This is a high risk post because I want to review the book, Homosexuality and the Christian by Mark A. Yarhouse, PsyD. (Bethany House, 2010). I think it’s a high risk post because I know there are many who have varying beliefs about homosexuality. I plan to read more books about a variety of issues Christians face for writing our next book, but for now, Yarhouse’s book is the first I’ve read on this subject. But the book is important because this issue is one that is hard to talk about and hard to know how to respond to.
Many years ago a woman revealed to me that she is a lesbian and it totally took me off guard. I was completely tongue tied. I didn’t know anything to say or not say. I just sorta stared at her. I think she then talked about a very troubling childhood including being raped at 13. If I’d read Yarhouse’s book, I would have been more prepared to enter into this woman’s pain and world.
Mark Yarhouse seems very qualified to write this book. I think that’s important to know. He is Professor of Psychology at Regent University and the director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. I appreciated his calm and measured coverage of the subject and included many examples from his therapy practice. He has a thoroughly Christian perspective.
The most important thing I learned in his book is that there is a “three-tier distinction” between attractions, orientation, and identity. Here are summaries of those terms in Dr. Yarhouse’s words:
Same Sex Attraction: “Certain people, regardless of the cause, have experiences of attraction to the same sex. This fact doesn’t say anything about either their identity or their behavior…It is descriptive. We are simply talking about the fact that a person experiences same-sex attraction.” (page 41)
Homosexual Orientation: “When people talk about having a homosexual attraction, they are essentially saying that they experience a same-sex attraction that is strong enough, durable enough, and persistent enough for them to feel that they are oriented toward the same sex.” (page 42).
Gay Identity: “When people take on this label, they move beyond describing their experience and instead are forming their identity.” (page 42).
Dr. Yarhouse also writes, “What I want to recommend is that we keep the three tiers distinct and try to be more descriptive. For those who find it helpful, we can create and keep open this ‘intellectual space’ for them to sort out their own sense of identity. Talking to people in specific terms about their attractions is more helpful than presuming that an identity has already been shaped around these attractions.” (pg. 43).
I take this to mean that if someone tells me, “I’m gay,” I need to not assume that they have already taken on the gay agenda. I need to ask questions which will reveal where they are in reality. They may not even know they have choices to make, especially if they have only encountered other gay people who encourage them to take on the gay identity.
As Dr. Yarhouse goes on throughout the book, he stresses that a person who has a homosexual attraction may not be able to change that attraction but he/she can choose in God’s power to resist acting on it.
What causes homosexuality? This is the question we all move to immediately. Dr. Yarhouse believes that the reason is not really known. Some studies show some things and others show others. He believes the old ideas about the child being raised with a weak father and a too-strong mother or even sexual abuse may not fully explain the cause.
He writes, “Although I disagree with those in the gay community who advance the conclusion that nature is the sole cause of homosexuality, I also disagree with Christians who take the position that it is all nurture.” (page 80). Of course, by “nature,” the gay community believes the person is born with homosexuality at their core. By “nurture,” many Christians believe it was the family dynamics or the experiences a person encountered. In the chapter “What Causes Homosexuality?” Dr. Yahouse examines the possible causes: biology, childhood experiences, environmental influences, and adult experiences.
I highly recommend reading Homosexuality and the Christian. Even if we can’t imagine having an opportunity to respond to someone struggling with homosexuality, there might be that opportunity when you least expect it. I personally feel that I will have more knowledge, compassion, insights and a godly, loving response if someone shares with me again.