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An Evaluation of the Sexual Identity Construct (Part 1)

Truth In Love 415

Why is modern psychology's sexual identity construct so pervasive, dangerous, and deceitful?

May 22, 2023

Dale Johnson: I’m so delighted to have with me today, Seth Lehman. Seth is new to our listeners, but I’m so excited to introduce all of you to him. Seth is the senior pastor of Noblesville Baptist Church in Noblesville, Indiana where he has served for 14 years. He’s a graduate of Faith Bible Seminary with an M.Div, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a ThM, and he’s currently a Ph.D. student here at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s also an ACBC-certified counselor, and Seth is married to Karen, and they have nine children. Seth, I’m so glad and delighted that you are here talking about this subject of sexuality, sexual identity constructs, and how we as counselors can think thoroughly through the worldview behind it. So, thank you for being here. 

Seth Leeman: It’s great to be here. 

Dale Johnson: Now, you’ve done a lot of work in your Ph.D. studies here, and I do think it’s important, we have a lot of people saying in the biblical counseling world how to address these types of issues that would sexuality and the ideas homosexuality and transgenderism, and how do we approach these things and their debates about you know, should we use their preferred pronouns and all this kind of stuff.

I think as we think through some of these issues, we definitely don’t want to neglect biblical truth as it relates to putting off and putting on, and how we address sin in the hearts of people. That’s not what we’re saying. What we’re trying to say is we want to look at a worldview that’s behind some of this. So, we’re not neglecting any of that. We assume that’s true, that’s a biblical approach of how we think about change, but we also want to make sure that we’re applying biblical truth with precision. And I think that’s a part of what you’re going to help us to do today. As we talk through these sexual identity constructs, we’re going to try to address the worldview from which these things are coming, and as we understand this worldview that’s behind the sexual identity construct, we can understand why it’s dangerous. We can understand how biblical truth contradicts it and how we can apply as counselors biblical truth to teenagers and adults who are wrestling with this level of sin in their heart. So, let’s just start here. Why is modern psychology’s sexual identity construct so dangerous?

Seth Leeman: I would answer that question by going back to Scripture and the Scripture that comes to my mind, Colossians chapter 2, where the Apostle Paul warns us about this idea that we could be taken captive and let away from Christ through philosophy and vain deceit. And so the sexual identity construct, as I understand it today, birthed by modern psychology, it’s false. It is a bag of lies, and so it’s destructive, it hurts people, it ruins people. And so, that’s why I think that we need to be really careful and critical. We need to expose it. We need to tear it down and then build back up a biblical edifice. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, I think for us being able to understand conceptually what the Bible describes as sexuality. What’s healthy sexuality, what’s good, what’s God’s design relative to sexuality? It’s going to be so critical, and I think we wrestle with that. But what we see is people becoming confused, people becoming deceived about this whole sexual identity construct. What I want you to do now is describe a little bit about what is so unbiblical about modern psychology’s view of sexual identity construct. 

Seth Leeman: I think for the listener, when you’re thinking about the sexual identity construct, I disagree with it for three primary reasons. First, there’s an epistemological claim. So, in the current modern sexual identity construct, the idea is that you discover truth by listening to your heart, you discover truth through your own personal experience, you discover truth by having a group of people around you affirm your feelings, your identity, the behaviors that you’d like to pursue. And as we go to Scripture, that’s not a biblical epistemology. Biblical epistemology, a biblical way of coming to know anything, is to first fear the Lord, to fear the Lord, and listen to what God has said. And so, the modern sexual identity construct rejects biblical anthropology, creates completely new categories of personhood. It exalts the gift of sexuality, and it centralizes it, that this area of sexuality becomes the controlling factor, the primary lens through which I see myself versus it being a part of being a man or woman made in the image of God, something that I have to steward carefully in the manner in which God has instructed me to steward it. And so epistemologically, I have deep concerns about the modern sexual identity construct.

