Boris Kustodiev, The Bolshevik. From the Wikimedia Commons.

Is There a Celibate Gay Identity Movement?

In the weeks surrounding the first Revoice conference, I read a lot of conservative believers expressing concern about a “celibate gay identity movement” or “Christian gay identity movement”or some other combination of the words “celibate”, “gay”, “Christian”, or “identity” combined with “movement”.

It struck me that the only people I heard referring to such a movement were those who consider themselves outside of it. Can there be a movement if the alleged members do not see themselves as such?

Whether or not there is a movement, the terminology is inapt and potentially misleading, in four ways:

  1.  The emphasis on “celibate” is used to imply that these individuals reject or devalue heterosexual marriage. But plenty of those involved are heterosexually married themselves, including Nate Collins, the founder of Revoice. It is true that we don’t blithely assure Christians attracted to their own sex that God will fix everything if they take the leap of faith of getting married. A homosexual orientation poses challenges for Christian marriage that ought not be ignored. But most would say that marriage can be a good option with sufficient awareness, discernment, and resolve. The Revoice conference had a wonderful panel discussion with several gay people married to people of the opposite sex talking about their experiences in encouraging ways.
  2.  Talk about a “gay identity” movement contributes to a misunderstanding that Christians involved with Spiritual Friendship or Revoice are invested in or advocating for a deep sense of “gay identity” or finding their identity in their sexuality rather than in Christ.  I have never met that person, despite many critics attacking such a position. It seems to be a strawman for people to get worked up about without engaging with anyone’s real views.
  3. Talk about “gay Christianity” feeds a misconception that these believers are purveying a new kind of Christianity, some sort of syncretistic pseudo-religion, when in reality everyone I know who is involved sees themselves as striving to be faithful to plain old regular Christianity, in the traditions and denominations they find themselves in. When I say “gay Christian” in reference to myself, which I don’t do that often, I am not qualifying or limiting or specializing my Christianity–rather, I am simply emphasizing to the world and to the church that I am committed to following and glorifying Jesus as a woman who is predominantly atttracted to her own sex, which happens to be an intense point of controversy with the church and the world at this cultural moment. The world thinks my faith is self-destructive, and the conservative church often can’t believe that God hasn’t made me straight yet, and wishes I would cooperate in hiding that reality with silence and euphemisms.
  4. Some claim there is a broader  “Christian gay identity movement”, implying or asserting that progressive/”affirming” gay Christians and those gay/ssa Christians who are faithful to a Biblical sexual ethic are two wings of the same movement, allied forces assaulting historic Christian teaching on this subject. As a Reformed evangelical, I see the world and the progressive/mainline churches as vastly more alien and opposed to me and the values I care about than those who are more theologically conservative than I am. I think there is, for the most part, just a minute hair’s-breadth of real difference between myself and conservatives concerned about Spiritual Friendship and Revoice, and a yawning, vast abyss between myself and, say, Matthew Vines. Now, obviously, no one is obliged to agree with my own view of how close I am to anyone. But just know that I myself, and many others that I know, consider ourselves to have very little in common with most “affirming”/progressive gay Christians, and are completely bewildered at being perceived and portrayed as their allies by conservatives.

I think affirming theology is destructive and spiritually dangerous. I hope and pray for God’s grace for everyone, but I don’t see how to read the Bible without concluding that homosexual sex is a moral and spiritual disaster. The primary reason I confront conservative criticism is that I have watched inaccurate or unjust criticism weary, exasperate, and alienate people in a way that pushes them into the welcoming arms of the affirming church.  (Perhaps these things must come, but woe to him through whom they come.) Frankly, I believe that our lives of costly discipleship entitle us to the benefit of the doubt from other believers when it comes to our seriousness about the faith. This doesn’t mean there is no place for folks to speak truth into our lives. But it should be done humbly, with careful listening and with appreciation (not simply cursory acknowledgment) of just how much we love our Lord and how much we desire to see Him glorified in our lives and in this world.

(Maybe a suitable analogy here is that of a fundamentally orthodox missionary who has a questionable theological opinion.  Their life of courage and obedience and pouring out of themselves in love doesn’t mean that they are 100% doctrinally correct.  But it probably does mean that accusing them of not valuing the Bible’s or Christ’s authority or not even being regenerate is not the best starting point for conversation.)

