This article originally appeared as a 7-part series called “Gay or Same-Sex-Attracted?” Each post covered a reason to use the words “gay” and “lesbian” as a Christian. I’ve compiled each post into a single article for easy access. However, if you would like to check out the original posts, you can find them here:
- 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
And if you are interested in further reading on the topic (from outside my blog), then check out:
- Why I Call Myself a Gay Christian
- The Problem with Same-Sex-Attraction
- Why I Call Myself a Gay (or SSA) Celibate Christian
UPDATE 4/23/2018: Also, 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 regarding #4 and #5 above:
Please share your thoughts in the comments or through my contact page. I look forward to hearing from you!
Here it comes. It always does.
I finish coming out, establish that I’m celibate, and reiterate that I uphold the traditionally biblical understanding of marriage. I cross every “t” and dot every last “i” — and then they ask. They always ask.
“Why choose to identify as gay?”
I look at them warily, wondering if their question comes out of genuine curiosity or out of a desire to “set right” the one flaw in my thinking. When I begin my response, I hardly communicate a fraction of my thoughts before we get lost in the crossfire of counter-arguments for all the reasons why “gay” and “lesbian” are unacceptable terms for the Christian.
I usually give up. I say something to the effect of, “Let’s agree to disagree,” and move on. But the expression on their face betrays… what? Disappointment? Or is it frustration? Frustration that I started the conversation by coming out as a lesbian and ended the conversation by remaining a lesbian. Yes, a lesbian. I don’t primarily call myself a “same-sex-attracted Christian.”
Navigating the LGBT Language Police
I understand too well that calling yourself a “gay Christian” is out of vogue in traditional, evangelical circles. “Same-sex-attracted” is the preferred terminology. It’s a clinical-sounding product of Christianese that allows the church to acknowledge the existence of its gay members while simultaneously distancing itself from the gay community.
Lest you think that I’m biased, I actually considered myself a member of the same-sex-attracted bandwagon not too long ago. I refused to “label” myself, insisting that such labels only obscured my Christian identity as a woman of God.
But about four years ago, I began to think more deeply about this topic, and as a result, I started using the word “gay” for the first time in my life. I remain firmly rooted in Christ, in whom I’ll always find my everlasting identity. But I’m no longer afraid to use words like “gay” and “lesbian.”
In fact, I firmly believe that using “gay” and “lesbian” is not only admissible but preferable for homosexuals in the church. You ask why? To answer this question, I’d like to address 6 different reasons. While hardly being exhaustive, I nevertheless believe that the following reasons lay out an intellectual, practical, and biblical foundation for using gay and lesbian instead of same-sex-attracted.
1. Categories Are Natural to the Human Brain
Categories are as old as the human race. In fact, our ability to “put things in a box” remains a key trait distinguishing mankind from robots. Ever wonder why websites have those annoying “I am not a robot” CAPTCHAs? It’s because we can do something robots can’t. We have the uncanny ability to recognize something like an “A” when we see it, even if it’s all garbled and twisted up.
It’s not that we’ve memorized every single variation of the letter “A” that could possibly exist. It’s that our brain is able to comprehend the essential qualities of an “A” that distinguish it from the rest of the alphabet while somehow being flexible enough to recognize that a Times New Roman “A” is the same exact thing as a Comic Sans “A,” even though they’re completely different. Our brain has a little box called “A,” and it knows when something belongs there.
Computers can’t do that. At least not in the same way. Computers are stuck with rote memorization. If a robot came across a variant of the letter “A” it had never seen — maybe one with a curly cue or little spikes along the side — it would be lost. Take the following image as an example:
Only a human could recognize that the scraggly little words in the above image say “morning overlooks.” A computer would just get confused. And that’s the reason why those little images are so effective at detecting non-humans. It asks us to do something that we wired to do. Something no robot can duplicate (at least… not yet).
The “Gay” Category Doesn’t Go Away Just Because You Change the Word
Unlike computers, human beings depend upon categories in order to make meaning out of the world. What’s more, we can’t avoid them once they form. Now that your brain has a category called “A,” you can’t ever go back. You’re cursed. You’ll see the letter “A” for the rest of your life — in the clouds, in your soup, in the freckles on a person’s face. You’ll see it, and once you see it, you’ll recognize it, even if you’d rather not.
