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.