Is the “Side B Gay Christian Movement” a Millstone?

One thing that has always struck me about Rosaria Butterfield’s story is how different it is from my own. By Butterfield’s account, she initially dated men and had a few bad experiences. She did not start to date women until her late twenties, after becoming involved in feminist academia. From her telling, it seems it was less a matter of pursuing relationships with women because she was naturally attracted to them, and more a matter of rebellion against traditional ideas. And indeed, Butterfield describes her primary sin issue as rebellion against God’s design.

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Contrast this with my own story. As I’ve discussed before, I first started to realize that I was attracted to other guys around puberty, though I was in denial about it for quite a while. I was horrified and ashamed over this, because I was committed to following Christianity and never bought the revisionist arguments about sexual ethics. As a result, my primary response was to try to rid myself of my feelings for the same sex. A lot of my questions and difficulties came from the realization that my feelings just weren’t changing, despite my best efforts. I certainly had (and still have) some struggles with sin in terms of things like lustful thoughts, but I’m a virgin, and I never got into porn.

Why should we expect that the same approach that worked for Butterfield would work well in my situation?

It’s definitely true that there’s a single Gospel for all believers. Nonetheless, we usually recognize that people in different situations will need different approaches to bring this same Gospel to bear in their lives.

There are legitimate concerns with forming an identity around sexual attractions. Furthermore, some people who speak of “sexual orientation” do so in a way that confuses discipleship, and some outright reject the Christian understanding of sexuality. But it’s inaccurate to characterize everyone who speaks of their “sexual orientation” as if they’re saying the same things and making the same mistakes. You have to look at what each person actually believes.

With that in mind, I’d like to focus on another segment of the video I discussed last time.

How grateful I am to God that the long, hard battles, and the short easy wars over my broken and bent sexuality started for me in the late 1990s, and not in 2016. How grateful I am that I was first loved and embraced by, and then discipled by, a biblical pastor’s wife. And that I sat under the wise preaching of a Christian pastor, who was also my neighbor and my friend. How grateful I am that the members of my church took me into their household and families. I’ve never had to worry about where I was going to have dinner or celebrate anything. How much harder my battle would have been today, if I had to contend with the whisperings of doubt that the unbiblical invention of gay Christianity brings. Had I been discipled by the teachings of the gay Christian movement instead of by a faithful pastor who upheld who upheld the whole counsel of God, it would have been like putting a millstone around my neck. And I doubt that I would have survived that millstone to be talking to you today.

It’s a blessing that God worked in Rosaria Butterfield’s life in this manner. But in my own life, it has been folks Butterfield would classify as part of “the gay Christian movement” without whom my faith might not have survived for me to be writing today.

Let me unpack that a bit. As I said above (and wrote about previously), a lot of important processing of my faith came after I realized that, despite my best efforts, I was still just as attracted to guys as I’d been when I was an early teenager. Rather than coming to the conclusion that God’s plan was wrong and then pursuing gay relationships, as Butterfield did in her late twenties, I had simply felt this way for as long as I’d had significant sexual or romantic feelings.

By this point in time, I had discovered that there were a significant number of other people who had a similar experience to mine. The language of mainstream culture described this phenomenon as “sexual orientation,” simply describing the long-term pattern of a person’s attractions. I was sure that if I had been able to drum up the courage to discuss my attractions with some of my public high school peers, for example, they would have told me I had a “bisexual orientation.”

For a while I rejected that mindset. Rather than being “bisexual” I just “struggled with unwanted same-sex attraction.” But the difference ended up being mostly semantic. I still recognized that some people found themselves with persistent unwanted same-sex attraction, and I didn’t want to be one of them any longer. And the rhetoric used by many conservative Christians, and those affiliated with Exodus International in particular, gave me the idea I could do this.

When life didn’t pan out as I had hoped or expected, I was left with a distinct sense of having been lied to by the conservative Christian world. If the only way to uphold the teaching of Scripture depended on this kind of deception, how could I believe it? Did I have a choice beyond abandoning my high view of Scripture, or worse, abandoning my faith entirely?

Fortunately, by the time I got to this point I had seen other options. There was a nascent group of Christian bloggers talking about their ongoing experience of same-sex attraction, and how they were looking to be faithful to Christian teaching in the midst of that. Some of them used words like “gay” and some did not. But they recognized that same-sex attraction was a reality that wasn’t about to just disappear, and they shared a commitment to the traditional, orthodox understanding of what Scripture says about sexual ethics.

This gave me a framework for processing what I was going through that addressed some of the particulars of my experience. Generic statements about the Gospel never did that for me, for reasons that should surprise no one.

And over time, I grew to appreciate the use of “orientation” language. In broader culture, it really had just come to mean the pattern of a person’s attractions over time. So it made sense to understand this as a phenomenological (not ontological) term, describing a common experience. It served the same role as “same-sex attracted” had always served before. By using the same language as the broader culture, while also recognizing the flawed ideas introduced by thinkers like Sigmund Freud, they were able to speak to a group of people who otherwise were quite closed to Christian teaching.

