Gay or Same-Sex-Attracted? Answering Some Lingering Questions

This post is the final in a 7-part series called “Gay or Same-Sex-Attracted?” Each post covers a reason to use the words “gay” and “lesbian” as a Christian. Please share your thoughts in the comments or through my contact page. I look forward to hearing from you!

To check out other posts in the 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!

Questions related to the "gay v. same-sex-attracted" debate. Identity, labels, sexuality, and more.

The “gay vs. same-sex-attracted” debate continues to sow discord in the church. For LGBT+ Christians, it causes unnecessary division, relegating many to the margins who nevertheless have valuable things to offer the church.

Having experienced the repercussions of this controversy, I wanted to provide both hetero and homosexual Christians with a resource for understanding the practical, philosophical, and biblical basis for calling yourself “gay.” The past series emerged not so much to criticize those who prefer “same-sex-attracted” but rather as a means of supporting those Christians, including myself, who call themselves “gay” and “lesbian.”

My hope is that Christians who prefer “same-sex-attracted” can respect and appreciate “gay Christians,” even if we disagree. We’re not dealing with an issue of core doctrinal significance. It may be important, but dividing the body of Christ over language is unnecessary. We’re on the same team. We can agree to disagree on a relatively minor debate and still work together in the end.

So hopefully this series can work towards unity and not division. Of course, despite my best efforts, I definitely did not answer every question related to the issue! If you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Here are a few common questions that came up:

1. What about words like “bisexual,” “transgender,” “queer,” “asexual,” and all the others that fall under the LGBT+ umbrella?

In more ways than one, this debate could be reframed as the “LGBT+ vs. insert-churchy-word-here” debate. I acknowledge that I definitely focused on the “gay” and “lesbian” part of this discussion, largely because I’m a lesbian and more familiar with the experience of being a gay woman.

However, I did not intend to exclude anyone from the conversation! I want to respectfully avoid the pretense of being an “expert” on every identity, but much if not most of this discussion is applicable to other LGBT+ people. Many of the ideas I discussed in the series could be applied to a bisexual or asexual person as much as to any other letter in the LGBT+ rainbow.

So I hope the past series has been helpful to everyone!

2. What do gay people outside of the church think when they hear “same-sex-attracted”?

For people familiar with evangelicalism, the phrase might be an automatic put-off, maybe even triggering. For many, it brings to mind negative experiences they’d rather forget, particularly connected to ex-gay theology. For others, they might assume that you’re just being oppressed by your church and, as a result, feel sorry for you.

There’s really no universal response. But I would generally categorize the reception as either neutral, confused, or negative. 

3. When it comes to identity, you say that subjective experiences are just as important as objective reality. Are you saying that a Christian has other identities besides just being a Christian?

Yes and no.

There’s two ways that we commonly talk about identity these days. The first way refers to race, sexuality, gender, occupation, nationality, hobbies etc. I like to call them little ‘i’ identities. They’re all the hundreds of things, big and small, that shape who we are as a person.

But then there’s a second way. I like to call it Big ‘I’ Identity, and it refers to who we are at the core — the “me, myself, and I” of our existence. Big ‘I’ Identity is the ultimate answer to the question, “Who am I?” It defines all the little identities of our life while being completely above and beyond them.

There’s only one Big Identity but countless little identities. So in that sense, if we consider identity in Christ to be the Big Identity of human existence — the ultimate who of who we are — then no, there’s no other Identity (with a capital ‘I’) besides your Identity in Christ.

But on the other hand, if we compare Identity in Christ (with a capital ‘I’) to other things, like race, gender, and nationality, then yes — other identities (with a little ‘i’) not only exist but need to be understood. These things are little identities, and they’re not the same thing as our Big Identity.

4. Shouldn’t our identity in Christ be the only identity that matters or at least be the most important?

This question and the one above are so interrelated that it’s impossible to talk about one without the other!

Many Christians mistakenly say things like, “I’m a Christian, and that’s my most important identity.” But when we talk like this, we treat Christian identity as if it were one of our little identities. Sure, it might be the most important, but we’re still treating it as a little identity.

For example, one person says, “I’m gay, that’s most important.” Another person says, I’m a woman, that’s most important.” Another says, “I’m American, that’s most important.” And the Christian chimes in too: “I’m a Christian, that’s most important.”

But the Christian identity is not just one among the various little identities that we juggle , even if we think it’s the most important. The Christian identity exists outside of this hierarchy altogether.

To put it differently, if all of our little identities were the different pieces to a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, then our Big Identity, Identity in Christ, is the puzzle itself. The actual puzzle isn’t just one more piece among many, even if that puzzle piece were the most important. The puzzle itself is the actual Big Picture of what the puzzle is, when everything is complete. There is no competition between the Puzzle and it’s puzzle pieces.

In the same way, there’s no competition for Identity in Christ, though some people confuse it with little identity. Instead, Christian Identity exists outside of the hierarchy. It defines the hierarchy.