Then you move beyond that, and you get just into the street of biblical instruction. You know, what does the Bible say? And what the Bible says about how I identify myself, how I see myself, how I steward myself, how Scripture speaks of that is so different than this modern construct, and so, there’s epistemological concerns. There’s just straightforward concerns comparing what the Bible says to the claims of the sexual identity construct. And then there’s what I would call residual concerns. If you embrace the sexual identity construct, you have very little hope for change. If you deal with sexuality, as Scripture deals with it, you have tremendous hope for change. You have tremendous hope because God’s Word is very equipped to handle sin. The gospel is perfectly suited to offer cleansing, forgiveness, an opportunity for a new start, fresh direction, the power to live in victory and have joy and meaning. So I have these deep concerns, and I think that’s something that we need to talk about a little bit more. We need to talk about the construct more than just saying, this is bad. You can’t feed this, you can’t pursue this from the practical level, I think we do need to spend some time sitting in the theoretical. 

Dale Johnson: Now, what I want you to do, Seth in just a minute is I want you to describe where some of these ideas came from historically when we look at modern psychology from a historical perspective. The first thing I think would be important is for us to lay down what it is that we’re talking about when we describe sexual identity construct. To some people that may be a new idea. You’ve heard LGBTQ ideas, you’ve heard about transgenderism certainly been in the news a lot in recent days, and how rapidly our culture is sort of moving in this leftward direction. It’s really interesting to me. I think a couple of background pieces here would be helpful as we think about, you know, homosexuality moving into transgenderism. It’s really interesting to me to think about sexuality from a couple of perspectives that from a moral disposition, you know, we reject as a culture the idea of monogamous sexual relationship between a man and a woman, and that’s a rejection of moral authority. You know, someone like God saying that this is the right way to live life in your sexuality. And then we move into, you know, wanting to approve homosexuality. And we say something like this. Well, I was born this way. It becomes a, you know, I’m going to appeal to the authority of my biology. I’m going to disconnect myself from a moral authority. I’m going to denounce moral authority. I’m going to exalt biological authority.

The movement that we’re in now, which is really intriguing to me, is in the transgender movement, we’re rejecting moral authority, but we’re also rejecting biological authority. We’re completely turning naturalism in on itself as a philosophical idea, and we’re saying, I want to become who I want to become from the inside out, and I’m totally discarding anything that should have authority over my body, whether that be morality related to God, or whether that be my body related to naturalism and we’re in a very chaotic philosophical, sort of space right now. So talk for a second about what are we describing when we say sexual identity constructs. 

Seth Leeman: So, the sexual identity construct in its Western origin would trace back to the late 19th century. It would trace back to Germany, the rise of the sexologist, you’ve got the rise of the modern psychologists, you’ve got key influencers, the most popular level one would be Freud. Now, Freud wasn’t a sexologist, but Freud comes to the United States, starts publishing some of what he espouses and really it accelerates on the popular level through Freud. And then, from Freud and his influence over the APA, the American Psychiatric Association, which then you’ve got the rise of the Gay Liberation movement. And before we know it, the APA completely changes the way that they look at sexual and gender identity issues, no longer labeling them as mental health disorders. And now, embracing really the original claims that came out of 19th century Germany concerning sexual personhood. 

Dale Johnson: Now, what’s interesting to me about that and what you’re getting at here is as sexology began to be a field of study, these different expressions of sexuality were seen as deviant, most of the time, even representative in our DSM-I and II in America, 1952 and 1968 and then a massive debate that happened during the ’70s. And its by-product was to remove homosexuality out of the DSM, and what you have to understand is homosexuality was understood up to that point as being a disorder. Now, as a believer, I would say that’s not a healthy way to categorize. Yes, we believe homosexuality is sin. No question about that biblically, but to label it as a disorder, and it’s an issue of mental health, giving credence into that category, the danger of something like that is now we offer a different means to correct a disorder. And that’s where you get conversion therapy and reparative therapy and those sorts of things. And I think that became a huge misstep for the church really in the twentieth century. It’s a healthy thing that homosexuality was taken out of the DSM; the problem was now it’s categorized as something that is mentally healthy, it’s categorized not as something that is sexually deviant from a moral perspective or a social perspective, it is seen as something that is healthy. It’s a healthy way to pursue life that has moral implications, and that’s what’s overrun the church. And this is where, you know, we get to things like the APA becoming involved. And now saying, that really us, as Christians are the ones who are somewhat mentally unhealthy, who are saying that, you know, living this lifestyle is a sin before a holy God, and that we’re the ones who are propagating the lack of mental health or keeping mental health from an individual is really how the story goes. What do you think changed with the Gay Liberation Movement and Obergefell?

