A Domain-Based Approach to the Integration of Psychology and Christianity

My friend, Bill Hathaway, and I just completed a book project we began some 10 years ago. We both got caught up with other responsibilities, but we recently returned in earnest to this project, wrapping it up just a few weeks ago. The book is titled The Integration of Psychology and Christianity: A Domain-Based Approach.

Here are the five domains we cover:

  • worldview integration
  • theoretical integration
  • applied integration
  • role integration
  • personal integration

The book is scheduled for publication later this year, and I have to say that after all this time, I am really looking forward to it being available. I’ll post more about it as more information is released, but just wanted to keep it on your radar.

Recent Podcasts

Here are a couple of recent podcasts on topics that might be of interest to some readers.

This is the Think Biblically podcast hosted by Sean McDowell and Scott Rae. We discuss my book (with Dr. Zaporozhets), Costly Obedience: What We Can Learn from the Celibate Gay Christian Community (Zondervan).

https://www.biola.edu/blogs/think-biblically/2020/costly-obedience

Here is another podcast, and this one is hosted by Ed Stetzer for Moody Radio. Don’t be fooled by the title; we actually discuss gender identity and transgender experiences rather than sexual identity. If you are interested in gender identity, you might want to check out Emerging Gender Identities: Understanding the Diverse Experiences of Today’s Youth (Brazos).

https://www.moodyradio.org/programs/ed-stetzer-live/2020/10/10.03.20-understanding-sexual-identity/

Forthcoming Book

Brazos coverAs we are finalizing a few details in our book, Emerging Gender Identities, we’ve received a couple of initial endorsements. Thought I’d pass them along. Here is one from Jenell Paris:

Mark Yarhouse and Julia Sadusky unpack one of today’s pressing issues: transgender and emerging gender identities. As Christian psychologists, they integrate Christian insight with accurate scientific knowledge, offering well-informed and up-to-date understandings of a rapidly changing dimension of society. Current political and cultural discourse offers little room for critical engagement, and Yarhouse and Sadusky courageously offer wisdom and advice. They challenge Christians to move beyond getting theology right, even asserting that correct theological knowledge doesn’t always translate into knowing how to minister to persons with nonnormative gender identities. With many examples, they encourage Christians to accompany others, not simply instruct or admonish them from a distance. They invite the reader to renew their encounter with a merciful God, as part of developing ministry that incarnates God’s love. This book will be a gift to pastors, youth pastors, parents, and friends of transgender and gender expansive individuals. I came away with my faith strengthened, more certain that I can entrust my loved ones to Christ and that I can continue to question, learn, and wonder about transgender and gender expansiveness. My only disappointment is that I’ve only read the book once, so far!    – Jenell Paris, professor of sociology and anthropology, Messiah College

Here is another endorsement from Stanton Jones: 

We are faced with a dizzying ongoing evolution in cultural understanding of and recommended responses to a kaleidoscope of emerging gender identities. This book offers richly informed and thoughtful Christian analysis of these phenomena, along with compassionate and challenging recommendations for ministry. Yarhouse and Sadusky have the breadth of knowledge and experience to challenge readers to move toward more theologically grounded and pragmatically effective engagement. – Stanton L. Jones, provost and professor emeritus, Wheaton College; coauthor of the God’s Design for Sex family sex-education book series

Rech Inaugural Address

Just before our Spring Break, I delivered the inaugural address for the Dr. Arthur P. Rech and Mrs. Jean May Rech endowed chair. The video has just been made available, which you can view below. The title of the talk is “Sexual Identity, Gender Identity, and Christian Faith: Or, On Being an Evangelical Christian in LGBTQ+ Studies.”

COVID-19 and Our Overseas Adventure

IMG_4599We are back in the U.S. after quite a surreal experience overseas. We departed the U.S. for the Czech Republic on March 5, which was our college’s spring break, and we had two conferences on our schedule. The first was an all-day conference on applied integration on Saturday, March 7. This was for an association of Christians interested in the dialogue between the fields of psychology and theology. We then had most of Sunday off. The second conference started with a meet-and-greet on Sunday night and then was held Monday through Wednesday afternoon, March 9-11.  This was for Christian mental health professionals from Eastern European countries. In any case, this conference also went well, but we were beginning to hear about the corona virus (COVID-19) and some of the concerns about how many conditions were worsening, particularly in Italy.

