Once more: on the label ‘gay Christian’

At a conference where I spoke this week, the question came up again: “Why would you call yourself a ‘gay Christian’?” Others have posted about this—I’m thinking of Joshua Gonnerman and Melinda Selmys and Eve Tushnet—but I never have, so here’s my brief take on the question.

First, what’s behind the question? One of my interlocutors this week suggested that a parallel case would be if someone were to label himself an “adulterous Christian” or a “stealing Christian.” Those terms are self-evidently problematic in that they make sinful behaviors part of an identity description for believers, and therefore gay Christians should find their chosen label equally problematic. My response to this is that those are not, in fact, parallel cases. “Gay” in current parlance doesn’t necessarily refer to sexual behavior; it can just as easily refer to one’s sexual orientation and say nothing, one way or the other, about how one is choosing to express that orientation. So, whereas “stealing Christian” certainly denotes the behavior of stealing, “gay Christian” may simply refer to the erotic inclinations of the Christian who claims that identity and leave open the question of whether he or she is sexually active with members of his or her own sex.

This is why, by the way, I rarely use the phrase “gay Christian” without adding another adjective: “celibate.” To call myself a “celibate gay Christian” specifies both my sexual orientation and the way I’m choosing to live it out. (More on that in a moment.)

But I take it there’s a second, deeper question lurking under the “Why do you call yourself a ‘gay Christian’?” question, and it’s this: “By using the label ‘gay’ for yourself, aren’t you simply accepting that same-sex attraction is an unalterable part of your personality and thereby giving up on the possibility of healing and change?”

At least two things strike me as important to say in response to this. First, the best scientific study we have of sexual orientation change efforts urges caution in holding out the possibility of “change” to any and all gay Christians (see Warren Throckmorton’s comments on the Jones/Yarhouse study’s already circumspect conclusions). Reflecting on the results of this study, Joshua Gonnerman concludes:

We need not absolutely reject orientation change. But it is frequently presented as a strong hope, an ideal to be striven towards, with good chances of success. For a person who is deeply struggling with her sexuality, who desperately wants, as many people do, and as I once did, not to be gay, the ready offer of orientation change can become an object of fixation, even an idol in which all of one’s hope is placed…

Too often, I have seen people who placed their hope in orientation change in this way come crashing down when they realized it wasn’t working. On a psychological level, it can lead to depression, to self-loathing, to suicidal tendencies. The message that the absence of successful change makes one a lesser Christian or some kind of failure is always present, either explicitly or implicitly.

This brings me to a second response to the question, “Have you given up hope?” On the contrary, calling oneself a “celibate gay Christian” may be a way of expressing, not giving up, hope—but expressing it in a way that doesn’t link that hope to orientation change. Claiming the label “celibate gay Christian” means, for me, recognizing my homosexual orientation as a kind of “thorn in the flesh.” When the apostle Paul used that phrase in his correspondence with the Corinthian church, he made clear that his “thorn” was indeed an unwelcome source of pain (2 Corinthians 12:7). But he also made clear that it had become the very occasion for his experience of the power of the risen Christ and, therefore, a paradoxical site of grace (2 Corinthians 12:8). Paul, I think, would have had no qualms about labeling himself a “thorn-pricked Christian”—not because he recognized his thorn as a good thing, in and of itself, but because it had become for him the means by which he encountered the power of Christ. Likewise, living with an unchanged homosexual orientation may be for many of us the means by which we discover new depths of grace, as well as new vocations of service to others.

Commenting on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and the homosexual partnerships that some of Paul’s readers had been involved in prior to their baptism, J. I. Packer writes about Paul’s gospel:

With some of the Corinthian Christians, Paul was celebrating the moral empowering of the Holy Spirit in heterosexual terms; with others of the Corinthians, today’s homosexuals are called to prove, live out, and celebrate the moral empowering of the Holy Spirit in homosexual terms.

Finding the moral empowering—and the grace and consolation—of the Holy Spirit “in homosexual terms” is, it seems to me, what leads many of us to label ourselves “celibate gay Christians.”

