Mediating and Discussing LGBTQ+ Experiences in the Church

VWCI was recently invited to speak at Virginia Wesleyan College on the topic of “The Challenges of Mediating and Discussing LGBTQ+ Experiences in the Church.” This talk was part of a religious studies course on Mediating Religious Conflict in the Center For the Study of Religious Freedom.

In developing a handout, I listed a few things I suggested students avoid (“vices”), along with some “virtues” to cultivate. Some vices included demanding respect, dehumanizing others, and setting exclusive goals. In contrast, I recommended building goodwill, seeing/relating to people, and identifying superordinate goals whenever possible. I shared a few examples of what we try to do in our research institute, including past volunteer work with local HIV/AIDS organizations (that are often staffed by LGBTQ+ persons) to work to reduce rates of infection in the local area.

When I talk about dehumanizing, I am thinking about ways in which we look past the person in order to convince others of the veracity of our position. People need to be seen by you, and one way you do that is by entering into a sustained relationship with those with whom you disagree. Along these lines, no one wants to be seen as a project. Even if you feel led to engage the topic, you are also engaging real people who represent that topic in the real world. Toward that end, it’s important to see the person in the exchange.

It has been helpful to move past winning an argument or entering into debate. It has been more productive to listen (more than talk), to enter into dialogue (more than debate), and to identify the moral logic in my own reasoning and that of those who are dialoguing with me. In fact, this was part of the “frame” of the talk: How do I become a better dialogue partner?

This question came out of a recent experience. This past year I was part of an event in Cincinnati hosted by LoveBoldly in which I was on a panel with a celibate gay Christian, a liberal or progressive gay Christian, and a transgender Christian. At the close of the event, one of the other panelists leaned over and said, “If you are ever looking for a dialogue partner, keep me in mind.” It had me thinking: What makes a good dialogue partner?

The kinds of suggestions I was offering to the students and guests at Virginia Wesleyan College were suggestions based on what I’ve learned over the years in becoming a better dialogue partner and what I look for in people I agree to be in dialogue with in front of an audience.

Family Therapies 2nd Edition

Family Therapy 2ndHere is the cover design for the second edition of Family Therapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. This was a fun book to revisit and update.

We looked at the various schools of family therapy and updated the research that has been conducted in support of the different approaches.

Our main focus was recognizing and reflecting the changing cultural landscape regarding family. The reader will pick this up throughout the book but especially in two new chapters. The first one is on cohabitation and how trends in living together before marriage (or just living together) affect relationship and family dynamics.

The other new chapter deals with LGBT+ couples and families and really expands how we interacted with sexual and gender identity experiences in the first edition of the book.

In any case, here is an overview of the book from the revised preface:

The book is divided into four parts. In part one (chaps. 1-2), we set the stage for the discussion of the first-generation models of family therapy. Chapter one is a discussion of a distinctively Christian perspective on the family. Chapter two is a discussion of the field of family therapy, how it developed and some key terms that will help the reader better understand the field.

Part two of the book (chaps. 3-12) devotes one chapter apiece to the major models of family therapy developed in what is sometimes referred to as the first generation of family therapists (e.g., structural family therapy). If each approach to family therapy is a “map” for getting families from a place of some kind of dysfunction to a place of better functioning, each chapter in this section contains an explanation of the map, followed by a discussion of the theoretical and philosophical assumptions and practical implications. We then focus on Christian critique and engagement of the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings and the practical issues involved in using specific techniques associated with that theory. We also provide brief reflections that tie back to the three foundational themes introduced in chapter one: family identity, family functioning and family relationships. In the closing chapter of this section of the book (chap. 12) we introduce a framework for integrative Christian family therapy.

Part three (chaps. 13-20) extends the discussion by taking topics that are commonly addressed in family therapy and inviting Christians to interact with the relevant materials. We introduce the reader to the issues (e.g., crisis and trauma, marital conflicts) and then review the literature in that area, followed by Christian engagement in light of what we see as particularly valuable from the first-generation models of family therapy and in light of what we propose for an integrative Christian family therapy. In the second edition we added a chapter on cohabitation and significantly revised the chapter on LGBT+ couples and families. We see cohabitation as an increasingly popular entryway into marriage as a a relationship status in and of itself. We want to help the reader grapple with that reality. An additional reality is the success of the marriage equality movement and the likelihood that Christian clinicians will work with LGBT+ couples and families in the years to come. We also want the reader to be familiar with those cultural shifts and to think deeply and well about some of the concerns that arise.  