By the time the conference ended on March 11, some flights appeared to be consolidating due to a decrease in air travel that I assume necessitated some quick maneuvering by the airlines. We had originally set aside a couple of days for site-seeing with the intention of returning on March 14.

So we weren’t sure what to make of the news reports. Different reports seemed to be saying different things. We were alerted on March 12, however, that new measures were being taken and that we needed to return to the U.S. by March 13 at midnight. There was some confusion surrounding early reports, as it was unclear whether we’d be stuck where we were for 30 days if we didn’t return by that date/time. It turned out as U.S. citizens we could return later, but we were strongly encouraged to make changes to our flights.

The problem with making changes to our flights was that there appeared to be no way to do that. We tried by phone multiple times for as little as 1 hour and as much as 90 minutes at a time (on hold). Our call was dropped. We tried online, but pages either weren’t loading or they didn’t have the links they ordinarily would have to make flight changes. It was bizarre. There was no way to change flights. Some of our group went to the airport to change their flights with a real person only to find that they were redirected (by real people) to change flights by phone or internet; they were not going to assist with flight changes at the airport. It was surreal.

We ended up actually trying to enjoy the rest of our stay, content that we had taken every step we could take to change our flights but that we were blocked at every turn. Then, when we were checking in (during that 24-hour window before a flight takes off), which was the morning of March 13, we were given the option of changing our flight for the first time. All of the flights would put us on a waitlist with the exception of one, which had some open seats, which we all quickly snatched up. So we left later that same day for the airport and arrived home later that same night.

planeThat last morning before we departed for the airport was really strange. Prague is normally packed with tourists. This time as we walked around the city, it was just the opposite. Very few people were taking in the sites. Museums had closed, as had other popular tourist sites. Some shops were open with very friendly staff hoping we would stop in and buy a souvenir.

Once we were back in the U.S., we began a 2-week self-isolation per directions from the CDC and the college. The college I work for extended spring break to provide students time to leave campus and faculty members time to move their courses online, so I’ve spent this week in online trainings and just flipping my classes, as well as reaching out to students and my research team to help them adjust to the present circumstances.

The college has done an exception job prepping faculty members, in my opinion. Many of my colleagues have not taught online, so there is a bit of a learning curve.

This is obviously just a small event in a much larger story of this pandemic. This is just a  very challenging time for everyone, and there is a fair amount of free-floating anxiety in the face of uncertainty. This is to be expected. At the same time, we believe that God is providing for us each day, and that there is great encouragement to be found in reflecting in gratitude on God’s many provisions for us. For me, God’s provision included, among other things, the opportunity to be a part of these two conferences, as well as the timely departure and return to the U.S. with my colleagues, so that we could travel home together.

Another provision, of course, is the very technology that enables us to stay connected for the remainder of the semester, so we turn our attention to the work that is in front of us that enables us to do just that.

The Next Chapter

In my role as a clinical psychologist I often think about the people I serve as having a life made up of many chapters. When I meet with them, I listen for how the chapters that have already been written have affected them, and I think about how our work together will be a chapter, too, and how what we do together will in some small way contribute to the many chapters that are yet to be written.

My own life has had many chapters, and one of those professional chapters is coming to a close, just as a new chapter is about to be written.

It was announced earlier this week that I’ve accepted a new position at Wheaton College. This transition will take place in July of 2019. Here is a write up about it. We are excited about this next chapter, but it is also hard to leave a community we have grown to love over the past 20 years. We have time to prepare for this transition and are grateful for that.

I anticipate that while this is a new vocational assignment, I will continue to research in LGBTQ+ studies. That has been and will likely continue to be my main area of integration scholarship.

Along those lines, I have two books scheduled for release in 2019. One is on how clinicians can work in therapy when clients report a conflict between their sexuality and faith. The other book is titled Costly Obedience, and it is a research-informed look at the experiences of celibate gay Christians. I’m currently working on a book tentatively titled, Emerging Gender Identities, scheduled for publication in 2020.

