In western culture it seems that the most opposing poles of society have been occupied by Christians, on one side, and sexual minorities on the other.
Bridget Eileen, Christian blogger and celibate lesbian, makes the case that the model for mission given to us by Jesus and Paul is, centrally, about building identification. Jesus, without ever sinning, identified with the worst of society by dying on a cross, a punishment reserved for the most reprehensible. Paul resolved to “become all things to all people, so that by all possible means I might save some.”
With this in mind, using the term gay is a small way of extending a needed measure of solidarity and identification towards a people group who have been pushed so far from the kingdom. It’s not in the sense that I relate to the “gay lifestyle”, more that I relate to their internal experience of personhood. I feel with them the impact as their identity and the wider culture collides, because it means much the same for me as it does them, even though I don’t act on my desires in the same way.
An Important Hill Not Worth Dying On
One response to Revoice has come from Denny Burk, co-author of Transforming Homosexuality, whom I quoted in part 1. He states, “…it is accurate to point out that evangelicals have not come to a consensus about these issues, and this lack of consensus cannot hold. We will either unify or splinter. I think there is evidence that some splintering has already occurred, and I think that is inevitable given the importance of the issue.”
Sorry, but that’s ludicrous.
Is that so accurate, Professor Burk? The only splintering I see in the church over this issue of nomenclature is from people who, directly or indirectly, threaten division because of secondary terms, such as yourself. You are excluding your spiritual brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters who are ALREADY MARGINALISED, by pinning them as heretics BECAUSE they are pursuing honesty, nuance and coalition.
What if this lack of consensus can, in fact, hold? What if we let semantics be semantics and then get on with the work of pursuing holiness, demonstrating love and sharing in the mission of Christ?
Disagreement that maintains acceptance and conversation is a profoundly counter-cultural practice, a practice we must demonstrate to have affect in a world occupied by the strange bedfellows of relativism and polarisation.
This is an important point of conversation but it’s certainly not worth dividing over, even if agreement can’t be found.
Who Gets to Define the Terms?
The word “minority” is out of place. It’s troubling because it makes disordered sexual desires (which can be repented of and forgiven, just like any disordered desire) essential to one’s personhood. More to the point, in our culture, “minority” does not simply mean “less than the majority.” Minorities are considered an aggrieved group in our society. Because of the heroism of many in the civil-rights movement, and because most Americans recognize that non-whites have been mistreated in our nation’s past, any new identity that can achieve minority status is automatically afforded moral weight and authority. The term “sexual minority” is prescriptive, not merely descriptive. This is to say nothing of the legal burdens that will ensue when the language of sexual minority is added to federal guidelines and regulations.
The term does not do what it purports to accomplish. If the goal is to make the church a safe place for all image bearers seeking to follow Christ in faith and repentance, why would we isolate some inclinations as majority and others as minority? Why not focus on our common humanity, our need for grace, and our shared hope in the gospel, instead of forming a new class of people based on specific sin struggles?
DeYoung states that using the term minority makes sexual desires essential to one’s personhood. As I’ve already said, sexuality is essential to one’s personhood and using the term gay is our way of describing our experience of that.
But more pressingly here, DeYoung seems to give no thought to the mistreatment that many gay people have faced both within the church and without. The language of minority actually has less to do with anything numerical and much more to do with acknowledging a certain people group’s suffering under a certain power, i.e. the majority. A fact that DeYoung notes in the first paragraph. Does he not think that sexual minorities are rightly aggrieved? There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence around to prove otherwise.
Secondly, he warns that the term doesn’t do what it purports to accomplish in that it separates and confines experience rather than unifying.
This totally misses the point of using minority language. The entire goal is to establish our common humanity and, for the gay Christian, our need for grace and shared hope in the gospel. We’re asking for acceptance and common ground. We’re looking for openness, presence and coalition within the Christian body. For that to happen the distinctives of our lives and peculiar needs must be articulated with clarity, grace and vulnerability. Thus, we are “sexual minority” and so we get to define the terms.
Don’t get me wrong, I know this status can be quickly abused and we have to be cautious we don’t overstep. We would also do well to heed criticism. Still, eradicating stigma is a messy process, we’re working with what we have.
Be Honest, be Clear, build Connection
Once more, I don’t think “gay” is perfect terminology. I also know that it isn’t a helpful term for some same-sex attracted Christian, particularly those that have a past in secular gay culture.
What I’m spelling out in these articles isn’t prescriptive. As I said in part one, the Christian is liberated from earthly labels; we’re free to use or discard them in as far as they are helpful. Our manmade identifiers become subservient to our spiritual life as Glen Scrivener explains well.
In conclusion, I encourage my sisters and brothers (well, everyone actually) to use the terms that are, for them, the most honest, the clearest for context, and use them in a way that doesn’t shut down conversation or disintegrate you from other people.