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Pastors & LeadersTheologyWhy say gay?

Why say gay? Part 3: Weaker Siblings

This is the third in a 4-part series explaining why Equip uses “gay” and “gay Christian.” Check out Part 2: In Christ here. In this post, we will consider where gay people should refrain from calling themselves “gay” to accommodate weaker siblings in Christ. For a condensed version of this series, check out Pieter’s recent article on the topic in Juicy Ecumenism.

 

Many have offered reasonable objections to my testimony in Part 2. As a minister committed to ensuring that I am accurately understood, these objections must be charitably addressed. Moreover, how should brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree about matters of wisdom seek unity?

 

Answering Reasonable Objections

1. Won’t hearers assume that I am seeking out same-sex romantic and sexual activity if I call myself a gay Christian?

It’s true, the average American probably assumes that the average gay person will seek out romantic, and eventually sexual, relationships with people they are drawn to. But they also assume the same of every American, regardless of their sexual orientation. It is assumed that all Americans are seeking out romantic relationships with those they are drawn to with a hope of sexual intimacy, regardless of marital status. Plus, calling oneself a Christian invites the same misunderstanding. It is well documented that Christians have sex outside of marriage and get divorced at the same rates as non-Christians. Unfortunately, the phrase gay Christian is no less clear than the phrase straight Christian or merely using the word Christian. Without specifically stating one’s theological beliefs and commitments (which Equip does every time we teach), a Christian using any one of those phrases or words would be presumed to be just as sexually immoral as the average American.

 

2. Couldn’t some conclude that you believe God intended for you to be gay?

When God first imagined me in a perfect world, He did not imagine me with same-sex attraction. He did not intend for me to be gay. I believe that same-sex attraction is a result of the Fall. Same-sex attraction is a brokenness. Additionally, I do not believe there is anything uniquely inherent to being gay other than experiencing same-sex attraction. But God reassures us in Genesis 50:20 that “you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” As God has redeemed my brokenness for my good and His glory, I have gained spiritual gifts I might not have otherwise, including developing a deeper appreciation and capacity for healthy friendship.

 

3. Why identify with something that won’t continue in the next life?

Perhaps it will, in some form. The scars from Christ’s wounds on the cross could still be seen on His resurrected body. Those physical signs of our sin that Christ took on, those physical signs of our redemption through Christ’s sacrifice, remained because they are a sign of God’s glory, not shame. In the same way, gay Christians may continue to have awareness of that differentness even in the New Heavens and New Earth because it is through that experience that God was most glorified and the most good came into their lives.

 

4. What do you think about people who prefer to use same-sex attraction?

Equip respects those who prefer the phrase same-sex attraction. By none of the above do we mean to communicate that every Christian who experiences same-sex attraction should exclusively use the word gay. At the very least, we think there should be space for Christians to call themselves gay. And as I will contend in Part 4, it is my opinion that the most effective term for ministry is the word gay. That being said, language and culture are always changing. The meanings of words and their cultural impact shift. If we are committed to reaching the lost, we have accepted a responsibility to adapt our strategies and hold firm to the truth as the world around us shifts. As a result, Equip frequently code-switches, using different language in different contexts to accommodate our audience.

 

5. Isn’t merely experiencing same-sex attraction sin in itself? Should that be reason enough not to call yourself gay?

If you’ve not already read the discussion in Part 1: Basics of our definition of the phrase same-sex attraction and questions of sinfulness and concupiscence, please take the time to do so. Thankfully, the oldest Christian traditions that represent a majority of Christians both in the United States and globally do not teach that Christians sin merely by being tempted. When I experience same-sex attractions yet resist these temptations, I am not guilty of sin.

