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Gender Identity Journeys

The institute I direct at Regent University has a new resource out titled Gender Identity Journeys: A Workbook for Navigating Gender Dysphoria. We occasionally produce these workbooks–typically on sexual identity–and have one for learning practical coping skills, one to help a young adult find his or her path (in light of sexual identity questions or concerns), and one based upon a narrative understanding of sexual identity. This is our first on gender identity conflicts or what is commonly referred to as gender dysphoria.

The idea to create a workbook came from working with older adolescents and adults who experience gender dysphoria, as well as providing consultations to individuals, couples, families, and organizations. There is just very little out there, and much of what is available might not resonate with a Christian who is trying to sort through a range of complex considerations.

gender identity journeys picGender dysphoria refers to the experience of having a psychological and emotional identity that is incongruent with one’s birth sex–this incongruence can be the source of deep and ongoing discomfort.

The classic example would be that of the person who feels she is a woman trapped in a man’s body. This is a rare phenomenon by all estimates. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) estimates that between 0.005% to 0.014% of adult males and 0.002 to 0.003% of adult females have gender dysphoria (though the actual figures are likely higher when you include children, adolescents and adults who experience less intense gender dysphoria and do not meet criteria for a formal diagnosis nor have been seen at a specialty clinic.

In any case, the workbook defines terms and provides a little background information. Then it covers issues that may come up with identity and labels. Then it moves toward steps in disclosing to others, identifying and expressing feelings, finding healthy ways to cope, and exploring matters of faith and religion. There is also a chapter on various pathways based on a vignette in which a person considers a range of options.

I should also add that I was grateful to have some remarkable reviewers. Among those who offered assistance, one is a male-to-female (MtF) transsexual (has undergone hormonal treatment and sex reassignment surgery). Another is a female-to-male (FtM) transgender person. Still another describes herself as gender queer. A fourth reviewer is gay. All of them are Christians. Needless to say, their feedback was extremely helpful in making the resource comprehensive, relevant, and practical.

It is the kind of resource I wish I had for some of the people I worked with previously, and, like many workbook resources, I think it captures several of the topics and concerns that would be covered in the course of meeting with someone who is navigating this terrain.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

On Telling People How To Navigate Sexual Identity

imagesSeveral people have asked me over the years about what I think about creative ways to live as a Christian sexual minority. I’m thinking of a conservative Christian sexual minority. Not long ago, the primary way to do it was to get into an ex-gay ministry of one kind or another. The way to live as a sexual minority was to no longer be a sexual minority by virtue of a change to heterosexuality. Even when that narrative was in full swing (and it still is in many places in the US and worldwide), I was asked about things like platonic partnerships or what people would talk about as lifelong relationships in which the two people who are either emotionally or sexually attracted to one another define the limits of their relationship in a way that reflects a traditional Christian sexual ethic.

If you are reading this and saying, “Why don’t they just get married?!?” or “Why put themselves through that kind of hell?!?” — it may help to understand that the people asking these questions are traditionally believing Christians. That is, they are Christians who adhere to a sexual ethic that states that sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman would be wrong. That’s not a discussion I’m getting into today. There is a place for that discussion, but let’s go with the premise that we are respecting a person’s stated beliefs and values surrounding sexual morality. What then?

I have conducted research on people who have tried to change their sexual orientation through involvement in religious ministries. Among other observations, I would say that most people did not have as much success in experiencing a shift along a continuum as they wanted coming into the ministry. There is more that could be said about that whole area, but I’ll leave it at that for now. I have for years supported folks who believe this is the best path for them, and I know several people who would continue to say this is the best direction for them.

I have also conducted several studies of people in mixed orientation marriages. That is, marriages in which one partner is straight and the other is a sexual minority (i.e., experiences same-sex attractions independent of sexual behavior or identity labels). These relationships are intriguing. I do not promote them–particularly one’s steeped in an ex-gay narrative of 180-degree change–but I do try to support people who are in them. I think there is a new generation of mixed orientation marriages that are coming out of a very different storyline (different than the ex-gay narrative), and I am curious to see what those marriages look like over time. I also want to support folks in these marriages.

Then there are Christians who decide that the best resolution is celibacy. To some, they have emerged as a new voice in the discussions about navigating sexual identity as a Christian. I want to support them as well, and I agree with those who say that we should conduct research to look at what this experience is like for a larger number of people over time (perhaps with a comparison group of single heterosexuals and married straight and gay persons–now that would be an interesting study).

