We’re weighing in on a continuing conversation of language because the words matter.
Join us as Josh unpacks the terms “Gay Christian” and “Christian with Same Sex Attraction.”
Followers of Jesus who hold a traditional view of God’s design for sexuality, can split when it comes to the wording. We’ll explore how language elevates orientation to the same status as belief in Jesus.
We are beloved, image-bearers of God and need to be aware of labels that can limit our core identity.
While this may not be a personal issue for you, we encourage you to stay as this is a “person” issue. And we want to care for the full body of Christ together with dignity and honor.
Our bodies, our maleness and femaleness make VISIBLE something of God’s invisible attributes.
Wording can de-emphasize the biological, heterosexual design of your body.
Be aware of how language elevates orientation to the same status as belief in Jesus.
If you want to learn more, check out Josh’s latest musing on this topic at, Gay Christian or Same-Sex Attracted?
Click for Full Podcast Transcription
You may not be aware of it, depending on your situation. But there’s actually a pretty rigorous debate conversation happening in among Christians, devout Christians, who experienced same sex attractions and how they talk about their struggle, how they talk about themselves specifically. On the one hand, there are folks who refer to themselves as gay Christians. It’s just a shorthand way of describing their experience. And yes, they believe that God’s design for sexuality is one man and one woman in marriage. And yet, they refer themselves as gay Christians, on the other side are folks who are vehemently opposed to that, who will not refer to themselves as gay Christians, they would use maybe a longer form to say I’m a Christian and I have same sex attractions, or I struggle with same sex attractions or things like that. I remember meeting several years ago with a young guy named Charlie who came to my office and he sat down and in the first conversation, somewhere in the first conversation, he said, Hey, look, I hope that you’re not one of those guys, who is going to tell me not to, not to call myself a gay Christian, it just drives me crazy that there are people in my church who, who get all, you know, wrapped up about that, when there’s so many other bigger issues that Christians in the church and in the world are facing. So it just infuriates me that they make that their kind of big issue. The same time I have friends who will say, Look, this is a hill, I die Oh, and I will not refer to myself as a as a gay Christian. Tess is an example of that, she runs a ministry and she said this, that’s a Hillel dialogue like I it, it’s not a matter of semantics that actually shapes my life. So even though they both hold traditional views on God’s design for sexuality, they do not agree on the use of the phrase Gay Christian. So I want to just unpack this a little bit, if this is a struggle for you, if he if you are a Christian, either referred to yourself as a gay Christian, or you just recognize you have same sex attractions. And you have not you’re not familiar with this, you’re kind of sorting this through, I hope this will be helpful for you. If on the other hand, this is not a personal issue for you. I’d stay listening anyway. Because what I’m going to talk about today, I think has has significant implications just for how we understand what’s the conversation is, and the implications it has, for all of us in the church today. Because the test is right, this is bigger than just semantics, it actually does have implications for how we think about ourselves, how we think about the world. And hopefully, I’ll, what I’m going to talk about today will kind of provide us all with a more ecumenical approach to this and more understanding approach to where the different sides are on this. So that we can grow in Christ likeness, together, in both in a way that’s both generous and Orthodox in how we’re approaching it. So let me just start, I’m going to kind of compare and contrast, and I’ll talk about Charlie, and I’ll talk about tests, because it’s easier to just refer them. So Charlie, again, is the devout Christian He refers to himself as a gay Christian test is the one who will not use that language and refers to herself instead as a Christian who experiences same sex orientation or same sex attraction. So So why does Charlie prefer this the Gay Christian terminology? I’m gonna give you four reasons. One, it’s just a shorthand way of describing when he’s going through. So he doesn’t have to use that kind of clunky, you know, Christian who struggled same sex attraction. And it’s, it’s how people talk today. I mean, people don’t say, I’ve seen subtractions they say, I’m gay, or I’m straight. So for Charlie, it’s just a shorthand way of describing something that everyone around him in the culture will understand whether Christian or not Christian. There’s a little confusion or can be a little confusion there. And you probably even heard it. At the beginning, I kept saying, you know, Charlie’s devout, he understands that God’s design for sexuality is one man, one woman for life in marriage. So there is some confusion there. It’s not crystal clear, especially in the Christian community. Are we talking about somebody who holds an orthodox perspective on sexuality or somebody who says, has a hold a revisionist perspective and says, That’s not actually what you know, God