We’ve had a few people ask us why we would use the label “gay Christian” when it is so charged and controversial, and I thought I would give a brief explanation of why I personally have used that phrase:
That’s a big part of it, really. Out of all the possible labels, “gay” is the most convenient, and I can hardly muster the energy to type all the extra words every time to provide the proper nuance. (It should come as no surprise that I failed miserably at Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.) Saying “I’m gay” is immediate and effective. Aside from the two or three Shakespeare majors who will think I’m just having a good day, everyone understands what I’m trying to communicate: that I’m attracted to men. We can hash out all the little details throughout the conversation.
I do need to say that “gay” is not the only charged label. Saying that “I’m a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction” is often perceived as code for “I really don’t want to be gay. I might try therapy. I probably have depressive tendencies. I find rainbows terrifying and plan to move to New Mexico to avoid them.” (Too dramatic?)
“I have SSA” (same-sex attraction) is a common shortcut that usually betrays a conservative ethic. But a lot of people have no clue what SSA stands for, and I usually just end up saying, “It means I’m gay.”
“I’m a Christian who is exclusively attracted to men” is clunky, but I have used it to initiate conversations when I wanted to avoid any possible political overtone. It’s the least charged of the options, but it’s about as convenient and time-efficient as a trip to the DMV.
I’m actually more or less comfortable with any of those. But be careful, there are some people who refuse to identify as gay (I used to be like that), and there are others who will be offended if a “less charged” term than “gay” is offered. Listen to how people talk about themselves. Let them guide your vocabulary. Be flexible, and slow to judge.
Now, there’s another massive question attached to all of this. Should we even call ourselves “gay Christians?” Why identify ourselves by our struggles? Doesn’t this take the focus away from what Christ is doing in our lives?
I will hopefully write more about this later, but being gay does not just raise moral questions; being gay is a social reality. I don’t think there is any weighty, theological equivalence between sexual orientation and skin color, but there is definitely a social equivalence whether the church wants to acknowledge it or not. Though I do not align myself with the LGBTQ community per se, we share some common life experiences. A group of Christians who are all attracted to the same sex is not the same as a group of Christians who struggle with anger issues because the “angry Christians” haven’t been wrongly marginalized or abused for struggling with anger like gay Christians have been for their sexuality.
This is absurdly over-simplified, but I hope it’s making some sense. I am willing to, at times, say that I’m a “gay Christian” because it conveys a social existence that would not be effectively communicated otherwise.
It’s not like I wear this as a title that I always use to qualify my Christianity. Not at all. It is Christ and only Christ who defines my identity. I am being renewed and conformed into his image and by his overwhelming grace alone have I been labeled a son of God. That is my only essential identity. But, we live in a world where it is very helpful to have other identifiers, and I do not feel like I am cheapening Christ’s work in me at all by sometimes using those three letters.
I only say “gay Christian” when I am specifically talking about my experiences as a gay man or about the topic of homosexuality as a whole. It’s not like I see “gay” as its own denomination (but if it were we would never have taupe carpet, ever!).
I had a hard time writing this because I’m not sure it makes sense unless you’ve personally experienced being gay in Christian circles… but hopefully this helps somehow. I want to do justice to the very real social difference of being gay without making it essential to who I am in Christ. This usually means evaluating conversations moment-by-moment and trying to figure out the best way to express myself to whomever I am talking. It’s a tricky thing to navigate.
So most importantly I just ask that there would be a willingness to listen and not force meanings onto labels people use until they define them. The church, and society, have been unilaterally forcing meaning and stigma onto gay people for a tragically long time, and it’s always nice to have a little freedom from that pressure. See my previous post on listening for more about that.
It is difficult for me to speak in that tension between wanting to humbly accommodate the perspective of whoever I’m talking with, making sure they are understanding what I’m saying and feeling welcomed in the conversation, and wanting to be consistent in my own self-referential vocabulary. It’s hard, and can be really frustrating when people refuse to believe I can call myself a “gay Christian” without sinning, but I’ve found it is most important to communicate the astounding goodness of God and how my life, my identity, is fully caught up in his transforming work. I hope, at least, that I have accomplished that much.