Mark Yarhouse: Gender Identity & Christian Faith [Biola University Chapel]

Mark Yarhouse: Gender Identity & Christian Faith [Biola University Chapel]

(lively music) – We were talking about how, with sexual identity, there’s kinda two wings
of grace and truth, and we were gonna talk about
lifting the wing of grace without compromising the wing of truth, and I want to extend that now to a discussion of gender identity, and as complex as sexual identity can be in the life of the person figuring that out with their faith, I think gender identity’s
actually a little more complicated and a little more challenging, I think, for the Body of Christ to
know the best ways to respond. So, we’re gonna be drawing on
the compassion that we have in the Body of Christ, and extending it, in a way, to this topic and the
people represented by it, and you have that reputation. That’s why I’m so grateful
to expect you to be able to kind of meet me where
we are on this topic, and sort of prayerfully consider
where God would lead us. An acquaintance of mine,
I’ll call her Sarah, came to my house a few years ago to meet with me and some
of my students, and Sarah was born biologically male,
and had transitioned to female, and was just gonna share with us a little bit about that journey. My friend, who’s a theologian,
had come as a guest as well, with his Bible, and we were we’re sort of anticipating
one kind of conversation, and Sarah says, at one point, “I may have sinned in what I did. “I don’t know that I did the right thing,” and then she turned to me and said, “What would you have me do now, Mark?” And she said, at the time, it felt like she was on a train track, staring down this bright
light that was coming at her. This was her experience
of gender dysphoria. If you think of euphoria as
a positive emotional state, dysphoria’s a negative emotional state, and it was really, really distressing, and at the time, she said, “I felt like I was “either going to take
some really drastic steps, “or I was gonna take the
steps that I did take, “which were also drastic. “It was kind of a no-win situation.” Now, I’m not saying that
she did the right thing. I don’t know that she did the right thing. I’m not defending that so much, but it certainly took a turn, in terms of the conversation, when she said, “I may have sinned. “I don’t know that I did the right thing. “But what would you have me do now, “in light of the
circumstances I was facing, “and now where would you
have me go with this?” So, a really difficult, difficult topic. Another friend of mine said,
“Gender dysphoria, for me, “is the hiss of an old-time radio. “It’s a sound which can be
ignored with some effort “in order to hear the broadcast, “but cannot be extinguished
without pulling the plug. “It has always been there, “long before I knew what
was making the noise.” Another person said to me, “It’s like puzzle pieces
that don’t fit together.” Have you ever done a jigsaw puzzle where you know the piece doesn’t fit, but you’re like committed to it, so you’re wedging it in there anyway? This person said, “It’s like
that, but all the time,” and of course can be very distressing. It’s not clear what
causes gender dysphoria. We don’t really know. I would say the most popular theory today is related to the brain-sex theory, which refers to ways in
which the brain scripts towards male or female dispositions, and this kinda comes to
something we do know about, that in utero, the
presence of testosterone would lead to the development
of external male genitalia, and a male-differentiated brain. So, two processes that happen at different stages of fetal development, and so one theory is, is it possible that you have the differentiation
of genitalia at one point, but then the brain maps
in the other direction at a different point, and so you have this
kind of setup in utero, that might contribute to
this, and it’s a pretty I would say it’s a pretty
compelling argument for those who hold it. They feel like it’s kind
of a unifying theory. It’s biologically based, and so for many circles that
I’m in, it’s very popular. I think the research
to support it is mixed. So, I’m not here advocating it. I’m just saying we really don’t know what causes this level
of distress for people, this gender dysphoria, but that’s one of the
more popular theories, and there’s other theories about
parent-child relationships, and modeling, and things like that, and maybe if a parent wished
they’d had a child of one sex, and they had a different sex, and there’s some interesting
kind of correlations there, but again, not clear that it’s a causal explanation
for this phenomenon. So, I think we’re gonna have to be content with not knowing, at this point, what causes this experience, as frustrating as that may be. It’s also not a very common experience, at least historically. Some of the research
that’s cited in my field would put it at like one in 10,000 males and one in 20,000 to 30,000 females, but those estimates come from people who are seeking medical interventions like cross-sex hormones,
or surgical procedures, kinda like Sarah, right? And that’s not the most common resolution for this experience. Most people actually don’t
