This is the second in a 4-part series explaining why Equip uses “gay” and “gay Christian.” Check out Part 1: Basics here. In this post, we’ll explore what it means for gay people to have their identities in Christ and whether calling oneself gay compromises one’s faith and baptism. For a condensed version of this series, check out Pieter’s recent article on the topic in Juicy Ecumenism.
Many have asked whether use of the phrase “gay Christian” compromises a believer’s “identity in Christ” (note: “identity in Christ” is a theological concept developed in the 20th century). To evaluate this concern, we must first explore what the Bible has to say about one’s “identity in Christ.”
While no reputable English translations of the Bible use the phrase “identity in Christ,” many believers point to Galatians 3:26-29 as the central text exploring cultural identity in light of Christ’s saving work.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
In verses 26, 27, and 29 Paul describes our identity as “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” who were “baptized into Christ” and now “belong to Christ” (I will focus specifically on verse 28 later). According to this passage, faith and baptism are all that are required to be in Christ. Similarly, in Acts 2:38, Peter testifies, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
What does it mean to have faith in Christ Jesus? Why should we be baptized?
According to the ACNA Catechism Question 12, having faith “means that I believe the Gospel is the truth: that Jesus died for my sins, rose from the dead, and rules over my life. Therefore, I entrust myself to him as my Savior, and I obey him as my Lord. (Psalm 40:1–10; Proverbs 3:5–8; John 1:9–13; Romans 10:9–10; Hebrews 11:1, 6)” (page 25). Note: I’ll provide references throughout this series to the Anglican catechism and prayer book as examples of theological statements that can be found across denominations.
What more is required beyond faith? How do we signal our identity in Christ? Question 14 of the ACNA Catechism asks, “What should you do as the sign of your repentance and faith?” and answers, “After receiving instruction in the faith, I should be baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, thus joining his Body, the Church. If I have already been baptized, I should confess my sins, seek the guidance of a minister, affirm the promises made at my Baptism, and take my place as a member of the Church. (Psalm 51:5–7; Ezekiel 36:25–27; Matthew 28:19–20; 1 Corinthians 12:13; 1 Peter 3:18–22)” (page 26).
Beyond faith in Christ and baptism to signal our identity in Christ, must a Christian do or say anything else?
By no means!
Ephesians 2:8-10 reminds us that “it is by grace [we] have been saved, through faith—and this is not from [ourselves], it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” To be in Christ is to have faith that Jesus will save us, nothing more. Having our identity in Christ is accomplished through Christ’s death and resurrection followed by our faith and baptism. The only words required at our confirmation to secure our identity in Christ are “I do,” “I renounce them,” and “I will, the Lord being my helper” (BCP 2019, pg 177).
God may invite the Christian to much more than just faith and baptism to work out their sanctification, but all that is necessary to be securely “in Christ” and to have one’s “identity in Christ” is faith in Christ and baptism.
Yet some point out Galatians 3:28 as a further requirement of true identity in Christ, claiming that Paul is commanding Christians to erase any cultural identity:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
However, male and female Christians, Jewish and Greek Christians, and enslaved and free Christians continued to live in cultural spaces where each of these statuses mattered. Society observed whether these Christians were male or female, Jewish or Greek, enslaved or free and treated those Christians differently based on their status. These observed cultural identities impacted how they worshiped, who they worshiped with, who could lead, and ultimately how they experienced Jesus.
Paul did not expect these cultural realities to disappear before one could properly identify in Christ. These Christians did not stop being male and female, Jewish and Greek, or enslaved and free. Paul did not command them to pretend they were not female, not enslaved, or not Greek. Instead Paul reaffirmed that identity in Christ is accomplished solely through faith in Jesus and baptism. He was not concerned with persisting cultural identities and never indicated that they are incompatible with or challenge the supremacy of Christ in the hearts of believers.
Despite a decade of prayer ministry and conversation therapy, my same-sex attractions persist. I need some word or phrase to efficiently name or describe or refer to this part of my story. Ultimately, I’ve chosen to use the phrase “gay Christian.” Why?
1. Those we minister to use the word “gay” in a limited way.
Modern teenagers and young adults use “gay” differently than previous generations. I’ll speak more in Part 4: Heavy Burdens about the evangelical advantage of using the words I do, but if you ask an 8-year-old today what the word “gay” means, you will most consistently hear “a boy who likes a boy” or “a girl who likes a girl.” Teens and young adults today do not assume anything about an individual’s theological beliefs or relationship choices when using that word. In the same way, I use “gay” knowing that those I minister to will not assume my theological beliefs or relationship choices based on that word.
2. We use “gay” phenomenologically, not ontologically.
When we define something phenomenologically, we are naming something based on one’s experience or what it appears to be. In contrast, when we ask who a person is ontologically, we are asking who they are innately, by design. When God first imagined me in a perfect world, He did not intend for me to experience same-sex attraction. I believe that same-sex attraction is a result of the Fall, a brokenness, a temptation. When I use gay, I am merely noticing that I am attracted to other people of the same-sex and using (in my opinion) the best word to describe that experience.
3. I identify with people of shared experience, not with brokenness or sin.
I use the phrase “gay Christian” particularly to identify with other Christians who experienced the same shame and loneliness as a kid. I identify with other Christians who have endured the same pain and fearfully offered their whole selves to God. I identify with people of shared experience because more often than not, they are able to empathize with me and care for me best. I am not identifying with a temptation or sin.
4. I use “gay Christian” to testify to Christ’s worthiness.
Recognizing my same-sex attractions, submitting that brokenness to God, and collaborating with Him to steward my sexuality in redemptive ways has been the greatest source of blessing and God’s glory in my life. It has been particularly in contrast to the brokenness of my sexuality that the reality and goodness of God is apparent for me. I cannot tell of the fullness of God’s grace and power in my life without mentioning that I am gay. Might some inaccurately assume that gay people are more sexually active than the average straight person? Sure. But then the power of my testimony only grows. When I share that despite my sexual orientation, Jesus is Lord and I submit to His wisdom for my sexual stewardship because I am convinced His love and wisdom are the source of the truest joy, pleasure, and meaning—when I share all of these while confidently using the word “gay,” my testimony strengthens.
I am a child of God, first and foremost. Jesus and Jesus alone sits on the throne of my life. Every decision I make must be submitted to His Lordship. Christ demands and deserves my whole life.
And I am gay.
I must use some word to describe and refer to my experience of same-sex attraction. No language or terminology communicates with absolute clarity. I accept the responsibility to ensure I am accurately understood. Whenever Equip teaches, we offer a synopsis of this document. For these reasons, we use the phrase “gay Christian.”
Stay tuned for “Part 3: Weaker Siblings” where we will consider where gay people should refrain from calling themselves “gay” to accommodate weaker siblings in Christ.