When God Uses the Gay to Redeem the World

Girl walking in a field

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They are not of this world, Jesus said of us during his high priestly prayer in John 17. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. But before we could be sent, we had to be consecrated—set apart. In Ephesians 2, Paul tells us of a time when we were dead in our sins and following the course of this world with the rest of the human race. That is, until our Heavenly Father intervened. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

 

Once dead in sin, but now made alive because of Yahweh’s compassion and unmerited favor.

 

No longer of this world, but commissioned back into the world to finish what Christ started.

 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. How do we know God’s will? How do we determine if our beliefs and actions are good, acceptable, and perfect? Jesus prayed the Father would sanctify his people in truth. Where in this universe can we find truth? Your word is truth. God’s words spoken in human history provide the foundation of living. God’s words teach us where we came from, what went wrong, the sacrifice he made to set everything right, and our role to play in the redemption of creation. We are not to be conformed to this world because we are in the process of restoring the creation to its former edenic glory.

 

So where does my sexual orientation come into the picture? What does scripture have to say about sexual and gender minorities? What role do we play in redemptive history with the rest of the church?

 

It’s personally helpful for me to look back at the beginning. God creates man and woman as two complementary parts who together manifest his image to the creation. As far as I can tell, this lifelong, monogamous union of man and woman remains God established design for sexuality throughout scripture. Man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife as one flesh. God blesses the man and woman to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth for God’s glory. Yet the heroes of our faith, God’s covenanted people, so often fail to submit to this sexual framework. Sometimes they don’t even seem realize their error, but God remains faithful and gracious to his children because of his steadfast love.

 

When I look at my sexual orientation in light of scripture, I understand my same-sex attraction to be a byproduct of the fall. My voice joins the groans of creation as we suffer together under this weight of bondage, as Paul describes in Romans 8. I await our emancipation and redemption in hope for God to set all things right. In the meantime, there is brokenness, but I am not more broken than any other Christian. All of us, straight Christians, LGBTQ Christians—even the Christians we’re quick to demonize like those experiencing pedophilia—experience sexual brokenness in some sense and we all stand in need of the same grace and same Savior. God works within the brokenness of this world, sending us out to bring healing and restoration to the creation—not quarantining his people in a bubble to rapture away while the world burns. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will would be done in earth as in heaven. Do we really believe him?

Night Sky

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How does God redeem my sexual brokenness as a sexual minority? Many conservative Christians point to 1 Corinthians 6 as proof I shouldn’t identify as gay; that I should be undergoing some sort of process of becoming less attracted to men and more attracted to women or maybe even more asexual—emotionally castrating myself so I’m no longer drawn to men. Now, 1 Corinthians 6 is a difficult passage for me to interpret, but when Paul states “and such were some of you,” I think we often take this verse too far. When God’s Spirit washes, sanctifies, and justifies our lives, that doesn’t mean he wipes away a sexual minority’s gay orientation. In my case, I became a Christian when I was six years old—a couple of years before puberty and the realization I liked guys. Sanctification is a pretty key word here. Is this really a process of going from gay/lesbian to bisexual to straight? Or transgender to cisgender? Or is this a lifetime of pursuing Jesus and becoming more transformed into his image as we daily die to our selfishness and pride to esteem God and others as more important than our own lives?

 

I’ve discovered immeasurable purpose and hope in looking at my experience as a sexual minority through a disability or “differently abled” perspective (mainly due to an excellent article by Spiritual Friendship contributor Chris Damian). C. S. Lewis took this approach when writing to Sheldon Vanauken about homosexuality:

 

First, to map out the boundaries within which all discussion must go on, I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homosexual no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying. Second, our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (John 9:1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God should be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will “turn the necessity to glorious gain.”1

 