And this applies to more than just the alphabet. We categorize people too. We recognize black from white, blondes from brunettes, ugly ducklings from pretty swans. And yes, even gay from straight. Our brains just do it. Whether we like it or not.
So what would happen if we erased all the words associated with “gay” from our vocabulary? Not very much, to be honest, because the category would still exist in our minds. Even if we eliminated every LGBT word we could find, we’d just make up new words to talk about the same thing.
We might begin with clunky phrases, like instead of saying, “He’s gay,” we might say, “He’s one of those people.” But we’d know what we meant. We might not use the word “gay,” but the idea of “gay” would be firmly rooted in our mind. Even if we change the word, we nevertheless know exactly what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a homosexual.
And yes, being same-sex-attracted works the same exact way. Replacing the word gay with same-sex-attracted ain’t foolin’ a soul. Everyone thinks you’re gay, even if you don’t admit it. Even if they don’t admit it.
So why do I call myself gay? Because language gymnastics won’t change what I’m talking about. I’d much rather speak in good ole’ plain English than to hedge around the elephant in the room. In short, being gay is unavoidable, whether I say the word or not. So I’d rather just say it.
2. Christianese Like ‘Same-Sex-Attracted’ Pushes Away the LGBT Community
Imagine you’re with a group of acquaintances. You’re getting along just fine, when suddenly the person next to you says something about celloflake. You’ve never heard of celloflake, but you decide to nod for the sake of pleasantry.
However, it appears that everyone else in the group knows exactly what celloflake means. And to your dismay, the conversation continues, flowing into something about nitrogen kickoffs, flanges, and DPUs. It doesn’t take long for you to realize that you don’t belong, and you graciously excuse yourself, hoping to find a better crowd.
The Power of Language
If you’re placed in a situation with unfamiliar vocabulary, you’re bound to feel uncomfortable. Or you might even find yourself in a situation where you do understand the words — it’s just that the language happens to be straight out of a Jane Austen novel, and you don’t talk like that. Sure, maybe you’d be friendly and try to connect. But it would be difficult.
Trust me, there’s nothing like a language barrier to make relationships a challenge. I’ve lived in South Korea for a year, and I know. Without language, we can’t understand or connect with people. And even with a shared language, relating is difficult when you don’t have the same dialect, vocabulary, or even accent.
For Christians, this means that the words we use either attract or repel. When unbelievers walk into a room full of Christians, the language they hear has a serious impact on whether they feel comfortable or out of place. And if all they hear is a constant stream of “holy” vocabulary, it’s unlikely that they’ll think of Christianity as accessible or relatable.
We’ve got a special term for this harmful dialect that Christians speak. It’s called Christianese, and it includes everything from “traveling mercies” to “putting out a fleece” and, yes, even “same-sex-attracted.”
Speaking Christianese When You Ought to Speak English
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about the doctrinal vocabulary of the Christian faith that communicates foundational biblical truth. I’m talking about the fluffy lingo that even Christians don’t fully understand — all the little “churchy words” that usually have much more understandable counterparts in the English language.
Take for example the Christianese phrase “washed in the blood.” If you were raised in evangelicalism, you’ve probably heard things like, “Are you washed in the blood of Jesus?” or, “I’m washed in the blood!” Or maybe you’ve even used the phrase — I definitely have.
I’ll never forget the first time I said “washed in the blood” outside of my Christian circles. The unbeliever who was listening looked perfectly disturbed. And rightly so. The phrase is completely nonsensical and downright disgusting, unless you’ve had the privilege of singing a very specific Christian hymn. (And/or gained some sort of conceptual understanding of ancient Israel’s sacrificial system and the symbolic connection to Jesus Christ.)
The truth is, we could say, “I”m washed in the blood,” in a multitude of ways that are ten times more accessible to people who speak the English language. “I’m a new person through Jesus Christ,” – “I’ve been given a clean slate,” – “I’ve had a fresh start” — any of these would be ten times better and would lead to an actual conversation about the gospel.
But if you start by telling a person, “I’m washed by the blood,” you’ll be digging yourself out of a hole. Instead of presenting the beauty of salvation through Jesus Christ, you’ll be attempting to overcome their confusion.