But what about Christians who enter into a platonic partnership of some kind? (There could be many variations on this theme.) I am raising this question not only because I’ve been asked this question several times over the years, but also because of a new blog that is getting some attention. The blog is A Queer Calling, and it is written by two women who describe themselves as “a celibate LGBT Christian couple.”

cropped-prayerful-catI don’t really take a position that says such an arrangement is “right” or “wrong”. It’s kind of like the question I get about whether it’s ok for a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction to refer to him/herself as “gay.” I just don’t weigh in as though I have the deciding vote on whether its ok or not. Part of my thinking is this: I don’t face this issue in my life. For those Christians who do face this issue, I want to be supportive as they navigate this terrain. I imagine it’s hard enough to navigate without having the crowd in the stands telling them exactly how to do it. I also want to foster the kind of spiritual atmosphere and maturity that will aid them in decision-making.

You might ask what will come of hosting a public blog about that personal decision, but it is what they feel they can do, and perhaps they hope it will foster a kind of discussion about various options or life trajectories. I suspect that for them it feels like the “risks” (if you will) associated with a partnership of this kind outweigh the potential for loneliness or isolation many people report in remaining single. You might argue that they could do something more communal, which could in theory increase some of the intimacy while reducing some of the temptation. But each relationship you add creates a new set of expectations and obligations that would also need to be navigated for the kind of sustained/lifetime intimacy that is being sought.

No one resolution will fit every person’s experience. I’m not saying there is no “right” and “wrong”, but I am saying that it has been useful to show some humility as the very people involved try to sort this out. This may feel like new territory to many conservative Christian sexual minorities, and it would be good to support them, to come alongside them–even in circumstances in which you may believe they are not getting it exactly right–rather than keep them at arm’s length or judge them from a distance. If a couple is struggling to honor God with their lives together, and they are fully cognizant of the upsides and downsides of the various paths, then I would want to enter in and help them (pray for them, encourage them) in their exploration of creative alternatives.

I also want to promote discussions among Christian sexual minorities–so that they are able to talk to one another about this. Wouldn’t that be more helpful? How does trying to live as a celibate LGBT Christian couple sit with other Christian sexual minorities who share their values and are trying to figure all of this out? I imagine some would encourage a path to intimacy that reflects sharing more of a life in community rather than in an exclusive relationship, but others might disagree. In any case, I’m interested to hear their take on it.

 
 

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An Exercise in the Removal of Saccharine

more-reflections-smallI love the exchange between Melinda Selmys and her husband recounted in the opening pages of Sexual Authenticity: More Reflections. They are discussing her earlier book, Sexual Authenticity, and he says of it: “It’s shit. It’s fake. It’s saccharine. It’s not honest. It’s not you. Write it again.”

That is part of the backdrop for the book Sexual Authenticity: More Reflections.

Another part of her motivation to offer further reflections was the way in which she and her book had been surreptitiously brought into a larger culture war. Reflecting on one of her first public interviews in which she shared the spotlight with a reparative therapist, she writes, “I felt like a fraud. I’d written a book about how the Culture Wars mentality was wrong, and suddenly I was in the thick of that war, an artillery piece in the battle against the Gay Agenda.”

But Selmys has another personal reaction I have not known:

Moreover, I knew that the politicization of my sexuality was an obstacle to the work that I actually wanted to be doing. I was producing the kind of ex-gay narrative that appeals to good Catholic mothers and father and sisters and brothers who dearly want their loved one’s to be able to achieve a full, vibrant, healthy, happy heterosexuality – the kind of ex-gay narrative that has failed the LGBTQ community so badly because it falls afoul of the real experience of many people with SSA [same-sex attraction]. (p. 37)

selmysI haven’t had this reaction because I do not personally experience my sexuality in this way. As an academic who conducts research on sexual identity, however, I have seen my research used toward political ends in ways that I, too, believe have not been helpful to sexual minorities who are navigating this terrain. I am thinking primarily of the Ex-Gays? study. The reality is that 90% of my research is actually on sexual identity development and the experiences of sexual minorities of faith in Christian colleges and universities, in mixed orientation marriages, and in navigating family relationships. So I appreciated her transparency in sharing this motivation to offer more reflections.