Many conservative outsiders mistake Spiritual Friendship and Revoice as a halfway house or baby steps toward liberalism and “affirming” theology. But this is absolutely backwards. I desire to see same-sex attracted believers supported and encouraged in their obedience either in celibate singleness or marriage to a person of the opposite sex because I want them to stay on the narrow road, on the path of life. I worry about the doubt, discouragement, and despair engendered in many such believers by the godlessness and sexual insanity of our culture and the misunderstanding and lack of empathetic support from conservative Christians. I see churches hemorrhaging their same-sex attracted covenant children and it breaks my heart. People ask me, “How can we bring those who struggle with these issues into the church?” I say, “Before you worry about bringing “them” into your church, figure out how to support the ones that are already in the church. What you are going to do if and when the gay unbelieving friend you are talking to and praying for repents?  How is your church going to be supporting them in their walk with Christ tomorrow, next year, ten or twenty years from now, if the miraculous heterosexual transformation you’re hoping for doesn’t take place?” 

Is there a movement? Surveying the landscape, I see now, as I have seen since the mid-2000s, thoughtful individuals voicing their ideas on faith and sexuality. What I don’t see is a unified movement anywhere. The things that unite those of us who are alleged to belong to this movement are simply Christian faith and a belief that God doesn’t want us engaging in homosexual sexual activity–things which are common to evangelicals and conservative Christians of all stripes.

  • Some prefer gay/LGBTQ language, some don’t care either way, and some are uncomfortable with it.
  • Some are grateful for their ex-gay experiences, others see those past experiences as more complicated, and others consider them destructive and traumatic.
  • There is a whole spectrum of different views on the best way to pursue relational connection (i.e.., not being alone) in this present culture:  some support celibate partnerships, others networks of friendship, others joining the household of an existing family, others intentional community, and others favor marriage to a person of the opposite sex.  And of course, none of these options necessarily excludes the others. 
  • Most see their same-sex attraction strictly as a result of the Fall, a few believe that perhaps there is some creational difference (which does NOT include sexual desire for the same sex!) that existed before the Fall.
  • Most don’t buy into a deep sense of gay identity—they are just using the common, ordinarily understood English adjective to describe this one aspect of their experience in a fallen world. A few do want to make more of identity than that, but all would see that part of their identity as subordinate to their identity as children of God.
  • There is a range of opinions about how connected we should be with those who affirm homosexual sexual activity while professing to be Christians–many are not comfortable with it at all, though there are some who are, to varying degrees.
  • And there are a whole range of opinions on how they think of homosexual attraction, temptation, and sin. Most, like most Orthodox, Catholics, and broadly evangelical Protestants, do not think sexual attraction itself is a sin (though many would say it is fallen or sinful in some derivative sense). But some of us, particularly the more Reformed of us, do think some aspects of attraction and desire are sin.

The only thing I see setting the supposed “celibate gay identity movement” apart from other Christians is this: As long as there is agreement on basic (Nicene) Christianity, and agreement that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman, and homosexual sexual expression is not permitted, we really don’t see much else as a deal-breaker when it comes to who we are willing to talk to, work with, and learn from. I find the ecumenism both encouraging and fruitful. Despite differing views on the gay-related matters mentioned above, not to mention other, sometimes deeper differences in theology and ecclesiology, we find much of value in each others’ perspectives as we seek to work out these things.

I am grateful for this chorus of unique voices. We are in a season of exploration, not in a season of dogma, when it comes to working out the details of encouragement and discipleship for predominantly same-sex-attracted believers in our present cultural context. Nobody has it all figured out yet. We are united not so much by answers (except to the overarching answer that sex belongs in marriage, and marriage is male/female by design) but by the questions we are seeking answers to:

  • What sense of vocation and calling can we have?
  • How can we experience love, connection, friendship? How is God making a way for us to avoid the not-goodness of being alone?
  • Is it possible for celibate or heterosexually-married gay Christians with a Biblical sexual ethic to live happy, fulfilling lives? If it is possible, how do we address the obstacles which sometimes stand in the way of that?
  • Is there suffering going on that doesn’t need to happen? Is there suffering that is unavoidable, but that people could be better supported and empowered to live well in the midst of?
  • What does it look like for us to pursue holiness and obedience in the midst of persisting predominant same-sex attraction?
  • How can the church best help support us?
  • How do we navigate life in a culture which is so profoundly opposed to our views? How do we resist the endless temptations it poses?
  • How do we challenge its assumptions and speak the truth? How do we live in a world where everyone thinks we are utterly foolish or that we have completely lost our minds?
  • How should we interact with our churches?