27 thoughts on “Once more: on the label ‘gay Christian’

  1. Pingback: Once More: On the Label ‘Gay Christian’ » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  2. Wes, this is helpful, as is so much of what you write. My own confusion about the label is not due to fears that “you’re giving up” but that it’s so specific. Your comparison with Paul, in fact, helped clarify the issue in my own mind. As we all know, Paul does not tell us what his particular thorn is. So even assuming that he did identify at times as a “thorn-pricked Christian,” that label is immediately one that is wide open for inclusion. Everybody can identify with it.

    So here’s my question. It doesn’t worry me to see thoughtful, articulate celibate Christians identify themselves as “gay Christians.” It doesn’t bother me a bit. But I do worry about the temptation such terms give for less mature believers who might use the label as a way to keep other Christians at bay because, after all, they’re not a “gay Christian.”

    In other words, the term worries me not because of what it implies but because of the effect it can have on the community. We are, after all, one new man in Christ. Even with our distinctive thorns that have been given by God.

    I’m sure you’ve thought about this, so I would love to know you (or others reading) have to say.

  3. Wes, this is helpful, as is so much of what you write. I admit though to still having a slight discomfort with the term “gay Christian.” It’s not because I’m afraid that “you’re giving up.” My fear is that it may be too specific. Your comparison with Paul, in fact, helped clarify the issue in my own mind. As we all know, Paul does not tell us what his particular thorn was. So, even assuming that he did occasionally identify as a “thorn-pricked Christian,” that label is one that seems to invite inclusion. Everybody can identify with it. No one’s left out of that club.

    So here’s my question. It doesn’t worry me to see thoughtful, articulate celibate Christians identify themselves as “gay Christians.” Not a bit. I know what they mean. But I do worry that the term might affect less mature believers. If they haven’t yet discovered the “blessing” of their thorn, they might use the label as a way to keep others members of the body away. After all, they might think, “They’re not a ‘gay Christian,’ so what do they know?”

    In other words, the term worries me not because of what it implies but because of the effect it can have on the community. We are, after all, one new man in Christ. Even with our distinctive thorns that have been given by God.

    I actually think this is a temptation with all labels as such, not just this one. And I’m not against labels by any means. They have their place. I suppose I’m more just wondering if this is a legitimate concern with this particular label. And if not, why not.

    Thanks, Peter G.

  4. Wes, I really appreciate your clarity here, especially in conversation with the three other writers you linked. I don’t want to divert the conversation away from what you’re addressing in your post, but seeing your post and the way people responded to it over at First Things motivated me to write a post of my own about why this question keeps coming up and why I think it’s risky to criticize people for using a “gay Christian” or “celibate gay Christian” label. My post is here: http://oddmanout.net/post/42274352240/in-response-to-wes-hills-once-more

  5. Thank you for your perspective – it is a valuable, thoughtful and spiritual one. I wouldn’t encourage all “gay Christians” to label themselves as such because there is so much MORE to our identity in Christ. I don’t think we need to define ourselves by the part that is dying away. But thank you for the courage to do it for a season, for a Kingdom reason.

  6. Instead of leaving out the “celibate” from “celibate gay christian”, why not leave out the “gay” and just make it “CELIBATE CHRISTIAN”. This way you have a lot in common with unmarried people of all types who are unmarried for a variety of different reasons. Nobody in the church really cares who you find sexy. They care about your behavior. Just some thoughts.

  7. William–the difference is that other single Christians are often dating or open to dating etc. The celibate gay person does not have that option. Sexuality affects many aspects of one’s life. Questions inevitably come up regarding dating history etc. Its pretty hard to talk about life and why we are single without mentioning the reason.

  8. PS–another plug for those who are comfortable using the adjective gay: I see a major difference between “ex-gays” and “celibate gay Christians.” Many ex-gays will not refer to themselves as gay (for some of the same reasons mentioned in the comments), but they also tend to be closeted and fearful of anyone finding out that they are in fact gay. I have found that those who are more comfortable with their sexuality and acknowledging the reality of having a homosexual orientation are healthier in their levels of transparency and ability to obtain support from the church body at large rather than in segregated ex-gay support groups. The acknowledgement of being gay seems to carry less baggage of shame and secrecy. So, just by looking at the fruit that is borne from people I know, I see “celibate gay Christian” as fostering spiritual and emotional health. For me, being “out” has actually served as a source of greater accountability. Everything is in the open.

