Many of you have likely seen this picture that Nevine Zaki posted in 2011, depicting Christians in Egypt protecting Muslims during prayer:
There are some significant parallels between what these Christians were doing for these Muslims and what I hope to do for sexual minority people that I disagree with. These Christians were probably not defending everything that Muslims stand for, due to the significant theological differences between Christianity and Islam. However, these Christians were still willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect these Muslims from injustice. Similarly, there are many sexual minority people that I have significant disagreements with, and I do not want to promote everything that they stand for. However, I still believe that I ought to protect them from the sorts of very real injustices that they do face, even taking risks in order to do so.
Some Christians believe that I ought to treat “gay activists” or others I disagree with primarily as enemies in a culture war. As I’ve written about before, I don’t think much of such an attitude. But even if I were to accept such a premise, I follow Christ, who told me to love my enemies (Matthew 5:44) and to turn the other cheek if I am sinned against (Matthew 5:39). Christ demonstrated his radical love by going to the extreme of dying for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Radical love of neighbor demands that I go out of my way to protect those who are victimized, regardless of any sins they may commit.
So regardless of how I view those sexual minority people that I have significant disagreements with, I have the same call to love and serve them. Injustice is always wrong, and fighting injustice is good. There are many ways I try to do this, however imperfectly. One of the more significant ones is simply the act of speaking up to raise awareness, as I did in my series on sin and sexual minorities. As I mentioned in the second post of that series, there are many sins that are not infrequently committed by Christians, so bringing more awareness within my faith communities has significant value.
A couple sins that I addressed in that series were those of self-righteousness and prejudice. Many other forms of sin against sexual minorities have these at their root. As I mentioned, these are sins that I myself have fallen prey to on numerous occasions, even though I’m a sexual minority person myself. When I first started to realize that I was attracted to other guys in a way that most of my male peers were not, I was first deeply ashamed. I had grown up hearing very negative messages about sexual minorities. At some point I discovered the ex-gay movement, which was the first framework that allowed me to see my feelings as resulting from something other than my rebellion, and that seemed to offer the promise of becoming normal. I latched onto ex-gay ideas quite readily.
I also quickly took to the idea of thinking of myself as a “guy who struggles with unwanted same-sex attraction” rather than a “bisexual guy.” One reason this terminology is promoted is to distance people from a past of sexual sin. However, I was a virgin who had never identified myself with sexual minorities in any meaningful capacity. For me, this terminology was a way to distance myself from the people that were so often renounced. It was a way to tell myself that I wasn’t like those people, that I was myself a fundamentally better person. This is self-righteousness, but for quite some time it was how I avoided feeling horribly maligned. I’ve also found that by using that kind of terminology, I was allowing other Christians to distance me from those people. In other words, I was contributing to the sin of self-righteousness in both myself and in other Christians.
Over time, I came to realize that my orientation wasn’t going to change, and I eventually started re-evaluating how I used terminology. In part just because it is the terminology best understood by people in my generation, I eventually started using “bisexual” more frequently than “same-sex attracted.” I actually find that this allows me to better identify with sexual minority people, even those I disagree with, and to fight my own self-righteousness. I think it has a helpful impact for other Christians, by forcing them to realize that when they talk about sexual minorities, they’re talking about me. (Tony over at gaysubtlety had a similar experience.) In a metaphorical sense, I’m putting myself between them and the sexual minority people that they want to judge in a self-righteous manner. I’m forcing them to re-think their prejudices and stereotypes, just as I’ve had to fight my own prejudices and stereotypes. Talking openly about my failure to experience change in my orientation and the ways in which I’m like other sexual minority people also helps me do all this.
This is not to say that everyone has to use the same terminology I do. Some people’s reasons for talking about themselves as “same-sex attracted” rather than “gay,” “bisexual,” etc. are much better than mine were. For example, for some people, thinking of themselves as “gay” may contribute to sexual sin in a way that it doesn’t for me. Nonetheless, I think this is one point to consider about terminology. The broader question for everyone, though, is how we can fight injustice and defend those who are victimized regardless of what terminology we choose to use.
Jeremy Erickson is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He previously studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Taylor University in Upland, IN.
Since we’re talking about labels, I have to ask: why do you prefer to use “sexual minority people” on here? I think I understand the appeal (it covers a broad base of identities and communities) but it’s also terribly, terribly clunky.
