Why Gay and Lesbian Identities Don’t Undermine Identity in Christ

This post on Christian identity is the 4th in a 7-part series called “Gay or Same-Sex-Attracted?” I’ll be publishing every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday over the next two weeks, and each post will cover a new reason to use the words “gay” and “lesbian” as a Christian. Please feel free to share your thoughts. I love having dialogue and feedback!

To check out other posts in this series:

  1. Gay or Same-Sex-Attracted? Navigating the LGBT Language Police
  2. Christianese Like Same-Sex-Attracted Pushes Away the LGBT Community
  3. Gay Doesn’t Mean ‘Sin’ And Neither Does Same-Sex-Attracted Mean ‘Holy’ 
  4. Why Gay and Lesbian Identities Don’t Undermine Identity in Christ
  5. Why Homosexual Christians Are Called To Identify With Gays And Lesbians
  6. LGBT Words Are More Precise than the ‘Same-Sex-Attracted’ Umbrella
  7. Gay or Same-Sex-Attracted? Answering Some Lingering Questions

Or to read the full article:

Also, I feel the need to clarify that I am a celibate lesbian and fully committed to a traditional sexual ethic as outlined by Scripture. If you haven’t read my About page or previous posts, this could get lost in the conversation. I want to avoid misunderstandings as much as possible, so hopefully this information is clear!

UPDATE 4/23/2018:  As this series has been getting read by more people, I’ve realized that there is an important background post on Christian identity that I wrote earlier on. If the topic of identity interests you, check this post out in order to get a fuller picture of where I’m coming from:

Gay and lesbian and other LGBT+ identities don't undermine Christian identity. Identity is more complex than we think.

Identity Is Not So Simple

Last year, I boarded a flight to South Korea and said goodbye to the U.S.A. Now, about 11 months later, I am a different person because of that choice. Moving abroad led to a variety of foreign experiences that left their mark upon my life and, as a result, I’m different than before.

If we could do a timey-wimey experiment and split my life into an alternate reality versus the current reality, we’d see the impact of my choice. The “Bridget” that never moved to South Korea but stayed in America would be a slightly different “me” than the “Bridget” who actually moved. The identity of one would differ from the other.

There’s lots of things that shape my identity. Take for example my intense attraction to ice cream. Why do I love ice cream so much? I don’t really know. I just do. And this fact alone has shaped my life in big and small ways. Without it, I would’ve never eaten ice cream for breakfast on a daily basis during middle school (and early high school). Even today, I wouldn’t so effectively convince my friends to get ice cream instead of popcorn for a movie.

Without my love for ice cream, I’d be a different person. Put another way, my attraction to ice cream shapes my identity. And the same can be said of our attractions to people.

There Is No Such Thing As a Fixed Identity… Or Is There?

Identity is not objective. Who I am changes as new experiences, desires, and interactions affect my personhood.

But neither is identity subjective. Sure, I’m a different person today because I moved to South Korea. But at the same time, I’m not. I’m still “me.” I’m still the same “Bridget” that I’ve always been. I’ve changed but stayed the same. Even if I go back 20 years into my past and compare my 7-year-old self to my 27-year-old self, they’re at once completely different people but the same exact person.

How is that possible? How is it possible to change but stay the same?

It’s possible because identity is a paradox.

Human Beings Are Subjects As Much As Objects

When it comes to identity, the Bible is filled with paradox. In one place, it says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek” (Gal. 3:28), but in another place it says, “To the Jews, I became as a Jew” (1 Cor. 9:20). On the one hand, we’re supposed to be “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22), but on the other hand, we’ve got to be “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Just how exactly are we supposed to be “all things” when we’re supposed to be “one” at the same time?

To find the answer, we must get comfortable with a “both-and” reality. Objectively, I’m a human. Subjectively, I’m a dog-lover. I’m not just one or the other. I’m both. Objectively speaking, there’s a lot of things that are true about me. But subjectively speaking, there’s things that are just as true.

For instance, if one day I stopped loving dogs, I’d be a very different person. So different, in fact, that it’s hard for me to imagine! But strangely enough, although I’d be different, I’d still be the same, because the objective things about me would still be true. I’d be the same “me” but also a different “me.”

In other words, objectively I’d be the same, but subjectively I’d be different. And both are essential to understand. If I divorced my subjective self from my objective self, I’d tear myself apart. They need each other to survive. I need my likes and dislikes, my good experiences and bad, my best choices and my worst — I need these subjective realities as much as I need to know the objective things about me: that I am a 27-year-old daughter, sister, and friend. I can only be a whole person when the two are married together. Take one from the other, and I wouldn’t be “me” any longer. Neither would you be you. 