  9. Karen, I agree with some of what you said, and I think you may have interpreted my comment as saying we should never mention our sexuality, which was not my suggestion. My point was only that it should not be at the top of the marquis, so to speak, and among the very first words we use to describe ourselves in public and to new acquaintances. Hi, I’m a gay Christian. Then pitch a fit when you’re met with suspicion or misunderstood. We’re always going to have problems with that approach I think, unless the church totally jettisons the idea of the immorality of homosexual activity, which is not going to happen in our lifetimes if ever. Also, when you say — “…other single Christians are often dating or open to dating etc. THE CELIBATE CHRISTIAN DOES NOT HAVE THAT OPTION (emphasis mine).” — this is a good example of the problem with labeling yourself as gay: You kind of subtly close out certain possibilities which may be out there for us because we have kind of made a determination that it’s outside the range of possibility. I have known a number of men and women – one a close family member – who have been (or are still) predominantly homosexual, yet enjoy very fulfilling marriages. In the case of persistent homosexuality, it can be dealt with in the same way that straight people who love their spouse but often meet more sexually attractive people of the opposite sex at work or wherever deal with that cross, Many of them are are constantly organizing their lives and disciplining themselves so that those temptations will not negatively impact their following Christ and/or their marriage. We homosexuals (that is the label I use to identify myself if I must apply one) have a tendency to think our cross is more difficult than anybody else’s. It may be, or it may not be. There is a lot of variety out there. Some straight people out there have much tougher lives than you or I do. So I kind of go back to my earlier comment, that who we find sexy is not any more important than the breast size my brother is crazy about. I don’t want to hear about his private issue, and we need to understand he probably doesn’t want to hear about ours either. It’s for us to deal with, with those friends who may want to share it with us, yes, but on a more private level. That was my main point. Again, if one wants to put “GAY CHRISTIAN” at the top of one’s facebook, that’s each person’s call, and I’m not condemning anybody for it. I just think the labeling of oneself as gay often accompanies a sort of blindering to other points of view, and a sort of boxing oneself in which may not work equally well for everybody.

  10. Hi William–Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You write: “My point was only that it should not be at the top of the marquis, so to speak, and among the very first words we use to describe ourselves in public and to new acquaintances. Hi, I’m a gay Christian. . . .Again, if one wants to put “GAY CHRISTIAN” at the top of one’s facebook . . . .”

    Do you know of anyone who is gay who does that? Whether affirming or not? I have some gay friends on Facebook and none of them have a special caption saying “GAY” nor do any of my celibate gay friends. There is a section where you can indicate if you are interested in men or women, but I don’t have that listed–and I wouldn’t even I were interested in men.

    I don’t know of any people in the gay community or celibate gay Christians who go around introducing themselves in the way you indicate either. So perhaps there is some misunderstanding of what I am trying to convey when I say I consider myself a “celibate gay Christian.” When I meet someone, I say, “Hi, I’m Karen. Good to meet you.” There are a lot of things I could describe about myself and I don’t use them in an introduction. That would just be weird. Like saying, “Hi, I’m Karen. I like Parcheesi.” Unless of course I was at a game night or something.

    I tend to use the phrase “celibate gay Christian” when I am engaging in relevant conversation on the topic. At times if I am in a group discussion and the topic is being discussed, and I feel like sharing about myself, I might bring it up in order to use my life as an example. Its interesting to me that you feel comfortable calling yourself “homosexual” but not “gay.” To me they are both descriptors, both labels–so what is the true difference? Homosexual feels archaic and clinical to me.

    You write: “I don’t want to hear about his private issue, and we need to understand he probably doesn’t want to hear about ours either. It’s for us to deal with, with those friends who may want to share it with us, yes, but on a more private level.”