 

6. Why are you identifying as anything other than Christian?

As the discussion in Part 2 made clear, all that is required to accomplish and sustain a Christian’s identity in Christ is to have faith in Christ and signal that identity with baptism. The Scriptures do not teach that a Christian’s identity in Christ is compromised by using a noun other than Christian to refer to oneself or using an adjective or clause in a sentence where the person refers to themselves as a Christian. As I have already made clear, Jesus is my only Lord, I submit everything to the Lordship of Christ, and my sexuality is secondary to my primary identity as a Christian. Some have objected to my use of the phrase gay Christian because they believe the word Christian should never be modified. Yet these objectors selectively apply this standard to the word gay while refusing to apply this standard to other cultural identity labels. Objections to modifying the word Christian will be perceived as disingenuous until they are applied consistently to all modifiers.

Author Greg Coles, who earned his PhD in English studying the rhetoric of marginality, has said the following:

“English scholars consistently treat adjectives and relative clauses as interchangeable syntactic formations for modifying a noun. Thus, same-sex-attracted Christian (an adjectival modifier of the noun) and Christian who experiences same-sex attraction (a relative clause modifier of the noun) have no meaningful denotative difference. As for gay, most leading English dictionaries (including the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, the American Heritage Dictionary, and Google Dictionary) treat this word as a denotative synonym of attracted to the same sex. There is thus no inherent difference in grammatical meaning between the phrases gay Christian, same-sex-attracted Christian, and Christian who experiences same-sex attraction.”

They are a distinction without a difference.

 

1 Corinthians 8 on wisdom & disagreement

Yet, in light of these numerous objections, some might conclude that the phrase gay Christian is too fraught. Some would assess that too much clarification is necessary. How should brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree about matters of wisdom seek unity? 1 Corinthians 8 provides the following:

1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

Paul adjudicates a dispute about eating meat offered to idols. Some objected merely on the grounds that consuming the meat would be a form of idol worship. Others objected because any activities related to pagan temples tempted them to return to sinful practices from their past life, including temple prostitution.

The Apostle first recognizes that most Christians in Corinth “possess knowledge” that “there is but one God” and that “an idol is nothing.” As a result, eating meat sacrificed to idols was, in itself, inconsequential. If all Christians possessed this knowledge, they might have eaten the idol meat with impunity.

But some weaker brothers lacked the spiritual maturity to grasp this knowledge or the strength to resist reminders of a past life. Paul recognizes that meat offered to idols is morally neutral. Yet powerful cultural messages were causing some to be unnecessarily scandalized by idol meat. These weaker brothers lacked the spiritual maturity to distinguish the cultural meaning of idol meat from the meaninglessness of idol meat in the eyes of God.

To God, it was just meat. But to some Christians deeply embedded in their culture, it was idol worship.

Yet Paul did not condemn the weaker brothers. Instead he invited stronger brothers to love. He cautioned stronger brothers not to exercise their freedom to eat idol meat in ways that caused weaker brothers to be “destroyed.” Paul invites the stronger brothers to accommodate the weaker brother and temporarily give up their freedom to eat idol meat until the weaker brother is able to disentangle cultural meanings from their faith in Jesus.

 

How might 1 Corinthians 8 give the Church better understanding of the disagreement about sexual identity language?

When I was growing up, the word gay was used in a very particular way in my church and wider community. Over time, I learned that when most people used this word, they intended for me to imagine group sex parties where all of the attendees had AIDS, were addicted to drugs, and wanted nothing to do with God. That word has a very powerful cultural meaning for many older Christians.

I have already shared that most Americans today use that word as a mere recognition of same-sex attractions and nothing more. Perhaps if every evangelical Christian possessed this knowledge, I could use the phrase gay Christian without scandal.

But there are many Christians in our churches who retain that problematic image of gay people that I was taught growing up. When they hear me using the word gay, they cannot help but assume that I am indulging in sexual immorality.

Unfortunately these Christians have been thoroughly catechized by a particular cultural space to interpret the words I use as idol worship.