While homosexuality was not part of God’s original plan, that doesn’t mean my sexual orientation threw God off his game. “Oh, snap. Seth’s gay. What the heck do I now?!?” Lewis compares me to the blind man in John 9. Now you wouldn’t tell a blind man “Dude, don’t call yourself blind. God created Adam and Eve with perfect vision, so surely he wants you to have the ability to see. Just keep praying and believing and someday you’ll regain your vision.” That’s crazy talk, right? I’m not denying God can heal people—we serve a God of miracles. But does he usually heal people? Does he usually remove the pain, discomfort, and challenges that result from the fall? No. It’s debatable whether God predestines our difficulties and heartaches to make us better Christians (I personally think this view takes God’s sovereignty too far), but I sincerely believe Romans 8:28: We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. God is powerful enough to take whatever crap this life throws at us and transform and redeem it into something good. In Christ is life and the life is the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it, as John tells us in the beginning of his gospel. So our challenge, Lewis points out, is to find the vocation concealed within our disability or difficult situation.

Woman holding a sparkler

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Growing up in the evangelical church, everyone in my little bubble framed my gay orientation as a struggle, a thorn in the flesh, and a curse. I didn’t see anything positive about my situation. Why would I want to identify with something so utterly broken? Something so… ugly?

 

C. S. Lewis continues in his letter to Vanauken and offers a compelling question:

 

Of course, the first step must be to accept any privations, which, if so disabled, we can’t lawfully get. The homosexual has to accept sexual abstinence just as the poor man has to forego otherwise lawful pleasures because he would be unjust to his wife and children if he took them. That is merely a negative condition. What should the positive life of the homosexual be?2

 

This is the question the church should be asking. As Eve Tushnet has written multiple times, “You can’t have a vocation of no.” You can’t build a thriving spiritual life off a negative foundation of “Don’t have gay sex.” The church’s lack of imagination creates a logical dead-end for many sexual and gender minorities, deepening their shame and despair, and driving many of them away from Christ to find purpose and hope that we neglected to give them amid the reality of their situation. You can’t create an illusion of heaven on earth for straight Christians while the rest of us are suffering in hell. If you dare stand up for traditional marriage, you (as individuals and corporately as the church) better be prepared to provide the love you’re denying to thousands of sexual minorities. You better be the family you tell us we cannot have.

 

Maybe my favorite answer to what a positive life might look like for LGBTQ individuals comes from Wesley Hill in his recent book Spiritual Friendship:

 

Perhaps celibate gay and lesbian Christians, precisely in and out of their celibacy, are called to express, rather than simply renounce and deny, same-sex love. And perhaps this is where, for all potential trials and temptations that come with this way of thinking, same-sex friendship represents one way for gay Christians who wish to be celibate to say: “I am embracing a positive calling. I am, along with every other Christian, called to love and be loved.”3

 

This could be why I’m uncomfortable calling myself same-sex attracted or why I feel phrases like “I struggle with same-sex attraction” fail to capture everything God is doing in my life. Yes, I experience same-sex attraction because of the fall, but God is using my situation as a means of grace and an opportunity to share the Gospel. Gay encompasses so much more than mere same-sex attraction. It’s an identity of kinship with those who have shared my experiences, borne my sufferings and struggles, and have found a home—“a sense of peace and belonging … around others whose relationship to the world was the same kind of different as mine,” Julie Rodgers wrote nearly a year ago on her blog. She entitled the post “Can the Gay be a Good?” Because I believe in a God of redemption, the Rewriter of broken stories my answer will always be a resounding yes! God can use the gay to turn the world upside down for his glory, to teach the straight majority about their own sexuality and what it means to live in the kingdom. Everything belongs to God, including my sexual orientation.