A lot of progressive/affirming Christians say that a traditional sexual ethic for a gay Christian is impossible, destructive, too hard. A lot of conservatives agree that living out that ethic is hard, but take a line of “Life is pain, highness. Everyone who says differently is selling something.” Something about Christian soldiers and hardship and taking up one’s cross. That’s true, but there is no reason to stop there. There are ways in which faithful gay Christians can make their lives better, not only happier but more fruitful and more glorifying to God.  And there are ways that other believers and the church as a whole can support and encourage them toward that end. (Unfortunately, a lot of things Christians and churches have been saying and doing have the opposite effect.) I see Spiritual Friendship and Revoice working toward helping faithful gay believers grow in Christian maturity, strength, and spiritual fruitfulness, and teaching churches how to nurture rather than impede that growth.

11 thoughts on “Is There a Celibate Gay Identity Movement?

  • February 28, 2019 at 6:30 pm
    Permalink

    Johanna Finegan! I’m so glad to have come across your blog! I watched a video of you speaking at Revoice, and remember thinking “I wish I could hear more from her.” I happened across Wesley Hill’s twitter feed a couple days ago and saw him pointing toward your new blog – yay!! Thank you for writing, and for being a kind voice in this discussion. I am part of the United Methodist Church, and our General Conference just voted by a very slim margin to uphold a traditional view of marriage. It is such a difficult topic and now a whole segment of our church cannot see how we can be loving and yet uphold male/female marriage only. Your writing helps me see what I can do, and what kinds of questions need to be answered. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Reply
    • March 12, 2019 at 8:39 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Jen, Thanks for the kind words! I don’t know all that much about the UMC, but as I watched people arguing with and preaching to and denouncing one another, I couldn’t help but think “How did these folks ever manage to stick together as a church this long???” The different subgroups of Methodists sometimes sound like they’re from entirely different faiths, different worldviews, even different planets! I think you’re right that we all (in the UMC and out of it) have a lot of work to do in order to help people see, both those outside the church, as well as those who profess Christian faith who are part of affirming/revisionst movements, that it is possible to be loving while upholding male/female marriage.

      Reply
  • March 1, 2019 at 5:03 pm
    Permalink

    This is why the larger LGBT community should shun Side B LGBT people. The fact that you Side with those who work to oppress the LGBT community means you should not be welcomed in our spaces.

    Reply
    • March 12, 2019 at 8:56 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Tim,

      I’d just point out that sideB is not monolithic (that’s kind of the point of the above post) and many sideB LGBT people do not share my views in a variety of areas. I presume it also goes with out saying that I don’t see myself as intentionally supporting oppression of the LGBT community or anyone else, but that doesn’t seem like a particularly fruitful argument to have, given our very different perspectives.

      I don’t understand the sideA/sideB queer solidarity/unity stuff myself. It baffles me. I haven’t darkened the door of an LGBT-affirming queer space in a very long time.

      Reply
  • March 11, 2019 at 2:52 pm
    Permalink

    Johanna,

    I find your response very sad. It’s not really your fault per se if you have not received better instruction on what union with Christ signifies.

    First, a person doesn’t have to say: “I identify as gay” for their words to essentially communicate the same.

    To state that a person born under sin and condemnation and set free by the power of Christ from their formerly enslaving desires is not a “euphemism”.

    To say that the “old man” must be mortified (put to heath) is not a uphemism.

    To say: “I’m still the ‘old man’ while I’m also a new creation is a denial of Biblical teaching.”

    You’re listening to the wrong “conservative” voices if you have ever believed that union with Christ produces “healing” or that you suddenly no longer have conflicting desires. It is a common charismatic paradigm but not the best of Christian theology nor is it Biblical. Union with Christ produces the ability to put desires, which once enslaved, to death. That means taht, because we are united to Christ, we can say that we “once walked in the enslaving of our lusts” but no more.