And believe it or not, this gets to the mystery of the Gospel itself — Jesus Christ, the subjective incarnation of the objective God. The divine spirit in flesh and blood. The immortal soul subjected to death. This paradoxical human, this person who is both subject and object, he is the model of our identity.

It’s Not That Gay People Aren’t Gay, It’s That Gay People Are More Than Gay

We finally arrive at one of the more philosophical reasons why some Christians prefer “same-sex-attracted” to “gay.” The word “gay” implies that you find “identity” in your sexual attractions, while “same-sex-attracted” does not. The argument goes that Christians should find their identity in things that are objectively true and rooted in Christ alone. To find your identity in anything else is wrong.

But this argument creates as many problems as it tries to fix. It responds to a real issue — the modern impulse to twist human identity into nothing but a shifting, shapeless amalgamation of subjective experiences — by going to the other extreme!

Yes, it’s true. Human beings are not the mere product of desire and choice. But neither are they the fixed result of objective reality. Humans are both.

Yes, the world is warping identity into nothing but subjective experience. But the believer shouldn’t warp it again, especially when it comes to sexuality. If we meet a man who says, “I’m gay,” we shouldn’t say, “Oh no, you’re not.” Instead, we should say, “You’re more.”

Finding Christian Identity

Lots of Christians squirm when they hear a woman describe her “lesbian identity” or someone else describe their “gay identity.” You’re not your sexuality, they say. Your sexual attractions don’t define you.

And I agree. I don’t believe my sexual attractions define me any more than I believe my attractions to ice cream define me.

But it’s also not so simple. We are impacted by subjective experience as much as we are impacted by objective reality. The fingerprints of God’s design are over them both, and choosing to see one over the other just denies who we are. We are more than subjects, and we are more than objects. We are the two of them together.

Put simply, the Christian response to subjectivism is not its opposite. The Christian response grabs hold of them both, maintaining a perfect tension.

So where does that leave Christ? The Bible says that we are all “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Behind these words lie the power of Christ to pull things together in a world that would split them apart. Just as he takes a multitude of divergent people and pulls them into a single, unified church, so he takes the multitude of opposing realities that tug upon the human soul and knits them together into a single being. Into a person that is whole. Into a perfect you. And a perfect me. Christ is the person who ultimately defines our existence.

Ultimately, no subjective experience defines us. I don’t consider my “gayness” to be a defining attribute of my existence anymore than anything else that happens to be a fact about my life. But the subjective realities of my existence are nevertheless still true.  And that’s not a bad thing to admit. We are objective and subjective creatures. Only by giving both realities to Christ, do we become a full person.

So LGBT+ people need Christ, not so he can tell them to stop being “gay,” or “lesbian,” or “bisexual,” or whatever. Instead, they need Christ so he can take their sexuality and pull it into the wholeness of their being, into the very person that he made them to be.

We all need Christ for this reason.

Coming Up…

In my next post, we’ll continue this discussion on “gay vs. same-sex-attracted” by looking at the example of biblical figures. From the example of Paul and even Jesus Christ, we’ll discuss how identifying with other people is an essential part of the Christian witness.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Do you tend to focus on things that are only objectively true about you? Or things that are only subjectively true? What are the challenges you face in finding that balance?

Next Post in the Series: Why Homosexual Christians Are Called to Identify with Gays and Lesbians

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4 thoughts on “Why Gay and Lesbian Identities Don’t Undermine Identity in Christ

  1. Sarah Ziegenhagen Reply

    Since this blog post seems to directly address my last reply, I’ll make another. I hope you don’t mind.

    I can see where the disconnect between you and me is – you believe that being sexually attracted to the same sex is as innocuous a desire as the desire to eat ice cream. I certainly do not. Sexual attraction to the same sex is an inherently disordered desire that (even accepting your distinction between subjective and objective sources of identity) cannot be embraced as a wholesome part of your identity. I believe that when you say “I am gay” you are saying, “I am sick and I need a physician.” To embrace that sickness as even a non-essential part of your identity is to reject the redemptive work of Christ in this area of your life. Christ is not interested in pulling brokenness “into the wholeness of our being.” Brokenness is not part of the person he made us to be. He is interested in healing and curing our brokenness. Of course we may have sinful desires all of our lives (because of weakness), but we trust that Christ will redeem the faithful in the end –and will sanctify our desires making us fit for heaven; making us the kind of human beings that he designed us to be. Without all the brokenness.

    If you don’t agree that same-sex attraction is inherently disordered – and/or believe that it is somehow part of God’s design for your life – I think that’s where our dialogue has to end. You and I can’t get any further than that.