 

“How can you be gay without feeling ashamed?” readers have asked me since the very beginning of my blog. We internalize so much homophobia from the church, don’t we? We hear so many Christians like Jon from the film C. O. G. telling us we’re sick, mentally ill, demon-possessed, rebellious, attention-seeking, reprobate… It’s exhausting, right? But there’s so much freedom in accepting what we cannot change. There’s power in owning our stories and telling them honestly. I don’t personally believe accepting my sexual orientation means I’m meant to marry a man, but it does mean I’m liberated from a futile pursuit of straightness or an attempt to appear straight in church. These words from Rob Bell’s Sex God are everything:

 

You can’t be connected with God until you’re at peace with who you are. If you’re still upset that God gave you this body or this life or this family or these circumstances, you will never be able to connect with God in a healthy, thriving, sustainable sort of way. You’ll be at odds with your maker. And if you can’t come to terms with who you are and the life you’ve been given, you’ll never be able to accept others and how they were made and the lives they’ve been given. And until you’re at peace with God and those around you, you will continue to struggle with your role on the planet, your part to play in the ongoing creation of the universe. You will continue to struggle and resist and fail to connect.4

Thoughtful man in the sunlight

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Thinking back, LGBTQ people used to scare me when I struggled in vain to become straight. I’d never met anyone like me and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the risk. What if they brainwashed me into becoming gay? When I accepted my sexual orientation as an unchanging part of my personhood, I began to discover compassion for other sexual minorities. As God opened my heart to the LGBTQ community, I started to see my life’s calling. I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, and insecurity my whole life, but suddenly I had a purpose pulling me outside of my self-obsession and self-hatred. God is transforming me into a less self-centered man because of my experience as a sexual minority.

 

As I’ve chosen to live a transparent and vulnerable life, I’ve found greater strength in battling my personal demons like lust, pornography, and hooking up. I’m free to talk about my experience with my friends and family and can ask for accountability and prayer when I need it. I’m able to encourage other Christians who feel called to celibacy and I have the privilege of loving other LGBTQs who disagree with my theology. I’m learning to thrive in community and become truly human.

 

LGBTQ is how our culture articulates sexual and gender minority experience. It’s just our attempt to be authentic and honest with you—how we act based off our experiences is a different conversation. Paul told the Corinthians “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” As a self-identified gay man, I have opportunities to share Christ’s love with the marginalized that many in the church will never have. It’s not my aim to convert gays and lesbians to celibacy, but to encourage sexual minorities to know and pursue Christ. Their path may not look like mine. I am not the Holy Spirit; he is quite capable of doing his own job. It’s my job to journey with the people God brings into my life; to listen and learn; to love and live out my faith.

 

To tell you the truth, I’m not a fan of the term gay Christian, though I often use it for convenience’s sake. I’m not a different kind of Christian, somehow separate from the rest of Christ’s body. I’m just a Christian who happens to be gay. I believe in the Apostle’s Creed. I love talking about Jesus and I’m still developing a love for talking to Jesus (work in progress, folks). As much as the church frustrates and hurts me, I keep returning to her. Of all the pieces of my personality and identity, my faith takes preeminence. It’s my faith that informs my sexuality, establishing an ethical foundation to build my life on. My sexual orientation has taught me to ask questions, pursue truth, and love the suffering and outliers.

 

God calls all kinds of people to participate in his redemptive narrative. He sets us apart and sends us back in our broken world with a message of good news: Aslan is moving; the winter will come to an end.

 

All will be made right.

 

And we will live happily ever after.

~         ~         ~

 

  1. Quote copied from Ron Belgau’s post C. S. Lewis to Sheldon Vanauken on Homosexuality from Spiritual Friendship.
  2. See note 1.
  3. Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015, 76.
  4. Rob Bell, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007, 46.

A Blended Family

glasses

 

“This is like needing glasses,”

 

Dr. Erica Hahn shares in a vulnerable moment of Grey’s Anatomy. Erica discovers the truth—she’s gay.

 

“When I was a kid I would get these headaches, so I went to the doctor and they said I needed glasses. I didn’t understand that; it didn’t make sense because I could see fine. And then I get the glasses and put them on, and I’m in the car. Suddenly I yell,”

 

Erica pauses as the emotions kick in.

 

“Because the big green blobs I’ve been staring at my whole life—they weren’t big green blobs! They were leaves. I didn’t even know I was missing the leaves; I didn’t know that leaves existed. And then… Leaves!”

 

With tears in her eyes, Erica looks to her friend, now lover, Dr. Callie Torres.