    I guess I don’t see my sexual orientation as private any more than a heterosexual person’s sexual orientation is private. People publicly display their sexual orientation all the time–by holding a girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s hand as they meander down the sidewalk, telling their co-workers they are going on a weekend getaway with their spouse, talking about the lame blind date they went on in college, wistfully wishing aloud when the next good guy (or gal) will come along, talking about how hot so and so was in a particular movie, etc.

    I find it extremely unhealthy to have to pretend I don’t have a sexuality. Its not a “private” issue as though its some secret porn addiction. My sexuality affects all facets of my life and I can’t even imagine how one can have normal relationships even with acquaintances while trying to stifle one’s sexuality. So, I tell friends or acquaintances I am gay in the same normal fashion that heteros express theirs. If the topic of dating comes up, I talk about my relationships in the same way they would theirs, etc.

    When I was first coming out, I used to take my friends out for coffee for “a talk” in order to disclose a scary secret. But, I am much more comfortable with myself now and my sexuality is expressed much more naturally. Its quite a relief compared to the old days of being in the closet or having this secret that only a few friends knew about. That is not to say that everyone around me knows–I don’t wear a banner on my head. But, if it naturally comes up in a situation where sexuality would normally be expressed by someone who is heterosexual (such as someone asking about dating history etc) then I am open and honest. In other words, I am just myself.

    You also write: “Also, when you say — “…other single Christians are often dating or open to dating etc. THE CELIBATE CHRISTIAN DOES NOT HAVE THAT OPTION (emphasis mine).” — this is a good example of the problem with labeling yourself as gay: You kind of subtly close out certain possibilities which may be out there for us because we have kind of made a determination that it’s outside the range of possibility.”

    One thing that always frustrates me about this kind of statement is that is disregards what I have just told the person who says it. Hello! I am gay! I am not attracted to men. The last time I tried to kiss a guy was in 1999 and I literally felt nauseous. Yes, I realize some people are able to develop heterosexual attraction enough to marry, but I am pushing 40 and there has been no change in my attraction. Please don’t patronize me by suggesting I am not *really* gay and just need to wait for the right guy to come along. The fact is, I have hurt enough men by breaking their hearts when despite my best efforts I could not love them back.

    This is not to say I am not open to ever dating a man again. No one can resist the tidal wave of falling in love. Even if I didn’t want to date. Even if I was not even looking for it. If such a hypothetical guy came into my life, it would sweep me along in the current whether I liked it or not. And, the fact of the matter is: I have absolutely NO interest in dating a guy who doesn’t know my history. Any person who is gay that wants to try dating the opposite sure as heck better be prepared to be honest. In the past when I have dated a guy, after a couple of dates when I know it will continue, I tell him right up front. Because I don’t want to waste my time investing in someone who can’t handle it, and because he has a right to know what he is getting into. Plus, my philosophy of dating is to be good friends with someone first and anyone who is a good friend will know that about me.

    I am not interest in being friends with someone who can’t accept me for who I am. Its a good way to weed out the superficial folk, and a good way to find the gems.

    I can understand different people’s comfort levels and what they prefer for themselves. However, the way in which you live out your sexuality as described in your comment is a way I would have done things 10 years ago. But its not what I feel comfortable with now. I feel much healthier.

  11. Absolutely phenomenal blog! Thank you, Karen, for mentioning it to me recently in a conversation on another blog. Wes, I read your book a while back and found it to be so nourishing—thank you for your honesty in sharing, and just the integrity with which you seem to approach this delicate ground of faith and sexuality. It’s more life-giving than you can possibly know.

    Karen, I express my sexuality much like you described. In other words, I am very open and transparent with anyone who would like to know about my orientation. I, too, used to keep it pretty hidden like a dirty secret, and found that to be sheer bondage. So I’m open in all my circles about my attraction to women and my ongoing desire to find healthy and holy expressions of relational intimacy (believing homosexual behavior to be outside of God’s will). The transparency offers tremendous freedom, and it opens up conversations that I wouldn’t be able to have if I kept my orientation a secret.

