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.