 

“You are glasses.”1

 

~         ~         ~

 

 

Erica’s sentiment resonates with my experience on a broader scale beyond just a night of awesome sex (I can’t say I know much about that, sorry). You see, these last few years have been a season of reframing for me, or in context of Erica’s story, of seeing the world—and myself—more clearly. It’s been a process of discovering my family.

 

I’ve always known my family of origin, the church. I grew up in the little subculture of the Primitive Baptist denomination, a world without musical instruments or Sunday school; a people of rich hospitality and sincere love for Jesus. The Primitive Baptist faith gave me a distinctive identity. As I’ve grown more nondenominational over the years, Christianity continues to matter because of its heart centered in relationship with a holy, yet loving Creator. While I can’t justify or explain all scripture’s paradoxes and complexities, I find peace knowing God welcomes my attempts to struggle and grow through my questions and doubts.

 

Christianity has been my home for as long as I can remember. And yet, the church has been an incomplete home.

 

After college, my spiritual growth hit a rough stage. I knew I was never going to be straight, nor was I going to entertain the thought of marrying a woman ever again. I waded cautiously into the void of the unknown, entering this stage of transformation by myself. I shut out nearly every friend and acquaintance, afraid, I think, that they couldn’t handle the questions on my heart or the answers I was determined to find.

 

So I introduced myself to the gay community.

 

I really didn’t know where to begin or what to say. Gay people had always been “out there,” always out of reach. So I chose less than appropriate means to meet other sexual minorities (primarily dating and hook-up apps). Yeah, I was a tad bit naïve, and I didn’t always have the best or purest motives either. But I had come a long way from the opinionated reformed fundamentalist with an answer for every question. I began listening to stories. The stories I heard weren’t always from Christians. Nearly every gay guy I met had a background in Christianity and a story of pain associated with the church. Several gay guys I befriended held varying degrees of interest and devotion to the Christian faith. I clung to their words, every explanation of why they believed God blessed gay sexuality. Repeatedly I found myself infatuated with my new friends, desperately wanting to express love and be loved in return. I wore my heart on my sleeve and eventually guys only interacted when I initiated. When I stopped communicating and gave them space, it was too late. The friendships ended. These unhealthy cycles only deepened my insecurities and sense of worthlessness.

 

Something remarkable happened through one of those short-lived friendships though. The first gay Christian I crushed on introduced me to Brent Bailey’s blog Odd Man Out and Andrew Marin’s book Love is an Orientation. I was falling apart, possibly on a course away from my faith, frustrated and lost. Brent and Andrew revealed a new path. Reading Brent’s words filled me with hope—somewhere out in this would there were people like me, gay people who want to take their faith seriously. Whenever I brought up faith around my gay friends, they would shut down; they wouldn’t respond to my texts. Reading Odd Man Out brought tears to my eyes. Someone got it.

 

And suddenly I got it. Church wasn’t complete because it hadn’t represented the full diversity of Christ’s body. There was a reason I felt different. Everyone in the church seemed to have the same general story; everyone had the same major life events. They were all a bunch of middle class, Republican, white, straight, married Americans. No wonder church felt stifling and lonely.

 

I’ve been running from church for a very long time. I’m honestly not sure how to do church anymore. I really don’t want to play the role of the out and proud gay dude 24/7. I’m so much more than my sexual orientation. But I don’t want to feel trapped in the closet again either, waiting for some arbitrary time to come out once again. Some days I wonder if I have enough patience and grace to invest in another faith community. Let’s face it, families and couples are at an advantage in seeking out new churches. They have someone to lean on for support amid the process. Last year I thought I finally had made the transition to a mainstream church, just to realize how lonely I felt sitting in a row alone month after month, in a worship and preaching style far outside my comfort zone. Everyone seemed too evangelical and conservative to let me enter their lives. A church home felt more like a fantasy or a crushed dream.