use cross-sex hormones, and most people actually don’t pursue cross-sex reassignment surgery. It probably has to do with
the cost, and side effects, and lifelong use of hormones,
and things like that, or for other reasons they
choose not to do that. So, most people, they find a way to cope with what’s really distressing, sort of somewhere on a continuum from, if those interventions, like
surgery, are the most invasive, then there’s
much-less-invasive procedures, or different strategies people use, and people kind of find
themselves along that continuum. So, gender dysphoria
is probably more common than the numbers I just gave you, and certainly transgender is more common. That’s a umbrella term for many ways people experience,
or express, or live out a gender identity that’s different than people where their gender
identity and biological sex are corresponding to each other, and so that’s a little harder to get at. I know a couple of surveys put that at like one in 215, one in 300, of being transgender, but other recent studies put
it much higher than that, and it seems to be a bit
of a phenomenon right now, a trending towards transgender identity, much of which is not
true gender dysphoria. So, you can already begin
to just get a sense, this is gonna be complicated. How is the church gonna respond to this? How do we respond to what
might be more ideological around norms regarding sex and gender, that a Christian should say, no, we need to critique that,
and engage that theologically, and just really push back
against some of the ideology that would deconstruct those norms, and how do we separate that
from the actual person, who might suffer from gender dysphoria, and needs more compassion,
and shepherding, and pastoral care, someone
maybe more like Sarah. So, you can begin to get a feel like, okay, that’s gonna be pretty nuanced, and yes, you’re right. That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. I think it’s gonna be
pretty challenging for us. In fact, I was doing an interview with a Christian who’s transgender. She’s biologically female,
and she presents as a female, so she suffers from gender dysphoria, but she’s not adopted a
cross-gender identity. I remember interviewing her, and she said, “The secular answer is for
everybody to transition. “The Christian answer “is for everybody to get
healing through ministry.” And she said, “The reality,
for the majority of us, “is we live with it every day, “and it’s just really painful,” and I think she’s captured
what I have seen too, in counseling and in research. It’s been helpful in navigating this topic to distinguish between
three different lenses through which people see this topic. I called them an integrity lens, a disability lens, and a diversity lens, and this might be helpful to you. The integrity lens views male/female differences as a sacred difference
intended by God from creation, documented in Genesis
I, and in Genesis II, that there would be these
male/female differences, and so when a person adopts
a cross-gender identity, the theological concern is that it… One theologian that I was citing said it kind of mars the sacred integrity of the male/female differences
intended by God at creation, and so that’s one lens through which people
would view this topic, and then they would
respond in kind to that. How do I shepherd
someone in light of that, and it’s usually to live out an identity in keeping with your biological sex so that you don’t mar the image
of God intended at creation. A second lens would be
the disability lens, and this would see this as more like a variation
that you see in nature. It’s rare, it’s not common at all, and when it happens, we would respond to it
more with compassion. It’s kind of a non-moral reality. It’s just something that occurs in nature, but nature’s fallen, so if you’re Christian, you
might be drawn more to this, out of the spirit of, well, in a fallen world we would expect that all of creation has
been touched by the fall, and so gender identity
could also be touched in way that we don’t fully understand, and so this probably draws a
little bit more compassion, and kind of walking
alongside people with this, and might sort of meet
people where they are as they try to figure out the best way to cope with something that’s
more like a disability, if you will. And the third lens is
the lens of diversity, and this is where the broader culture is rapidly moving toward. My field is there, psychology, but it would see
gender-diverse presentations as representing a culture
that you would celebrate. So, you would include
it in LGBT discussions, you would say LGBT is
a kind of an identity, that this being transgender, and gender dysphoria kinda
signals something like that, and you should be embracing across gender, other gender identity, and celebrating it as
a people group, okay? So those are obviously
three very different lenses. The reason why I think it’s
even helpful to mention them is I think it can clarify a little bit how you’re gonna respond in
