Mark Yarhouse, Professor of Psychology at Regent University, studies people of faith who navigate questions of sexuality and gender. He recently gave a lecture at Southeastern Seminary titled “Sexual Identity and the Question of Vocation.”
In it, Yarhouse helps pastors re-consider how they can minister to people with same-sex attraction, and he references a little known writing from C. S. Lewis.
You can watch the video above. Here are a few key highlights:
On the importance of establishing a framework for understanding homosexuality.
“So what [C. S. Lewis] does right off the bat is he lays out a framework…. It’s within that framework that we have great freedom to minister to people. I think sometimes where we struggle with ministry is we’re trying to map the framework, we’re trying to lay out the foundational piece, and that itself is under attack, sometimes within church settings, but certainly within the broader culture.”
On the necessity of effectively ministering to singles.
“Then [Lewis] goes on to say, essentially, this doesn’t leave this person any worse off than anyone else not able to marry. There are many people who are unable to marry for a number of reasons. In fact, just based on base rates and prevalence estimates, there are many, many more single heterosexual people for whom, by virtue of them being single, will be prevented from marrying, then there ever will be gay or lesbian people….
“So the ministry framework has to respond to singleness and single sexuality. [You have] to have a thoughtful engagement with how you meet the needs for intimacy that everybody has, single and married, [because] there will be many more single people for whom this is not their particular struggle who will also have needs for intimacy. I think if you asked single people…, they would say the church has not ministered well to them….There are single ministries to get them married, not singles ministries to help them flourish as a single person…. How do you minister well to single people, and what are the nuances, the layers that would be added to ministering well to someone who’s gay?”
The church has not ministered well to single people.
What about the questions of causation and change?
“[C.S. Lewis] went past causation and went past change. Yet these are the two most frequently asked questions I receive in my institute, and these are the two most frequently asked questions that have figured prominently in larger political, ideological and culture wars in our culture today. What causes homosexuality and can it be changed? Lewis says we’re going to have to be content with ignorance….
“Friends, I have to tell you. I can’t improve a whole lot on what Lewis said. When people ask me what causes sexual orientation, the short answer is that we don’t know. What’s made it difficult to answer the question is that it’s been clouded by cultural debates about causation…. The best conclusions we draw today is that [sexual orientation is] probably a combination of nature and nurture, influences that we don’t fully understand at this time that are probably weighted different for different people.”
“And it’s interesting to me that he doesn’t even talk about change, yet we have had change ministries all across the nation to make gay people straight. He doesn’t even go there. He talks about vocation, mission, purpose, meaning. Not to become straight, but to look at how God’s glory could be made manifest in this person. How would God be honored in the life of this person? Lewis seems to presume an enduring same-sex sexuality, which is really challenging when you think about preparing for ministry.”
Do you really want to minister to people navigating same-sex attraction?
“A lot has changed socially since the 1940s when [C. S. Lewis’] exchange was going on. It’s much more difficult today [for same-sex attracted Christians] to find vocation. There are many, many more competing voices that would make vocation seem ludicrous, that would make costly obedience seem completely self-denigrating. And those voices are louder than ever before. All the more reason why you are needed in ministry today.
Many competing voices make costly obedience seem completely self-denigrating.
“I think the first question to ask when we turn to the question of vocation is, first of all, do you want to? Do you want to minister to people navigating this terrain? And I really want you to answer that question in your heart and in your minds. Not just knee jerk, I really want you to think about it and pray about it. Do I want to minister to people here? ….
“But most people in ministry really don’t want to minister to gay people. They would rather them not be in their youth group. They would rather them not be in their church. They would rather them not be a part of their ministry. It makes ministry more complicated. It centers the ministry in cultural debates… that makes it that much more difficult. It puts you in a spotlight, it gets you news coverage. There are a lot of reasons people would say to me, honestly, if they pulled me aside, ‘I’m not sure I do want people here.’
“Now my view is this: I would love for each and every one of you to offer a resounding yes. I want [you] to minister to people navigating sexual identity questions in their life. But I think the question has to be asked. There are too many people who have run into people in ministry where…. they didn’t really want them there…. Everything they did suggested to that person that they didn’t want them there.
“Now I’m not saying, put into the hands of the person what they count as a yes. You’ll have people come to you and say, ‘If you really want to minister to me, you’ll change your doctrinal positions about sexual morality.’ That’s not what I’m talking about. Remember: Lewis laid the boundaries first… I agree with Lewis about what is morally permissible and morally impermissible. But it’s upon laying the boundary that now you’re free to worship. Do you want to? That’s what I’m asking….
Most people in ministry really don’t want to minister to gay people.
“But I would tell you this: The most frequently asked question by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people — people navigating this terrain — is, ‘Do you want me here?’ And each and every one of us has to answer that question.”
What discipleship is (and isn’t).
“Too often we equate discipling people with having them become straight. Notice that Lewis didn’t go there. Notice he didn’t say, ‘Help them become heterosexual, and help them find vocation.’ He said, ‘Help them find vocation. Help them grow in Christ-likeness and meaning and purpose, and let’s see what happens with their same-sex attractions.”