Seth Leeman: There was change there. I wouldn’t locate the huge amount of change necessarily there. I would trace it a little bit further back; you’ve got these perversions, seen as perversions labeled as sin. That’s going back to the early 18th century, the late 17th century. And then the shift as we move away from biblical authority, the rise of humanism, the rise of rationalism, as we begin to depend less upon God and more upon what we can do scientifically. That’s where to me, a critical shift happens, there’s a critical shift, where we think that these problems need to be looked at freshly and they can be handled without God, and so there’s still enough working within our conscience that there’s almost this idea that well, it’s not right, it’s not right, but we’re not gonna call it sin. So we’re going to come up with, there’s got to be a reason that these people behave in these perverse ways, and it’s got to be either biological or it’s got to be mental, but the further we move down that road and to get to your question where we get in very, very recent days, the more there’s a growing acceptance of the concept of these natural variants like “homosexuality is just a certain portion, a certain percentage of the population is going to be homosexual. It’s just a variety that just happens, a product of evolution” the more that we accept that and we lose the moral authority then if I am just a different person if this is personhood then it becomes political like why would you get between me and my, you know, fullness, the satisfaction of my life, a good life. Why would you, if we’re going to cede that there is no moral authority, then why should anyone stand against me? And I think it’s kind of a cross-thought, but there were legitimate reasons to be somewhat critical of this reclassification. So, you’ve got legitimate criticisms, overreaches of modern psychology that’s undermining their authority all throughout this time; they’ve been wrong on a lot of other things. And so it’s just natural for people to conclude, well, you’re also wrong on this. And then once they pivot, and they no longer classify it as a mental disorder, well then, Katy bar the door. There’s no way. You can’t stop Obergefell.

Dale Johnson: It becomes the fruit of what of the ideas that have been happening, right?

Seth Leeman: Right.

Dale Johnson: Yeah. So, if we, even if we were to take this idea that’s fruited as you mention in a decision like the Obergefell decision and the Gay Liberation movement that we see as you describe historically there were markers of this kind of stuff unfolding with sexologist issue. As you said, Freudian Theory rooting this in personhood and really borrowing our self away from a puritanical Victorian-era idea. And then in the 1960s, you have a professor like Alfred Kinsey who supported by all sorts of educational foundations to do his research on, you know, really licentious and very immoral sexual perspectives, which led to sexual revolution in the 1960s. And then you see the advent of, you know, the sex industry in America and that sort of thing. And it really begins to unleash, as you just described, Katy bar the door; it unleashes what we see on a massive scale sexual immorality. And it’s interesting that the church is sort of just watching all of this unfold, and because of its connection to sexual identity construct, its connection to personhood, it seems as though we’ve taken a back seat to some degree because we have bought into to some, at least, to some degree. We’ve bought into the idea that this is associated with a person’s mental health and their ability to be healthy on some mental level, and the church has said that’s not our domain. That’s not our world. And we’ve allowed the mental health world to sort of address this.

I find it interesting because what we see now unfolding is all of the laws in the ordinances that are attempting to be passed in a lot of different places around the country, barring conversion therapy, that sort of thing, which will affect the church and us as biblical counselors on some level. I mean, what recently was published in in 2022, the case against conversion therapy written by the APA, a collection of authors by the APA. And that the primary target is conservative Christians in that particular book, saying that it is conservative Christians that are maintaining high levels of stress for those who are struggling with this sexual identity construct, and it’s our moral disposition that that’s continuing to contribute to their mental health struggles. And to me, that’s, that’s quite a shame because, you know, once the day described their perspective as being a position or disposition of mental health, the only other alternative is to describe what we think is biblical fidelity. And what is most helpful and hopeful for a person struggling with sin in their heart and their desires and passions that are at war within them. Now, we become a picture of what’s mentally unhealthy, and the place that that could lead is tremendously alarming, I would think.

So, Seth what I want to do now is, we have a little bit of the background. We talked about some of these ideas, and man, our minds, I’m sure, are going in a thousand directions of all that we could be speaking of and all that we would love our listeners to know about relative to this topic, but talk for just a second about, why we on a podcast that is for biblical counselors why we think this is an important issue for biblical counselors. I mean, we believe in the Bible’s authority relative to human sexuality. We believe in monogamous, heterosexual relationships, one man, one woman for life. We believe in that. Why do we need to even be talking about something like this? Why is this important?