terms of a ministry posture. How you’re gonna come alongside a friend, or a neighbor, or somebody
in your life, family member. I think it can also help you avoid speaking past one another on these topics, ’cause what you often
have is somebody shouting, “Integrity, integrity, integrity!” And then somebody else is shouting, “Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!” And they’re just like, you know, that’s really the basis of
a lot of the cultural wars that we’ve had regarding sex and gender, and it’s kinda like talking to someone who doesn’t speak English, and you don’t speak their language, and so instead of learning their language, you just shout in English louder. I don’t know if you ever
had this experience, but it actually doesn’t
foster communication as much as maybe you think
it does going into it, so that can be challenging. And then, these can get
played out in families, in denominations, in churches, on Christian college campuses. I don’t know how many
of you would have seen the reality show I Am Jazz, but Jazz is one of the
youngest documented cases of a biological male raised as female. Jazz is now in high school, but Barbara Walters has
been interviewing Jazz for many years, and a few years ago she interviewed Jazz, and Jazz’s older sister,
and two twin brothers, and she asked the siblings, “How do you explain Jazz to your friends,” and the older sister said, “Well, I tell them that it’s a disorder, “and it’s not something that she chose,” and Barbara Walters
knows what just happened, and she looks at Jazz and says, “Jazz, what’s it like for you “to hear your sister
talk about you that way?” And Jazz says, “I don’t
like that word, disorder. “I think to be transgender
is to be special or unique, “because that’s what I am.” And so right there, in a
family that loves one another, you see the sister uses
the disability lens to talk to her friends. “It’s a disorder. “It’s not something that she chose,” and she’s trying to pull
empathy and compassion from her peer group. Jazz hears that language and says, “I can’t imagine a future
where I could thrive, “if I thought about myself in those terms, “so I think of myself
as special or unique,” and so Jazz is clearly
drawing on a diversity lens to have a sense of self, and well-being, and community, and so on and so forth. So, it’s very interesting. You could also imagine parents who might come more
from an integrity lens, and they could all coexist
in the same family, love each other, but speak
past one another quite often. Now, in that family it’s not the case. The parents have more of
a diversity lens as well, but it’s an interesting kind of a study in how we see this topic, we see the people navigating this terrain, through different lenses. So, maybe being able to
identify where you are with that might be a useful starting point for how you wanna position yourself in relationship to a
friend, or a neighbor, or someone in your community. In my work on this, I’ve
actually recommended that we draw on the best of
each of the three lenses. I do think that the integrity lens is getting at the theology right, in terms of the foundations
of male/female differences, but I do think the compassion that comes from the disability lens is very helpful in these discussion, to be able to kind of meet
people where they are, and find ways to manage this dysphoria that doesn’t tend to go away. And then, the diversity lens, I think, really tries to account
for identity and community, and I might not agree with the answers that that lens provides, but I have to admit
that it’s the only lens trying to speak into
identity and community, and I can understand why
someone would resonate with it. I also wonder about
distinctively Christian resources we might offer, so I’m gonna talk more about that tonight, that’s my hook, for AfterDark, so hope you’ll join me
there if this interests you, but I do think one thing
that we often do is we bump into people who
are gender-atypical, in the ways that I’ve been describing, Sarah, or Jazz, or Renee, this
other person I quoted from, and it’s almost like it’s what’s above the iceberg that we see, and how many of us know that so much of the iceberg
is underneath the surface? And what I would recommend
that we consider is not so much reacting to
what’s above the surface, but coming alongside the person to attend to what’s
underneath the surface, to minister, if you will, to
what’s beneath the surface, and so you might say, “Well Mark, “what’s beneath the surface “around gender identity concerns?” Well, it’s not one thing,
but I mean, the person may be have hurts and disappointments that they’ve had around these questions. They may have had genuine questions in their relationship with God,
that they’ve wondered about, questions of how “Why is it that I’m this way, “and where is God with me in
the suffering that I have?” They may have a longing for identity. They may have a longing for community. They may have a faith in Christ, and they’re trying to figure that out. “What does God allow me to do? “What is God calling me to? “How will I do this?” I would say that the most-frequently-asked
question, I think, that people ask, who struggle with this
