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