What’s more, this concept applies to both Christian and non-Christian alike. Every single person’s Big ‘I’ Identity is found in Christ alone. So if we refer to Identity (with a capital ‘I’) and say, “My Identity is found in Christ,” we shouldn’t stop there. We should also say, “and so is yours.”

Read my initial post on identity, from December: Liberal Agenda? Or Real Thing? 4 Ways for the Christian to Tackle Identity

5. Is it really okay for a Christian to label himself by a symptom of their sinful nature?

This is a very important question, and one that I plan to address at greater length in the future.

In short, I believe that Jesus was “tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus undoubtedly experienced sexual attraction towards people he never married. And even though sex with such people would be sinful, Jesus never had a sinful nature and never sinned. And it’s this very new nature that Jesus purchased for us at the cross.

This means that sexual attraction towards a person that God forbids, when experienced by a person who is “walking by the Spirit” and not the flesh (Gal. 5:16) creates the opportunity for something beautiful. It creates the opportunity to demonstrate the all-sufficiency of Christ to the watching world — to want something that you can’t have and to find satisfaction with our God instead.

And since the vast majority of attractive people in this world will never be your spouse, finding satisfaction in Him would seem to be the norm for Christian existence, whether gay or straight.

I expound upon this idea more in my post “A Celibate Lesbian’s Cold Hard Look At Sexual Immorality in the Church.”

Additionally, I don’t think it’s fair to reduce gayness to nothing more than a propensity to sin. There is far more to being gay than sexual desire! Check out the first post in my series that touches upon this idea, “Are Celibate Gay Christians Allowed to Have Pride?”

Some Final Thoughts

Like I said, my ultimate hope is to work towards unity and not division. If you’re an LGBT+ Christian, I hope you found the series helpful. If you’re a straight Christian, I also hope you found it helpful. Whether we agree or disagree, I hope to facilitate a level of appreciation and understanding for those who choose to call themselves “gay” in the church.

At the end of the day, we’re on the same team. We can agree to disagree and still work together in the end!

So I’m curious. Have any of your opinions changed regarding the “gay vs. same-sex-attracted” debate? If you’re an LGBT+ Christian, where do you find yourself leaning? If you’re a straight Christian, what do you think makes the most sense? Comment below or send me an e-mail through the contact page!

If you’d like to follow along with future posts, check out the tab on the right to subscribe!

Edited 6/27/2016 for clarity and to link to additional posts.

11 thoughts on “Gay or Same-Sex-Attracted? Answering Some Lingering Questions

  1. Lauren Reply

    Thanks for addressing these questions. With respect to Q#1, as an aromantic asexual Christian, I will say that the topics discussed in these blogs don’t really pertain to my experience, but this would probably be very different for a romantic asexual. Even more, I’m quite surprised by the possible idea that you may be presenting, that the topic of “same-sex attracted” language would apply to trans* people. Insofar as I know, trans* people have such a wide range of sexual orientations. If that is the case (I’m not trans* or an active member in the trans* community, so I’m not really able to speak with certainty) the only way that this really applies tor trans* people is if that trans* person is same-sex attracted.

    I really liked your points in Q#5 and am looking forward to reading your longer post(s) about labeling by a supposed sinful nature.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      I think you are mentioning a good point that I maybe overlooked and could have explained a little better! I think what I meant when I said that this debate is just as applicable to anyone else in the LGBT+ community, I was more talking about the principals rather than the particulars. For a trans person, the debate might not be so much “gay v. same-sex-attracted” but whether to identify as trans or mentally ill (as many in the church still consider the trans experience to be nothing more than a symptom of mental illness). Or for an aromantic asexual such as yourself, the debate might center on whether to identify as an aromantic asexual or as just nothing at all. Whatever the case may be, I think many of the principals of what I talked about in reference to the “gay v. same-sex-attracted” debate are still applicable. Some principals might only be applicable for a homosexual Christian, but I do think many could nevertheless be applicable to anyone.

  2. Tom Reply

    I’m so glad I read this series! It was very helpful to me as I’ve been thinking through some of these very questions. Thank you so much for being willing to bless the church by sharing your experiences and thoughts. And welcome back to America!

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Thank you!

  3. Sean Timothy Maguire Reply

    With respect to question 5, can you expound on your thoughts about how Christ was tempted in all ways as we are. Do you think that verse from Hebrews 4:15 means that Christ had desires that lured and enticed him as described in James 1:14?

    I ask, because it seems to me that the Serpent in the Garden of Eden was judged for the “sin” of tempting Eve to sin. We know that those who tempt others into sin are guilty of sin themselves. (And those who cause little ones who believe in God to stumble have a very serious judgment in store for them – unless they receive God’s grace. Matthew 18:6)

    It seems to me that if we tempt ourselves to sin, we are also guilty.

