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An Evaluation of the Sexual Identity Construct (Part 2)

Truth In Love 416

How do we evaluate, expose, and explain to our counselees the ideology behind sexual identity construct?

May 29, 2023

Dale Johnson: For a second week in a row on the podcast, I have with me, Pastor Seth Leeman of Noblesville Baptist Church in Noblesville, Indiana, where he has served for 14 years. He’s a graduate of Faith Bible Seminary, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he’s currently a Ph.D. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s also an ACBC-certified counselor. Seth is married to Karen and they have nine children.

And Seth, today, we’re going to continue during May Mental Health Awareness month, talking about some things that are very, very prominent right now in the world of mental health is sexual identity construct and if you remember from last week we talked in depth about some of the worldview, some of the ideologies that come out of the sexual identity construct. It’s important for us as biblical counselors to know those things, not that we ascribe to those or to adopt those, but we can see the schemes of the evil one to understand and know how we can take biblical truth and apply it appropriately for the need of the moment in the heart and mind of a person when they’ve been deceived so drastically. And this is so critical and I think you did a good job helping us to think through that. I want to continue in that conversation, we had a lot more to talk about last time. I want to continue that conversation because sometimes we may have a tendency to think, man, where did this come from? Like all the sudden now we’re talking about LGBTQ+, we’re talking about transgenderism and man, it seems like the world is moving so rapidly in this direction. Is this something that is new, as it relates to modern psychology and these sexual identity constructs?

Seth Leeman: Solomon said there’s nothing new under the sun, and so if that’s true, and as Bible believers we believe that’s true. Then even if we don’t know the detailed history, we know that there’s nothing new. So by default, we can say this is not new, this has to have appeared at some point in the past stream of human thought, but when we do the detailed study, we can say with confidence, yes, this is not new.

Plato the Greek philosopher, he has a work, it’s called Plato’s Symposium and in Plato’s Symposium the whole narrative is really a discussion of sexual ethics, and in this narrative that discusses sexual ethics, one of the characters in this work articulates a thought at that time, that is so similar to the thought of sexual orientation today. It’s this idea that there’s a, we might use this type of terminology today. There’s a third sex, right? There’s the heterosexuals. This is what we would say today. There’s the homosexuals. And then there’s the bisexual plus crowd, right? That’s the language we would use today. Plato doesn’t use that language, but he has those same categories. There’s the people who are attracted as men to women, there are the people who are attracted as women to men, and then there’s this other crowd that they’re drawn to the same gender. And what’s so interesting about that is that it is reasonable to believe that Paul as an educated man was familiar with Grecian thought. It’s reasonable to believe that he may be even himself had read Plato. And what’s striking is that he in no way feels pressure to adopt that type of worldview, that type of anthropology, that type of explanation of human sexuality. He rejects it all and he does what Jesus does. He reaffirms Scripture’s anthropology, he reaffirms the Genesis narrative, he reaffirms the creation mandate. And so, now this is not new by any means. 

Dale Johnson: And we see this level of sexual immorality, certainly in narratives of the Old Testament and in various degrees, the growth levels of sexual immorality on massive scale. I remember reading those as a teenager just thinking, man that just seemed like such a dark and wicked time. And yet, here we are living in something that’s quite similar. It seems disorienting to some degree.

Now, we’ve talked about how this is not something that’s new, but I want us to assess a little bit regarding sexual identity constructs into how the evangelical world is responding to some of these. You mentioned that Jesus, obviously, did not give into these categories. Paul certainly did not give into these categories of sexual orientation described in their day, nor should we as evangelicals. But we have evangelicals who are adopting some of these constructs, who are adopting some of these ideas of orientation using that as an ontological perspective, a description of personhood, a description of identity. So talk just for a second about some of the modern arenas where we see this type of language used. 

Seth Leeman: Based on what I’ve read, based on the studies that I’ve pursued, I mean the fountainhead that the most popular articulators of trying to take the modern sexual identity construct and somehow integrate it into scriptural practice and a scriptural framework on the transgender issue would be Mark Yarhouse, and then probably right second to him might be Preston Sprinkle. Both those individuals have written prolifically on this topic, and I could charitably say, I think that they truly desire to help people, I think they truly desire to come alongside these individuals whose lives are so characterized with brokenness and despair. And they so want to get, I’m saying this charitably. They so want to get that person connected to Christ, so much want to get that person connected to gospel truths that will help minister to their soul and help them as they live as a sojourner and stranger in this world. Yet what they seem to want to do is they want to flirt with, that might be the modest assessment, flirt with, a more aggressive assessment would be kind of accept and endorse. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, I was thinking of the word “adopt.”

