When someone says “I’m gay”
We are finally landing the plane on a six-week series where I’ve shared some of the preconceived ideas and biases with which I entered the sexuality conversation ten years ago.
We’ve discussed ideas like whether sexual orientation is a choice and if it is changeable. We wondered why the Church has the reputation of hating gay people and why the impression of so many people in the Church is that being straight is the goal. I’ve tried to reiterate that we will never change the way we think unless we confront our biases. And if we don’t change the way we think, we certainly won’t change the way we act. And I believe, strongly and passionately, that we need some changes in the way that we act towards the LGBTQ+ community.
In this final post, I’d like us to dialogue a bit about what we hear when someone says the phrase, “I’m gay.”
I’ll lead with a couple things I think we hear. Likely if you’re reading this, you’re an evangelical believer who regularly attends a solid, Bible-believing church. Perhaps we want to love well but are not aware that we aren’t.
None of us enter this conversation as a blank slate. We hear things behind seemingly simple words.
Initially, our first response to that statement “I’m gay”, may be to make some assumptions about the sexual activity of the person standing in front of us. When someone refers to themselves as “gay”, deep down, I question if they are sexually active or looking to become sexually active. It’s funny to me that we often are not thinking such things in our routine conversations with those we assume are heterosexual. As you sit with teens, college students, young adults, or really anyone, are you wondering about their degree of sexual activity?
To be honest, I actually am wondering about such things. I’ve always served with teens. My husband worked through a strong addiction to pornography in our first ten years of marriage. I’ve seen the damage sexual sin brings, and I have a huge respect for the power sexuality holds in us and in our society. Sexual sin and pornography is a stronghold that in many ways is strangling the Church in America. (But perhaps that is a hobby horse for another day.)
Many of us also have a gut reaction to just the word “gay”. In church, we find the descriptor “same-sex attracted” or “same-gender attracted” preferable to the word “gay.” Why?
One popular reason given to explain why evangelicals don’t like people using the word “gay” to describe themselves is the questions it raises about where a person is finding their identity. The assumption is that using the word “gay” infers that they are finding their identity in their attractions and not in Jesus and the work He did on the cross to save us.
I understand this concern. But I also think that regardless of the phrases I use to describe myself in any segment of my life, I could still have identity issues underneath the surface. To me it seems like I need to hold my opinions and judgments far away until I get to know someone, hear their story, and understand a bit of where they are finding their identity. Then, if I have built some relationship with them, they may invite my thoughts about how they describe themselves.
To infer that someone has their identity rooted in their attractions simply because they refer to themselves as gay seems foolish.
Another reason given related to the above is that we should not use identifiers to describe ourselves that yoke us to our sin/propensity to sin. As a redeemed child of God, the thought is that I should be focused on how I am made new and not the temptations to sin that remain.
I understand that concern as well. A huge price was paid so that I could become a new creation. That is huge. But I have several close friends that have attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for years. I hear story after story of how alcoholics find freedom from their addiction by embracing and following the twelve steps faithfully. Each week, a person attending an AA meeting (or any twelve-step meeting) opens their sharing with a phrase like this: “Hello, my name is Susan and I am an alcoholic.” They are definitely identifying with the temptation in their life. Also, in many cases, they are also finding freedom from that addiction.
You may think it’s a stretch to use this as my example, but hear me out. For years, I have attended church, women’s Bible study, Sunday school, accountability groups, and small group. Like myself, many of the men and women around the circle and in the aisles with me struggle with the same sins day after day, year after year. I mean no judgment in this, just observation. For years (long before I entered the conversation about sexuality), I pondered why we do not begin in Bible study and these various other venues by declaring what we are praying to be freed from. Wouldn’t it benefit me to enter the room and say, “Hello, my name is Susan, and I am insecure, I can be codependent, and I also have a critical spirit at times”? And though I try to be vulnerable in the spaces that I am in and share about real life, most of our church groups do not foster the kind of raw exposure and transparency that I think brings genuine change— a space where we find the mercy and kindness that draws us to repentance.
One final thing that I believe pops up in our minds is more nuanced than the previous two assumptions: assuming sexual activity and assuming identity issues. When we hear a Christians refer to themselves as “gay” we assume they are Side A—affirming of gay marriage/gay sexual relationships. In a previous post, we teased out the differences between Side A and Side B Christians. You can check out that whole post as a primer. But a simple way of thinking about it is:
Side B: Christians who experience attraction to their same gender but uphold a historical Christian sexual ethic that says marriage is designed by God to be male/female. And that if a person is not in a male/female marriage they should abstain from sexual activity.
Side A: Christians who experience attraction to their same gender and believe that God allows for same gender marriages and relationships that are loving and consensual. Think of the “A” as standing for affirming of gay marriage (in a simplistic sense).
My husband Shawn has told me again and again that most people, both inside and outside the Church, do not have a framework or paradigm for a Side B Christian: someone persistently attracted to the same sex who holds to the historical, Christian sexual ethic. And because we haven’t thought this through, we live practically out of our own ignorant preconceptions. And this hurts people.
You may be saying, “I recognize that Side B Christians exist, but I do not think anyone should refer to themselves as ‘gay’”. I can respect that thought when it allows for the individuality of others and how God is leading them in convictions. Can someone choose to refer to themselves as “gay” and still be “OK” in your eyes? Or have they crossed an invisible line in the sand and are perceived by you as “bad,” “wrong,” or “spiritually immature”?
Can I let someone else have the freedom to choose their identifier?
The risk is great, in my opinion, for the evangelical church to wound its own members when we cannot offer this freedom. I look around and see us dividing up across lines about this three-letter word G-A-Y. And in doing this, we are ignoring what I believe are more pressing issues :
We need to teach young and old alike how to understand God’s design for sexuality as laid out in the Scriptures—we don’t do this well.
We need to teach our members to be able to gracefully and lovingly (dare I say winsomely) communicate the above—we have also not done this well.
We need to recognize that sexual sin of all varieties is often unconfronted in our bodies and renders us ineffective in the mission of the gospel.
Lastly, we need to recognize that we have an enemy, a real enemy seeking to destroy us, and it is not Side B Christians who call themselves celibate and gay.
Oh man, my prayer for years now has been that we (you and me) would learn to love in ways that are practical, meaningful, and genuine as we relate to the LGBTQ+ community at large as well as those sitting next to us in worship on Sundays and in Bible study.
We cannot do this well if we do not get honest with what’s really happening in our minds and hearts related to these topics.
Please pray. Read. Listen. Pray some more. Confront your biases. Get feedback. Learn to love.
And I’d encourage you that if you have enjoyed this series on biases/preconceived ideas, share it with those in your circles. We all can help change the sphere in which we have influence.