A Curious Trend

opryland hotelI am getting ready for an upcoming conference. I’ll be in Nashville next week at the American Association of Christian Counselors’ World Conference. I have two main things going on: a three-hour pre-conference workshop and a regular workshop. The pre-conference workshop introduces people to the three frameworks I first discuss in the book, Understanding Gender Dysphoria, as well as the Christianity Today article on the transgender phenomenon. Those three frameworks are: Integrity, Disability, and Diversity. I’ll go over these three frameworks and the begin to make application to both sexual identity and gender identity concerns. Then I will move toward case discussion, so that we can consider together the ways these frameworks can inform counseling services.

The regular workshop is on working with Christian parents when their children come out. This is based on working with families over the past 16 years and research we have been analyzing from studies conducted through the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity and through a project headed up by The Marin Foundation. I’ll be making three main points for practical application: map the terrain, recognize the developmental context, and construct a scaffolding for family care.

Ok, it’s this regular workshop I wanted to reflect on a little. There is a curious and somewhat concerning trend I see at professional conferences. Many professionals attend, of course. But I am seeing a remarkable increase in the number of non-professionals who attend in an effort to get help. Let me be clear that I am not critical of this. My heart goes out to these parents and families. What I am saying is that there does not appear to be sufficient resources for the many families who are confused and hurting and trying to find a way to navigate very difficult circumstances. My observation has been that they do not know where to turn.

I’ve wondered whether the closing of Exodus International a couple of years ago, coupled with recent political developments (e.g., SCOTUS ruling) have left Christian parents feeling ill-equipped to know how to respond or where to go for resources when their son or daughter comes out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. I do think many parents feel confused and unsure where to turn, but they do not seem to have resources local to them that they can rely upon to help them navigate this terrain. Perhaps many churches and ministries, too, feel unsure how to be a resource to families.

I tried to develop my workshop with an understanding that there would likely be people who are actually dealing with these challenges currently. I think that is a good principle to follow anyway–to assume that the persons you are discussing in a workshop are in attendance. To demonstrate respect for them and for their circumstances.

I am looking forward to the conference. I often find it to be an encouraging time. I hope it will be encouraging to both professionals and non-professionals who may be in attendance.

8 Comments

  1. I think you’re correct.
    All the traditionalist Christian “responses” to homosexuality have collapsed under the weight of reality.

    You see, two problems have always hampered the church’s response:

    1. Faulty anthropology: the church has never quite understood what homosexuality is.
    They have wilfully ignored the findings of science and far more the personal descriptions of LGBT people themselves.
    They have even maintained their own private definition of homosexuality that differs from the dictionary and common understanding.

    Put another way, it rejected LGBT’s own reality and substituted it’s own (entirely fabricated).

    As a result of this,

    2. They never understood exactly what they were asking LGBT people to do.
    This remains so.

    Again, the church has never really understood what it has traditionally required of LGBT people because it’s refused to understand what it means to be LGBT in the first place.

    So the church’s solutions collapsed on them predictably and they looked foolish in the eyes of the public. Change efforts didn’t bring any change and that was often embarrassing considering the traditional church’s tendency to be loud and insistent by default.

    So in conclusion, the church needs to understand what sexual orientation is. Then and only then will they understand the true cost or burden they are placing on LGBT people when they proscribe gay relationships.
    This is fine by the way, but they must know what the true cost is–I.e. how heavy the burden really is.
    Then and only then will we see realistic or rather reality-based responses to LGBT inreach and outreach.
    But considering Kentucky these days, the church has a long ways to go.

  2. Mark, Hope to see you at the WC. I agree that there are fewer resources out there for parents and some of the more evangelical orgs may be fearful of offering help given the potential of attack from either side.

    So, it is good that non-professionals find your presentations. You do a great job speaking to the regular folk. AACC probably has more non-professionals than LMHPs in attendance. Glad you still go there.

  3. I attended your regular session and found it very helpful to me. I am licensed and have worked with several Christian parents who struggle with loving their children and grieving the loss of dreams they had for them on various levels. Your objectives for the class were met; you focused on helping us educate parents, help them grieve and work through their feelings and then see the big picture of where they want their relationship to be with their kids/loved ones. Great job! – Jeanette

    P.S. I missed getting the slides. Are they still available here?

  4. Mark, I didn’t go to this conference, but I wanted to for other reasons, I haven’t dealt with the issues you are involved with (though I enjoy tremendously your thoughtfulness) but rather with emotional abuse in marriages and how the church responds–or rather, fails to respond, to it. I’m not a counselor; rather I divorced an emotionally abusive professing Christian after 22 years marriage, which in most cases results in a hauntingly similar outcome– you leave the church to save yourself (and your kids) and hope that God is with you. Thankfully this didn’t happen to me, but I had to wrestle with the possibility that I might have to make that choice.

    The lack of knowledge of how destructive this was–or even that it was happening– by the many Christian counselors we spent hours and hours with means that I now spend an awful lot of time educating myself and funneling information to a pastoral counselor in my church. I suppose I’m saying that the “lack of sufficient resources” is an all-over problem, not just in this arena, but in any arena the church has pretended is not happening.

    Were it possible to expand these conferences so that there are “information and help” sessions separate from the professional sessions, I think that could be a very good thing.

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