    I stop short of labeling myself “gay”, however, because most people (at least here in Texas) have a long list of behaviors they associate with the label. I’m more than happy to joke about being gay in a setting where we share an understanding of the fact that I’m referring to attractions when I say it, but I’m not comfortable using the term when the assumption is that I’m referring to behaviors. Since I often don’t get the chance to unpack the complexities of it with an acquaintance, I choose to just say I’m attracted to women whenever and wherever that seems to be appropriate. I feel like it accomplishes the same purposes you described in referring to yourself as gay, without possibly creating misconceptions whenever I don’t have the opportunity to further explain my situation.

    What do you think is the benefit of holding onto the label in light of the reality that we can experience the same freedom of being known without it? I ask because I genuinely want to know if there is a benefit—I’m always learning and open to expanding my understanding of ways to express the complexities of our situation. Thanks again for pointing me to this fantastic community. I’m looking forward to getting to know you guys!

    • Hey Julie–thanks for stopping by! I think Wes and some of the links he refers to where others have discussed the label address some of the question of what we see as the benefit. I would add that I associate the “I don’t want to call myself gay” with significant problems in the ex-gay movement where people wanted so badly to change their sexual orientation or to make sure that they were finding their identity in Christ that they would triumphantly declare, “I am not gay anymore!” In fact, just a couple of months ago I received a newsletter from a prominent ex-gay ministry with a testimony of someone I know who specifically states, “I am not gay” and how she made this statement to the women in her group when they asked her if she still had same-sex attraction–even though I know for a fact she still has same-sex attraction. This kind of semantic confusion has caused a lot of self-deception (which I see as hindering discipleship, not helping), as well as confusion for new members coming into the ex-gay movement who take literally these statements “Change is possible” or “I am not gay anymore.” I have had conversations with ex-ex gays who thought they were going to change their sexual orientation and were disillusioned when that did not happen. I can tell you from experience how confusing double messages are. Many ex-gay support groups, like mine did, ascribed to the motto of “Its not about heterosexuality; its about holiness.” BUT, we spent much of our time working through “wounds” perceived to cause homosexuality. So, even though ex-gay ministry or Exodus can say “we are not promising change,” go to the support groups or order any number of books off of Exodus’ website and they are all about trying to change–all about how homosexuality is caused by environmental factors.

      It was also hurtful to the LGBT community because the Christian right used these testimonies of “I am not gay anymore!” to fight against LGBT rights. I was around in the ex-gay movement when the marriage between the ex-gay movement and the Christian right happened (mid-90s). We all thought the church was finally paying attention to us. But a large part of why Focus on the Family and other organizations became interested in “ex-gays” is because they wanted to use them as pawns in the culture war–as proof that change was possible and thus homosexuality was not immutable and thus gays are not entitled to any rights–even job or housing protection. You might notice that gay activists have had problems with Exodus primarily because Exodus was feeding this image that being gay was a choice. “Change was possible” for anyone who wanted it. These gay activists are less concerned when “ex-gays” simply acknowledge the truth of continued same-sex attraction. As far as I know those who are “celibate gay Christians” are not getting the same kind of flak from gay activists because, even if they don’t agree with our decisions, we are being honest, that we are in fact gay. Its too easy for the “I have same-sex attraction” to slip into the common, but extremely confusing rhetoric of “No, I am not gay anymore. Sure, I still have temptations now and then as every Christian does, but I am not defined by those attractions.”

      So, I am purposely using “gay” as an adjective because it is honest and counters a lot of the deception (even if unintentional) that has resulted from avoidance of the term. Of course, the Christian community hears that word differently. But, I want to be a part of de-scandalizing the word. I want to be part of changing the stereotypes Christians have of gay and lesbian people: “No, gay people are not monsters; see you know me, the good Christian girl, and I am gay too.” If the Christian community can learn what “gay” actually means, it would help conservative Christians to be more loving to LGBT people. If I continue to use “same-sex attracted” while the rest of the world uses the term “gay” I am complicit in encouraging the Church to see LGBT people based on horrific stereotypes perpetuated by the Christian right. A conservative will look at me and think, oh well, she is not really gay, she just struggles with same-sex attraction. The *real* gays–they are crazy. Does that make sense? I am standing in solidarity with LGBT people by being willing to use standard, dictionary English. I am fighting the stereotypes so that the word “gay” will no longer mean all those stereotypes used to demonize gay people. The Church does not know what “gay” means; they have been fed a false definition. They need to learn what it does mean. And it means me–a good Christian girl.

