Differing Levels of Gay in the Eyes of Conservative Christianity


My last post was a little on the heavy side so I thought I might do something a little lighter and more fun this time around (well, that’s the goal anyway, it may not have ended up that way.  Oops).  I started this a while back, but never got around to finishing it until now.  So without further adieu, here’s a post on how Christians view various categories of gay people in the church.

While the conservative Christian Church can sometimes be pretty anti-gay, there are still various levels of respectability within the umbrella term of “gay.”  I’m attempting to separate out the various groups and organize them by how acceptable they are to those who hold  a traditional sexual ethic.  I don’t think I really have a point to make here, I just thought it would be an interesting exercise.  So here’s my list ranking from the most accepted to the least:

1. Ex-gays

This group consists of those who were once gay, but no longer identify that way, usually as a result of conversion therapy.  Most in this group spent at least some time engaging in same-sex activity at some level, but eventually turned to Christ and, with hard work and prayer, have come to a place where they no longer consider themselves gay.  For some, this means they report no longer being attracted to the same sex and sometimes even express feelings of attraction to people of the opposite gender.  For many, it simply means that they have maintained what they believe to be a sufficient level of sexual purity to allow them to forgo the use of the term gay.

2. Single SSA Gays

This refers to those who, for various reasons, don’t use (and often never have used) the word gay to describe themselves and instead, employ the term same-sex attracted.  This can mean that they believe the word gay is inextricably tied to being sexually active or simply that the word makes them uncomfortable or doesn’t fit with their image of themselves.  Many conservative Christians applaud those who eschew the term gay because, to many, it expresses an acceptance of ones attractions and an unwillingness to change them.

3. Mixed-Orientation Married Gays

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a mixed-orientation marriage (MOM) refers to a heterosexual marriage where one spouse is straight and the other is primarily or exclusively attracted to his or her own gender.  I, personally, have a huge amount of respect for those in mixed-orientation marriages as it adds a massively disruptive component to the already complicated sacrament of marriage and shows incredible dedication to living out one’s Christian values.  The reason I believe this is viewed as less acceptable than people who identify as as SSA is due to the fact that those in MOMs typically self-identify as gay and aren’t necessarily working towards changing that aspect of themselves which, as previously mentioned, is something traditionalists often disapprove of.

4. Single Celibate Gays

Like the previous group, single celibate gays often receive disapproval because they self-identify as gay rather than SSA.  Again, this is often seen as a way of accepting a gay identity which many believe should be overcome through prayer and therapy.  People in MOMs are seen as making strides towards heterosexuality through their marriage, however, celibate gays, though often committed to life long celibacy which can lead to difficult bouts of loneliness, are sometimes viewed as complacent in their attempts at living a holy life.

5. Gays in Celibate Same-Sex Relationships

It takes at least a moderate if not progressive theology for someone to be accepting of any type of romantic gay relationship even if those involved refrain from sex.  I imagine that many Christians are skeptical that two people who are, presumably, sexually attracted to each other, can engage in a long term romantic relationship without consummating said relationship (which, really, should be between that couple and God, but I digress).  However, whether they believe claims of celibacy or not, the mere fact that a romantic relationship exists is viewed by many as a rejection of the Bible’s condemnation of ἀρσενοκοῖται (arsenokoitai, translated in some version of the Bible as “homosexuals” and in others as “men who defile themselves with men”).  The belief that those in this type of relationship are ignoring God’s law in favor of satisfying their own desire for companionship can lead those on the more conservative end of the spectrum to express feelings of antipathy towards those in this group.

6. Gays in Sexually Active Gay Relationships

Finally, those who are in consummated same sex marriages are typically the least accepted group of gays in the Church.  Many who have dug deeply into scripture and studied the language as well as the cultural context still interpret passages such as 1 Timothy 1:10 or 1 Corinthians 6:9 as condemning all sexual activity between two people of the same gender even in the confines of marriage.  As a result, there is often widespread disapproval of such couples in conservative churches which results in a distinct feeling of unwelcomeness and discomfort when they visit such a church looking for a spiritual home.

My hope is that wherever an LGB person falls on this list, they will be fully loved and supported in the Church.  When I say support, I’m not necessarily asking you to adjust your theology regarding LGBT Christians and how they live their lives, but merely suggesting that we can still worship alongside, love, and be a family to people with whom we don’t necessarily see eye to eye.  Remember, sexual identity and it’s Biblical implications is a hot button issue right now and is therefore a subject where it’s easy to identify disagreement.  For every Christian you know, there is probably at least one topic on which you and that person passionately disagree.  Don’t let this subject be one that divides and weakens the Bride of Christ.  Love each other in and through our disagreements.  And while the idea of “love the sinner, hate the sin” makes sense in principle, the rampant misuse of it has led to severe harm and a widespread call to retire it (for more info on that, see Beth Woolsey’s post here).  As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Is Being “Safe” the Best Course of Action?