 

Thoughts on “Boy Erased”

boy erasedThis past weekend I had the chance to take in the movie Boy Erased with some of the students from my research team. It wasn’t quite what I expected. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but it was an engaging movie–sad in many ways and potentially triggering for people who have experienced religious trauma. I also thought it could lead to better discussions about faith and sexuality if we can find a way to press into the challenges we face in entering into difficult dialogues.

The movie is based on a true story, but I suppose I may have expected an ‘over-the-top’ portrayal of Christianity, a caricature that would be unrecognizable to me, as so often happens in movies that attempt to portray the Christian faith. A caricature can be readily dismissed.

But that didn’t happen. I’ve seen many clients over 20 years of practice who have had really difficult experiences with fundamentalist church settings and associated ministries. Some have been blamed for their same-sex sexuality; they were told it was “willful disobedience” to have the attractions they have had since puberty. Others have been told they don’t have enough faith or haven’t put in enough effort to truly change. So while people may disagree about how representative the experiences in the movie are of different families, churches and ministries they know, I don’t think there is any doubt that what was portrayed reflects some people’s experiences with those who represent Christ, as heartbreaking as that is.

Here are a few things that came to mind as I watched the movie. Think of these as related to FAQs Christians often have about same-sex sexuality and faith:

  • Just as straight people find themselves attracted to the opposite sex, a percentage of people will find themselves attracted to the same sex; they do not choose to have same-sex attractions. When Christian leaders or others discuss having same-sex attractions as “willful disobedience,” we are already so off course in our care that we are likely to do great harm to someone navigating this terrain.
  • It is unusual for same-sex sexuality to go away through ministry interventions. I was co-principal investigator on a 7-year longitudinal study of attempted change through such ministries. I don’t think any of the ministries we approached practiced what was portrayed in the movie; rather, the participants in our study indicated that the ministries generally provided small group discussion, Bible study, prayer, corporate worship, and so on. In any case, while many people did report diminished same-sex behavior and the decision to dis-identify with a gay identity, fewer experienced diminished same-sex attractions, and categorical change from gay to straight was even less likely.
  • On a related point, a person can take practical steps to foster their relationship with God and grow in Christlikeness and not report a corresponding change in their sexual orientation. These two things should not be treated as though there is a necessary relationship between them.
  • There is potential for great harm from those who are in spiritual authority as they wield that authority with a person who is vulnerable and navigating same-sex sexuality and faith. Those in authority ought to glean an important lesson in walking with greater humility and gentleness as they shepherd people in their spiritual journey.
  • Parents count on spiritual leaders to provide them guidance. All the more reason to guide with humility about what we know and don’t know about same-sex sexuality.
  • Also, the parent-child relationship is one of the best predictors of a loved one’s well-being over time. It is important to foster that relationship if at all possible. One way to help with that (among many) is to be precise when we discuss what is volitional.
  • In the research we have been conducting on a data set of 200 Christian parents whose loved one came out to them as gay or transgender, we have found that many parents do not change their belief about whether same-sex behavior is morally permissible (although some question that belief and still others do change their belief), but they are struggling with how to love their child and also be faithful to what they believe Scripture teaches. Greater sensitivity to the challenges they face would be another take-away.
  • A friend of mine who runs a ministry for Christian parents whose child has come out once said, “When a loved one comes out of the closet, the parents go into the closet.” It would be helpful to remove the shame associated with navigating same-sex sexuality and faith, for the loved one and for the parents.
  • Parents can also become polarized when they face such stressors. One parent can become a caricature of positive emotions (e.g., love, protection) for their loved one, while the other can become a caricature of negative emotions (e.g., confusion, anger). It has been helpful for both parents to feel, express, and work through a range of emotions so that they do not experience a restricted range of emotions that limits how they relate to their loved one.

What I think was missing as I left the movie was a path forward for Christians who have reached the conclusion that same-sex behavior is morally impermissible. It’s unclear what their options are, and it’s unclear how the movie would move them toward a place of resolution. There was a zero/sum quality about the ending that left the viewer, I think, wanting more of a discussion about different pathways. I think that left some people reacting against the movie and missing some of the better parts of it, some of the lessons that can be gleaned from it.

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.