 

But something pretty amazing happened this last Sunday. I met my friend Logan last year while spending a week in Tennessee catching up with some of my old college friends and brainstorming the concept of this blog. I had followed Logan’s blog over the past year and since I was already in a risk-taking, adventurous spirit, I asked if we could have coffee. Thankfully he said yes and what followed was one of my very favorite, cherished conversations. A year later, I had a request. I asked Logan if I could go with him to church. I had never worshipped with another gay person before, and I wondered what it would feel like. Logan was cool with me tagging along, so we caught up in a coffee shop where the church also happened to be located. It may have been the best church service I ever attended (awesome things seem to happen around Logan, just saying). The service was hip with its blend of liturgy and folksy contemporary worship, coffee and skinny jeans, but it was far more than  “sexy Christianity” as Kyle Donn has put it. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel alone in church, I wasn’t an isolated, individual sexual minority in a sea of heterosexuals. While I barely know Logan, it was really special to share such a symbolic moment. In that moment we were brothers united in one common love of our Savior. Sitting next to Logan allowed me to lower my walls, silence my inner critic, and worship. I didn’t know if I’d ever sincerely engage in church again, but for one Sunday I did. And it was awesome.

 

As God is maturing, sanctifying, and integrating every piece of my life, I’m slowly understanding what Dr. Hahn was saying about the glasses. Same-sex attraction used to be the dark issue that I shoved away in a closet as far from my consciousness as I could keep it. That proved as easy as holding a beach ball under water. When I finally ventured into the unknown of my sexuality, it took me a few years to find a path. I crossed physical and emotional boundaries I never should have approached. I was selfish, needy, and insecure, but through my sins and mistakes, God has revealed his tender mercies and redemptive love. I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. There’s peace in interacting with other gay people now as equals, whether online or in person. Not in pride, not desperately clawing for attention, but aware of just how beloved I am in my Father’s eyes. I also have a passionate desire to express Christ’s love to His people (gay or straight).

 

Self-identifying as gay begins internally as we recognize our differences from the world around us. But sexual identity isn’t so much an act of naval gazing for me. It’s about kinship with those who have shared similar experiences and suffered all kinds of indignities from the church and society. Christian sexual minorities struggle with questions and fears that privileged straight Christians will never have to stress about. Every option before us comes with great sacrifices and heartache. I call myself gay because I am part of a community, regardless of our differing views on sexual ethics. I am a brother to my LGBTQ family; they have my unconditional love until the end of my days.

 

I freely admit I could be wrong on so many things. But I’m certain of two things. I have one awesome Savior and one awesome family—a diverse, blended family of ethnicities, genders, political positions, varying socioeconomic classes, ages, and heck yes, sexual orientations.

 

My gay friends are my glasses. They make this world, and the church, a much more beautiful and welcoming place.

 

  1. Grey’s Anatomy, Season 5: Episode 6, “Life During Wartime.”

 

Photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user Filly Jones

heart on sleeve

Hiding Behind a Label

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user Scott Garner

 

I can be a little needy. There’s a little boy in my soul that screams “Love me! See me! Don’t leave me!” I tend to look for validation from others rather than listening to myself, or more importantly, God. I sometimes feel like I missed out on something as a home school kid growing up in a church with only older people. If I’m honest, I feel very uncool. I’m quiet and slightly awkward. I depend a lot on my gay identity, especially how it interacts with my religious faith. It defines me. My sexual orientation pinpoints my differences from other people. It gives me purpose; it helps define a core aspect of my personhood. But my world is shrinking. I’m no longer the only gay Christian person I know. I’m not all that different.