My point is this: the words we speak should never be an obstacle to the gospel. Christianese is an obstacle to the gospel because only Christians use it.
Same-Sex-Attracted Is a Classic Example of Christianese
Christianese is bad for both believer and unbeliever alike. It’s bad for the believer, because it allows the Christian to maintain a facade of righteousness without ever considering the substance of their speech. And it’s bad for the unbeliever, because it makes Christianity unrelatable at best and snobbish at worst.
Let’s imagine telling an unbeliever, “I’m not gay. I’m same-sex-attracted.”
The obvious question is, “What do you mean?”
Well, what do you mean? When translated, you literally just said, “I’m not attracted to the same sex. I’m attracted to the same sex.” That’s like me saying to a friend, “I’m not a woman. I’m just a mujer.”
I literally just said, “I’m not a woman. I’m just a woman.” Congratulations to me on successfully sounding both pretentious and crazy at the same time.
If I’m speaking English, I’d like to use English. Rather than going into a lengthy discussion about what it means to be same-sex-attracted and why this vocabulary is so much holier than gay, I’d much rather say that I’m gay. Plain and simple. And then I can use that common vocabulary as a springboard into God’s work in my life.
In the end, same-sex-attracted may be a part of the Christianese language, but no English-speaking person outside of the church really talks like that. It makes the Christian feel better about himself at the expense of connecting with everyday people, thereby undermining our ability to fulfill the Great Commission. Why would Christians willingly create such a barrier between themselves and the communities they’re called to serve?
3. Gay Is No More Sinful Than Same-Sex-Attracted
Korean’s despise Donald Trump. And I mean really, really despise him. (Having lived in South Korea for a year, I can reliably confirm their disdain with some level of accuracy.)
Knowing this about the country, let’s imagine that you visit South Korea and go out to dinner with a group of locals. Everyone thinks you’re Canadian, but you’re not. You’re American. You awkwardly find a way to clarify your nationality, but when they realize their mistake, things get weird. The first thing that crosses their minds is, “Hmph…voted for Trump.” They smile stiffly, finish their meal, and politely say goodbye.
Now, whether or not you voted for Trump is completely irrelevant. The point is: Would you appreciate being judged like that? Based on nothing more than your nationality? Or would you rather they thought something nice? Maybe something like, “An American! Must be friendly!”
I can’t speak for everyone, but I generally prefer when people assume nice things about me. Thankfully, Koreans are usually good at that. But the same can’t always be said about Christians, especially when it comes to the LGBT+ community.
Christians Are Called to Love, Which Means We’re Called to Assume the Best
“Love bears all things, believes all things…” – 1 Cor. 13:7
When Paul said, “Love believes all things,” he was saying something very specific about the way love operates. The Greek word for “believes” in this verse is “pisteuw,” which means “to have faith in, to be persuaded of, to credit, to have confidence, to trust.”
In other words, Paul is saying, “Love gives the benefit of the doubt.” Love assumes the best of the other person.
But far too often, something different happens in the church when it comes to the word “gay.” Instead of assuming the best, instead of imagining the beautiful possibilities of a life lived faithfully to the Lord, instead of praising God for the glorious potential of a fellow human being, Christians assume the worst. They imagine a “sinful lifestyle,” which typically includes lascivious activity and who knows what else.
By assuming the worst when we hear the word “gay,” Christians fail to love.
Christians Need to Change the Assumptions We Make About “Gay” People
Assuming the worst is one of the most problematic reasons why Christians prefer same-sex-attracted over gay. The argument goes that, regardless of intention, “gay” communicates a certain lifestyle while “same-sex-attracted” does not. So in order to avoid the appearance of sin, we should use “same-sex-attracted.”
However, I would argue that this unloving presumption of sin is what needs to change, and not our use of the word “gay.” As Christians, we are called to see the image of God in our fellow man, to see the potential for a godly life that brings him glory. So when “gay” gets tossed around in a conversation, the Christian should be the first person to give thanks to God for a human being who’s life can uniquely display satisfaction in Christ alone.
Put simply, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the word “gay” (or “lesbian” for that matter). What’s wrong is the way Christians think about it.
Merriam-Webster defines “gay” to mean “homosexual.” And it defines “homosexual” to mean “of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex.” But the Google version is a little simpler: “a person who is sexually attracted to people of their own sex.”
