The Transgender Phenomenon: Why Mark Yarhouse is Dead Wrong

The Transgender Phenomenon: Why Mark Yarhouse is Dead Wrong June 8, 2016

As usual, I am approximately two weeks behind the hot issue of the week, but in this particular case, since literally nobody else is out there saying what I’m about to say, I figured what the heck. Might as well get out there and offend someone.

The name “Mark Yarhouse” might not ring a bell with the average reader. He’s a Christian psychiatrist at Regent College who has conducted multiple studies on gender and sexuality and is touted by outlets like Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition as “the leading Christian scholar” on gender dysphoria. A full bio is available here (which includes other resumee items like the facilitation of various “dialogues” between homosexuals and Christians). Last year, he wrote a long-form piece for Christianity Today condensing the highlights of his book Understanding Gender Dysphoria. A couple weeks ago, he appeared on their podcast to weigh in on the bathroom wars and Obama’s executive order.

Ordinarily, I don’t pay much attention to what Christianity Today is up to these days. They lost me a while ago. But since this recent interview with Yarhouse was highlighted in the newsletter for Summit Ministries, a solid conservative organization for whom I’ve been freelancing this past year, I was curious. As soon as I had clicked their link and realized Yarhouse was the guest, my heart sank, because I knew just what to expect. And it’s hardly “helpful,” “thoughtful,” “useful,” or any of the other milquetoast adjectives that have been used to describe Yarhouse’s work.

First of all, any piece on gender issues that has passed CT’s portals must be taken with a grain of salt. One way you can tell this is by a lengthy “editor’s note” that shows up in the margin of Yarhouse’s long-form piece. If you click here, you can read it yourself. This note informs the reader that “following general journalistic practice,” when writing about a “transgender” person, Christianity Today has decided to use the pronoun of that person’s choice. Aspiring Christian journalists, take note: If working at Christianity Today is your dream job, think carefully about whether you’re willing to concede your professional and moral principles first. Just a friendly word.

Now, on to Yarhouse in particular. One doesn’t have to dig beyond that long-form piece to figure out quickly that his approach to the mental illness of gender dysphoria is hardly conservative or biblical. Right out of the gate, he opens with the story of “Sarah,” born Sawyer, who underwent sex-change surgery and came to Yarhouse for counseling. Yarhouse refers to “Sarah” as “a transgender Christian” and glibly uses the pronoun “she” throughout.

However, Yarhouse also notes that Sawyer came conflicted and uneasy about his choice. This could give Yarhouse an “I’m just urging compassion towards people who are struggling with this, not condoning sin” loophole… if he hadn’t closed that loophole himself in his book.

Read the Amazon sample for yourself: Right from the beginning, he almost defiantly lays out his research with other “transgender Christians,” including a bizarre case where a man transitioned but stayed with his wife and kids because they were “conservative Christians who didn’t believe in divorce.” No, I’m not making this up. And no, of course Yarhouse doesn’t use words like “bizarre,” “disgusting,” “sinful,” or any other sane, manly adjective that should spring to mind when discussing such a case. He just goes on blithely saying “she” this and “she” that, using “her” story as the introductory example of how “complicated” his line of work can get. And if the man had since repented and was actually wracked with guilt over having made such a horrible decision, Yarhouse is hardly going out of his way to let the reader know. It wouldn’t serve his goal, which is to provoke and shock conservative readers.

Yarhouse also writes that he found it “humbling” to listen to the testimonies of these self-proclaimed “transgender Christians” while conducting his study. Again, to be clear: Yarhouse is not just talking about mentally ill people who realize they have a problem. He is including male-to-female and female-to-male “transition” cases, people like the man who apparently still didn’t see a problem with mutilating his body while his wife and kids looked on.

Meanwhile, in his CT article, Yarhouse plods through a tiresome description of “three lenses” through which one can view transgender issues, which I will summarize for the reader who doesn’t feel like slogging through pages of jargon: the orthodox view, the heathen view, and the mushy middle view. Naturally, Yarhouse plants himself firmly in the mushy middle, too squeamish to be either totally heathen or totally orthodox. He says that while he personally does not counsel people to transition, he encourages “management” techniques such as wearing underwear of the opposite sex, wearing makeup, etc. He mentions one male client in particular who controlled the urge to transition by growing out his hair and secretly wearing women’s lingerie. I repeat, this is supposed to be a success story.