says. So, but anyway, Charlie would say it’s a shorthand way of describing it. And most people understand what he means. And you compare it to, you know, somebody who says, I’m an alcoholic, you know, what, you know, we don’t get on them for that. So, and I’ll come back to that later. But, so that’s number number one. Secondly, Charlie would say it fosters a level of self acceptance. And this is really an important point, actually. Because I think that some folks who have referred to themselves and maybe this is this is a term has kind of fallen out of favor, but people used to refer themselves as ex gay. And, and some people I think, who kind of push against referring themselves in any way that would identify themselves as as dealing with same sex attractions or being gay. I think sometimes that pushing away from that isn’t it’s out of self rejection, like I don’t even want my two To admit it to myself, or for other people to know that this is going on in my life. So whatever whatever else they believe about the terminology. Underneath it, there’s a there’s a rejection of their current experience. And that’s it that’s important. It’s important to recognize like we actually want to accept ourselves as we are, it doesn’t mean that we can’t change, it doesn’t mean that we can’t grow, it doesn’t mean that we can’t discover more about who we are. But it does mean like anybody who’s got any kind of struggle in the church, we need to be a place where we can be honest about what that is what I’m experiencing my real life experience. And we need to accept one another. With our real life experience. Again, we want to be conformed into the image and likeness of Christ both in how we live, how we talk, how we behave, how we think. And yet we can also accept the reality of where we are today in that journey. So number three for Charlie, he’d say that referring himself as gay pushes back against unhealthful pressures from maybe well meaning, but misguided Christians who have understood that, look, if you’re a Christian, you just you won’t have same sex attractions at all. If you fully submitted your life to Jesus, then he’s gonna take those away, and you can go off and get married and live a happy, healthy life. And Charlie and tests would both say, Well, no, it’s not quite that simple. Just like, everybody has some areas of sin and struggle and temptation, and identity issues that that are lingering in their lives and have to work out and walk out with Jesus for the long haul. Same Same for those who experience same sex attractions. And so for Charlie, he’d say, like, look, as we have progressed, be able to communicate that I can be gay and Christian, meaning not acting on those behaviors, but but experiencing same sex attractions. As we progress and understand that in the church, it actually helps reduce that kind of push. And the unhelpful pressures and misguided advice that people have gotten over the years. Number four, Charlie would say last one creates a bridge to other LGBT plus people. So he’s got kind of an evangelistic mind, like, look, we live in a day and age where so much of the population when they think of Christianity, they think of people who are homophobic and hateful towards LGBT people. And Charlie would say, I like by referring to myself as a gay Christian, I’m actually extending an olive branch, I’m expressing a sense of solidarity with other people who have the same experience in life that I have. This is the way they talk this way they understand themselves. And they may look at me sideways, when I say I’m not acting on my attractions, and I don’t think is what God wants for my life. But I am gay, and I’m a Christian. And it can open some doors that that maybe other ways of talking about it won’t you know, one of the for example, that the term homosexuality or homosexual, you don’t hear that much anymore. It used to be common vernacular, but it’s, it’s, it’s less used for a variety of reasons. And we’ll get into all those here. But when Christians refer to themselves as having homosexual attractions or things like that, the outside world can kind of say, Oh, I get it, you’re one of those people, you you hate LGBT people, or you, you know, you’re afraid of that. If for Charlie, that’s something he’s sensitive to, and wants to reach out to, to the broader world and recommend kind of with with the statement of like, look, I I’m not afraid of you, I don’t hate you actually share your experience. Alright, so that’s Charlie, fast forwarding through Charlie, what about tests, who does not refer to herself as a gay Christian or lesbian, Christian, but refers to herself as a Christian. And when it comes up, she is not afraid of also describing to people and letting people know Yep, and I have same sex attractions or I’ve experienced the same sex orientation. So she’s got several reasons why she chooses that language. First. For her being a Christian, it’s her core identity, and it’s got no, no sidecar to it, you know, there’s no nothing, no counterpart, there’s no subcategory that that actually fits with it. To be a Christian is to be a Christian. She’s a beloved daughter of God. She’s an image bearer of God. She’s a member of Christ’s Body Christ Church. He’s a member of the royal priesthood, she’s been made a new creation in Christ, the oldest gone to hold the newest column. And so to pull in gay, the terminology gay or lesbian alongside of that just doesn’t fit for her. It’s like, kind of elevating something