Although Yarhouse refers obliquely to wise counsel from church leaders, he allows the offender to call the shots. Paul rather recommends temporary remedial discipline for the persistently impenitent in order to minimize the harm done both to the offender and to the church (vv. 4-5, 9-13). The church’s complicity in sexual delusion benefits no one, least of all the offender. How far should Christians following Yarhouse’s suggestions go?
In June, Christianity Today published an article by Mark Yarhouse, a professor of psychology at Regent University in Virginia, on “gender dysphoria.” Gender dysphoria is the APA’s current description of the condition whereby someone perceives one’s “gender” to be other than one’s birth or biological sex. The previous designation in the APA’s diagnostic manual (and in my view still preferable) is “gender identity disorder” (GID).
1. Church members should address a man who thinks he is a woman by her chosen female name and use feminine pronouns, and a woman who thinks she is a man by her chosen male name and use masculine pronouns.
2. The church should not “treat as synonymous management of gender dysphoria and faithfulness” to Christ. The church should allow those with transgender desires “to identify with aspects of the opposite sex, as a way to manage extreme discomfort.”
3. For the most part, the church should give up on the “culture war” battle on this and other issues. “The church is called to rise above [culture] wars and present a witness to redemption.”
Yarhouse refers to three different lenses for interpreting the issue: Integrity (Yarhouse cites me as a proponent; go here for an online discussion), Disability, and Diversity (full affirmation of transgenderism). Although Yarhouse states that he believes “there are strengths in all three lenses,” he clearly operates with a descending scale with Disability at the top and Diversity at the bottom: “Because I am a psychologist…, I see value in a disability lens.”
Yarhouse doesn’t dump the Integrity lens entirely. “Even as Christians affirm the disability lens, we should also let the integrity lens inform our pastoral care.” He rather sees the disability lens as embracing the Integrity lens but going beyond it and even correcting it, at least at two points. First, “the disability lens also makes room for supportive care and interventions that allow for cross-gender identification in a way the integrity lens does not” (it is this allowance that is the main problem in my view). Second, it “rejects the teaching that gender identity conflicts are the result of willful disobedience or sinful choice.”
This last claim is curious. I for one do not view the mere experience of gender dysphoria as necessarily resulting from active efforts to rebel against God. My approach is not far from Yarhouse on this score: “A person may have choices to make in response to the condition, and those choices have moral and ethical dimensions. But the person is not culpable for having the condition as such.” Where I would qualify Yarhouse is in noting a more complex interplay of nature, nurture, environment, and choices. Incremental choices made in response to impulses may strengthen the same impulses.
Another problem with his “Disability” view is that for the most part people don’t associate a disability with sinful conduct. When people think of disabilities they typically think of such things as physical impairments of mobility, hearing, or sight; intellectual disability or other learning impairments; or health impairments like asthma, epilepsy, or attention deficit disorder. Such non-moral disabilities can be accommodated in all sorts of ways without violating any divine standards.
Even depression and anxiety (cited as parallels to gender dysphoria by Yarhouse) are not as directly or severely related to the desire to sin as a desire to pursue a gender identity at odds with one’s biological sex.