Seth Leeman: Adopt. Yeah, we’ll take that word. You said it, not me. They adopt this construct, the terms, the language, the theory, they try to build upon it in a Christian way, and I have found it to be very confusing.

Dale Johnson: Confusing, yes, I would definitely agree with that, but I think misleading as well. And the way I would sort of go about that and I agree with everything that you said regarding their desire, I’m not questioning them as people or their particular desire to want to help people. I think that’s very evident. I think these men if probably given their life, reputation, and everything to try and help people who they believe are genuinely hurting.

But let’s hone in on Yarhouse for a second. I think Mark has done a tremendous amount of research and his desire is to help in some of these areas. He’s written a book called Gender Dysphoria, and more recently, he’s written a book called Emerging Identities, which I think is interesting because that demonstrates that term that I mentioned that he’s adopting to some degree those concepts. And when we adopt those identities at the forefront, now, we have to figure out a way. How does Jesus save someone from a particular ontological identity as opposed to how does Jesus save them from a particular sin or a group of sins that a person is struggling with, with the desires of their heart? And those are two radically different starting points. Yarhouse goes on to say in his most recent book Emerging Identities where he’s trying everything he can to help a person who’s struggling with quote-unquote gender dysphoria. Let me define that or maybe it’s good. Seth, why don’t you define gender dysphoria, then I’ll continue my thought with Yarhouse. How does he describe gender dysphoria?

Seth Leeman: Gender dysphoria as a technical term describes the discomfort a person feels because their perceived gender does not align with their biology, so it’s a term that describes discomfort. So, we have to be careful if a person has pursued transgenderism in some form. They may reject the notion that they are ever have experienced gender dysphoria. They find the entire path for them has actually been helpful. It’s been encouraging it. This is where they’ve found themself, so to speak. Gender dysphoria describes a discomfort with this disconnect between the way I see myself and the way my body is constructed. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah. And there are various ways, I think from a secular perspective or even a quote/unquote evangelical perspective as to why somebody struggles in that way, where there’s an incongruous sort of feeling about the way a person sees himself biologically and what they feel and desire in their immaterial man and Yarhouse goes on to try and explain the stressors that go along with gender dysphoria and how can we alleviate these things. And he talks a lot about engaging in different therapeutic modalities to try and help someone to relieve some of that stress of gender dysphoria.

I think that construct in and of itself is a little bit misleading. And I think this is where we see the methodology connected to the ideas. And I want our counselors to understand this. This is why this is so important really across the board is as he accepts those ideas, he never runs to medical intervention first, but what he does do is he says that medical intervention may be something as sort of a last resort where, you know, hormone therapy or even as it’s now called in a politically correct form, not sex reassignment surgery, but gender-affirming surgery. And to me, I just find that really unbelievable that someone who claims the Scripture as an authority can look at someone who’s struggling in these types of ways, with some sort of issues of sexuality, and think that it’s okay to alter their body in some way, that seems to be quite offensive to God as Creator. It seems to be quite offensive to several aspects of biblical truth. I want to; I mean, you’ve read a lot of Yarhouse. I want to get your thoughts on how we see this, not just from the secular culture, but how we’re seeing these sexual identity constructs sort of invade our culture. And particularly some of the things that Yarhouse has spoken on it. 

Seth Leeman: Concerning Yarhouse, I would say that a couple of the positives that I’ve gleaned by reading Yarhouse is that he has had contact and interaction on a scale that probably most of us that engage in biblical counseling we’ve not had that privilege if we want to use the term of interacting with the sheer number of individuals who are battling sexual identity issues or gender identity issues. And so I can learn from some of his experiences, and I appreciate the compassion that he brings to the table and a desire to truly help.

The concern that I have, the more that I read Yarhouse is his deficient view of the sufficiency of the Scripture to address these issues. He seems to operate from a foundation that what we find in Scripture is not enough to really come alongside and help a person who is going through some of these struggles. We need the insights of modern medical experts. We need the insights of mental health practitioners, and so it’s this merging of some biblical truth with a lot of current thoughts on what is good and right and healthy for a person, and in the end, it’s, if we compare it to a musical instrument, it’s not a distinct sound as you read Yarhouse because, in one paragraph, you discern him standing in defense of the Scriptures. And then, in the next paragraph, he seems to be endorsing something that is completely unscriptural. And so that’s where the term that came to my mind, confusing, the term that came to your mind misleading. I would say yes and amen to both. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah. And to be fair, I want us to set alongside this a biblical understanding of sexuality. I think it’s good for us to do that as we talk about sexual identity constructs. And in a secular view of how we see sex and sexuality and those identities that now our modern culture orients itself around to think that’s become the prominent way that we see ourselves is through sexuality is quite different than a biblical understanding. So, I want you to help us to set apart a biblical view of sexuality that helps us to see the chaos that’s happening in the world around us a little bit more clearly. 

