Laying a Foundation

I recently had the opportunity to provide staff training at a church that wants to engage the topics of sexual and gender identity in a way that is faithful to Scripture and holds a high view of LGBTQ+/same-sex attracted persons.

Let me say a word about the different formats. We began our time together by having me provide leadership training, which was made available to elders, youth ministry staff, adult volunteers, and so on. It is essential that as a church considers how to best engage with a controversial topic, that they have their leaders poised to learn and to lead.

MB2

Then I provided a public talk in a more intimate setting. They call this the Underground Sessions, which have been done for awhile now and have covered topics meant to challenge and stretch attendees regardless of their position on the subject matter. This may have been the most moving experience for me, as it was more of a TED-like talk with no PowerPoint or other aids–with the exception of a “walk-up video” which is an interesting idea. I don’t know about walk-up videos, but I do like the idea of a more relaxed setting and time to share a little from the heart. So I spoke here for like 18-20 minutes and then we had Q&A for 40 min and took a break and then took questions from the audience for another 40 min or so.

Then they had me in the pulpit to preach! This is not me “living my best life,” as the kids these days say, but I don’t mind giving it a try from time to time. I always have a more appreciation for pastors who preach week in and week out. It’s so humbling and not at all the same as developing a class lecture.

In any case, I wanted to point out how much I appreciate when churches take these kinds of steps to help their congregation thing more deeply about difficult topics. I  know many LGBTQ+/same-sex attracted Christians who would be extremely grateful to know that a church is taking these practical steps to love them better.

The most poignant moment for me: One young man came up to me after one of the talks and asked about what gay Christians bring to the church. He was referencing a comment I made about the gifts I’ve seen among friends of mine who are gay. I shared some of the findings from our forthcoming book, Costly Obedience, in which we discuss some of the unique experiences of celibate gay Christians and how those unique experiences can potentially lead to qualities that may ultimately enhance the Body of Christ. He said he was in tears listening to the idea that he might bring something of value to the church, that by stewarding his same-sex sexuality he might not only derive a personal Christian history of God’s provision in his life, but he too could have something of great value to offer other Christians.

Coming Attractions

IMG_6212Academics measure time in semesters. As the summer comes to a close and we anticipate the start of the fall semester, I wanted to provide an update on two writing projects. These are “coming attractions,” if you will. A few weeks ago I hit “send” on two book-length manuscripts. One was going to Zondervan and the other to Templeton Press. (By the way, this may be the first time I worked on two larger projects at the same time. I try to do one book at a time and write-up articles or develop presentations rather than try to work on another project of that size. But poor planning on my part and an unexpected invitation led to these projects being on my plate at the same time.) Let me tell you about both.

The manuscript that went to Zondervan has the working title of Costly Obedience. It is a book-length treatment of several studies we have been conducting on the experiences of celibate gay Christians. While several studies provide valuable information throughout the book, the central study is of 300 celibate gay Christians who provided information on their psychological well-being, their experience in churches, their sexual identity development, and religiosity. If I do say so myself, it is a fascinating look at the lives and experiences of Christians who are navigating sexual identity and faith and who wish to abide by a traditional Christian sexual ethic. We include the voices of celibate gay Christians in the form of a smaller qualitative study in which we pull quotes on their experiences, and you read about them all throughout the manuscript. Also, I asked several friends and acquaintances of mine if they would share their personal experiences or recommendations for the church, and their voices are also interspersed throughout.

The other manuscript–the one that went to Templeton Press–has the working title of Sexual Identity and Faith. It is a book for clinicians about how to provide therapy to people of faith who are navigating the difficult terrain of sexual and religious identity conflicts. In other words, for some sexual minorities of faith, their same-sex sexuality and their Christian commitments collide in a way that is very difficult for them. When they enter professional therapy, they have historically been offered two broad options: one is to change their sexual orientation; the other is gay affirmative therapy. For about 20 years I and others have been providing therapy that is a “third way” model that tries to be client-centered and identity-focused. It is not a change therapy; rather, it has to do with helping clients achieve congruence so that they can live their lives and form an identity in keeping with their beliefs and values. In 2006, Warren Throckmorton and I wrote a framework for providing such therapy called the Sexual Identity Therapy Framework.

In any case, the book is fairly comprehensive, as it covers advanced informed consent, assessment, and approaches I take in therapy from a more narrative and cognitive-behavioral perspective. So it has to do with the stories that have been told about people, the stories that are currently being told, and the chapters that the person in therapy is writing and will be writing in the years to come–a story about who they are in light of their same-sex sexuality and Christian faith.

Publishing is like farming. You plant a seed (or hit “send”) and find that the harvest is months away. You can look for both of these resources in the summer of 2019.