Seth Leeman: You could answer this from a variety of perspectives. On one hand, I could say it’s really important because we’re commanded to love God with all our heart, soul, our strength, and our mind. So, the way that we think matters. I could also answer it from more of a Proverbs perspective. Proverbs remind us that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. So I think it’s really important as we engage with a population that is increasingly identifying as LGBTQ+. I think in a recent pew survey, it was like back in 2000, around 2012 or so, 3.5% of the population identified as LGBTQ, 2021 that jumps to 7.5%. But if you look amongst Generation Z, Generation Z identifies over 20% as LGBTQ+.

So, in all of our churches, where we are ministering with real people, we’re going to be increasingly sitting down with people who are at a crossroads, and the crossroads is they’re coming to us with this type of framework in their mind. They see themselves as a sexual person, primarily as a sexual person. I mean, they are gay, they are lesbian, they are trans, they are you fill in the blank. They’re coming to us with that mindset. It’s not just they’re coming to us believing that this is wrong, and they’re wanting to know how can I consistently overcome temptation. No, they’re coming with an assumption this is who I am, but I’m being confronted in the church with this idea that I cannot act in these ways. I can’t live this way as a Christian and be received into this covenant community. You would discipline me if I were to behave in these manners, and we’ve got to be able to sit down with that person and help them tear down the unbiblical framework that has been built, how they see themselves in the mirror, what society has said about them. We got to tear all that down, and then we’ve got to help them rebuild carefully, “Here’s what God says about you. Here’s what God says about human personhood. Here’s what God says about sexuality”. Let’s compare the weight that God puts on sexuality with the weight that our culture puts on sexuality. Here’s what you’ll find, our culture is obsessed with sexuality, which Freud was. Right, he said the greatest of all human pleasures is the fulfillment of your libido. Therefore, if you want a happy life, pursue your libido as much as you can, and we got on that train many moons ago. And look where it’s carried us. So we’ve just got to be ready to interact with these people at that level. And the Bible has such a rich answer. Such a rich story to tell us who we are and we just need to be ready to do that. 

Dale Johnson: Now, I want to get into that, but before we go there, one of the things I think is really may be critical for us to consider when you described the whole LGBTQ and sort of what’s coming to us from young people and that the stories that they’re hearing and the realities they’re hearing it. Two quick thoughts, as you were describing that. First, it’s interesting to me that how the Bible predicts that as the days grow colder that we will call good evil and evil good. We’re seeing that unfold before our eyes in a way that we may be in my lifetime never thought quite possible to the degree that we’re seeing the deception that we’re experiencing right now.

The second bit of that as you were describing LGBTQ+. It’s interesting to me that these philosophies that we’re describing right now, Seth, shouldn’t be intriguing to any of us as those who love the Bible. The whole LGBTQ construct is sort of imploding on itself to some degree where the LGB section of that string of identities, if you will, is really upset with the whole transgender narrative because, in a lot of ways, it’s a denial of the reason or the cause, for which a person might think that they’re gay, they’re lesbian, they’re bisexual from a biological perspective or inconsistent with their biology, whereas the trans community is a total reconstruction of that narrative itself. And even in most recent days, you’ve seen some chaos unfold with is this really what the LG and B signed up for when it comes to transgender ideology, especially in the ways in which we’re seeing it affect.

So, back to topic as we think about this, just to finish that thought. It’s really important for us to just see the Bible predicts that when these types of evil ideologies, deceptive thoughts happen, it breeds more and more chaos. I just want you all to pay attention to that chaos it’s being bred right now in the culture in which we live in. I think that’s another identification biblically that the Bible is telling the story that when evil continues to grow, this is how we see it unfold in and much more and more chaos. Let’s get back to topic. Seth, maybe we’ll finish with this. We’ve been going a little long, and we’ll do this for another week to talk about this subject, but I want to describe the difference between Scriptures’ identification of sinners, and the modern sexual identity construct’s identification of sexual persons. I want us to clearly understand those differences as Scripture articulates those. 

Seth Leeman: So, Scripture will put a label on sin. So Scripture speaks of liars, adulterers, blasphemers. Scripture puts a label on sin. Scriptures labels describe the human person in accordance with their sin or rebellion. So there’s nothing necessarily wrong with referring to a person as a sodomite. If you called a person a sodomite, what you’re saying is that’s a person, a human person made in the image of God, a man or a woman, young or old. That’s a person, but I’m describing them by their sin, just like we might see our children playing and one of our children says to the other child, you’re a liar. That’s fair. We see that type of language in Scripture; we’re labeling a person, a man, or a woman according to their sin.