For a few years now, I’ve been at somewhat of a standstill on my quest to discover God’s desire for my sexuality.  I grew up believing that any type of same-sex relationship, love, or physical intimacy was inherently sinful.  It seemed to obviously say so in scripture and that was the belief that virtually every Christian I knew held so there was no reason to ponder it.  When I started to identify as gay and explore how this might influence my life and God’s calling for it, I did a lot of reading, research, podcast listening, praying and so forth and found many compelling arguments that the Bible had nothing (positive or negative) to say about a loving, committed relationship between two people of the same sex.  I won’t go through it all here, but if you Google Matthew Vines, read chapter 14 of Justin Lee’s book “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christians Debate,” or read one of Justin’s posts here, you can get a good idea of that viewpoint.  However, believing that the Bible doesn’t address this issue didn’t make me feel that I was now free to pursue a relationship with a man.  For one, it’s hard to change a belief you’ve held for decades and that is still solidly held by a majority of the Church.  Also, it seemed to me that if I were really pursuing God, I shouldn’t be concerned with fulfilling my own desires, but rather with trying to live a holy life and to please Him with my every action.  As a result, I’d come to the conclusion that whatever the Bible did or didn’t say about committed same-sex relationships, it would be better, safer, to remain at very least celibate, if not single.

Recently, however, I have been listening to the aforementioned book by Justin Lee and found that the chapter in which he talks about Biblical arguments for and against same-sex relationships spoke directly to this view of being on the “safe side.”  Justin uses a passage from Galations 5 in which Paul speaks against circumcision for Gentiles to address this issue of being “safe.”  In Galations 5:2-6, Paul writes:

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised,Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Lee believes this idea, that to put ourselves under the law which Christ fulfilled through His death on the cross is rejecting the gift of His suffering, can also be applied to trying to live by other Old Testament laws including the laws forbidding a man to lie with another man as with a woman.  The thought is that this law may have been one of the cultural laws meant specifically to set God’s chosen people apart and that it is no longer necessary for Christians today.  The argument that we can ignore this law isn’t new to me, but the thought that I might be offending God by pre-occupying myself with it was something I’d never considered.  In order to do my due diligence, I decided to study the rest of Galations 5.  Verses 5:13-14 say:

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Here, Paul is echoing his words to the Romans (13:9-10) where he says that all of the laws that must be kept can be addressed by loving our neighbors.  He does place one stipulation, though, which is that we shouldn’t indulge “the flesh.”  The question then becomes, what is meant by the flesh?  Luckily, despite claiming that the answer is obvious, Paul explains what he means in verses 19-21:

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

OK, now we’re getting somewhere.  Sexual immorality is an “act of the flesh” so that could be a sticking point, but does all sexuality between two people of the same sex constitute sexual immorality?  I looked up the Greek word used here (porneia πορνεία) which Strong’s Concordance translates as “fornication, whoredom” (whoredom is a  fun word, isn’t it?) and HELPS Word-Studies describes as “a selling off (surrendering) of sexual purity; promiscuity of any (every) type.”  It seems like all too often, the Bible uses the term we’re trying to define in the definition.  “Avoid sexual immorality by being sexual pure.”  Well, that’s not a lot of help here, but since that’s not really the point of this post, I’m going to refer back to Justin Lee and Matthew Vines for the rest of that argument and instead ask, what if I were in a committed celibate relationship with another man?  If we’re not having sex, it can’t possibly sexually immoral, right?  However, at that point, I fear that I, personally, might still have an issue with Paul’s prohibition against idolatry.  Now, I’m not likely to start bowing down and worshiping a guy that I was in a relationship with, but considering how strong my vague desire for a partner in my life is now, if I had a flesh and blood person in front of me to be the object of that desire and he desired me back, I don’t think  I can say with any certainty that it wouldn’t veer into idolatry territory.  On the other hand, though, I think this begs the question: Are gay relationships more prone to this kind of behavior than straight ones?  Many people have suggested that aside from having our attractions aimed at the same sex, gay people also love differently.  Whether or not this is true, I don’t think we’ll ever know since it’s pretty impossible to compare the intensity and quality of a person’s love.  Before I wrap this up, I want to jump back up to verses 16-18 where Paul says:

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

So, it sounds like Paul is claiming that by walking in the Spirit, we can avoid the desires of the flesh.  The desires of the flesh and those of the Spirit are contrary to each other.  So then, it seems the best course of action is to allow myself to be led by the Spirit and hope that this desire I have for male companionship will somehow reveal itself to be of Spirit so that I can pursue it or of the flesh so I can reject it once and for all.  I’m still really searching through and studying this so any comments/questions/suggestions/ideas/etc are welcome.