to the same status as her Christian identity. And she’s like, nothing deserves the same status. Related to that is number two, if she wants to grow in Christ likeness. It means it means focusing on Christ. It means focusing on Christ and His righteousness, both applied to her and imputed to her not focusing on her brokenness. And I think I think she’s got a good point here because I think one of the the tactics of the enemy Who’s the accuser of the brethren? He focuses on areas of temptation or brokenness or fallenness, or weakness or sin and says, that’s who you are. And he wants us to stay focused on that. But to grow in Christ likeness means no, actually, you know, I have this ongoing pattern of struggle in my life or weakness in my life. But who I am is really, I’m a child of God. And that’s the most important. And so like Paul, in Romans eight, we focus on the first fruits of the Spirit, not the old dying fruit of the old man. We don’t focus on the on the withering fig tree. That’s, that’s the old stuff, we focus on the new stuff, the sprouts that are growing up, that’s where we put our attention. That’s where we put our focus. That’s where we put our faith, we recognize the new things God’s doing. And we know we don’t focus on or carry over the the old identifications. Number three for tests. She say, Look, when I refer to myself, as a, as a lesbian, or a gay Christian, it kind of set me apart from other people in the body of Christ. I’m a full member of the Body of Christ, I belong to my church, I am a woman of God. And I’m not going to put something in the way of my relationships with other people in my church, or in my way, as I relate with other people, my church to create some kind of subset, Christian or subcategory of Christian. I’m not chronic human, chronically unique. I’m not distinct from other brothers and Christian brothers and sisters. Yes, we’re all different. We’ve all got our own spiritual gifts, we’ve all got our own stories of Algar and background, we’ve all got our own unique gifts, and we want to learn to know each other. But I’m not going to take something and kind of create a subcategory. And I think she’s got a point here as well. I’ve seen over the years, how either when people create the subcategories that either kind of elevate themselves above others, or they put themselves below others, as opposed to seeing themselves as a part of others. Next, and before tests would say there is no limit on what Christ can do in my life. And I think this is really important because we live in a world that accepts without question that, quote, unquote, being gay is it’s something that you’re born with, and it’s unchangeable. It’s never going away. It’s just there. And certainly, just like a lot of other areas of struggle for us your areas of weakness, or, or challenges in life, we may carry that for the rest of our lives. It may be a part of our lives, like I mentioned before alcoholism, you know, a person who goes to Alcoholics Anonymous, may say, for the rest of their lives, even though they’ve been sober for 3040 years. Hi, I’m Josh, and I’m an alcoholic. And yet, and yet, I think there’s something around the area of sexuality, that we treat differently, I think most of us can recognize when somebody who’s been sober for 40 years from alcohol, and he says, I’m an alcoholic, we typically don’t hold that as kind of their core identity or as a label over them. We just think it’s yeah, that’s something that, you know, Josh used to do 40 years ago, and he’s been sober, and that that’s the more important part. But I don’t think our culture treats sexuality the same way. I think they hold it as a core part of a person’s identity. And something that should be expressed in order for that person to be fully alive. And fully actualized is who they’re supposed to be. And so I think Tess has right to have kind of a caution about that. And by by by not referring to herself that way, I think she keeps, she keeps open to whatever else God might have in her life might I got a friend I just was with last week, and he was describing how the first 30 years of his life, he, he understood himself to be a gay man. And God really started challenging him saying, like, how about you? Let me define who you are, how about you trust your future to me. So he would begin kind of pressing in there and just saying, got to know what you have in store. But you’re right, you define me, you, you shaped me, you lead me where you want to go. And that began to radically change some of his relationships with people in his church. He found, he found that there were some women whose relating to us in the church as kind of more like a girlfriend. And he really began kind of pulling away from those relationships and saying, Look, we are friends, but I’m not your girlfriend, and I don’t want you to talk to me, like like a girlfriend, I want you to talk to me like a man like you do other men in our church. Now, I’m not saying that that happens in every relationship in church, but it did for this guy. And so as he began to, like, let God define him and follow Jesus in this area of his life, it started to change other relationships, including eventually, he met a woman and they married and they’ve been married now for over a decade. They’ve got two kids, and, and he’s really pleased with not being underneath and having kind of a glass ceiling on where God would take him. He’s happily married and you know, he’s got some temptation sometimes, but that does not define him in the same way. Alright, number five for tests. And I think if you’ve listened this podcast at all for a long time you recognize this is important to me. Test To say my body is actually a key part of who I am. And so to refer to myself as a gay Christian, elevates my internal subjective sense of myself that that psychological experience inside that I have attractions to the same sex over my objective biology, Christianity and understanding of personhood is that we are each male and female, a union of spirit and body. And not only that, but our bodies make visible something of God’s invisible attributes, including our maleness and femaleness are maleness and femaleness, make visible, something of God’s invisible attributes. And then male and female together, make visible even more so something of God’s invisible attributes, not because God is male or female, but because male and female, make visible something of God. So God’s not made in our image we are made in His image and our maleness and femaleness expressed that in a visible way. That’s, that’s a teaching of Christianity. That’s a part of what Paul’s talking about in Ephesians. Five, for example, that’s part of what Galatians I’m sorry, Genesis one is about, that’s a part of what many people think the Song of Solomon is about. These things matter, gender actually matters in the pages of Scripture in certain places, not as a, you know, one genders elevated over another, those old dividing lines have been removed. But but as far as how we express God’s image on the earth, they matter. And as far as our relationships go, they matter. And so for test to describe herself as a gay Christian would be to de emphasize the biological heterosexual design of her body. And that’s an important part of how she images God in relationship to men in relationship to women, even as a single woman, that’s how it part of how she images, God to other people in the church. So I’m at almost 17 minutes here, said a lot. But I hope part of what this has done for you is just to kind of Stoke for you why this is an important conversation, even an important debate in Christianity, I think you could probably hear it in the way I’m talking about it that the I lean strongly in favor of not referring to ourselves not describing ourselves as gay men and women. I just think that there, there are some things that I think language is powerful, I think we see that even in what’s taking place in the 19th and 20th century in regards to how we talk about, quote, unquote, being gay at all, I think we’re it used to not be an identity marker for people, it has become an identity marker for people, that’s really unquestioned an intrinsic part of our identity, and that there’s a lot more that goes into that than just this. But in any in any case, because language is powerful. And it not only reflects how we think about ourselves, but also shapes, how we think about ourselves and how we think about each other. I favor not referring to ourselves as gay, lesbian, Christians. Christians, I think, do have a responsibility to, to, to follow God and submit their identity to who God says that they are. And that who God says they are, holds a place that is unique, and above all other identities, any other identity, marker, or definition or descriptor. That vies for that premise, prominent place, is really, I believe, potentially, a threat to who we in truth are as God’s God’s men and women. Now, with that said, That’s my view. I know Christians who hold a different view, and, and yet who hold to that orthodox perspective on sexual sexual expression between a man and woman in marriage. And I would say that’s a place where I need to have some generous generosity towards my brothers and sisters in Christ. We can disagree. And I think that what I’ve described here today shows why it’s important to disagree, why we need to have those conversations and bring those conversations to light to listen to one another. We don’t want Christians walking around with a sexual struggle, and carrying shame about it to the point where they won’t even name what they’re dealing with. Likewise, we don’t want Christians walking around ignoring the fact that their body plays a part in their identity, and their role in the body of Christ. These things really, really matter both for how we practice and understand our orthodoxy and also how we practice Christianity both in the church and in the broader world. Alright, I’m out of time. We’re out of time, but Jesus, we just we look to you. You are the Word made flesh, Lord, and our flesh matters to you. Thank you, Lord, for coming to rescue our flesh. I pray for every man and woman listening right now whether especially those who experience same sexual orientation themselves, Lord, that You would lead them into all truth. Nothing would hold them back, learn from growing as the men and women that you designed them to be. And I pray that for all of us listening, that we would steward the faith well, and that we would submit ourselves fully to you, not to fear of man, not to the ways and the words of the world, Lord, but to you. And yet Lord, we do that in such a way that we’d also be able to communicate with one another and with the world in ways that reach to them just as you’ve reached us, in the flesh. I pray all these things now in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and then
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