Yarhouse wraps things up with a nice round of genteel Church-bashing. Apparently, anyone who doesn’t make transgender people “feel welcome” is just plain mean. He explicitly points the finger at people who are uncomfortable with blatantly “trans” guests and spread “gossip” about such people. Presumably, “gossip” would include things like, “Who is that guy? Does he think he’s a woman? Is he nuts? What’s he doing here?” All perfectly legitimate questions under the circumstances. Naturally, this is where pastors are supposed to step in, collect specifics, and act in the best interests of all concerned. No doubt Yarhouse would think it radically unloving for a pastor to tell “Sarah” that he should cut his hair, bind his fake breasts and in general try to make himself as inconspicuous as possible if he wants to continue attending a church where there are families with children. He would be even more outraged at the suggestion that any guy who wears light makeup and women’s underwear on a regular basis is being enabled, not aided.

This brings us to the “bathroom podcast.” Yarhouse’s attitude is no different now than it was last year. Most of the discussion time is frittered away as he and the hosts bend over backwards to be as inoffensive and “sensitive” as possible, reflecting sadly on how easy it is for “both sides” to get “caught up” in loud, mean culture wars. Yarhouse murmurs at one point, “Christians are at their best in these discussions when they’re more compassionate, more willing to listen, more willing to understand.” The closest we get to something like push-back is when one host suggests that concerns about predator abuse should be given a fair hearing.

But nobody is willing to state unequivocally what the bathroom war is really all about: the facilitation and celebration of perversion, at the cost of societal order and decency. And nobody is willing to state unequivocally that this is not just bad for the rest of society, it’s bad for the “transgender” individual himself. Forget “fake” transgender predators: Anyone who really believes he is a woman when he is a man (or vice versa) is profoundly, dangerously ill. It is the bold, compassionate Christian’s duty to stand athwart his path crying “Stop,” not to show him the way to the ladies’ room.

In his folly, Yarhouse has failed to recognize this. Even if he privately believes something approaching orthodoxy, he hasn’t the intestinal fortitude to say it out loud. That is why no conservative Christian should take him seriously on these matters.

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  • I thought it. You wrote it. Well said.

  • Jan

    Oh yes, you will get some major push back on this post. I met and was friendly with a transgender person some 20 years ago, when you rarely heard of such a thing in my circle. It was not difficult to be kind to the person, as they were very interesting and fun to be around. I didn’t think it was my place to confront the choices they made, however if they had asked me what I thought, I would have respectfully told them. I constantly feel the tension in today’s rapidly changing culture to remain respectful to the person whose life choices or “just the way I was made” view of themselves, are so in conflict with what I believe. I pray for help all the time and ask God to help me see things from His perspective. I’m also reading some things written by Christians who really don’t hold the same views I do about social issues or theological issues. They can throw around all kinds of scholarly jargon to vilify my mostly conservative views, and I have no idea how to respond, because I’m not a Biblical scholar. It’s pretty scary, to be honest.

  • Thanks, Daniel.

  • You don’t have to be an officially dubbed “biblical scholar” to have an informed, biblically grounded view on these issues.

  • Jan

    I agree with you. When I was responding to your post, I was still feeling the lingering effects of reading a long list of vitriolic comments about the veracity of Scripture on another blog post. I think I should find some good books on the subject, as well as read the Good Book 🙂

  • Pingback: Satan’s Marketing of Disorder: Why Christians Should Shout “No!” to the Transgender Revolution | theology like a child()

  • No doubt Yarhouse would think it radically unloving for a pastor to tell “Sarah” that he should cut his hair, bind his fake breasts and in general try to make himself as inconspicuous as possible if he wants to continue attending a church where there are families with children.

    I’m a conservative, and even I think that would be unloving, or at least unnecessary. You should read Russell Moore’s “Joan or John?” essays. His pastoral approach towards repentant post-operative transgender individuals is fair and Biblical. I think it would be appropriate for “Sarah” to revert to his original name and cut his hair, but an extreme and uncomfortable practice such as binding breasts would be unnecessary. We do not have to be “inconspicuous” before the Lord. Sometimes, our sins leave scars. If a Christian community cannot love and embrace a repentant sinner despite his scars, then it’s not really a Christian community.