Part four (chap. 21) reflects our desire to cast a vision for integrative Christian family therapy/counseling/ministry. In particular, we see the need for local family therapy to be influenced by a shrinking, global world in which family therapists will need to expand their understanding of family structure and relationships. Societal and cultural changes will have an impact on our work and the ways in which we think about and engage the families in ministry and service.

What is Gender Dysphoria?

Here is a talk I gave at Q Denver titled, What is Gender Dysphoria?  It is being featured on Q Ideas. I try to explain the phenomenon, as well as provide a little background information on theories of etiology, prevalence, and management strategies. Also, check out the talk by Melinda Selmys, who shares about her own experiences with gender dyshporia.

After we both spoke, Gabe Lyons invited us to join him for a time to Q & A from the audience. This was a helpful opportunity to reflect further on gender dysphoria:

To give you a little background on Q Ideas, here is a description from their website:

Q was birthed out of Gabe Lyons’ vision to see Christians, especially leaders, recover a vision for their historic responsibility to renew and restore cultures. Inspired by Chuck Colson’s statement, “Christians are called to redeem entire cultures, not just individuals,” Gabe set out to reintroduce Christians to what had seemed missing in recent decades from an American expression of Christian faithfulness; valuing both personal and cultural renewal, not one over the other. Re-educating Christians to this orthodox and unifying concept has become central to the vision of Q.

Together, we explore topics that fall into four broad themes: culture, future, church, and gospel. Q facilitates the investigation of deeper engagement and responsibility in each of these areas. As we continue to work through these ideas on a deeper level, so grows our commitment to equipping innovators, social entrepreneurs, entertainers, artists, church-shapers, futurists, scientists, educators, historians, environmentalists, and everyday people to do extraordinary things. At Q Ideas, you’ll see a broad spectrum of content represented in our small group curriculum, essays, videos, blog articles, and podcasts. These are all contributed and commissioned to shed light on unique areas of culture and the church.

A High View of Scripture

As Christians have considered the best way to care for people with mental health concerns, there has been a divide between those who believe that Scripture is sufficient for the purposes of counseling those with these concerns and those who integrate a Christian worldview with the contemporary fields of psychology and counseling. These two positions (and many others along a continuum of sorts) have been discussed now for many, many years. Not too many people in my day to day world really debate this, so I was surprised to be invited into a discussion about all of this recently.

I was invited, I suppose, because I represent what some people would refer to as an “integration” or “integrationist” position because I pursue the integration of Christian theology and worldview with the field of psychology. As I shared in a recent colloquium of biblical counselors, this is not a position I have argued for or defended, as others have. I have written textbooks from that perspective, but I don’t really spend a great deal of time justifying the position itself to critics. I think our worlds are sufficiently different and our approaches are sufficiently different that I have not engaged in that debate. My sense is that we would likely speak past one another. In any case, I think others have done a good job explaining the rationale for an integration perspective on this and there are other things I have been led to focus on in my work.

In any case, I was recently interviewed by a leading figure in the biblical counseling movement about all of this. He asked me what biblical counselors get wrong about integrationists. What I said was that I think biblical counselors view someone like me as having a low view of Scripture. The contrast, as I see it, is that biblical counselors often see themselves as having a high view of Scripture because they assert that the sufficiency of Scripture entails deriving treatment protocols from Scripture for various mental health concerns. In contrast to that position, I would think they would assume I then have a low view of Scripture. The opposite is actually true from my perspective. That is, I would say I have  high view of Scripture, and that it is precisely because I have a high view of Scripture that I do not derive treatment protocols from the Bible for panic disorder, eating disorders, sexual dysfunctions, and so on.

In that same venue I also discussed role integration, which is another distinction between the groups. In the work I’ve done with a colleague at Regent University, Bill Hathaway, we have discussed different types of integration (i.e., worldview, theoretical, applied, personal, and role integration). Role integration refers to times when a Christian serves in a role that entails serving the public good in some capacity. This might be simply being licensed to practice as a psychologist or counselor, as it involves being under the board of psychology or board of counseling in a given state. It could entail serving on a task force with the American Psychological Association or being a consultant to the National Institute of Corrections. That is, you are serving the public and not just providing services to the church or to a Christian.

It was interesting to me that many of the biblical counselors I was speaking to were pastors. I also serve the Body of Christ in a related capacity. I am an elder in my church. In that capacity, I have a different role in the lives of people who are members of our church, as they place themselves under the spiritual oversight of the pastoral staff and elders. But when I function as a licensed clinical psychologist, I enter into a role as I enter into the fiduciary space of public trust that is broader than what one might take on when providing spiritual direction to a congregant. I consult with the National Institute of Corrections, for instance, to serve all incarcerated people, not just Christians.