Yet Paul’s words convict me. He invites me to accommodate those enamored by the culture war. He invites me to give up my freedom to use the phrase gay Christian for the sake of those scandalized by the wokeism, identity politics, and political correctness of the cultural left.

Perhaps I should temporarily cease using gay Christian around some of my Christian brothers and sisters until they are able to disentangle cultural meanings from their faith in Jesus. Or perhaps there are greater burdens that outweigh the scandal of the weaker brother.

 

Stay tuned for “Part 4: Heavy Burdens” where we will consider the heavy burdens of gay people for generations and how that awareness should inform ministry efforts.

 

Equip trains churches on how to be a place where all people, especially gay people, can thrive. To learn more or to begin this kind of work at your church, contact us today!

 

 

2 Comments
  • 03pjhart@gmail.com'
    Matthew Marlowe
    7:21 PM, 10 June 2021

    When it comes to "weaker siblings" I guess the main questions are a) can we consider this issue to be morally neutral, and b) who do we consider the weaker siblings?
    The problem in hand for Paul and the eating of meat was that, whilst it was morally neutral to eat meat (or to do otherwise), there were some for who the eating of meat reminded them of their pre-Christian lives and was a source of temptation thereof, and so the eating of meat in this case went from morally neutral to morally negative because it was a stumbling block for them. But I’m not sure we can really consider this issue morally neutral. The association of the word gay with group sex parties and the like and the subsequent insistence that people do not use that word is not morally neutral, but rather moral negative, as the association thereof brings about shame in gay people (who may not necessarily understand the nuanced misunderstanding of the word gay amongst culture war Christians). That culture-war mentality is not morally neutral, it morally negative, because of the many ways it has unnecessarily hurt many, including gay people (Christian or not). And so I wonder whether we should not accommodate that morally negative culture mentality, and instead encourage those with that mentality to root it out and to love gay Christians, including by not missassociating the word gay with group sex parties and the like, and not insisting that gay Christians not use the word that many find to describe themselves best.
    And then there’s the question of weaker siblings. Who exactly in this dynamic is the weaker sibling? Is it those with the culture war mentality, or is it gay people (Christian or not), who are the victims of that culture war mentality? I’d certainly argue that gay people with no belief, many of whom have no faith because of the ways that the culture war mentality has hurt people like them, are the weakest siblings here, who may have lost their faith as a result of the moral negative (not just the moral neutral) of the culture war mentality, or for whom the culture war mentality works as a deterrent. And there are gay Christians, like myself, who have been hurt by the moral negative of the culture war mentality, and for whom it works as a stumbling block itself. Paul made it clear that the eating of meat was morally neutral, and was only a negative when it became a stumbling block for weaker siblings, and so surely the culture war mentality, which was never morally neutral and always morally negative, and which functioned as a stumbling block for gay people (Christian or otherwise), cannot be accommodated in the same way that the stronger Christians (whose own faith was not damaged by not eating meat, unlike how gay Christians’ faith is and was damaged by the culture war mentality) that the stronger siblings accommodated the necessary religious vegetarianism of the weaker siblings. The vegetarianism of the weaker siblings was morally neutral, but the culture war mentality of said older people (who I’d argue aren’t even the weaker siblings in this situation) is morally negative, and so I do not think we can accommodate it, but should rather be rooted out as the sin that it is.
    I want to make it clear, I’m not against the descriptor “same sex attracted” – I consider it morally neutral, and we should accommodate the use thereof by people who find it to describe themselves best. What I am opposed to here is the culture war mentality and the subsequent stigmatisation misunderstanding of the word gay, at the expense of those who are gay and find it to be the word that fits them best.
    I’m sorry if that was a bit rambly but I just do not feel that the two situations are comparable.

    • Pieter Valk
      7:23 PM, 14 June 2021

      Matthew, great points! In Part 4 of this series (which goes out in a few days), we answer the question of accommodating weaker siblings. I’d be curious to get your feedback after you read that.

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