Going by this definition, gay and same-sex-attracted essentially mean the same thing. But gay allows the Christian to share a level of affinity with a group of people that have been otherwise ostracized by the church for centuries, while same-sex-attracted disowns that very affinity.
Such a situation is unacceptable. By only seeing the potential for sin in words like “gay,” we are failing to love. We are failing to see the image of God in the people he called us to reach. Why push away the LGBT community by insisting our language is better? How can we connect when we insist that we are too good for the words they use?
Gay People Are Dealing With A Double Standard in the Church
Here’s the funny thing. In conservative evangelicalism, whether LGBT+ Christians describe themselves as “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” or even “same-sex-attracted,” they will always need to explain their sexuality. They will always need a moment of clarification, where they explain that they don’t act upon their attractions, that they don’t support same-sex-marriage, that they are 100 percent celibate, etc. etc.
Or else keep it secret.
But straight Christians don’t need to do that. I’ve never met a straight Christian who insisted on calling himself “opposite-sex-attracted” in order to clarify that he doesn’t fornicate. In fact, I usually find that Christians are very happy to call themselves “straight,” despite the fact that straight people engage in sexual sin related to their “opposite-sex-attractions” at much the same rate of gay people.
So if “gay” communicates a sinful lifestyle, then certainly “straight” does too.
But there seems to be a double standard. All too often, Christians assume the best of one group, and the worst of the other. Straight Christians must confess to the church when they’re struggling with sexual sin. But gay Christians must convince the church that they’re not struggling in the first place.
The reality is that both groups have moments of victory and moments of defeat. And this means that both deserve the same treatment. According to 1 Corinthians 13:7, love “has faith in” both groups, whether gay or straight. Love “has confidence in” both groups to live a God-fearing life.
So let’s change our mindset around this word. Let’s stop ostracizing our neighbor by insisting that same-sex-attracted is holier than gay. Let’s see the potential for God’s glory in words like gay and lesbian, rather than the potential for sin. If we’re going to love other people, it’s absolutely critical that we do.
4. Gay and Lesbian Identities Don’t Undermine Identity in Christ
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.
Read more of my thoughts on identity: Liberal Agenda? Or Real Thing? 4 Ways for the Christian to Tackle Identity
5. Christ Calls the Homosexual Christian to Identify with Gays and Lesbians
Identifying With People And Fulfilling the Great Commission
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, and being born in the likeness of men.” – Phil. 2:5-8
Learning the language and ways of the people you’re trying to reach is one of the most fundamental laws of missionary work. Ignore this law, and you might find yourself etched into the margins of The Poisonwood Bible one day. But follow it, and you’ll be joining a 2,000-year-long history of imitating the example of Christ.
Christ remains the single greatest missionary of all time, our ultimate example of delivering God’s truth to the world. He did it by giving up his divine power and becoming like one of us. By speaking our language and using our words. By choosing to identify with a broken race. With you and with me.
And he calls the Christian to do the same. He calls us to identify with everyday people using their everyday language. Everyday people like gays and lesbians.
Same-Sex-Attracted v. Gay v. The Cross
A common reason why some Christians prefer same-sex-attracted to words like gay and lesbian comes down to association. Why would the Christian identify with a group of people that largely reject a biblical worldview? Regardless of what the word means (the argument goes), it’s legacy drips with anti-Christian belief. Applying such a term to the believer (they say) only harms the message of the Gospel.
Laying aside the problematic assumption that gay people reject God’s truth in ways more deserving of ostracism than the rest of the world, let’s focus instead on the more worrisome assumption that identifying with sinners thwarts the Gospel.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, identifying with the worst of the world is at the heart of the Gospel message. After all, why do you think the “cross” happens to be the universal symbol of Christianity? The Roman Empire reserved crucifixion for the most reprehensible members of society. The very worst of its criminal world. And now we wear this badge of shame around our necks as jewelry. The very symbol of our faith is a symbol of sin.
That’s the legacy of our Savior.
Following the Example of Christ
“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” – 1 Cor. 9:22b
Paul identified with whomever Christ gave him to serve. “To the Jews, I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews,” he said in 1 Corinthians 9:20. “To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law” (v. 21).
Paul became “all things to all people, that by all means he might save some” (v. 22).
