On the Phrase "Gay Christian"

One of the most common questions I hear from conservatives who are just entering into conversations about nonstraight orientations centers on the phrase "gay Christian," and specifically on whether or not it's an ok way to describe Christians who have persistent same-sex attractions. A common objection is that we don't go around referring to our brothers and sisters in the faith on the basis of a particular pattern of sin (e.g., "adulterous Christian" or "prideful Christian). On the one hand, one of the major goals of All But Invisible was to provide an extensive answer to this question, although I did so without actually using the phrase at all at any point in the book—I wanted to avoid as many distractions as possible. But I think it might be helpful to share a few thoughts that summarize some key ideas from the book.

First, the way the word "gay" is mostly commonly used today is to refer to an orientation identity, and not to a specific pattern of behavior that Christians would think of as sinful. In other words, when most people hear the word "gay", they don't think of actual behavior, but instead a pattern of desire. I would say that these desires are inevitably experienced at some point as fallen desires, but that the sanctifying work of Christ can redeem some of them (the nonsexual ones). By analogy, nonstraight orientations are like a disability... in other words, the phrase "gay Christian" is more like the phrase "blind Christian" than "prideful Christian."

Second, gay people are a minority in our culture today. For Christians, it can be hard to understand this because they have access to some extremely influential sources of power in our society. Gay people are taking Christians to courts and pressuring congress to legislate their morality for the rest of the country. I get that. But they are also a traumatized people who carry a history of hurt and pain with them. And much of this hurt and pain has been caused by Christians, sometimes (unintentionally) even in the name of Christ. In other words, the phrase "gay Christian" is more like the phrase "black Christian" in the United States than "prideful Christian."

These two key points are actually the main ideas behind Part II and Part III of All But Invisible, so if either of them intrigues you go ahead and pick up the book!


The Nashville Statement and the Invisibility of Gay People

About a week ago I promised to share some public reactions to the Nashville Statement, and the following is a brief attempt to follow through on that commitment. On a personal note, to say that the past two weeks have been dark for myself, my wife, and many of our LGBT friends would be an understatement of epic proportions. We have watched people we admire and look up to rally behind a deeply divisive and problematic document that utterly fails to provide the clarity that it promises, and that deepens fault lines in conservative evangelicalism that some of us are still trying to straddle and, ultimately, still believe can be healed. For this reason, even though I believe that marriage by definition involves a man and a woman, and that faithful Christian doctrine limits sexual behavior to the context of a marriage, I will never sign the Nashville Statement and I urge others to make the same commitment.

My reflections here will be brief, and will focus on one specific problem that my book (releasing tomorrow) highlights: the problem of invisibility.

First, LGBT people have suffered trauma at the hands of Christians, and to this date there is no collective statement from evangelicals confessing this as sin and expressing a desire to repent. The fact that the Nashville Statement omits any reference to this need for confession and repentance is pastorally insensitive and missiologically disastrous. Many LGBT people experience this sort of selective truth-telling as nothing less than spiritual abuse.

Second, a wide variety of conservative critics of the Nashville Statement suggest that Article 7 appears designed to exclude people like Wesley Hill and the writers at Spiritual Friendship (including me). This is an entire group of non-straight people who are leading faithful lives in obedience to Christ, yet the drafters of the Nashville Statement never consulted any of these individuals at any point during the process leading up to the release of the statement. This is, at the very least, an egregious oversight, and probably falls short of the command to, "so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men" (Rom. 12:18).

Third, invisibility also results when someone might agree with the actual content of a document such as the Nashville Statement, but nonetheless would have no desire to sign it because of the process by which the document was formed or the posture the document strikes. For this reason, the Nashville Statement excludes LGBT people who might agree with the substance of the affirmations and denials it contains, but want absolutely nothing to do with it for other reasons (such as the previous two points).

Finally, the lack of a credible, public response to conservative critics by the drafters and original signatories of the Nashville Statement particularly isolates conservative LGBT people of faith to the extent that they rely on these voices to represent their own thoughts and opinions in the public arena.

Go Read Greg Coles' Historic Book "Single, Gay, Christian"

Do it, please. But in the meantime, let me explain why this thoughtful little book is historic.

While Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting was the first memoir by a self-identified gay man who is also a conservative Christian and Eve Tushnet's Gay and Catholic was the first memoir of this type by a gay woman, neither of these books were endorsed by an evangelical theologian. Evangelicals have, of course, written and endorsed books on the subject of homosexuality, but a key difference between those books and both Hill's and Tushnet's is that the latter actually use LGBT identity labels in their writing. For evangelical theologians, this has been a bridge too far.

Until now. Seven years after Hill became the first conservative evangelical author to pen a memoir about his experience of being gay, Greg Coles is publishing his book "Single, Gay, Christian" with endorsements from two prominent evangelical theologians, D. A. Carson and Ronald Sider. Carson's endorsement, in particular stands out for two reasons. First, he is a premier Biblical scholar and theologian, as well as the president of The Gospel Coalition, one of the most respected conservative national Christian organizations in North America. But second, Carson actually refers to Coles as gay in his endorsement. To my knowledge, this is the first time a TGC author has gone on record with using LGBT terminology to refer to a self-identified gay Christian.

Conservatives have long avoided using the "g" word for a variety of reasons, some even going so far as to say that adopting sexual orientation identities like gay and lesbian are a "crossing of the Rubicon." I reject this approach for reasons that I develop in my own forthcoming book, but it's reassuring to see that a theologian of the calibre of Carson also seems to as well. At the very least, it is a helpful means of helping gay people be All But Invisible.