Figuring out how to use terminology has actually been tough for me. In my first several posts on here, I just used “LGBT,” which is the term that comes most naturally to me these days. However, using that acronym implies that I’m definitely talking about all the communities I’ve named. I don’t feel qualified to say much about the “T” (trans) people, since I don’t have any relevant experience, particularly if I’m going to start talking about “disagreements.” At the same time, I don’t want to explicitly leave them out, since they’re definitely victimized by some of the sins and injustices I’ve been talking about.
Just saying “sexual minority people” is a clunky solution, as you point out, but I’m not sure what alternative I should use. If you have a good suggestion, I’m certainly open to changing what I use.
Great article, thank you!
As someone who still openly admits to being the “guy who struggles with unwanted same-sex attractions” I’m beginning to feel a sort of pressure from the Gay Christian community to ditch the words “struggling,” “unwanted,” and “same-sex attractions” because by using this phrase I’m somehow denying the truth that I’m really gay and just won’t say it. Like I’m only halfway out of the closet.
I love this blog and read it whenever I can. The variety of authorship, subject matter and dialogue is a much needed voice in our current political, social and cultural context. But I’ve noticed in the last few posts I’ve read by several different contributors here that there is definitely an encouragement to identify with an LGBT monicker as to promote sameness, unity and defense with and for the gay community in a climate where Christians often wrongly discriminate and disgrace. This is a good thing, I think.
Yet still, gay people aren’t lepers even if some parts of society and the Church may unfairly treat them like they are. So I don’t feel it’s necessary for all Christians attracted to the same-sex to go around saying, “I’m gay, I’m gay” just to prove they’re not scared to stand up for gay people and join the colony against an oppressive Church. We are the Church. I think we need to be careful how much we valorize the LGBT name tag and by implication subjugate those who still say they’re struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions as if the former is better, treating the “guy [who] struggles with unwanted same-sex attraction” as an ugly shadow of the past who bought into the Church’s “negative messages about sexual minorities.”
As Christians we must contextualize our gospel message, and Jeremy, I think that is what you are trying to do. But as someone in your boat rowing right alongside of you and the rest of the authors here on SF, I can’t help but see a red flag in our message (or at least in our delivery). As you rightfully conclude, “[not] everyone has to use the same terminology,” so let’s not elevate one over the other.
Thanks for writing and speaking up. As I tried (but perhaps failed) to communicate in my final paragraph, my goal was not to say that my use of terminology is superior. I was saying that I have found my use of terminology to be helpful in the ways I’m trying to help the Church approach sanctification. (I wrote more about why I’m speaking about sins of Christians in https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/09/10/sin-and-sexual-minorities-part-2-why-i-criticize-christians/.) This is less to prove something about myself, and more to actually help fellow Christians think through their relationships with sexual minority people. I do also want to get across that there are reasons for me to use the terminology I do, in part to respond to critics who believe I can’t use words like “gay” and “bisexual” at all. I’m not trying to say that everyone has to use the terminology I do. In fact, I usually use descriptors over labels when first talking to someone about my sexuality, so I don’t even use these labels all the time myself.
The only criticism I was trying to provide of the “struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction” descriptor here is that there can be bad reasons for using it. I only know this because in my own life I was driven by some of these bad reasons. I’m not trying to judge whether your reasons are good or bad, but just to provide something to ponder as you examine your own heart.
I do get really frustrated when terminology is used as a big divide. It sounds like you’re a brother in Christ who is going through a lot of the same things, and the difference in how we use terminology is mostly cosmetic. You’re not an “ugly shadow of the past,” so I hope my words are not used to imply that you are.
No worries, Jeremy. I didn’t take your post personally and really appreciate your words back to me. I think it is so incredibly important to get past the criticisms of using “gay” or any other LGBT label to define oneself, because ultimately what matters more (for Christians) is their pursuit of faith in Jesus for their salvation and Christ-likeness leading to their glorification with Him at his return. In fact, I helped to encourage a good friend of mine (who also happens to blog with SF) to don the label “gay” as a more permanent marker of his identity, despite my personal preference not to. Although we shared many aspects of a homosexual orientation and our Christian faith together, key differences led to us naming our continued experiences, well, differently.
Thanks for the sensitive response. Looking forward to reading more by you…
Thank you for this, Jeremy. Your love is so apparent, and I want to imitate that.