gender dysphoria is, “Am I wanted here?” They ask that question when
they come to youth group. They ask that question when they come to a Christian university. They ask that question
at the local church. “Am I wanted here?” And so I think those are things that I would wanna attend
to, or minister to, in a relationship, rather than maybe overreact
to what’s above the surface. I’m not saying it’s not important, but ministry happens beneath the surface. I was interviewing… We were doing a study, I think it was maybe
the first of its kind. We were studying 32 Christians
who were transgender, several years ago. This was published in an article, and I remember we asked people, “What would you have
wanted, in terms of support, “from your local church,” and one person said, “Someone to cry with me
rather than just denounce me. “It’s scary to see God not
rescue someone from cancer, “or schizophrenia, or gender dysphoria, “but learn to allow your compassion “to overcome your fear and repulsion,” and that’s what that
person was asking for. Learn to allow your compassion to overcome your fear and your repulsion. Now, one friend of mine,
who writes a bit about this, she suffers from gender dysphoria. It never resolved. She is biologically female,
and presents as female. She’s married, has children. She’s a faithful Christian, and she would be the first to say that her gender dysphoria, while
real, and a part of her life, is not so strong that she’s not able to manage
it, the way that it is, and so she’s been able to
live out a live as a woman, and present that way, and is married, and has had
children, as I mentioned, and so she grapples with
this, obviously, all her life, and has wondered about this, and when I was working on a book on this topic of gender dysphoria, I asked her if she would read
it and give me her thoughts. I had a number of people read it. Actually, nobody agreed
with anybody (laughs) as they read the book, but they were all across
the spectrum of gay, and transgender, and transitioned,
and gender dysphoric, giving me feedback on it, but anyway, she shared this quote that I’m gonna share with you, and I asked if I could actually
include it in the book, because most reviews that I get aren’t the kinds of reviews
that I would necessarily say, “Can I quote you in my book?” Because this is really, really
thoughtful and substantive. So, let me read this to
you, and see what you think. She says, “Suffering in Christianity” “is not only not meaningless, “it is ultimately one of
the most powerful media “for the transmission of meaning. “We can stand in adoration
between the cross, “and kneel and kiss the wood “that bore the body of our Savior, “because this is the means by which “the ugly, meaningless,
atheistic suffering of the world, “the problem of evil, was
transmuted into the living water, “the blood of Christ, the
wellspring of creation. “The great paradox here is that “the tree of death and
suffering is the tree of life. “The central paradox in Christianity “allows us to love our own brokenness “precisely because it’s
through that brokenness “that we image the broken body of our God, “and the highest
expression of divine love. “That God in some sense wills it to be so “seems evident in Gethsemane. “Christ prays, ‘Not my
will, but thine be done,’ “and when God’s will is done “it involves the scourge and the nails. “It’s also always struck me “as particularly fitting and beautiful “that when Christ is resurrected, “His body is not returned
to a state of perfection, “as the body of Adam in Eden, “but rather it still bears the marks “of His suffering and death, “and indeed that it is
precisely through these marks “that He is known by Thomas.” Christ is recognized by his wounds, and those wounds are not
without redemptive significance. I think the Christian community can offer something distinctive insofar as we convey the truth, and reside in the truth of meaning, and purpose, and identity
in our suffering, including gender dysphoria,
as difficult as that can be. In many ways, this is the
offering of the church to those navigating
gender identity conflicts, and I believe we offer
that, maybe independent of any specific resolution
of the dysphoria, otherwise I think we end up kind of monitoring gender identification as if it was something
like behavioral compliance that a person has to do. I’m not sure that that’s the Gospel. It may sometimes be the
hallmark of evangelicalism, but I’m not sure it’s
always our best feature. When I think about the
theological and biblical resources that speak directly to these issues, when I think of what Christian communities might distinctly offer
that others cannot offer, or do not offer, I do think about the meaning, the meaning-making around the
redemptive work of Christ, and the passion of Christ, the suffering of Christ on the cross, that there is a sense in which Christians find aspects of our own
identity in our brokenness. So, I’ll unpack more of
that tonight at AfterDark, and kinda look at that with you. I think it’s a complicated area, and how do we hold onto that possibility, and I think that theological,