Last month The Gay Christian Network held its yearly conference in Chicago¹. A lot of gay Christians I knew were there. I told a couple of folks I was so jealous. It would have been incredible to meet a lot of the people I respect and follow in person. But I wasn’t entirely honest either. The idea of going to the conference scared me. I had a lot of obvious excuses why I couldn’t go (and they will probably not change next year for Portland—sorry guys), but nonetheless, I did not want to be there. I feared an identity crisis. The thing that defined me in Alabama would become suddenly meaningless among hundreds of gay Christians in Chicago.

rhe dwebb

GCN Conference

When I come out to compassionate and open-minded straight Christians, there is curiosity. People may see me as brave, interesting, and well, cool. Kyle Donn, a Christian blogger, refers to this as “Sexy Christianity,” radical faith that can be glorifying to God, but can just as easily be a way to promote ourselves. Donn writes, “This kind of Christianity is dangerously cool. And that’s the thing… It’s dangerous. Here and there, it’s spot on; but my fear is that it flirts with the edge and settles for the empty satisfaction of a cultural ego-trip –- thirsty to hear cool people say: ‘Wow! You’re doing great things for God!’” As I processed by thoughts for preparing and launching this blog, I realized I had made an idol out of my sexual identity. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I was trying to cover it up with an edgy label. Being gay was my ticket to the attention and validation I crave.

If I went to the GCN conference, that would mean leveling out the playing field. I didn’t want to be around gay people who naturally exude confidence and coolness that just doesn’t come naturally for me. I didn’t want to enter a new world of cliques, striving to get the “cool kids’” attention. What a Christian attitude, right? I envisioned looking into a storefront window, seeing all the amazing activity inside and feeling unable to participate–wishing desperately I was back in Alabama instead of freezing in Chicago.

If my identity centers on me, on this silly pedestal I’ve formed in my mind, it will fall over. If you didn’t notice earlier, I’m a broken guy. I’m gradually coming out publicly to encourage people (gay and straight) to live without masks. If my focus centers on pleasing others to maintain the applause, then I will only trade one façade for another. I’m going to screw up. But failure is part of growing, and abundant grace flourishes despite my clumsy attempts of reflecting God’s love.

I was reminded in a phone conversation recently with another gay Christian blogger that it’s ok to recognize my own need for love and validation. I tend to vilify this yearning, fearing I won’t be able to tame it. But a balance can be found somewhere between my unhealthy neediness and isolationist individualism (the very American mindset that I can deal with my problems by myself). One person cannot meet all my needs. Husbands and wives who place all their chips on a spouse for their joy and contentment in life will be severely disappointed. We are designed to thrive in a rich, diverse community, not an isolated family unit.

My concern about the conference makes me laugh now. On the one hand, I’ve had gay friends for a number of years since graduating from Bryan College. While our shared experience as sexual minorities originally drew us together, it is far from the only dynamic that makes our friendships work. One gay Christian friend in particular has been a dear brother to me for several years though we’ve only met once in person. He’s been my rock through many emotional and spiritual struggles. I don’t feel pressured to be anything but who I am when we interact. Certainly not some kind of perfect super-gay-Christian.

Wherever this blogs leads. I hope that feeling will continue to be my framework of ministry. No mask, just Seth–but at the same time I don’t want to lose myself in a black hole of self-obsession. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. If there are people I feel drawn to befriend but they don’t reciprocate my interest in friendship and/or connection, that’s fine. God will provide for my emotional needs. If I’m seen as cool for ministering to LGBTs as an openly gay Christian man myself, great. More props to God. If people ignore or hate me for what I have to say, then this is still worth doing. The truly cool people in this world are the ones who seek to humble their hearts, slay their pride, and love without worry of how they’re perceived by their peers. That’s the kind of man I want to be.

 

1. The Gay Christian Network promotion pictures taken from HeyoDavo

lgbt flag

Finding Where I Belong

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user -Marlith-

 

“They said oh, we could love you

But we are not yet what you want

Because oh, anyone could love you

You’ve got to find where you belong”

-A Fine Frenzy, Riversong

Gay. It’s a loaded word. As it registers in your brain, chemical reactions instantaneously fire in your body. An emotion or a flurry of emotions tie directly to this word. You have your own emotional definition. Depending on what you believe and what you have experienced in your journey of life, you will have a unique subjective reaction. Words convey meaning.

I try to be mindful of the power of language when I express myself as gay. It’s a word that needs to be modified when used among conservative Christians. Justin Lee from the Gay Christian Network explained this so well in this video that was recently published on GCN:
Christians and society are not speaking the same language. For the world outside the church, “gay” means attraction to the same sex. It says nothing of one’s actual sexual behaviors or beliefs about gay sex. The church is frankly using an antiquated definition that damages the ongoing discussion of sexual ethics and same-sex attraction.