Love which manifests by a mandate to be single, without a family of your own, all for the purpose of lauding the superiority of our heterosexual peers, and this love manifests by choosing to be a part of and stand alongside a group of people who deny the basic dignity of person’s like me and yourself.
And, this love is so blinding that people like Jeremy think that they will actually be part of what makes this world better for you and me.
I feel so bad for you, Cara, that you really do believe you are unworthy of love, affection, and a family. I just don’t know how a person can get so beaten down that they actually, genuinely, accept that.
I’ll say more prayers for you all, I guess.
Jeremy, I think it’s sweet that you think you can believe that I, and you, are somehow disabled, sinful, sexually or even biologically broken, and still think that you can make the world a better place for us.
But, realistically, you and I both know your antigay, antidignity belief spawns the very things you, and every other cliche gay antigay, gets online to blog about and feign concern over.
You can’t preach love and compassion, effectively, while believe that I, and you, are broken, disabled, or somehow in ‘contradiction to ‘god”.
I wasn’t put on this planet to suffer for being different. I’m sorry you came to that conclusion.
And I resent the term ‘sexual minority people’- the terms already exist. It’s LGBT people. Not using that terminology is a political move, one you see frequently in your type of communities, because there’ a belief that using those titles somehow validates the belief that we are made that way, or exist naturally in that state, when your basic contention is that we are somehow ‘wrong’.
See my reply to Ivan above. I do often use “LGBT” in conversation and have in several past posts on here. I just wasn’t sure how to address the “T” part, so picked something that didn’t have the same implications about that as “LGBT” or “LGB.” It’s not perfect, and I admit that, but it’s not an opposition to those titles.
Under orthodox Christian teaching, all people are broken and sinful. That’s why we need Jesus to save us. This is true regardless of sexual orientation, and regardless of what parts (if any) of gay orientation we believe to be broken. I don’t believe myself to be more broken than others, just differently broken. (I will admit, though, that I don’t generally find it a helpful exercise to think about who is “more” or “less” broken.) I think that Christianity offers some serious moral guidance about how we are to treat our fellow human sinners, and I want to encourage my fellow Christians to take that guidance seriously. This is a case where I think both myself and many others have often failed in the past, and still fail sometimes.
But I’m guessing by your use of lowercase ‘god,’ and because I’m pretty sure I know exactly who you are from seeing you comment other places under two different names, that you are not a Christian in the first place. Thus, I suspect we’ll be talking past each other if we try to focus on some of this.
I will say that judging someone’s motives (such as saying that I am only “feigning” concern) is not a way to encourage him or her to seriously consider what you are saying. Honestly, when you assume that I’m consciously trying to do harm, it makes it harder for me to take seriously even legitimate issues. It is easier for me to take seriously someone who believes that I am unintentionally causing harm, since I certainly do know that I have the capacity to be wrong.
Oh, I think you are ‘unintentionally’ causing harm. You stand with a side of people, a religious machine, that believes all the things you think about gay people- that our sexuality is broken, disordered, somehow mangled, or hiccup’d, it’s just ‘not right’. We can quibble over the adjective, but I’m sure we’re at least on the same page.
That belief causes all the harm that you have to come on here and express concern and consternation over. That’s why I’m fervently dismissive of it, you give fuel, and outright propagate, the belief that we are somehow ‘less than’. I get that you genuinely believe that your god on high makes the world work this way, and that therefore you are not broken, and neither am I, that this is ‘just our place’. I see indecency, indignity, and a propensity for various unhealthy behavior in that place- and I think objective observation of this movement, and many of the people in it, has by and large vindicated what I am claiming.
Also, I use lowercase ‘god’ out of respect for our theological differences, because our conceptualization of religion, intimacy, healthy sexuality, are very, very different, and in many ways thats because the god we pray to, and engage, is absolutely 100% not the same religious experience or theology. I’m trying to draw a differentiation between what I believe and what you believe, and maintain a respectful dialogue while doing so.
I’m not trying to outright slam your theology, unless we get into a discussion about it and you want to know what I think. 😀
Our homosexuality is clearly, I believe, our dharma.
Thank you, Jeremy, for this illustration! Can I “steal” your thoughts to share with my friends via a facebook note? 🙂
Sure, feel free! A link back to this post would be appreciated, though.