On Listening…

Listening to Sexual Minorities Cover smOur latest book, Listening to Sexual Minorities: A Study of Sexual Identity and Faith on Christian College Campuses, was released just this week. We have been pleased by many gracious endorsements from a range of perspectives. For example, Pat Griffin offered the following endorsement:

This groundbreaking book is a must-read for all who care about faith-based schools and the LGBTQ students who are a part of these communities. – Pat Griffin, Professor Emerita at University of Massachusetts Amherst and member of the NCAA Seeking Common Ground Leadership Team

From another perspective, consider the endorsement from Shirley Mullen at Houghton College:

This is exactly the kind of book to serve as a catalyst for discussion in the Christian community, especially on college campuses. Its power comes in large part from its concreteness and its foundation in empirical experience, and it brings to life a category that many in the Christian community (and perhaps even in the LGB+ community) are not fully aware of: individuals who fully own their identity as Christians and their identity as sexual minorities. The students’ own stories draw attention to ways in which our policies and our theology—as currently articulated—are not rich enough to encompass reality. So, by beginning with lived experience rather than theology or policy, the book humanizes the issues and requires something of us that an abstract discussion does not. It is also a book that focuses on ministering to the needs of these students. By seriously reckoning with the pastoral dimension of these issues, readers may take greater courage to move beyond and enter into other dimensions of the situation. Finally, this book is an implicit call for more work to be done. From those who believe there is something of deep importance in the traditional Christian understanding of sexual ethics, more work needs to be done to explain that importance in terms that make sense within a broader conversation. I believe we owe this to those who are the subject of this book—and who are currently left alone to work out the painful tension they feel between two identities they truly own. I believe we owe this to those in the LGB+ community who want to understand why many conservative Christians seem willing to risk relationships and community for what appears to be an abstract doctrine. I believe we owe this as a matter of faithful witness to the gospel—in a culture that increasingly sees religious freedom as simply code or cover for bigotry.  – Shirley Mullen, president of Houghton College

I am encouraged when I read both of these quotes. When I read Pat Griffith’s quote, I think of the multiple stakeholders in these discussions and what we can potentially gain in those rare moments when we can identify and work toward superordinate goals.

When I read this quote from Shirley, I was particularly drawn to the idea of “an implicit call for more work to be done.” For all of us invested in these institutions and these students, the questions that comes up for us are, What is that work? What the best ways to go about the task at hand?

In my experience in this space–that is, the cultural and ecclesiastical discussions surrounding norms regarding sex and gender–is that the tendency to talk past one another is rather remarkable. The current political climate seems to be only taking us further away from an ability to listen and take ‘next steps.’ So as you read through the book, let’s begin to think together about the work that needs to be done and the best approaches to the task at hand.

New Book Released

Listening to Sexual Minorities Cover sm

Students arrive on campus with various boxes of belongings to unpack, some heavy, some tidy, some more valuable, some more private. For many students, two of these boxes could be labeled ‘My Faith’ and ‘My Sexuality’–and these two can be among the most cumbersome to handle. How to balance them without having to set one down? How to hold them both closely, but still move forward to settle in with new friends in a new environment? How to keep from dropping one or the other, spilling its embarrassing contents for all to see?

This is what we say in our Preface about what we hope the reader will take away from this book:

We hope that readers will listen to the range of voices and experiences of these students. They are not all saying one thing, and so we have to listen carefully. We hope that Christians will also be more intentional as they engage the people represented in this project. We hope that Christian institutions will support a comprehensive and more nuanced view of personhood, including our sexuality and sexual identity, and that our hopes to build one another up will be reflected in the quality of our programming and in our interpersonal relationships.

This book presents findings from the first two years of a longitudinal study of sexual minority students at Christian colleges and universities. We provide information on their experience of sexual identity development, campus climate, psychological distress, emotional well-being, and religiosity.

The book is now available for order from InterVarsity Press.

 

Grant for the Study of Gender Identity & Faith

Listening to Sexual Minorities Cover smIn 2014 Time magazine featured Laverne Cox on its cover and identified the “transgender tipping point” for society. In the past three years, the topic of gender identity has certainly moved to the center of the cultural discourse on norms regarding sex and gender.

For this reason, I am excited to announce that a research group I have been working with for ten years has recently been awarded a grant from the Louisville Institute to fund a longitudinal study of gender identity and Christian faith. The research group includes Janet Dean at Asbury University, Stephen Stratton at Asbury Theological Seminary, and Michael Lastoria at Houghton College.

The grant from the Louisville Institute will help us study the experiences of Christian college students who are navigating gender identity and faith. The design is longitudinal and will include both quantitative and qualitative data collection.

This research group just wrapped up a project on the experience of sexual identity and faith among Christian college students. Findings from the first two years of that study will be published by IVP Academic (Listening to Sexual Minorities: A Study of Faith and Sexual Identity on Christian College Campuses) in April 2018.