    To continue to identify with enslaving lusts as celibate or married is to deny union with Christ. Not that the desires still exist but that they hold no *enslaving power*.

    Now, part of the problem here is the wrongheaded view that a group of “like minded sinners” can get together on the basis of the NIcene creed alone and sort out the issue of sanctification.

    A little Roman Catholicism here, a dash of Charismatic theology here, a sprinkling of Reformed soteriology there…don’t worry we’ll sort it out in our “LGBT+ struggling community” and come back to you, the Church, and report what we figured out.

    Has it occured to you that there might be a Biblical view on sanctification and that the reasons why these divisions in the Church exist is over very different views of sanctification? Do you know what the consequences of adopting a Roman Catholic view of the nature of man, grace, concupiscence, and salvation mean for you as you sort this out? How does that compare to how the Confessionally Reformed have answered the same qustions?

    You simply cannot “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” in a parachurch group simply on the basis of an affinity with those who are struggling in ways similar to you.

    What I see, as a concerned elder, are people telling the Church: you “sexual majorities” don’t know what it’s like to struggle with sin *like I do*. You elderly men and women who are been putting sin to death for years – putting lusts to death – putting desires to death – can’t understand *me* because you don’t share my common sin. You are dividing the Body of Christ into those who have some sort of “specialty corruption” that has to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling with other LGBT Christians”. The rest of us are (apparently) unable to look at what the Scriptures say. The Church has (apparently) never had any solutions to mortifying sin or, if they have, didn’t know how to mortify “that sin”.

    I have no problem whatsoever identifying my solidarity with you and others in the movement *as sinners* who need to put sin to death. You do not want common solidarity with all sinners but solidarity with “LGBT sinners” while the rest of us wait for you to report back what you’ve learned about how to deal with this “species”. You are separating yourselves from us and not the other way around.

    I pray that you will find a good Church with a strong history of the doctrine of sanctification and mortification. Your current method of “working it out by Nicene consensus” will be self-destructive and I urge you to turn aside from that path.

    Reply
    • March 12, 2019 at 1:47 pm
      Permalink

      Quote: “To continue to identify with enslaving lusts as celibate or married is to deny union with Christ. Not that the desires still exist but that they hold no *enslaving power*.”

      To be so captive to mere words is a form of susperstition.

      Reply
      • March 12, 2019 at 9:13 pm
        Permalink

        Joe S> *THE* Joe S of yore????

        the green blade riseth again?

        Um, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just ignore. 🙂

        Reply
      • March 13, 2019 at 6:44 pm
        Permalink

        Joe,

        I might reply with the notion that equivocating on words or to pretend that words don’t matter is part of the postmodern project. Words are the only means we have of communicating with one another and we spend years trying to master words in order to be able to convey thoughts and symbols.

        In fact, one of the things that Christianity brings to a culture are words that it didn’t have because the Gospel comes to a world under judgment and communicates ideas that are completely foreign to us if the Son of God never became man. We would have no concept of propitiation, incarnation, or justification if it were not for God veiling Himself in human flesh and saving us from sin. We would have no eyes to see except that Christ purchased that on the Cross.

        It is the hearing of the Gospel preached that brings life to sinners who walk in slavery to sin and death. Paul calls this “foolishness” because that’s precisely what the world thinks it is but, for us, these words are eternal life. When all abandoned Christ in John 6, Jesus asked His apostles if they desired to leave and Peter responded: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You, alone, have words of eternal life.”

        So, yes, I’m concerned with words.

        In the Pilgrim’s Progress Christian finds himself in the dungeon of Great Despair. The giant, urged on by his wife, comes to Christian on several occasions and (with words) tries to convince him there is no hope for him and that he and his companion ought to take his life.

        The night before this giant’s threat is to be meted out, Christian comes to his senses and realizes that he has been a fool all along because, in his bosom, is a key called Promise (more words) and with this promise he opens every gate and escapes the clutches of despair.

        The reason why talk of “x” + Christian gives me such sorrow is because it is not those who struggle with LGBT+ corrupion alone who might otherwise place words or labels in front of their lives.