We’re not making an ontological claim. We’re not saying, hey, my brother there ontologically as a being by definition is a deceiver. We should expect nothing else than deceit from him. If we get between him and his deception, we’re only standing between him and his fulfillment in life. You know, we are marring his ability to live a full and satisfying life. We would never talk like that. Scripture talks about people and scriptural label people in accordance with their sin. The sexual identity construct takes what used to be categories of sin and makes an ontological claim. This is who you are as a person. This is who you are at the core. This affects the way that you think, the way that you eat, the way that you dress, where you go, who you hang out with, and I don’t disagree with all of that. The implications of how you think they’re deep and they’re much more consequential than sometimes we think initially. But that’s making an ontological claim. And it’s a wrong claim. We are sinners. We are sinners by way of Adam’s choice. We are sinners by way of our own choice. We are sinners, yet, to say or elevate who I am ontologically to elevate my sin above the fact that I’m a man or woman created by God in His image to worship Him and enjoy Him forever. When we begin to define ourselves by our sins, it’s just not done in Scripture in that way. 

Dale Johnson: I think that’s helpful, and I hate that we have to close here. I’m going to give you a chance for maybe a final thought or two, but I think this is really critical for us to see the shape of how the Bible describes these things differently. These sexual identity constructs that our modern world has come up with this is why we talk all the time on this podcast and at ACBC that the way in which we categorize problems matters. It matters how we think about these problems because it narrows the field for which we look for remedy and the Bible gives sufficient explanation for how and why a person struggles in particular ways, including with a person’s sexuality and how they understand themselves related to the world that they live in. And this is exactly a part of what you’ve described here. So, as we close this, we’re going to come back for another week. I have to invite you back because we have a lot that we still need to talk about, but maybe final thoughts as we close out today. Give you a shot for that. 

Seth Leeman: I would implore any person listening, if God gives you the opportunity to work or counsel with someone that’s struggling in this arena of sexual or gender identity, to address the constructs, not just the behaviors, address the constructs, address how does your counselee see themself, whose voice are they listening to? God’s voice or the serpent’s voice? How are they framing their understanding of personhood? That matters. That has huge implications, and at least amongst the youth that I have counseled over the past two years, gone are the days where it’s a given that people are coming to us with inherent or default biblical anthropology. People are coming to us because of various things that have been brought into schools or maybe the failures of the modern evangelical church. People are coming to us, and they are taking these neologisms, these new categories, these new constructs, they’re taking them as gospel, and the biblical construct is very foreign to them. It’s a new language. It’s a new way of seeing things. And it’s transforming potentially, but it’s definitely new. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, and you have to help them to see that that’s a part of what you’re describing. I think that’s the work of precision that I mentioned at the very beginning of our podcast today is understanding these constructs, how a person thinks when they are saturated when that type of thinking has pervaded their hearts and their minds, and then how do we help them from a Biblical perspective to understand, to expose those deceptions and those lies about what the world is saying regarding their personhood, and that’s a more biblical approach and it’s going to take time to work with that person, gently, kindly, but boldly with the truth of Scripture to speak into their life and to apply those truths to unveil the deception of those constructs in their heart and mind. It’s going to take time to do that. Thanks for your help. 

Seth Leeman: One thing I was going to say is this, everyone has a construct, everyone’s got a construct, how you’re putting things together. That’s what construct means. The question is, is your construct biblical? If it’s biblical, then it’s true, and it’s right. And it’s a good foundation. If it’s not biblical, oh, then it’s sand, and your house is going to be destroyed, and so we just want to be more aggressive about building God’s construct and tearing down the false ones. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, and the whole goal is for that person to benefit, to help them to stand in a very evil day. It’s not; I mean, the language that’s placed on us now is that we’re doing this in a way that is destructive and harmful to a person when from a Biblical perspective, nothing could be more hopeful, nothing could be more helpful, nothing could be more stabilizing to use a language of Scripture, and that’s the importance of the work that we’re doing.

Seth, I appreciate your thinking on this. You’re doing a lot of thinking, I’m looking forward to the work that you’re going to do in writing the dissertation just on this particular topic, a little bit of history, and I’m looking forward to see what the Lord brings out of that. So, thanks, brother.

Seth Leeman: Sounds good.

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