The sections that were particularly compelling to me were her personal accounts of how trying to follow the expectations of others (and their related narratives) did great damage to her and her marriage. It gets into the whole area of what to do with one’s same-sex sexuality. Celebrate it? Keep it at arm’s length? Vilify it? Selmys comes to the conclusion that her same-sex sexuality is not “accidental” to her sense of self or her marriage. That doesn’t mean that her same-sex sexuality is central either. She is committed to naming false dichotomies:

Nor is [my homosexuality] accidental to my marriage. I did a lot of damage, both to my identity and to my relationship with my husband, by trying to conform to some sort of one-size-fits all narrative of sexual complementarity. Because I could not acknowledge the part of me that is “queer” in the early years of our relationship, I withheld that part of me from our marriage and tried to replace it with a simulacrum of “authentic femininity” which was not in any way authentic to me. This was a significant omission in my gift of self. (p. 67)

Readers of her blog will recognize many section of the book. She will offer a post and then reflect on it as she has clearly interacted with readers around significant themes that have shaped her thinking in an area. That may sound like it would be somewhat disjointed, but the book does not read that way at all. It is well-written and flows from reflection to reflection in ways that readers will appreciate. The two things that stand out to me as possibly “difficult” about her book are that (1) Selmys, as a Catholic, engages with Catholic theology and philosophy in ways that may not be as familiar to evangelical Protestants, and (2) she pulls no punches. I found the connections to Catholic theology interesting and helpful. Too often evangelicals limit their connections to what John Piper or Tim Keller have said. It’s not that these pastors and theologians are the concerns–it’s that evangelicals can forget the broader theological landscape that is in front of them.

As for the punches not being pulled, let me offer this as an aside: Melinda helped me with a writing project on gender dysphoria (a workbook soon to be available through the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity), and she has no qualms about telling a writer what she thinks about his/her work. Within a matter of weeks, I was fully aware of the sections of my writing that she did not like. It was refreshing and humbling. Well, More Reflections is kind of like that. Her writing is refreshing and honest in ways that are just not that comfortable for the existing narratives for faithful sexual minorities in the church today. Those narratives, of course, are largely “ex-gay”, reflecting a clean transformation into a pure heterosexuality, which has not been her experience (she names and challenges an array of narratives on pp. 56ff). And I don’t think it is most people’s experience, and it is THAT narrative (not any one narrative but dozens and dozens of comparable narratives) that needs to be told for the church to come to a more realistic understanding of what pastoral care to sexual minorities can look like.

When I first started conducting research on sexual identity, I participated in a think tank with many folks on the topic of sexuality and marriage. (Let me say outright that I love think tanks. This one met in Lourdes, France, and…well…we were there to think. Not a bad arrangement in my view.) One of the other participants was the late Fr. John Harvey, the founder of Courage, a ministry to homosexuals in the Catholic Church. I enjoyed Fr. Harvey as a faithful man with a gentle spirit. I would have loved to have had a “beer summit” with he and Melinda to discuss pastoral care to the sexual minority. In fact, these two would not have needed me; I’d be there for the beer. But to have them engage in a thoughtful, honest discussion about the lives of Christian sexual minorities is the kind of exchange that is needed with many Christian leaders to move the church away from the culture wars and toward genuine pastoral care. I did not experience Fr. Harvey as interested in the culture wars, either, but so many Christian leaders today are–and there is an important shift that simply needs to take place.

Pastoral care based on a saccharine-based sexual identity narrative will only offer peace to those of us who do not experience sexual identity conflicts. That’s not pastoral care at all. It’s stress management for the majority while our brothers and sisters suffer in the trenches of a battle they should never have had to face on their own.

I have been encouraged lately by the voices of many Christians who are engaging this topic from the standpoint of their own lived reality. People like Melinda Selmys. People like Wesley Hill, Ron Belgau and Julie Rodgers. Others who write alongside them at Spiritual Friendship. This is a book that will stand alongside others like it and alongside the thoughtful wave of younger, devout Christians who are engaging this topic and the church in a more public and honest way.

 

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Private Integrity

The year before last I was driving home from a psychology conference with two of my colleagues, and we were discussing ways in which technology could be a resource in facing any number of issues people deal with in our culture. We began sharing back and forth about some of those challenges, and one that we spent more time on what that of pornography. It’s been estimated that as much as 40% of web traffic is porn related, and numerous articles have recently pointed out ways in which it can have an effect on a person or couple.

So we began to explore how technology could be leveraged to help people who struggle with porn and who want to decrease their porn use. We discussed what people often do in counseling to make changes in this area and how to translate that into an app. That conversation led to a process I never thought I’d be a part of: app development.

Let me say with confidence that app development takes time and you make a lot of mistakes along the way. But that is just part of the story. The other part of the story is that I am excited to say we have finished it up and it has been released.

screenshots-calendar-1 The name of the resource is “Private Integrity,” and we have officially launched it as both a website and an app–the app is available in English and Spanish through the iTunes Store. It already has one nice review from a user.

The website is www.privateintegrity.org. We are actually signing people up for free through the month of January, so if you know someone who might benefit from this resource, please point them in that direction.