        I grew up Roman Catholic and believed I was going to hell for many sins committed and was wracked with guilt over those sins. I was charismatic years later and lived with years of guilt and loss of assurance for my lustful thoughts and actions even while married. I bought into the charismatic lie that the Spirit could, once-for-all, deliver me (heal me) from lust and was repeatedly unable to achieve what I thought others could.

        The glory of the Gospel is that Christ unites men and women to Himself while still sinners. These are words but the bear such comfort. Christ justifies the ungodly. He washes away the guilt of our sins and unites men and women, corrupt through and through, to Himself. These are words but they comfort.

        Roman Catholicism understands the import of these “words” but calls them a legal fiction. They say that God justifies those whom God sees as actually righteous in themselves. “Be baptized”, they say, “and you are now righteous. But you must cooperate now. You can lose that righteousness. The desires and temptations you experience don’t arise from continued corruption but they are simply the lower appetites that you must (by your strength in coopeartion with grace) resist or you can kill your righteousness and lose your salvation.”

        This was death to me.

        The Gosepel says that Christ justifies the ungodly. It also says that Christ has judged sin and the flesh on the cross so that it no longer has enslaving power upon me. I am united to Christ and I am a new creation. I am not “healed” because I’m still corrupt but I know that I’m united to a Savior Who has died for me while I’m an enemy and so He will not rest until I (with the whole Church) am made holy as I am united to Him.

        This is comforting because I can put a lot of words in front of my name: muderer, thief, liar, fornicator, adulterer, disobedient, disrespectful.

        It is not the person struggleing with LGBT corruption who feels isolated and unclean and unworthy of God’s love. It is not them alone who are hurt by bad theology.

        In Christ, we are counted as those who “once were” those things because we had no freedom to do otherwise. We were enslaved and by nature children of wrath. But God… (Eph 2:1-8)

        I don’t desire a “tit for tat” with you or Johanna but I desire, with all my heart, that men and women would see the power of a Savior who has judged sin in the flesh and that the reign and dominion of sin has been broken. That doesn’t mean (as I said before) that our corruption is defeated but it does mean we’re united to a Savior where we need to remember that we are not required to believe any Giant who would say: “You still belong in my dungeon.” We ought to reply: “That’s not my address any more. I’m in Christ now.”

        Thus, I have no problem whatsoever accepting (and I have for years) full fellowship with any sinner. Never, however, in the history of Christianity have we worn our former corruptions as continuing garments to say: “I’m an ‘x’ Christian”. Our testimony to people strugglig with any enslaving lust is that Christ offers freedom. We love them. We understand what it was like to be enslaved but we are enslaved no longer so let’s make a distinction, not because we’re “better” but because being in Adam and in Christ are two completely different realms of dominion.

        Reply
        • March 13, 2019 at 10:13 pm
          Permalink

          Concerned,

          I’m not opposed to anything you have said.

          Reply
          • March 13, 2019 at 11:42 pm
            Permalink

            Thank you for engaging this discussion irenicalky. I have been simply trying to use scriptural ideas as much as possible and hopefully challenging the idea that all of the things you are hoping to work out with other believers and can be worked out and outside of a church which shares your convictions. I do not hate you or anybody else but love Roman Catholics are among whom I count my dearest relatives. That said, we do not share with Roman Catholics are a “solution” to the problem of sin and salvation and sanctification and so it really does not work to assume a solution can be found that way.

            I consider you a sister in Christ and him joyful that you were brought from death to life. When asked about my past I do not shy away from admitting that I was a fornicator, liar, and thief. Those titles no longer holds way for me now in Christ, even as I am still tempted in that direction.

            Grace and Peace.

    • March 12, 2019 at 9:10 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Concerned,

      Thanks so much for this stimulatingly thoughtful and gracious comment. I’d like to continue the conversation, as I think one of us may be misunderstanding the other (or possibly both of us are!) I don’t see myself as advocating for the views you seem to attribute to me here, and in fact I share many of your concerns. But what I’ve got written so far is rapidly exceeding the length of a reasonable comment, so I think I’ll turn it into a blog post, or maybe a couple of blog posts. I’ll make sure to link back to your comment here so folks can see what I’m responding to.

      Again, thanks for engaging!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *