I often hear Christians say that the phrase “gay Christian” is an oxymoron. To be a Christian is to not be gay, they say. Or, even if you still struggle with being gay, it’s just that—a struggle, not an identity. “I don’t call myself a lustful Christian or an adulterous Christian,” the argument goes. “Why would any real Christian say they’re a gay Christian?”
Should Christians who believe in a historically Christian sexual ethic call themselves gay? Is the term gay too loaded, too secular, too unchristian to be a helpful identity? If our identity is in Christ, then why should anyone ever identify as gay? Shouldn’t we just say we struggle with same-sex attraction? Is using a gay identity just a slippery slope toward affirming gay marriage in the church? God doesn’t identify us by our sexual desires or temptations, so why should we?
These are all good questions. (Well, some of them are good; others are quite tone-deaf to the conversation people are actually having about these terms and identities.) And Christians are divided over how to answer them. Some Christians are adamant that using the term “gay Christian” is an affront to the gospel—even when gay Christians believe in and are living according to a traditional sexual ethic. To describe oneself as gay is downright heresy, some will proclaim.
Others are not only perfectly fine with using the term “gay,” but argue that it’s much better than the phrase “same-sex attracted,” which carries with it its own baggage. It was forged in the cauldrons of ex-gay ministries, and many people who went through such programs left with piles of shame and self-hatred. “Same-sex attracted” is not a neutral alternative to the term “gay.” It carries with it its own assumptions and potential problems, and many see it as missionally counterproductive.
The discussion about these matters is becoming more and more polarized—and our culture is doing the same on so many related issues. From my vantage point, it doesn’t seem like people are trying hard to actually listen to those on the “other side” of this debate. This is why I reached out to two of my friends, Greg Coles and Rachel Gilson, to help us navigate this conversation in a thoughtful, humble, actually-listening-to-each-other sort of way.
Over the next few weeks, Rachel and Greg are going to engage in an ongoing dialogue on this blog about the terms “gay” and “same-sex attracted.” I specifically wanted Greg and Rachel to have this conversation for several reasons. Both Greg and Rachel believe in a historically Christian view of marriage and sexual relationships. Rachel does not identify as gay or lesbian, even though she experiences same-sex attraction. Greg does identify as gay, preferring the term over “same-sex attracted.” Both Rachel and Greg are friends and—they didn’t pay me to say this—delightful humans who have much grace toward those who disagree with them on these issues. Rachel doesn’t prefer to use “gay” or “lesbian” to describe herself, yet she doesn’t demonize those who do. Greg sympathizes with Rachel’s hesitation in using the terms, yet for various reasons (that you’ll read about in the ensuing posts), he still finds the term “gay” to be a more helpful (and missional) descriptor of his experience.
I’ve been so eager to listen in on Rachel and Greg’s dialogue, because it will be just that—a dialogue. Not a debate. Not a witch hunt. Not a mud-slinging contest. Rachel and Greg are entering into this conversation as friends, and I have no doubt they will leave it as better friends.
The Center doesn’t have an official position on terminology and identities. Some members of our collaborative team resonate more with Rachel’s perspective, others with Greg’s. We therefore try to use language interchangeably. We’ll use the terms “gay” or “lesbian” or “LGBT+/LGBTQ” on some occasions and “same-sex attraction” or “gender dysphoria” on others. And we try to refer to people by the identities they use for themselves. We see these issues as secondary and therefore worthy to dialogue about, not divide over.
Thanks for tuning in for this dialogue! Here's an overview of the series:
- "Why I Started Calling Myself Gay" by Greg Coles.
- "Why I Started Calling Myself Same-Sex Attracted" by Rachel Gilson.
- "Three Concerns with the Term 'Same-Sex Attracted'" by Greg Coles.
- "Responding to Concerns with the Term 'Same-Sex Attracted'" by Rachel Gilson.
- "Three Concerns with LGBTQ Terminology" by Rachel Gilson.
- "Responding to Concerns with LGBTQ Terminology" by Greg Coles.
- "Our Hopes for the Future of the Church" by Greg Coles & Rachel Gilson.
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A small group learning experience designed to help Christians engage in conversations about faith, gender, and sexuality.