      Once the Church grasps that it has gay people in the Church like me, it might then be able to address the hard questions that the Church has utterly ignored–such as the reality of life-long single celibacy. My use of the term “gay” forces the Church to reckon with the reality that not everyone can change their sexual orientation. The Church is still fixated on change of sexual orientation–for political reasons, for theological reasons, etc. By saying, “No, I am not just a person struggling with some periodic attractions that someday by the power of God will disappear and I will happily marry”–by saying no to that false perception and instead acknowledging the truth–I am gay, this is my experience of life (far beyond sexual attraction, by the way), then the Church must reckon with the existence of actual gay people. Where do gay people fit in the Church as life-long celibates? Where do mixed orientation couples fit? Is celibacy possible for all people? What if its not? If we cannot get our Jesus-loving-Love-Can-Wait pledge signing young evangelicals to wait more than 18 months before having sex before marriage, how do we address the demand of life long single celibacy on an entire population? Since many churches are reluctant to hire single people as pastors, how does life-long singleness affect issues of vocation? There are still other questions beyond these too. Wherever one comes out on these questions is beside the point. The point is that the questions need to be wrestled with. And I feel calling myself gay helps the Church to face reality, to get beyond the tired, old conversation of “can gays change?” to the questions of “yes, there are gay people in the church, where do they fit?”

      Thanks for listening to my long reply! 🙂

      • PS: Part of the process has to include educating the Church on the complexities of sexuality. Right now the Church thinks there is gay and there is straight. And so testimonies of change in sexual orientation get universalized. It causes a lot of confusion for people about what homosexuality is. For example, I know of two female ex-gay leaders who have acknowledged to me that they are bisexual. But, their triumphant published testimonies make it seem like a black and white shift from gay to straight. This has been perpetuated by the culture war that relies on a binary model for its arguments. In reality, there is sexual fluidity for some (which is not the same as change is sexual orientation!), bisexuality for others, spousosexuality, exclusive homosexuality, etc. Perhaps, where a label like “gay” would be less helpful is for those who are younger who maybe need more time to determine whether they are actually gay or experiencing sexual fluidity or bisexuality–in which case being honest about descriptions of attraction would be better. Also, I think for those who use the adjective “gay” its helpful to discuss what that means and doesn’t mean either.

  12. Thank you so, so much for this response, Karen! It’s extremely helpful for me as I try to wade through the complexities of expressing the nuances of my faith and sexuality. I’ll have to chew on this for a while as I process the consequences of the language I use one way or the other.

    The last thing I want to do is be deceptive in the way I express my journey toward Christ. I don’t feel like I’ve been deceptive, since I’ve been honest about my unchanging orientation at every turn, but I don’t want to perpetuate a misconception through my use of language.

    It seems like one of the issues is that the definition of “gay” is still in the process of undergoing a change. It does seem like at one point “gay” was referring to more than attractions alone–it seems like at one point it was referring to an entire way of existing, including beliefs and behaviors. Now, however, more people seem to be using it simply to say “I’m attracted to the same sex.” I’m not sure there’s a shared understanding of the term from group to group at this point, so I continue to be concerned that an assumption about behaviors will result when I use it in particular settings. And I would never want to create misconceptions surrounding what I believe the Scriptures call us to regarding our behavior.

    I really like your intentionality in challenging the church to see gay people as “our” people, us, all kneeling in the pews side by side. Since I share your desire to see churches move away from asking gay people to morph into heterosexuals in order to be embraced in the body, I like the idea of challenging their preconceived notions. I can’t yet get past the fact that there’s a marked difference between those who affirm gay behavior and those who don’t, and I don’t want to participate in blurring lines in that realm. So I’ll have to continue to wrestle with this. Your words give me a lot to chew on and wrestle with in a good way.

