I confess, the other day I got teary over someone’s research (we New Englander men don’t really cry–its a disorder caused by enculturated individualism). Truth be told, I didn’t get choked up by the research but by the man who was reporting it. Mark Yarhouse closed out the annual conference of the Society for Christian Psychology by reporting the history of his research in the area of sexual identity (and its change) and sexual orientation. 9 years ago he began explore these areas. First he and Stan Jones critiqued the pro-gay psychological research and pointed out serious flaws. At the heart of the matter he was concerned about those who acknowledged same sex attraction but because of their deeply-held theological beliefs, did not wish to identify with the gay identity. Mainstream psychology has argued that these folks are suppressing their identity or being suppressed by fundamentalist culture. Isn’t it possible, Mark wondered, that these seemingly healthy individuals could acknowledge their sexual desires and choose not to make their identity or behavior based on desire. In the talk he told us of his attempts to dialog with pro-gay psychologists and psychiatrists. He took some heat, of course, but also gained the respect of others. Most recently, he has been constructing a model for helping clients explore the many facets of their sexual identity and changing what is in their power (how they interpret and respond to same sex attraction) and allowing what they cannot change to be.
Okay, you are probably wondering why this moved me. I was moved because here was a man showing great compassion to these faithful, struggling christians–double minorities in both the world and in the church. He has done this at great cost to himself and has had to hang on to the Lord under significant spiritual warfare. Here is a man not willing to get stuck in the political speak but willing to dialog with those many would consider enemies and to try to hear and understand–even when he knew it wouldn’t change the world. Here is a man willing to explore how people remain faithful to God while trying to understand their brokenness. Finally, I was moved by the love and wisdom shown to Mark in a letter from his sister. She encouraged his faith and reminded him what was true in language fitting of a classic pastoral care author.
Okay, I still can’t express why I was moved. But I wasn’t the only one. The speaker who came up to close the conference was also choked up. It is possible that scientific endeavors show us the hand and face of God.
Mark’s latest book, Ex-gays? A longitudinal study of religiously mediated change in sexual orientation (IVP) is hot off the press (first author is Stanton Jones).