Here is a little bit about the resource (from our web site):

Pornography is an easy behavior to use to help yourself feel better momentarily. Many individuals end up feeling guilty and then once again loop back into the process of looking at pornography again. It becomes a downward spiral. Private Integrity reverses this process and helps you create an upward spiral. Instead of a downward spiral that results in more pornography viewing, you are going to learn how to use exercises to increase positive behaviors and decrease porn viewing. – See more at: http://www.privateintegrity.org/
 
 

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Deep Faith

in-search-of-deep-faith_jim-belcherJim Belcher, author of Deep Church, has a new book out titled, In Search of Deep Faith. The book was sent to me from the publisher, InterVarsity Press, as a gesture of goodwill at Christmas. These are always nice gifts, but I tend not to read them. This one caught my eye, however.

I think there are a few reasons why I cracked this book open. The main one was that we were just on sabbatical in Cambridge last year, and the setting for In Search of a Deep Faith has Jim Belcher and his family on sabbatical in Oxford. He had taken his family there for his sabbatical, which is actually a year-long time of rest and spiritual pilgrimage.

The fact that Belcher is there with his family also was a hook. Our children were not exactly keen on Cambridge. They missed their friends, their sports events, their devices… You get where I’m going. Well, Jim faces similar challenges–only for a longer period of time.

Many of Belcher’s  heroes are actually Christians who are heroes to many believers. There is William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Corrie ten Boom, and many more. I had actually read a biography about Wilberforce when I was on sabbatical. I had previously read a bibliography on Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas – and then out book club read it again this year. All that to say: a number of these folks were already on my mind because of the depth of their faith and the life lessons they teach us as Christians.

The reader will find those familiar accounts, but Belcher writes in a way that points out some interesting sights along what may be familiar terrain. I appreciated reading his accounts of Bonhoeffer’s last days and what it means to die well; of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom’s experiences and what it means to find peace in the midst of suffering.

I was encouraged (as a father who is raising three children) to read another father’s account of how these stories serve as life lessons for Christian faithfulness, lessons you want to pass along to your kids. So there is this interesting mix throughout the book of historical accounts, spiritual reflections, and stories of family treks to historic locations and lessons he and his wife wish to teach their children. He summarizes what he hoped the pilgrimage would be for his family and for the reader:

–that the stories and myths and metaphors we were experiencing, the places and people we were encountering, would activate our imaginations and illuminate for us the different realities competing for our affections; that through these stories and encounters we would learn about our roots, understand the journey we are on and recognize the importance of knowing our destination. (pp. 258-259)

Belcher is a good writer. It is an easy book to read, and the whole thesis is one that challenges all of us to live our lives with a greater appreciation for the trajectory we are on, with a greater sense for the end toward which we are all moving.

 

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

Just got a report from WordPress on what people liked on the blog over the past year. Let me say at the outset that I am not much of a blogger. I write more when I have time off from my normal job, and that isn’t often. So my writing is infrequent, and it is mostly about stuff that I have either published or am reading for my book club or other readings.

2013_2014-in-Sand-724x479So what did people tend to read or like? The most popular posts were on sexual minorities in faith-based higher ed (here) and the series on mixed orientation couples (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, additional thoughts). I’m not too surprised by this. These were pretty interesting studies, and part of what I try to do with these posts is make them a little more accessible to people who are not likely to read original research. There is also a very popular blog post from a few years back on value conflicts in counseling. The legal and ethical issues surrounding whether a counselor can/should/should not refer a client around value conflicts continues to be an interesting subject.

Most people come here from Facebook, which is likely due to the ISSI FB web page. I update that much more frequently and then link to articles I have over here. If you read the blog but haven’t checked out that page, it might be of interest to you.

Folks came to the site from 124 different countries. Interesting. Mostly the U.S. and Canada, but don’t sleep on Australia and the U.K., which are coming in third and fourth.

As I look forward to 2014, I anticipate stories about faith and sexuality will primarily be my focus, although I just finished reading a book about faith that has nothing to do with sexuality, and I will have a post up soon about that. It was really good, and it brought back a lot of memories from my time in Cambridge. Also, I have new book scheduled for release in April titled Sexuality and Sex Therapy: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. You can read more about it here. I imagine I’ll post about that as we get closer to the publication date. It looks like I’ll participate in a dialogue at a national psychology conference, so I may discuss aspects of that if appropriate. I’ve also been asked to consult more on gender identity/dysphoria, so I may post a little more about that in the coming year. That is a fascinating area that deserves more time and attention.

So there you have it. Looking back at 2013 and looking forward to 2014. Let’s go.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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