Book Review: “Homosexuality and the Christian” by Mark Yarhouse

Mark Yarhouse is a conservative Christian psychologist who is active and publishes regularly in his field. He takes a traditional conservative approach to the homosexual issue. Yarhouse published his book in 2010, and it is a wealth of keen insight.

He advances the discussion by examining the presuppositions that undergird the revisionist arguments for unrepentant, “gay” Christianity. Yarhouse organizes his book into three sections; (1) the big picture, (2) honest answers, and (3) questions for the church. His unique contributions largely come from the first section:

  • Sources of authority. Christians typically draw from four sources of authority; (1) Scripture, (2) Christian tradition, (3) reason, and (4) personal experience.[1] The latter two are increasingly where people place the greater emphasis. People elevate their sexual experiences to the level of self-identity.[2] It is this insight that so many authors seem to miss. Yarhouse pushes back against this hermeneutic of narcissism; “Although it contrasts sharply with a Western culture that focuses on felt needs and ‘self-actualization,’ Christians are called to say no to some experiences so that we can say yes to a life that is obedient to God’s revealed will.”[3]
  • Identity the key. Yarhouse follows up with a lengthy discussion on why sexual identity is the real heart of the matter.[4] He mitigates against the identity category by advocating a graduated, three-tier distinction along a spectrum of attraction, orientation and identity. He refers to individuals as “same-sex attracted,” and will not grant their homosexuality “identity” status at the outset.[5] His discussion of the “gay script,” whereby the homosexual movement offers a warm embrace and an affirmation of sexual identity, is spot on. He suggests the Church offer a competing positive script based on identity in Christ.[6] Yarhouse acknowledges homosexuality often is not sought, but people can make choices about what they do with these attractions.[7]
  • Cause and change aren’t the real issues. Yarhouse is not keen to argue these points. He concludes that the cause of homosexuality is unknown, and many factors likely play a role. Also, the record on “change” (which Yarhouse cautions can be defined many ways!) is mixed. But, he contends, causation is not the real issue nor is “conversion” to heterosexuality.[8]
  • “Our people.” Yarhouse challenges the Church to see “sincere strugglers” as “our people.” Instead, what these individuals often experience is profound shame and a sense of imminent rejection. Why cannot the Church vow to love these sincere strugglers, embrace them and help them in their struggles for holiness?[9]

Yarhouse also has a great deal of practical advice for spouses and parents dealing with sincere strugglers. But, his greatest value is in his emphasis on combatting the “identity” issue, his challenge to embrace sincere strugglers as brothers and sisters in community,[10] and his analogy of “flipping the script” by offering a better identity “in Christ” than the one the homosexual community is selling.

This is the perhaps the most helpful book on homosexuality available. It should be read with Burk and Lambert’s Transforming Homosexuality (see my review) for maximum effect.  


[1] Mark Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Pastors, Parents and Friends (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010; Kindle ed.), pg. 18.

[2] “It is important to recognize that sexuality should be experienced as central to a person’s overall sense of identity. I think this was intended by God. We are inherently physical beings, and we are inherently sexual beings. So we don’t want to communicate that our sexuality is somehow removed from who we are. On the other hand, it is also important to recognize that when we ask what God thinks about homosexuality, we are likely to confuse the pattern of behavior with the person.

In other words, while we can acknowledge that some gay Christians say behavior and identity cannot be separated, other Christians who experience same-sex attraction do precisely that. They separate behavior and identity, seeing it as a necessary step in navigating their sexuality in light of their faith. When we instead ask what God thinks about homosexually oriented people, or what he thinks of people who experience same-sex attraction, we can answer without hesitation that God loves them,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pg. 32).

[3] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pg. 36.  

[4] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 37-57.  

[5] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 40-43.  

[6] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 46-53. “What competing or alternative script can he expect from the church? When Chris looks to the church he hears very little, and what he does hear is usually an oversimplification of the causes of homosexuality, followed by the claim that it can easily be changed or healed through efforts or faith. Is this the only message the church wants to send Chris?” (Ibid, pgs. 49-50).

[7] “Same-sex attraction may be the ethnic aspect of identity, an unchosen characteristic that can contribute in some way to identity, but there are also civic aspects of identity, and people have choices to make regarding what they believe about sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual behavior. These choices will lead them to different communities that, in turn, confirm and consolidate a sense of this sexual identity into who they are,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 53-54).

[8] “Let me say it plainly one more time: The traditional Christian sexual ethic does not hinge on the causes of sexual attraction or orientation. Also: The traditional Christian sexual ethic does not hinge on whether or not sexual orientation can change,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 163-164).

[9] “It got me thinking about why the church doesn’t lead with the thought and attitude that Christians who struggle with homosexuality are our people. Think about that for a second: Sexual minorities in the church, by which I mean believers who experience same-sex attraction, are our people. Framing the issue this way can lead to greater compassion as the church tries to find ways to provide support and encouragement to those in our own communities who would benefit from it,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 157-158).

[10] “What the Christian community can offer the Christian sexual minority is a vision for what it means to be Christlike. That vision places the Christian sexual minority squarely in the middle of the Christian community. They become us. We are all supposed to be working toward the same goal. Whether we experience same-sex attraction or not, we are all to move toward Christlikeness,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pg. 165).

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