Jesus brings the Sermon on the Mount to a close with this illustration:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. Matthew 7:24-27
Jesus lays out what’s of vital importance for His followers to understand: What you build your life upon matters, and what you do matters. The foundation upon which we’re built will shape our convictions and values, which determine what kinds of people we become. When I think about the foundation a person is built upon, I often think about identity. An identity is what internally sets someone apart from others—what defines a person—and it often says something about their values and convictions. It’s how we say to ourselves and others: “this is who I am,” and Jesus seems to be saying that if “who we are” is rooted in anything other than Him and His teaching, then (like the foolish man) we’re building our lives on sand.
Toward the end of my time speaking with Exodus, I started publicly saying I was “gay”. I didn’t plan on using that label to describe my experience, but it came out because I was honestly sharing my heart, and honestly sharing about my experience involved saying I have a really gay orientation. It made sense to use the label most commonly used for ongoing, persistent same-sex attractions to describe my ongoing, persistent same-sex attractions: gay. I would discuss how I previously focused on my sexuality to the neglect of focusing on Christ in two ways: 1.) by finding my identity in my sexuality and re-imagining Scripture in a way that affirmed gay sexual expression, and 2.) by placing my hope in becoming heterosexual with the prosperity-Gospel-leaning “healing” message so I could one day live into the romance narrative that is less about Christ and more about the removal of uncomfortable tension here on earth. I shared about being a celibate gay Christian with an identity in Christ, who’s built upon the foundation of Christ, entirely rooted in the way of Christ, with my hope in the fullness of redemption that will culminate with Christ’s return.
I was surprised to find that, suddenly, I started getting push back from many Christians. Many have latched onto the “gay” part when I use that adjective to describe my same-sex attractions, and they’ve been concerned that I (or others like me) am claiming a gay identity. They’ve expressed concern that I’m “defining myself by my sin”. I always listen closely when people approach me about it because the thing that defines us (the foundation upon which we build our sense of self) is going to be the driving force of countless other choices we make. It’s where we’ll find our sense of meaning, value, and purpose, so I want to be corrected if I ever begin to define myself by my sexuality.
What I always come back to is this: there’s a distinction between an identity and a label that’s helpful in describing my experience. We use words to communicate our experiences so we’re more fully known and more intimately connected, and “celibate gay Christian” has sometimes been helpful for me. It communicates that I don’t experience heterosexual attractions, so I don’t feel like I’m lying by omission since people otherwise assume I’m straight. It also clarifies that orientation change hasn’t been my experience and it isn’t the goal of a Christian—Christ-likeness is the goal. And I find one of the most valuable reasons to use the term is this: young people in the church who find themselves attracted to the same sex typically think to themselves “I’m gay”. I want them to know being gay doesn’t have to entail a departure from Scripture and church teaching on this topic. I want them to know there are others who are also “gay” who have submitted their sexuality to Christ as they follow Him on the path of discipleship.
None of those things are related to a gay identity though, and I want to be clear about that because I think it’s dangerous for Christians to place our identity in anything other than Christ. The entirety of who I am is built upon what Christ has done (or at least that’s my aim and prayer). The redemptive narrative that runs throughout Scripture is where I find hope, value, and meaning, and my identity is one of an adopted child who was rescued by Jesus. Every term I use to communicate some aspect of my experience—introvert, laid back, sister, writer, runner, gay—is simply a term used to describe part of my experience as a child of God situated in a specific way in the world.
The question of identity seems important not just for gay Christians to consider, but for all Christians to seriously consider on an ongoing basis. I know many Christians who are not being confronted about where they find their identity—what they’re building their life upon—because they’re straight, well-behaved, well-adjusted men and women. But in a competitive, image-driven culture, it can be easy for someone to find their identity in their work, in their accomplishments, in their appearance, in the success of their children. Without realizing it and without using a label, we can slowly start to find our value and purpose in countless things other than Christ. We begin to forget why we’re here—to know God and glorify Him—and we’re swallowed up in approval-seeking, people-pleasing, never-ending cycles to prove that we matter. And great will be the fall of that house.
The language we use to describe our experience matters in the sense that language does shape the way we think about ourselves, and if we don’t know what we’re doing with words then words can do something with us. But the language we use to describe our experience is less important than moment-by-moment worship of God, placing Him at the center of all our thoughts and affections. I’ve come to be grateful that I’m so often questioned about my identity because it causes me to continually reflect on whether or not I really am building my life upon Christ and Christ alone. It helps me keep everything else in check, and to be prayerful about whether or not my affections are properly ordered.
It would, however, be helpful for all of us (gay or straight) to regularly reflect on what we point to internally for a sense of meaning and purpose and identity. If we find that we’re crushed by someone else’s low opinion of us, or we’re in knots over whether or not we receive recognition for our work, or we’re exhausted in our efforts to fit the image of attractive and successful in our culture, then we’re missing it in a way that breaks the heart of God and it will eventually break us. We’re missing it regardless of what words we use to describe that experience. But if, by the Spirit of God, we’re careful to build our lives upon Him and we see that demonstrated through a life of doing what He says, then we can be confident that our Father in Heaven is glorified in us and that He’ll be faithful to display His beauty through us.