pastoral, shepherding reality, but not do so in a way that lays a greater burden on the person, but greater charity and love for them as they’re navigating this space. So friends, I’m inviting
us to look at this topic with a kind of compassion that
maybe we haven’t had before. I know that what’s
often hard about that is that we live in a time when
many Christians feel like the things that they care about are under attack all the time, and so something as central as norms regarding sex and gender feel like they’re under attack, and so it leads a lot of Christians to have a knee-jerk
reaction to that, and say to get more antagonistic in response. I don’t think that’s the best strategy with something as complicated as this. I know it’s hard to call
forth a nuanced response, but I do think the church is at its best when it can distinguish, in this case I would say
three levels of complexity. One is political identity, which has more to do with ideology and how you respond to that, and the attacks on norms
regarding sex and gender. So, I think at one level,
the church is at its best when it can discern that, and respond to that political identity, but for other people, they
just have a public identity, and they’re your neighbors,
and they’re your coworkers, and they’re the people that you know. The question is, in a diverse
and pluralistic culture, how will you be Christ to them? How will you respond to them? They’re not advocates telling
you an ideological claim, they’re neighbors doing life next to you, and how will you live the
Gospel in relationship to them, at a public identity level? And then the third level is what I would call personal identity, where the actual person you know, the loved one, the friend, the neighbor, is navigating these issues,
actively, right now, and they’re trying to figure out what to do with their gender identity, often in light of their faith, and what to do with their faith in light of their gender identity. I think the church is at its best when is distinguishes those three groups, and responds to them
through a different manner. You wouldn’t respond to your best friend the way you would respond to an advocate at a level of ideology. I don’t know that you
would witness the Gospel to the person checking you
out at the grocery store the way you would someone you feel like is advocating ideologically a position that you feel
like you need to take on, and many of us are not gonna be called to do all three of those things, but I think the church,
again, when it’s at its best, discerns those three things, and then positions the Christian to respond in a more
nuanced and appropriate way to each of those different presentations. So, that was gonna require
a bit more thought, a bit more consideration, a bit
more prayer and discernment, a bit more nuance. So, I hope I haven’t given you any
easy answers this morning. I hope what I’ve done is
kind of thickened the plot around how challenging
this topic is gonna be for the church moving forward. (lively music) – [Announcer] Biola
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2 thoughts on “Mark Yarhouse: Gender Identity & Christian Faith [Biola University Chapel]

  1. IM from San Fran Area. The LGBTQ activist has no intention of living alongside real Christians. The Christian worldview on sexuality and family is hated by them. Give Biola another 10-20 years and it will give up the fight for Gods standards on this issue. Pepperdine has already put up the White flag..

  2. This was very disappointing. Missing all sorts of reality. Gender dysphoria is often a by-product of other severe issues such as trauma, being on the autism spectrum, childhood abuse, disassociative disorders, borderline personality disorder, BIID and autogynephilia. Each of this health issues are nothing to be uncomfortable or ashamed of. They are almost all treatable with therapy. They are real issues that are being ignored and great harm is being done to many who find out after transitioning that it did not solve their issues simply because they bypassed therapy. There is also an emerging social contagion named by some experts ROGD (Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria) where massive numbers of young women are transitioning even in groups of friends. Some experts think it is similar to anorexia being a mental health issue regarding dislike of their body.

    It is one thing to have dysphoria but it is totally another to actually believe you are the opposite sex. Mr. Yarhouse has left all this out. I wonder if he did it on purpose or if he is just unaware. Being kind to people is certainly of the utmost importance but those who lose their hold on reality need more than that. There are parents on twitter hiding behind made up names trying to find help and stop the insanity of automatic affirmation. There are doctors doing the same risking their reputations in this crazy world. We look to our religious leaders to speak the truth. In his attempt to be kind he hasn't even delivered the truth. This is more harmful than helpful.

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