Even if we can agree on a common definition for the word “gay,” the issue still remains that the conservative church feels uneasy about Christians choosing to identify with their sexual orientation. Aren’t we more than our attractions and feelings? I certainly hope so! I want to ensure that each piece of my identity carries its own weight in forming my personhood, especially my identity as a Christian. In other words, the fact that I am a man, a son, a brother, a friend, a Caucasian, an Alabamian, an Auburn football fan (War Eagle!), a lover of literature, indie music (etc.), all play important roles in defining me who I am. The pieces come with different privileges and disadvantages in society and/or the church. Saying that I am a sexual minority doesn’t trump the rest of who I am, but it does say something monumental about how I relate to both men and women. It impacts how I make choices that impact my life.

Until last year, I didn’t express my sexual orientation with language. I thought it was weakness to label myself with words. People can have power over you when you reduce a complex life experience to a single syllable. You can’t control how other people react, nor their preconceived beliefs and prejudices. In addition, during most of my early twenties I wanted to know I was different. I wasn’t one of them. But as time passed, the gospel changed my heart. I realized this ridiculous “us versus them” dualism was wrong. I developed friendships with gay people. And then something amazing happened: I realized these people were my people, just as Christians are my people. We had gone through similar struggles, similar pain. I resonated with their stories. I felt at home. I no longer needed to distance myself from them, because I had been one of them all long, separated only by language.

By expressing part of my identity as gay, I am declaring something far greater than sex. My identity as a gay man is a relational construct, not a sexual one. I choose to express my experience as a sexual minority in solidarity with my brothers and sisters in the gay community, especially those who share my love for Jesus. As for the term “gay Christian,” Brent Bailey from Odd Man Out offers this helpful note while discussing an article by Wes Hill:

I don’t think Wes or many other gay Christians, regardless of their theology, would primarily identify themselves as a “gay Christian” instead of just a “Christian,” as if “gay Christian” were some new category of person or “Gay Christianity” were a distinct branch of practice. I know that’s the case for me: Only rarely will I actually say the phrase “gay Christian,” since in most cases I’m either talking about myself as Christian or as a gay person. The phrase “gay Christian” is merely a means of suggesting the two realities aren’t mutually exclusive.”¹

So by articulating my experience as a gay Christian man, I’m using language to express my unique needs and concerns in the body of Christ. It clarifies how I’m different from heterosexual Christians, offering a framework to help assist the majority in the church recognize the existence and struggles of LGBTs in their own congregations, families, and workplaces. While we have differences, I’m still a Christian with more in common with my straight brother and sisters in Christ than what makes us different. Maybe it helps to frame it like the differences between Caucasian, African-American, or Hispanic Christians. Hopefully by dialoguing about LGBTQ concerns, the church can begin to wrap their minds around the experience of thousands of Christians like myself. It’s a starting point that will evolve as we have the willingness to listen and minister.

If you still don’t like the word “gay,” that’s fine. I think Christians are trying to redeem the word and as Andrew Marin says, “elevate the conversation.” But I do understand your hesitancy. All the same, words like sexual minority and LGBTQ are being used whether the church likes it or not. Please don’t let semantics be a stumbling block for the continuation of the discussion. Agree to disagree and keep the relationship going.

The winding journey I’ve taken these past 26 years have led me to different places in how I frame my identity. I still have a long way to go. But through the loneliness, isolation, and frustration, I have found where I belong. It’s somewhere between the church I grew up in and LGBTQ community that calls me to be God’s (imperfect) representative. Some days it feels like no man’s land, but there are other days that I see good happening; I see shalom flourishing. I have two families who don’t get along, but I love both of them. And I intend to give my life in ministry, doing my part in mediating this conflict.

 

¹Brent Bailey, “In Response to Wes Hill’s ‘Once More'”