    I would hate for language to come between those of us who are in the same boat. There aren’t that many of us who have homosexual orientations and hold to a traditional interpretation of Scripture, and I would hate for the words we use to process our faith and sexuality to bring separation between us. Hopefully we can walk side by side (regardless of the terms we use to express our situation), challenging and refining each other in our quest to reflect Christ’s beauty in the world.

    • Hey Julie–oh, I don’t think the language needs to come between people. I think people like Wes and myself are totally fine if other people do not feel comfortable using the term gay for themselves. I do think we hope others will respect our decision though–and that is certainly not what we have experienced from some segments of the Christian world. Even Chambers has indicated in the past that he considers it sinful to use that term–which is a judgment on those of us who feel strongly that there are good reasons for using it.

      What I am primarily concerned about is that the deceptive language stop. But, I think that there is a way for those like yourself to be very honest and clear without using the term “gay”. I have sensed that clarity from you. In fact, I was a bit amazed when Exodus posted your testimony on their blog. I really cannot recall a testimony like that being published by Exodus in the last 15-20 years. That was a big deal. And I am glad Exodus is making some long needed changes like that to acknowledge the existence of those who do not experience sexual orientation change and are living celibate lives.

      You are right that “gay” is still undergoing changes. I guess I want to help to help that transition along by helping to define it. When someone says they are “heterosexual” no one assumes anything. We have no idea if they are promiscuous or celibate based on their identification of a sexual orientation. That is the way it should be with “gay”. There are plenty of who are gay (and affirming) who are not part of any kind of activist organization etc. They are just living their ordinary lives, going to work every day etc. I don’t think the barriers between the Church and the gay community will come down until “gay” just means sexual orientation in the minds of conservative Christians. If it continues to hold all the other connotations, it just serves to make gay people more strange and “other” than they really are.

      PS: I should mention that I don’t use the term “gay” woodenly. I use other descriptors too. Depending on a conversation it might come out as, “most of my relationships have been with women” or “I like women,” or “I am attracted to women” or “I don’t date women anymore” etc etc. “Celibate gay Christian” tends to be used more in writing or specific dialogue on the topic of sexuality. But I also just refer to myself as gay in casual conversation too. And certainly, when I am speaking and teaching in a Church setting I refer to myself as gay. But I also have more of an opportunity to explain terms in those situations.

  13. So, so, so helpful, Karen! Thank you for taking the time to flesh this out with me (I’m sure y’all have done this a billion times and that you tire of the conversation). It sounds like you and I handle this in very similar manners: I, too, typically talk about my sexuality in all the ways you mentioned in your last paragraph.

    I think you hit on two things that are very important, regardless of the labels we use: 1.) That we’re talking about these things very openly. And 2.) That we’re listening and learning rather than judging those who choose to express their situation in different terms. Both of those seem vital in our efforts to love others well and make the church a safer place for gay people.

    Exodus has recognized the damage that’s been done and I know many of the leaders are really seeking to understand how to more effectively communicate these complex issues. I’m grateful they’ve allowed me to be heard on these issues and responded so well to various issues many of us have raised. Like numerous other people who went through Exodus many years ago, I wanted to depart from the movement as well (for the reasons expressed in the blog post you mentioned). But I’m glad I stuck around because the leaders have very compassionate hearts and have been eager to figure out how to love well. They’ve received much criticism for the changes they’ve made, and I’m proud of them for continuing to seek ways to embody the love of Christ more fully.

    Thanks again for sharing your insight with me. I’m thrilled about the issues y’all are addressing here and look forward to learning more from you all.

  14. Funny because the most compelling argument isn’t to fight over labels; rather, as Christians who are truly seeking union together, we ought to disregard labels altogether. I have a real issue with “gay Christian” as a term. I have an issue with most labels entirely, because one could say, “I’m a white Christian,” or “I’m an African American Christian,” or whatever… but what’s the point?

    What’s the agenda?

    If the “gay Christian” crowd really wants unity, simply prove it. Toss the label out altogether, because true integrity need not an explanation to skeptical onlookers.

  15. Pingback: Gay Christian/Human Christian - Thinking Christian

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