These bloggers were essentially the “side B gay Christian movement,” and Spiritual Friendship is a more recent outgrowth of their approach. While I understand the concerns some Christians have with “identity” language, we are trying to bring the Gospel to a large group of people who need it, both inside and outside the Christian Church. We’re not perfect, and we need the rest of the body of Christ to keep us on the right path. But I think our approach is valid and needed, Butterfield’s criticism notwithstanding.

17 thoughts on “Is the “Side B Gay Christian Movement” a Millstone?

  1. ‘Different approaches’, ‘frameworks for processing’ and the retelling of ‘particulars of [our] experience’ are all fine if and when they line up with the “the whole counsel of God”.

    That seems (at least to me) to be Butterfield’s position.

    I lived a normal gay life for twenty years. After I converted I didn’t see how I could pretend all of that didn’t happen – or wasn’t a part of “who I am”. Now after 12 years of being a Christian I can see how it must all be rejected – the attractions, the identity and the narrative of that former life.

  2. Butterfield is right. You become what you read!
    If you, as a devoted follower of Jesus spend countless hours reading the culture you become ‘side B’. You become ensnared by the trappings of the current cultural language with its constantly changing interpretations of what it means to be human. The millstone of ‘side B’ is then this belief that one can embrace same sex attraction and /or gay identity call oneself a gay Christian but not practice same sex behavior. The only options then are a celibate life (mostly living miserably as not having the gift) or have a heterosexual marriage (sometimes called a mixed orientation marriage). They also may have a committed same-sex relationship but not have sex. By embracing same sex attraction they want it to be positive implying some sort of healthy drive for non-sexual same sex bonding which inevitably after decades of this male affinity yields little with many side B ending up like so many Exodus leaders becoming side A! This is what I think Butterfield implies.
    But if you read and feed upon the Holy Scriptures you see differently. Sexual temptations are just that: temptations arising out of desires of a fallen heart. Such temptations are not to be embraced and modified into something positive but mortified and thus endured. If this is the Good News of the Gospel then where’s the good news? It is the new heart of the New Creation. It is the being Born Again experience Jesus speaks of that leads to the abundant life. A new heart comes with new desires out of which come new attractions. And so the options become a gift of celibacy like for Jesus or Paul. Or, celibacy for a season or longer: a personal choice for the work of the Kingdom. But as well, the new heart desires are new heterosexual attractions leading to Biblical marriage. But you won’t find gay identity, gay orientation, mixed orientation marriage, nor anything positive regarding same sex attraction in the Scriptures. If this is side X then call it that.
    Now it’s true the side A/B labels came from the cyberspace Bridges Across the Divide effort that led only to burning those bridges and the site no longer in existence. It led to something worse than ‘side B’. A ‘side C’ which many ‘side B’ became! A type of peacemaker between the two opposing sides who espoused a kind of mercy that was larger than God’s Mercy! And thus it became as bad as side A.

    • Mike, I think you lack understanding. X-gay/ex-gay/reparative therapy/ is it’s own cultural phenomenon. I see all of the groups created for LGBT people and Christians that promote a sexual orientation change as a way to cope with the dire circumstances we find ourself in.

      Each group offer a benefit to the person who needs that fix at the time of their need and for some it has a reverse effect and has done damage. Ultimately we have been interceding on behalf of Christ and sticking our nose into people’s business by telling them how to perform for God rather than showing them God’s love.

      • I can see you don’t believe in orientation change. I was suggesting it is one of the cultural constructs made for gay christians to follow in order to deal with their sexuality in an approved manner.

        Based on what I have read you say I would ask : Do you think people have a sexual orientation or a sexual disposition? Or is it that you think everyone has various sexual desires at one point or another in their life, and it’s all about managing our sex drives?

      • “Do you think people have a sexual orientation or a sexual disposition? Or is it that you think everyone has various sexual desires at one point or another in their life, and it’s all about managing our sex drives?
        Kathy, I think people after the fall in Genesis have corrupted attractions and desires which lead them into aberrant sexual behaviors: heterosexual lust and adultery, homosexual behaviors, and others with some too awful to mention.
        I think the biblical solution is changing behavior not the underlying corrupted nature which reparative therapy seeks to do. We are to instead mortify the corrupted nature daily not try to change it as in Romans 8:12. Changing behavior without becoming born again I think is impossible. The new birth comes with new Power given by the Spirit which allows us success in changing behavior resulting in the “such were some of you” of 1 Corinth. 6:11.
        But as well with the new birth comes a new heart with new desires and attractions. Some of these attractions can lead to a heterosexual marriage as the Spirit gives desires for one particular spouse.

      • Thank you Mike, well said.

        I think the idea of the fall is an idea that originated out the concept of original sin which is not biblical but rather an interpretation of the Genesis story. In fact it is not a Jewish concept rather something gleaned from Paul, and therefore in my estimation cannot be applied to the Old Testament Genesis story. Therefore, I am not wholly convinced.