If there was any way to sully your reputation as a Jewish man in the first century, it would be to identify as “outside the law.” But the Apostle Paul did it anyhow. Because that’s the way the Gospel spreads.
Make no mistake, Gospel ministry cannot take place when we refuse to identify with the people God calls us to reach. He calls believers to incarnate the risen Lord to our fellow man. He calls us to be “little Christs.” And to do so, we must follow the example of our Savior. For 33 years, he walked and talked like every sinful human on the planet but never sinned himself. Jesus identified with fallen creatures while simultaneously demonstrating perfection. If you miss this, you miss the Gospel.
So Where Does That Leave the Homosexual Believer?
In the same way that Christ became a man and Paul became an outlaw, so we must become “all things to all people.” We too must identify with sinful mankind. Not for the sake of sinning beside them. But for the sake of living in holiness amongst them.
That’s how the Gospel transforms the world.
Paul became weak to the weak, a Jew to the Jews, an outlaw to the outlaws, and homosexual Christians must do likewise. Be gay to the gays. Don’t be same-sex-attracted. Just be gay. Just be one of them. Live in holiness amongst them. Let the Gospel transform the LGBT+ community by incarnating the risen Lord from within.
Let the Gospel transform your community by being a “little Christ” in the midst of it.
6. LGBT Words Are More Precise than the Same-Sex-Attracted Umbrella
Seeking Clarity on Sexuality
One smaller but influential reason why some Christians prefer to use same-sex-attracted over gay comes down to accuracy. They believe that same-sex-attracted fits them better and avoids misunderstanding.
And I get where they’re coming from. Accuracy is important when it comes to language. You definitely shouldn’t call yourself gay if you’re not gay! But on the other hand, if gay doesn’t fit your experience, same-sex-attracted is unlikely to do any better.
For example, when I ask a person for their ethnic background, I’m usually asking for more than just “I’m a minority,” or “I’m a non-minority.” I want to actually learn something, something that helps me understand them. Something like, “I’m Hispanic,” or, “I’m Polish on my dad’s side.” I’m asking for something specific.
And it’s the same thing when it comes to sexuality. I want to know more than just “I’m heterosexual,” or, “I’m non-heterosexual.” And same-sex-attracted doesn’t do that. It’s a catchall term for a vast array of non-heterosexual experiences that are tremendously different from each other and require tremendously different responses.
A Lesbian Ain’t Bisexual and a Bisexual Ain’t Gay
Sure, it might be easy to divide the world into same-sex and opposite-sex attracted, but people are not that cut and dry. The pastoral care that a lesbian needs will differ greatly from that of a gay man and yet again from that of a bisexual, and so on down the list. When we lump them all together, we only sow confusion.
For instance, how applicable is a same-sex-attracted Christian’s advice to a lesbian if this Christian is actually a bisexual and happily married to the opposite sex? It would be far more helpful to understand the specific nature of their experience, so that a bisexual woman could relate to the advice and a lesbian could appreciate its truth while understanding the application might be different.
Same-Sex-Attracted Just Doesn’t Fit the Bill
If we’re looking to be precise with our language, same-sex-attracted is poorly suited for the job. It applies unilaterally to everyone who happens to fall under the non-heterosexual umbrella and creates numerous pastoral issues as a result. To be fair, some people do argue that “gay” and “lesbian” are just as imprecise, connoting a sinful “lifestyle” antagonistic to Christian morality. If you’d like to read my response, I address this question here.
Ultimately, as long as we’re looking to be accurate, LGBT words do better. Obviously, this doesn’t make them perfect. Words like gay and lesbian just happen to be less confusing and more informative. On a purely practical level, they just do better than same-sex-attracted.
Answering a Few Last Questions
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 a resource for understanding the practical, philosophical, and biblical basis for using “gay” and “lesbian.” This article 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.
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. I answered a few common questions here if you’d like to take a look: Gay or Same-Sex-Attracted? Answering Some Lingering Questions
Ultimately, my hope is to work towards unity and not division. Whether we agree or disagree, I want to facilitate a level of appreciation and understanding for those who choose to call themselves “gay” in the church. So whether gay or straight, I hope you found this article helpful. At the end of the day, we’re on the same team! As brothers and sisters in Christ, we can agree to disagree and still work together.
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!
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