    That is why I would hesitate to say that Christ had sinful desires. He was tempted in all ways, yes, but those temptations were not part of his internal desires or else I wonder how he was sinless.

    Perhaps I’m being too heady, here, but I don’t think I would agree that Christ was gay or straight. He had sexual temptations, but those temptations don’t have to mean he was tempted by his own desires.

    So Jesus doesn’t have a sinful nature. We do. We can’t say that Hebrews 4:15 means we don’t have to take our own sinful nature very seriously. We must take it deathly serious. Jesus was tempted by external forces (see Matthew 4), but not by his own nature. We are tempted by our own nature (James 1:14).

    Do you agree? How would you answer Question 5 differently if at all?

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Hi Sean!

      I am so sorry for not responding to your comment sooner. I only just realized I had never responded by accident as I was sifting through old posts!

      In short, yes, I would answer this question with a lot more nuance! I’ve attempted to expand my thinking in several different posts. The most important would be “A Celibate Lesbian’s Cold Hard Look at Sexual Immorality in the Church” and my current series which, in part, fleshes out this idea that Christians should not define “gayness” primarily be sinful/sexual desire (the first post in the series is “Are Celibate Gay Christians Allowed to Have Pride?”).

      Essentially, I think my current answer to #5 is incomplete and leaves a lot unanswered, on top of not being worded clearly. If I can sum up what I’ve tried to flesh out in the two posts I just linked to, it would be that 1) sublimation is an intrinsic part of God’s design in sexual attraction, and 2) there is much much more to being gay than sinful desire. Once I complete the current series, I’d like to go back and edit #5 to link to some of these key posts that hopefully flesh some of these ideas out a little more.

      And to answer your question, yes, I do think that Jesus’ experience of temptation would be qualitatively different from ours in our sinful fallen state! But I do also wonder whether or not, in our redemptive state, we too can experience temptation the way Jesus did. After all, upon our salvation, we were given a new nature not associated with the fall. Is it too much to imagine that Jesus Christ, in giving us this new nature, also gave us the power to experience temptation “in the Spirit” rather than the flesh? Isn’t that what Galatians 5:16 is all about? (“Walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”). These are all ideas still tumbling around in my brain. Feel free to share more thoughts!

      – Bridget

      1. Bridget Eileen Reply

        To follow up with one more thought, Matthew Lee Anderson expounded a bit upon this idea in his excellent essay “Sex, Temptation, and the Gay Christian: What Chastity Demands.” Here’s a piece of what he said:

        The question about the moral status of our own desires is partially about what Christ’s distinct and irrepeatable temptation means for us. Our temptation is not Christ’s. But Christ’s temptation is and can be ours, through the gift of His Holy Spirit. Sinlessness within temptation is precisely what the Christian is offered, because it is what Christ’s humanity secures as part of our salvation.

  4. Yana Nikolova Reply

    Helpful article.

    The one question that always comes as push-back is why Christians would choose to define themselves by their sinful desires/their particular flavor of sexual temptation. People might write “gay Christian” in their Twitter handle, but not “adulterous Christian” (if they are tempted to adultery). The same people would *also* object to “same-sex attracted Christian”.

    What would your response be to that?

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      I guess my response to that would be this series! Along with possibly my series on terminology. I don’t believe that gay desire is reducible to sin. Just like all desire, it has the potential to be directed toward sin or directed toward holiness. There’s actually plenty that’s been written on this topic by those in the celibate gay community. One that comes to mind is here:

      Feel free to check it out!

  5. Foy Reply

    As a straight Christian, I found this series to be very helpful; both in my understanding of LGBT+ Christians and the applications of identity to my own walk.

    It’s also helpful, and perhaps you could speak more to this, as someone who grew up in the 70-80s when LGBT+ was just not as culturally visible as it is today. There is a lot of baggage and ignorance that folks of my generation (and previous generations) have to overcome as we try to better share God’s love and grace to all His children.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Hi Foy!

      I do think that what you bring up (about the 70s and 80s) is an important aspect to this topic, and it’s actually come up more than once in the feedback I’ve gotten. It may be something to revisit in the future! For now, I think one thing that may be helpful to consider is that, while straight people who came of age in the 70s and 80s may struggle with lots of negative stereotypes surrounding gay culture, gay people who came of age in the 70s and 80s likely struggle with incredible trauma inflicted upon them by those very same negative stereotypes. I think that one way to bring healing to this topic is by rejecting the disgust and negativity that drives so many people’s reactions to the word “gay” in broader culture, especially within conservative culture. The very fact that the word “gay” is still utilized within conservative circles to invoke the gag reflex only further alienates LGBT+ people. Of course, that’s easier said than done! It can be very hard to disentangle decades of baggage associated with a certain way of thinking. At the very least, I think a first step could be just acknowledging that the baggage is there.

      Definitely more that could be said on this though! Thank you for your thoughtful feedback.

      – Bridget

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