I wish I could have been at this conference. Reports coming out of the conference are sparse so far, some of them rather obscure and slapdash, others lighthearted to the point of being offensive. The key question surrounding all such discussions, these days, seems to be whether it is best to describe oneself as “gay” and encourage others to do the same. This discussion seems like a red herring, to me. Let me explain.
Those who support Christian sexual ethics have more uniting them than dividing them. We have to be very clear on that. The devil can use mistaken terminology and mistaken theology to oppose Christian holiness, but that does not mean that the people with mistaken terminology or mistaken theology are on the “other side”. I see a lot of aggressiveness about this terminological issue, but I’m not convinced the aggressiveness is appropriate, on either side. Jesus turned over the tables of those who made his house a laughingstock, not those who misunderstood the Torah.
Chaste people who support identifying as gay are either: (A) correct, (B) wrong and deluded, or (C) wrong and devious. Some people think C is the right answer, and think that Spiritual Friendship is gay group poised to infiltrate Christian churches and change their teachings. That view is silly. No one would choose to endure the abuse SF folks get leveled at them from the gay community, if they were ultimately pawns for the gay community. The devil is devious, and may attempt to co-opt the “chaste gay” movement, but the people themselves are sincerely seeking truth and goodness.
The remaining options are A and B. The argument for B is simple:
1. Calling oneself gay involves identifying oneself with either a sin or a temptation.
2. It is wrong to identify oneself with a sin or a temptation.
3. Therefore, it is wrong to call oneself gay.
Usually, SF-type folks resist this argument by denying Premise #1. They say that there is a meaning for “gay” that is completely disassociated with sin or temptation. Nevertheless, if one were to ask them what qualifies a person as gay, I think — to a man — they would say that it is a necessary condition that a gay person be sexually/romantically attracted to the same sex. Thus, if they want to argue that a person can be gay without experiencing sinful temptation, they must find explanation for why God would gift someone with a sexual/romantic attraction the following of which would involve sin. This seems to me a Herculean task — trust me, I’ve tried my hand to solving the problem, and I always run up against a brick wall.
I think the better tack to take would be to attack Premise #2. But of course, #2 is a pretty strong premise. The only argument I see against #2 is what you might call the “alcoholics anonymous” argument. It’s a consequentialist argument, and it claims that the benefits of “identifying” as an alcoholic outweigh the harms, because identifying as an alcoholic is instrumental in healing from the damaging effects of one’s disposition to alcohol. Just so, admitting “I am gay” might, for some people, give them the capacity to flee from sin in a way they never have before.
This is hardly the sort of argument most gay-describing people (chaste or not) generally want to hear. They might respond that I am trying to introduce guilt trips and make them feel inferior in some way — after all, alcoholism is an addiction, and they don’t see being gay as anything like that.
But this is where I think God wants faithful Christians to push. The problem is not with identifying as gay; it is with identifying as gay, with the idea that being gay is a fundamentally good thing. I would say to gay folks that YOU are good, YOU are irreplaceable and awesome and a tremendous masterpiece made by the living God. But “the gay” — as Julie Rodgers calls it — is not part of the goodness that is you. It is an accretion — maybe an accretion that will never go away, maybe an accretion that (like Paul’s thorn) allows you to glorify God — but an accretion nonetheless. If telling yourself that you are “gay” makes it easier for you to act in ways that glorify God, by all means, tell yourself you are “gay”.
(My attack on #2 fails, by the way, if we are expressly forbidden — biblically or otherwise — from identifying by temptations. I don’t know of any such blanket prohibition, but there may be one).
Once we get #2 out of the way, though, we still aren’t out of the woods. This is because of 1 Cor. 1:8, concerning the knowledge that it is permissible to eat sacrificed meat:
But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
Here’s what I get out of the passage: it would remain a scandal to describe oneself as gay, in situations where people would consider such an identification to involve oneself in sin. If you walk around calling yourself gay, your nephew might be inclined to do the same (if he has the relevant attractions), and your nephew might not distinguish chaste from unchaste.
Again, this will get me into trouble with many people. “If other people have bad reactions to me calling myself gay, that’s their problem, not mine.” But THAT is an un-Christian attitude. We are in charge of protecting other people’s consciences from the appearance of sin. Does this mean that you can’t tell your close friends — who “get” it — that you’re gay? No, you can do that — just as Christians probably ate sacrificed meat together sometimes, apparently. But it means that you shouldn’t publicize being gay to the world at large, probably.
These are my thoughts, not yours. And I say them knowing my own ignorance and my own sin. I am likely to be wrong about much of this. But I have thought very hard on these issues, and I very much desire to find the truth.
What do you, dear reader, think?