Are there tensions in role integration? Absolutely. There are potentially many tensions as a Christian psychologist considers his or her responsibilities in serving the public and in bringing honor to God. I won’t elaborate on those tensions here, but you see me write about them or speak about them often. But I think these tensions have been good for me in some ways. They have certainly kept me in prayer!

As I mentioned above, these exchanges with biblical counselors are not common experiences for me. I think our sense of calling and purpose are pretty far apart. I don’t see our worlds overlapping all that much. I suspect that all of us in that room (and in the broader movements represented by biblical counselors, integrationists, and others) may have good, honorable goals for the work we are doing, for the sense of calling we have, but we are likely to speak past one another because of where and how we serve.

 

Homosexuality: A Christian View

The CBN News program titled, Homosexuality: A Christian View, was launched over Easter weekend. You’ll recall that there was a slow roll out of several interviews over the past couple of weeks. Well, the entire program is now available.

What I appreciate about the program is that the producer brought together a Christian theologian, pastor, and psychologist, as well as a parent of a gay man and a celibate gay Christian. So there are elements that address what we know/do not know from Scripture and from research on sexual orientation. There is also the experience of a compassionate pastor who holds in a tension the traditional Christian sexual ethic with a remarkable degree of compassion. I also appreciated hearing the personal stories of a mother of a gay son and the story of a celibate gay Christian. It accomplishes a lot in just 30 minutes.

CBN News Interview on Sexual Identity

CBN News put together a program on sexual identity titled, Homosexuality: A Christian View. I think many Christians will find this to be a helpful program. There are perspectives from theology, psychology, pastoral care, and Christian persons navigating sexual identity in their lives or the lives of a loved one.

The program itself is only 30 minutes, but each interview was closer to an hour. CBN News is now making some of those interviews available in advance of the program debut.

In the program itself, you will see excerpts from the following interview. The only clarification I would offer is that my discussion of change ministries precedes a brief mention of a therapy group that I offer. The therapy group focuses on navigating and coping with sexual and religious identity conflicts and is not a change therapy, which is not as clear as I would have liked in the way the interview is edited.

In any case, some readers of the blog may find this helpful:

 

On Care for Those on the Margins

marginalizedA question I’m asked from time to time is some variation on the following: “Given that this is such a relatively small population, why do we allocate so much time and attention to it?”

I’ve had this question around sexual identity concerns, where roughly 6-8% of the population has at one time experienced same-sex attraction and 2-3% report a homosexual orientation. The question comes up a little more often when discussing gender dysphoria, which is quite rare, or even transgender persons, which is a broader umbrella, but still a smaller percentage than what is represented by gay and lesbian persons.

I usually acknowledge that more people in a given setting are navigating other concerns. For example, at a Christian college, far more students will be finding ways to respond to depression or anxiety or pornography than same-sex sexuality or gender dysphoria.

But the question seems to come out of a place of either inexperience or privilege. It’s typically asked by people who have no known connection to the topic or to persons represented by the topic.

I’ve never been asked that question by a Christian parent whose daughter has just come out. I’ve not been asked the question by a gay student who doesn’t know how to talk about his same-sex sexuality with anyone at his Christian college. Or a wife whose husband has announced he is a woman trapped in the body of a man.

For my point of view, we have to look at two things (at least). One thing to consider is that debates about sexuality and gender are imbued with significance both in the church and the broader culture. They have been front-and-center in the cultural wars and there have been mistakes made by many people who represent a range of stakeholders. We can all do better.

We can also consider whether it is simply the hallmark of the Christian to care about those at the margins. By definition, those at the margins will be underrepresented and a smaller overall number. But how we respond to them, how we find ways to identify their concerns and respond in a Christ-like manner is the stuff of Christianity. Whether we talk about the stranger in a strange land or the lost coin or the lost sheep or the lost son, it is part of what makes Christians Christ-like. It is in our DNA.

If these concerns are not your concerns, I can appreciate where you might raise this question. But can I invite you to get to know people for whom this is their concern? Would you consider spending some time with these folks and see if other questions come to mind?

Perhaps rather than ask why we spend time on a topic that represents a relatively small percent of people, you may find yourself asking why we haven’t spent time on this in the past, and why, when we have spent time on it, our efforts have not been nearly as constructive as perhaps they could have been.