    All that being said, inordinate desires for ice cream will, I trust, also be sanctified. But since you aren’t writing a series of blog posts to justify self-identifying as gluttonous I’ll leave that one alone. 

    Sarah Z

    1. Traveling Nun Reply

      Hey Sarah! Thank you for commenting so thoughtfully. This is something that I actually want to address in more depth, though right now I’m trying to decide whether I want to talk about it in the current series, or to wait until the series is done and dedicate separate space just for this discussion. I might wind up doing both actually. Not sure yet. In short, I think where we differ is on whether or not sexual attraction is inherently disordered if that attraction is toward someone that God forbids having sex with.

      Many Christians assume that God’s purpose in sexual attraction is so that one day we can have sex with a partner through marriage. I agree and disagree at the same time. I think God’s purpose in giving us sexual attraction is more than that. If God’s purpose in sexual attraction were only intended for gratification through marriage, then we should only experience sexual attraction for one single person in our life, our intended or current spouse. All other sexual attraction by definition would be “disordered” because it would be directed toward someone that is not our spouse and who will never be our spouse — and sex with such a person would be sin. The only “ordered” attraction would be towards one single person, our spouse, and only that person.

      Such a situation would be confusing indeed, because attraction to LOTS of different people seems to be the status quo when it comes to human sexuality. Of all the people that we are attracted to in a lifetime, only one of them will ever be available to us for sexual gratification, and all the rest will be forbidden. Such a reality demands that we choose between two conflicting views. Either every single person is walking around with a bizarre sexual anomaly, or God’s design for sexual attraction is more than just for marriage and procreation.

      In short, I would argue the latter. I’m basically saying this: God’s design for sexual attraction is not just for gratification but also for mortification. In fact, I would argue that this is one of God’s greater and more prominent designs for human sexuality, just as important as marriage and procreation. Moreover, when we consider that the only perfect man in human history, Jesus Christ, never gratified sexual desire, it becomes clear that a life of sexual mortification is actually one way to perfectly fulfill God’s design for human sexuality.

      Put another way, if we say that attraction to the same sex is disordered because homosexual sex is sinful, it leads down a slippery slope. By definition, all sex outside of marriage is sinful. So to be consistent, we would need to say that all of the attractions that anyone has ever experienced in their life, except for attractions to their spouse, are also disordered.

      If people want to think this way, that’s fine. But I think they are very mistaken. This view would necessarily imply that Jesus had a disordered human sexuality (since he undoubtedly experienced sexual attraction), unless we want to claim that he was asexual. But an “asexual Jesus” seems to conflict with Scripture’s description of Jesus being “tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In other words, if Jesus could experience attraction to people who were sexually forbidden to him without having a disordered sexuality, then so can we. I would argue that being attracted to the same sex is no more disordered than being attracted to any person that God forbids having sex with, which happens to be almost everybody. Put simply, sexual attraction towards a person that God forbids is not of itself disordered. Mortification of sexual desire is part of God’s plan for human sexuality.

      Many people insist that same-sex-attraction is one of the many symptoms of a broken human sexuality. I agree that human sexuality is broken. However, I don’t agree that being attracted to people that are sexually forbidden is one of the symptoms of this brokenness. Instead, I believe that this is one of the most important aspects of God’s design for sexual attraction. To see the fruit and want it, but to be called to say no. To want something that you can’t have and to choose to find satisfaction in Christ alone. In fact, whether gay or straight, this seems to be the norm for human existence when it comes to sexuality, rather than the exception. Far from being disordered, it’s exactly what God intended.

      But like I said, I want to hopefully discuss these thoughts in more depth. If not in the current series, then later. You’re getting my rough draft version at the moment. 😀 I’ve become strongly convinced that what I summarized for you above is the absolute strongest biblical and philosophical foundation for calling people to celibacy, whether heterosexual or homosexual. When we come to realize that mortification of sexual desire is intrinsic to God’s plan, then celibacy becomes both normal and meaningful.

      And of course I know you write everything in good will. 🙂 I wouldn’t take it any other way. I hope you know I really do appreciate your thoughts and push back. Thank you for the dialogue. 🙂

  2. Lauren Melissa Reply

    I agree with the idea that we “are ___, and more.” If a man came up to me and told me he was a father, I would never say to him, “No, you’re not. What you should say is, ‘I have a child.’” The truth is, that man is a father and more: a child of God! God made us to be complex, unique, and intriguing individuals. We cannot deny who God made us to be. And that is not the same as giving into sin. A person can be gay, without denial, and live without sexual sin, and that is what I choose to believe until otherwise informed by THAT person.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      So right! Acknowledging the things that are true about ourselves is not the same thing as embracing sin. We can acknowledge reality while at the same time embracing a holy response to that reality, instead of sin.

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