Seth Leeman: So, if we start with the Genesis record, what do we learn? Humanity is the unique creation that bears God’s image. God made us as male and female. And our purpose is, as our great catechisms have taught us, to glorify this God who has made us and to enjoy our God. And so, even if we just paused at that basic juncture, you know, my responsibility as a created being is to honor and glorify and fulfill the purpose of the Creator. The one that he has assigned to me, if we just start there and we compare that with where our culture is in our culture we would say something like this: The greatest point of your existence, the greatest purpose that you have is fulfillment and the primary fulfillment that we need to make sure you experience as much of it as you can is sexual fulfillment. That’s a very different narrative than the narrative of Scripture. You know, the narrative of Scripture is that my greatest joy, if we just want to go from the teachings of Jesus, is going to be as I submit myself to God and in accordance with His standard, I love God and love others. That’s where my greatest joy is going to be. It’s in losing my life that I find my life.

So our culture is saying, no, no self-indulgence, whatever your heart craves, go after it. And if someone gets between you and what your heart craves, they’re potentially abusive. They’re harming you, you know, so we have a negative view of the preacher who preaches against sexual sin or preaches against modern trans ideas, right? We’ve got a negative view of that. We’ve got a negative view in our culture of a parent who does something less than affirm their three-year-old or four-year-old. Our culture has gone off script, our culture is no longer following the biblical narrative. The biblical narrative: I exist for God, I exist primarily to worship God, and my enjoyment and my fulfillment is a secondary byproduct of that first commitment. It’s when I have a well-ordered life as God defines a well-ordered life that I’ll truly have joy and satisfaction and true fulfillment. And true fulfillment and fruition of what God has granted to me. That’ll be found there. So, God has created us as image bearers. When it comes to our sexuality God said be fruitful and multiply. And so I would say, I want to say this humbly that when it comes to my masculinity, it’s normative to expect that as I grow and mature and reach a full robust age that I would find myself a wife, right? He that finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor with the Lord. And so, God has given me a desire, procreative desire, desire for sexual intimacy, and God has in bringing Adam and Eve together, he has shown us the way, here’s how you steward this desire.

Now, if you do not find yourself in a biblical marriage doesn’t mean that you’re less of a human, less of a person. We can point throughout history to sorts of fully human, fully satisfied heroes of our faith that were single. And so, we’re not trying to exalt marriage as being greater than singleness. But we’re not being honest with the narrative of Scripture if we’re not recognizing that God made man and woman complementary and God designed for them to come together and form families and that the gift of their sexuality, first and foremost, it’s for Him, but then on a secondary society level, it’s for each other. It’s 1 Corinthians 7. My body is for the pleasure, satisfaction, and fulfillment of my wife and her desires, and her body is for me and there should be that selfless orientation. So you’ve got this biblical construct, I don’t really like that term but it’s the way that God has ordered things. You have this biblical construct. The way that we’re supposed to steward our sexual desires and passions it’s limited, yet in those limitations, there’s great freedom. And then we’ve got the narrative of the serpent, which is there are no boundaries, really, the only boundary is when someone sets up a boundary. 

Dale Johnson: And that leads to death and destruction, death and destruction, instability, chaos. We see that throughout the narrative of Scripture consistently. Now, I do want to talk about this because I think we sort of have a construct in our evangelical world that, you know, of heterosexuality. And I wish we had time; we just don’t to go into the history of, I think that’s where a lot of evangelicals in the 50s, 60s, 70s, when the DSM was homosexuality as a disorder. And they just wanted people to be heterosexual, but as I think about the modern sexual identity constructs, what are the negative implications for quote-unquote heterosexuals? 

Seth Leeman: Well, the first negative is just this idea that I’m okay. 

Dale Johnson: If you’re heterosexual.

