SEXUAL IDENTITY from HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE CHRISTIAN by Mark Yarhouse

April 17, 2017

According to Dr. Yarhouse in his excellent book, the  crux of the discussion rests in two conflicting “scripts” of how we come to identify ourselves.  This is the second chapter of the book.  You can read the entire digest here.

This is how Dr. Yarhouse suggests we discuss SEXUAL IDENTITY:

  1. Chapter two: Why is sexual identity the Heart of the Matter?  We’ve allowed our culture to choose the terms of the debate…Both liberals and conservatives focus too much energy on the cause of homosexuality…Both liberals and conservatives make their arguments as if the gospel hinged on these claims….My goal here is to do nothing less than change the entire conversation.
    1. What is sexual identity. Sexual identity is about labels.  But the source of a person’s identity can be complicated. What might influence a person to use one label over another?  Here is a list of some of the things that could influence one’s identity: Your sexual attractions; Whether you were born male or female; How masculine or feminine you feel; What you intend to do with the attractions you have; What you actually do with the attractions you have; Your beliefs and values about your sexual attractions and behaviors….two men…One young man experienced a pretty strong same-sex attraction.  He identified himself as gay and Christian.  We talked about the way different things might impact identity and labeling.  He shared that his values and his same-sex attractions were “trump” for him outweighing everything else.  He believed God made him gay and that he was fine identifying publicly and privately as gay….another young man who also experienced strong same sex attraction.  Interestingly, he did not identify as gay.  We talked about the way different thing might impact identity and labeling and he shared that his values and behavior were the most important things to him.  His values were that he affirmed a traditional Christian sexual ethic, and this made an impact on his behavior….he felt that God wanted him to pursue a life of chastity, and he was at peace with that.  His primary identity was as a believer (or “in Christ”) rather than his experiences of same-sex attractions.
    2. A Three-Tier Distinction; I think it is helpful to make a three-tier distinction between attractions, orientation, and identity….
      1. The first tier is same-sex attraction….This is the part of the equation they can’t control….it is descriptive.
      2. The second tier is homosexual orientation…they experience same-sex attraction that is strong enough, durable enough, and persistent enough for them to feel that they are oriented toward the same sex….We do know that some people experience some same-sex attraction but are completely comfortable saying that their sexual orientation is still heterosexual. We take this to mean that the attractions to the same sex are either not particularly strong, are fleeting, or are limited to a specific person.
      3. The third tier level, gay identity, is the most prescriptive. It is a socio-cultural label that people use to describe themselves…Although homosexual behavior has been practiced in other cultures throughout history, we are the first culture in which people refer to themselves in this way…Talking about a gay identity is part of a modern, contemporary movement.  When people take on this label, they move beyond describing their experience and instead are forming their identity.
      4. Another way of looking at it: The vast majority of people have opposite-sex attractions.  About 6 percent of men and 4.5 percent of women report feeling attracted to members of the same sex. But only about 2 percent of men and about ??? percent of women apparently have strong enough same-sex attractions that they would say they have a homosexual orientation.  Then, presumably, some percentage of those with a homosexual orientation have integrated their attractions and orientation into a gay identity….I explained this to Todd one day…It created just enough room for him to be able to ask and answer questions about what his attractions mean to him, how they fit into his overall sense of identity and how they might relate to his personal faith as a follower of Christ….Interestingly, in the 1970’s the average age of labeling oneself as gay was twenty years old.  Today the average is about fifteen….fifteen is too young to commit to an identity label.
  • When and how does sexual identity occur? Some studies suggest that it takes about three to four years for females to go through the attraction, behavior, questioning and labeling cycle, and five to six years for males….Sexual identity development appears to begin with sexual attraction from as young as age ten or twelve, and then moves on to same-sex behaviors by around thirteen to fourteen.  By age fourteen, questioning of identity may occur, followed by labeling at around age fifteen…What about people who are same-sex attracted but do not embrace a gay identity?  These people are often alienated from the gay community and the organizations that support them.
  1. The Gay Script: …a way in which we come to understand ourselves and our lives. In our culture today, experiences of same-sex attraction are typically treated as synonymous with a gay identity, and a gay identity carries with it many connotations….  Here is what I think this script looks like:
    1. Same-sex attractions signal a naturally occurring or “intended by God” distinction between homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality.
    2. Same-sex attractions are the way you know who you “really are” as a person (emphasis on discovery).
    3. Same-sex attractions are at the core of who you are as a person.
    4. Same-sex behavior is an extension of that core.
    5. Self-actualization (behavior that matches who you “really are”) of your sexual identity is crucial for your fulfillment.

This is a compelling script….A young person discovers who he or she already is.  The young person is categorically different from other young people by virtue of his or her attractions to the same sex….The question is, what other options are even made available…what competing or alternative script can he expect from the church?

  1. Another Script for Christians: identity “in Christ”.  In another set of studies we compared Christians who adopted a gay identity label to Christians who chose not to adopt a gay identity label.  Both groups experienced same-sex attraction.  Both groups identified themselves as Christians  We found that both groups were interested in living in a way that was consistent with their beliefs and values.  But they had two very different way of doing this.  The Christians who adopted a gay identity made their beliefs and values line up with their identity and behavior.  In other words, identity and behavior came first and their beliefs and values had to be adjusted to them.  On the other hand, the Christians who did not adopt a gay identity made their identity and behavior line up with their beliefs and values.  For this group, beliefs and values came first….worshipping God on God’s terms.  Worshiping God out of a gay identity would not reflect true authenticity to them….It is essentially an “identity in Christ” script that stands in sharp contrast to the gay script.  Here are the script’s basic points:
    1. Same-sex attraction does not signal a categorical distinction among types of person, but is one of many human experiences that are “not the way it’s supposed to be.”
    2. Same-sex attractions may be part of your experience, but they are not the defining element of your identity.
    3. You can choose to integrate your experiences of attraction to the same sex into a gay identity.
    4. On the other hand, you can choose to center your identity around other aspects of your experience, including your biological sex, gender identity, and so on.
    5. The most compelling aspect of personhood for the Christian is one’s identity in Christ, a central and defining aspect of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

This script relies on the metaphor of integration rather than discovery….Rather than focus on an identity that is negative (not gay), they form an identity that is “in Christ,” a positive sense of themselves and their sense of purpose and community that is based on the redemptive work of Christ in their own lives.

  1. Final thoughts on Sexual Identity: …people can choose to join communities and eventually experience that community as intrinsic to who they really are.

You can purchase the book here.

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