        With that being said– I think everyone’s perspective about sexual sin or the yuck factor comes form whatever background or religious/cultural frame of reference influencing them. Polygamy was normalized in the past but now we think it is wrong. David committed adultery and was allowed to marry the woman he cheated with. In some ways, if we are truthful about it, David and Bathsheba were sinning over and over again because their union was established on sin. But God’s mercy and goodness doesn’t work that way. He accommodates human beings and loves his creation— which is good.

  3. Well said Jeremy. I find those who want to deny the basic reality of sexual orientation to be fairly damaging. That is what the ex-gay movement essentially did. It just ends up being deceptive and semantics games. Plus, it all ignores scientific realities too (and one does not have to hold to a particular theological position to acknowledge science).

    There will probably be those who will always deny basic realities, so blog posts like these are important for countering it. I do think the denial is damaging.

    • The problem of “basic realities” is inherent to faith itself. Science doesn’t line up with any of the basic claims of Christianity..

  4. “If this is side X then call it that.”

    It is Side X in my opinion. My question is are you really Side B, or X? And if you are Side X why do you advocate these ideas on a Blog that is Side B by definition?

  5. ‘Side B’ is a vestige of a previous era — the ‘Bridges Across’ (BA) initiative that no longer is. It didn’t work. And being side B doesn’t either for me. Is SF side B?
    I’m seeing SF as a more recent outgrowth with perhaps only one of its authors from the BA contingent. Others from BA side B folk have changed to side A and some to side C. People and culture have moved on and today is a different time where in my country being side B would be discriminatory leading to litigation for sure.
    Who am I? A fellow ssa’d struggler who has been there and back in that BA alphabet and is sympathetic to Butterfield at least in her aversion to how culture has invaded the church and to her calling us back to the simplicity of the Gospel.

  6. Well said. Sexuality is complex. There’s no way to encapsulate it with two sides or two/three orientations. These matters are best handled on a case-by-case basis.

  7. Jeremy, thanks for your thoughtful post. Like you, I realized my attractions to girls when I hit puberty. My parents did not go to church, so for me, my attractions to girls at first were exciting and felt natural. However, I learned very quickly I was different and society disapproved of someone like me.

    From ages 15-19 I struggled with my sexuality at a time when homophobia had a significant presence in secular society. In my youth I was looking for answers and asking questions about life and religion with no direction from anyone. I wasn’t rebelling against God– in fact I joined a church, got married and was obedient to God. I never slept with a woman or even kissed a girl. I was a virgin when I married my husband. I did everything by the Bible. So, you would think God would have blessed me with some sort of orientation change, just like Rosaria Butterfield.

    I think it is wrong to compare ourselves to each other, as Rosaria Butterfiled is doing. In fact it is unbiblical. To set ourselves up as the standard to follow is fraught with peril for those who do not have the same experiences— especially when we don’t understand all the mysteries of God or life and what he has planned for us. It robs us of our gifts and potential. I will never measure up to Rosaria Butterfield or anyone who says they are ex-gay but this does not disqualify me as a Christian and I think it is harmful for anyone to teach that.

    She doesn’t know what she is doing to people who struggle and keep themselves from sexual compromise or sin — and those LGBT Christians who are attempting to honour God through a vocation and service to the community. Side B Christians should be honoured and encouraged.

    I know there are people who criticize you and disagreement is to be expected. But, there is a difference between a difference of opinion and condemnation. From my experience, with this blog, each of you at Spiritual Friendship should be praised for your compassion and wisdom. Your blog has helped me cope during a very difficult time when I could not deal with the conflicts I had between my sexuality and faith. On more than one occasion you helped me avoid despair. And for that I am grateful.

    so be encouraged ! 🙂

  8. “Encouragement” is, indeed, the Christian posture: “take heart” – its literal meaning. Binary/tertiary profiling is so old – ABCX/LGBTQ etc. Christians (and all people of faith) need one anothers’ experience, wisdom and compassion. I envision a “trust” in which we “hold one another” – across all identity markers – for the purpose of enlarging the “kingdom” circle, not containing it (as in “circling the wagons”) defensively. As a member of an intentional Christian community for 45 years, I see however imperfectly, how this “circle of trust” (inclusive of many cultures and disciplines (re: money/power/sexuality/vocation) is enlarged in the telling of our stories (without fear of judgement/condemnation), including those or betrayal and persecution by the church(es) we love and serve. The culture of boundary setting has become so normative, and “safe” spaces so confining (pseudo-community) that we “encourage” (rather than vilify or demonize) all who seek wholeness and health. Realizing that our church/culture (and identity politics in general) is becoming so “compartmentalized” (= disintegrated) that no one has time or energy for the longer, harder, work of integration (lots of “talk” notwithstanding) we hold hope for deeper reconciliation; that which comes about through prayer and fasting! Encourage one another, for the times are evil. [1 Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11. Romans 15:5ff.]

  9. Pingback: The Benedict Option and the Nashville Statement | Spiritual Friendship

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