Seth Leeman: If I’m heterosexual, I’m okay. What does Scripture say? Scripture says I’m a sinner. So, according to Scripture and according to the reality that I’m a sinner, I’m going to be sinning in this area of my sexuality. And I think that where are where our culture has been, not so much today, but where it has been, there was this idea that, well, at least I’m not gay right within the church, right? Because they’re bad, they’re sinners, they need change. But you know, I just look at pornography, right? Or I’ve just been guilty of fornication during my college years, right? I just lust when I see other women in the church that I find attractive. We give ourselves a pass on all these serious categories of sin because we’ve put it under the umbrella of heterosexuality, and heterosexuality is good. I don’t even like the term. Men in marriage, loving well their wife that is good. Praise God that is good. It is honorable. The bed is undefiled. Praise God for that, but the other deviations from that that occur with the opposite gender. We’ve got all sorts of categories. That’s fornication. That’s adultery. That’s fill-in-the-blank. These are sins that separate us from God that break our fellowship. These are sins for which Christ has to atone. And so that’s one of the immediate dangers, the immediate dangers when you’re not struggling with some of these things. I don’t struggle with my sexual identity. I don’t struggle with my gender identity. Then, I’m good. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, we become blind to our own sin.

Seth Leeman: Right, you knowI’m a level A Christian. And then, there’s these level B people over here. They’re struggling with sin, but at least I don’t. So that would be one consequence that leaps off the page. The second consequence would, again, when it comes to walking in purity, it’s not just confusing. It’s misleading. It’s this idea of how do I live in a way that’s pleasing to God? I’m to be holy in my sexuality, and that’s different than I’m to be a heterosexual, or I’m to be a homosexual, or I’m to be a bisexual. I’m to be holy, and when we use these non-biblical terms, it muddies the water. What does holiness look like? 

Dale Johnson: And I think those constructs, even the religionized ones, like heterosexuality, they become the lens by which we see whether we’re good or bad, and the idea that you’re bringing up is holiness, is we see ourselves in our sexuality as good or evil before God. And that’s the right place that we should see ourselves.

And now, we’ve talked a lot about the sexual identity constructs and why they should be rejected and the ideas behind them and that sort of thing. But these things certainly are appearing all over the place in our churches. I have questions from youth pastors all the time. I’ve got a kid who’s claiming he’s transgender, and we’re going to camp. What should I do? But we’re having, you know, people asking about using certain bathrooms, or we have people who are coming for counsel, and how are we addressing these? I want you, Seth, with the backdrop of the ideas of the sexual identity construct, how much it’s pervading our common culture, even in the church, I want us to talk about how we can lead a counselee away from this type of thinking with the Scriptures?

Seth Leeman: Something that I’ve done in several counseling situations is present to the counselee the position of Scripture. So, what do the Scriptures say about anthropology? What do the Scriptures say about hamartiology, sin? What does Scripture say about sanctification and soteriology? So I want them to understand what the Christian religion is all about because the Christian religion gives us an explanation of why do I struggle with these sinful passions and who am I really am. What is my responsibility before God? And how do I make things right with God and how do I live and overcome temptation, and how do I pursue a life that is fulfilling and satisfying and that glorifies God? We want our counselees to understand, in a really robust way, the Christian message, the Christian call. So I’m picturing like a good angel on someone’s shoulder that’s saying to the counselee. Come follow me. Come into this world, live in this reality, order yourself in accordance with the world that God has constructed the way things really are, order yourself in accordance with truth.

At the same time, we’ll set in parallel this idea that we currently live in a culture and in a moment in time where there is a different way being presented, there’s a different religion, it has different creeds, it has different holy books, it has different liturgies.

Dale Johnson: And values, yeah. 

Seth Leeman: Values, and at the end of the day, both have to be accepted by faith. Both, at the end of the day, you’re submitting and listening to an authority, you can submit and listen to the authority of God, or you can submit and listen to the ideas of man, which with every generation, every 4-5 that pass have drastic shifts, massive movements in thought, and explanations of what is a good life and why are certain things broken and how do we fix it? But that’s been really helpful, particularly amongst counseling younger people because sometimes they come to the counseling table thinking this, they come with the default that science is authoritative and that Scripture is suggestive. And if I never deal with that and I rush straight into, well, here’s what Jesus said about sexuality. You know, here’s what Moses wrote about sexuality. Here are your options moving forward. Here’s how we can help you as a church, which is all good, but those things need to be covered, but if I don’t deal with the deeper authority, it comes back to pointing out idols. If I don’t deal with the idols of our day, in addition to the idols that are functioning within my counselee’s heart, if I don’t address that robustly, I’m likely going to be guilty of treating a wound artificially, like I didn’t quite get out the gangrene. And so, a few months after that person has left the counseling relationship, the accountability and structure that comes with counseling, they’re back taking the temperature of the room that we all live in, so to speak.

Dale Johnson: And I think it’s helpful is when you do what you just described, I think we’re helping them to see that the Bible explains why they find themselves in unbelievable turmoil, why they find themselves walking in an unstable way, why things are wrestling with in them. And nothing has helped to explain that up to this point. And I think the Bible, even in their sin, even in our sin, as we walk in sin at times, the Bible explains how we got there, and it gives a reality of why we’re feeling the things that we’re feeling, why we feel sort of upended and disoriented. And I think that can be helpful and somewhat stabilizing to a person that it gives an explanation as to what they’re wrestling with. 

