Sexual identity report lauded as pastor resource

NASHVILLE (BP) -- A report by two Johns Hopkins psychiatry scholars debunking myths about homosexuality and transgenderism has been cited by a pastor who specializes in mental health care issues as a valuable aid for ministry to those struggling with sexual identity.

"The article represents some of the most clear-headed thinking that I have read on the volatile subject of sexual identity," said Tony Rose, who chaired Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page's Mental Health Advisory Council. "The tenor of the authors is worthy of being imitated.

"I am in agreement with the article's stated primary concern -- the unusual amount of traumatic mental and emotional health experiences found among the population of humans who struggle with sexual identity issues," Rose, pastor of LaGrange (Ky.) Baptist Church, told Baptist Press in written comments. "The church could learn from this model of compassion and seek to meet this observable need."

The three-part report in the fall edition of The New Atlantis journal by Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh, both of the psychiatry department at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, draws on more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific studies and argues:

-- The idea sexual orientation is "an innate, biologically fixed property of human beings -- the idea that people are 'born that way' -- is not supported by scientific evidence."

-- The "elevated risk" among homosexual and transgender individuals "for a variety of adverse mental health outcomes" cannot be explained fully as the result of "social stressors" like discrimination and harassment.

-- The idea that gender identity is "an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex" is not supported by scientific evidence.

Mayer, the report's lead author, writes in the preface that he "strongly support[s] equality ... for the LGBT community" and that the report "is about science and medicine, nothing more and nothing less."

McHugh previously has expressed public skepticism regarding the effectiveness of gender reassignment surgery in improving the mental health of people suffering from gender dysphoria -- the condition of not feeling at home in one's God-given body in terms of gender.

Rose said "pastors should take the time to read this article for several reasons. One reason is to observe the skill of serious research from an objective perspective. It appears the authors worked hard to keep personal preference from getting in the way of their research findings."

Alan Branch, a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary ethics professor whose book "Born This Way?" draws similar conclusions to Mayer and McHugh, told BP, "A careful review of research on homosexuality will demonstrate that the church should not change its biblical stance that sex is designed by God to be experienced in a heterosexual and monogamous marriage.

"Christian mercy demands both that we stand firm on the biblical stance while showing mercy to those who desire to overcome homosexual temptation and live as a faithful disciple following biblical sexual ethics. But mercy does not mean we compromise what God's Word says. If God's Word is true, compromise would be the most unmerciful thing we could do," Branch said in written comments.

He added, "The 'born this way' claim is an inaccurate and truncated description of findings to date."

Among other conclusions of Mayer and McHugh's report:

-- Studies of identical twins "make clear that genetic influences cannot be the whole" cause of same-sex sexual attraction, though genetic factors likely play a role.

-- Without further research, "the idea that sexual abuse may be a causal factor in sexual orientation remains speculative."

-- "Compared to the general population, non-heterosexual and transgender subpopulations have higher rates of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and suicide, as well as behavioral and social problems such as substance abuse and intimate partner violence."

-- "Almost nothing is well understood when we seek biological explanations for what causes some individuals to state that their gender does not match their biological sex."

-- "There is little scientific evidence that gender identity is fixed at birth or at an early age" or that an individual can possess the brain of one sex and the body of another.

-- It is "especially troubling" that "drastic interventions" like hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery "are prescribed and delivered to patients identifying, or identified, as transgender," including children.

-- "The majority of children who identify as the gender opposite their biological sex will not continue to do so as adults."

Mayer and McHugh close their report by arguing, "Everyone -- scientists and physicians, parents and teachers, lawmakers and activists -- deserves access to accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity.

"While there is much controversy surrounding how our society treats its LGBT members, no political or cultural views should discourage us from understanding the related clinical and public health issues and helping people suffering from mental health problems that may be connected to their sexuality."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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