Seth Leeman: If I could speak to that briefly, I’ve recently experienced that. I’m thinking of two specific occasions. And these were Christian young people, young people that had true Christian professions and seemed to have a meaningful relationship with God. And as I was sitting with them and providing counsel to them, doing a little bit of what I just described, their response to the presentation of, here’s the narrative you’ve been hearing on YouTube. Here’s what you’ve been seeing it. You know the gay-straight alliance club at school. Here’s what that musician or that artist they’ve been espousing this, but here’s what Scripture says and presenting the two different worldviews, and whose voice you’re going to listen to? The response from the Christian counselee is one of relief. It’s like, ah, now my counseling supervisor was Randy Patten, and Randy Patten would say, if they’re not a Christian, you’re really not counseling; it’s evangelism. And so, I’m not suggesting that every time we do this, you know, here’s the worldview of Scripture. And here’s the current diagnosis of our worldview. That every single person that we sit in front of is going to find relief in the presentation of Scripture, but it is true. It really is true, and it’s sufficient, and it makes sense. And it’s robust and it’s so much fuller and thicker and deeper than anything the world’s offering. And I think that we need to become more confident in that. 

Dale Johnson: I want to talk about that hope of Scripture, and that’ll be the last thing we’re running a little long today, but I do at some point, Seth, I want to bring you back to talk about the narrative that’s happening right now, because what we’re hearing in the mental health world is we have to get, you know, these folks are struggling with their gender identity. We have to get them to different places, whether that be hormonal therapy or different therapeutics, or the general firming quote-unquote surgery. And we’re not asking the question, is that truly bringing people to a disposition of help? And I think there’s a whole narrative of study that the secular world is a little bit nervous about those who are wanting to detransition. Those who, you know, what is their mental health look like afterward and there’s some information coming out about that, that’s not favorable to the secular world. So I think that raises the issue is they’re putting all their eggs in a basket of hope and saying that in the end, maybe that’s not too hopeful.

So, what I want you to do is to help us to understand what hope Scripture provides for folks who are caught into this struggle with their sexuality and with their, as they see it, their identity. 

Seth Leeman: One of my favorite New Testament passages is 1 Corinthians chapter 6, the context of 1 Corinthians chapter 6, he’s dealing with this idea that there at the church at Corinth believers were taking believers before the secular judges instead of settling things from within the church, and as he’s developing the flow of that thought there’s just a few verses that are so deep and rich and ultimately, hopeful starts in verse 9 go through verse 11, it says this, “do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves nor the greedy, nor drunkards nor revilers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

First, that doesn’t sound very hopeful or encouraging. But it is in this sense when we treat these sexual matters as they truly are, sin, they’re sin, and nearly everything that’s being described here and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, not everything, but nearly everything is categories of sin within the realm of sexuality. When we deal with it as sin, when we give that bad news, that bad news prepares us for the good news. You’re giving an accurate diagnosis; you’re explaining to the person that one of the reasons that they’re experiencing guilt, shame, they’re suffering on a mental, emotional, and spiritual level is that’s what sin does. sin when it is finished brings forth death, because life comes from God, So that Scripture then what gets really hopeful as Paul says this, “And such were some of you,” so I don’t have to be defined by my sin. I don’t have to live in a perpetual state of guilt. I don’t have to carry shame because of what Jesus Christ has done on the cross because He paid for our sins. Because by His spirit in the New Covenant, there is a power available to me to live in accordance with God’s holy law because all of that is mine as a believer in Jesus Christ. I can say I’m a new man. I’m a new woman. I can leave that baggage behind, such were some of you, and I love these positive terms. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the spirit of our God.” And I end with this, the Bible, the gospel, the message of Jesus Christ is perfectly suited to help sinners and that’s what’s so hopeful.

Dale Johnson: And that is stabilizing. It’s life-giving. It is hopeful. It gives us an outlook of living life in relation to our God, and it’s settling to the soul. That is the hope that we have in Scripture. Well done, Seth.

This is the beginning of lots of conversations. I want to give us permission to talk about these things that are certainly pervasive in our culture, and we, as biblical Christians, need to start thinking deeply about these things and addressing them from a Biblical perspective. Seth, you’re helping us to do that in a lot of different ways. I’m excited about your work and your doctoral program. I can’t wait for some of that to be completed and finished, and I look forward to you addressing some of this in the days ahead. Thanks, brother.

Seth Leeman: Thank you.

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